Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding

A A A

Just as the campaign to sort out Britain's notoriously patchy provision of cycle lanes gathers pace, one prominent politician is calling for secondary paths to cater to women who prefer to "pootle". Meg Hillier, a former Home Office minister and vice-chair of the all parliamentary cycling group, says a slow lane would protect vulnerable riders from the scourge of "Lycra-clad, mad" cyclists.

"When cycling is planned ideally, you have a fast and a slow lane, so those that want to pootle along can do so," the Labour MP for Hackney told the Daily Telegraph on the day that Emma Pooley zipped towards a silver medal in the Commonwealth Games time trial.

Her comments come after new statistics reveal scant sign of progress in bringing equality to our roads. The Department for Transport's annual National Travel Survey shows that in England, men on average make 21 bike journeys a year, compared to seven for women. Men also cycle four times further, riding 80 miles a year compared to 20.

The optimistic calls have re-ignited the debate about space for cycling on convoluted, crowded city streets. In London, provision depends on the will of central government as well as the Mayor's office and, for the majority of roads, the imagination and budgets of local councils.

Rachel Aldred, a cycling sociologist and senior lecturer in Transport at the University of Westminster, points out that "pootlers" are a varied demographic. "I think quite a lot of men would like to pootle as well, while a lot of women like going fast, but the point here is to enable people to go at a range of speeds," she says.

But how, when there just isn't the space? "I'm looking out on Marylebone Road now and it's not a winding, historic street," Aldred says. "There's plenty of space. Certainly in Westminster where I work that's not always the case but it's an issue of what your priorities are."

Imagination is key, too. "The problem has been that we look at who is cycling now and plan for that," Aldred explains. "Today it is disproportionately men and young people and those without children. But if we look at places with high levels of cycling like Amsterdam, we see far more older people and women and families."

Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, has pledged to overcome the shortage of space for dedicated, wide cycle lanes on many city streets by prioritising cycling on a network of re-designed back streets.

Caz Nicklin is a champion of "normalised" cycling, for which clothes or confidence should be no barrier to entry. The founder of the Cycle Chic blog and shop, and author of a new book, The Girls' Bicycle Handbook, says cycling culture can change even while authorities gas about road design.

"It's about getting more women on bikes and seeing other women cycling in their own clothes, or with their kids," she says. "Training is important to help overcome the fear of other cars – to realise that it's not quite as scary as you might think."

She adds: "I always feel the cycling community feels welcoming, and if there's a speedy cyclist who wants to get past, that's fine as long as they don't mind me doing my thing. We don't want an us and them culture."

But the space needs to come first for real change to happen, says Chris Peck, policy coordinator at CTC, the national cycling charity, which is leading the Space for Cycling campaign at a national level. "There is a danger that if you don't design adequate facilities then instead of having fear of close overtakes by cars, you have it by other cyclists. It might not be as scary but it's off-putting to many people."

Local authorities have the most control over roads, but the impetus should come from Westminster, Peck says. "We're pushing the Department for Transport all the time to set the example and show how it can be done."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links