The plotting of a cycling revolution

An engineer aims to inspire move to two wheels
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The Independent Online
John Grimshaw, whose organisation, Sustrans, has just been given a pounds 42.5m grant by the Government's Millenium Commission, is a transport revolutionary with a much wider vision than building a few cycle paths around Britain.

He wants to transform the whole way of thinking about transport and sees cycling as the way to bring about that revolution: "You can spend billions on huge public transport schemes and only get a few people out of their cars. But if you doubled or quadrupled the amount of cycling, you bring about a much more significant and lasting change." He wants to see cycling universally accepted "as a modern way to travel in the late 20th century".

He reckons that there is no reason why Britain cannot achieve the kind of cycling rates seen in Holland or Denmark where more than 20 per cent of journeys are on cycles: "Our weather is similar to those countries and much of lowland Britain has the same topography as them." He points to the difference between Bristol, where he lives, and Hanover, its twin town, both of which were severely damaged in the war. "They have got trams, cycle paths and excellent public transport. We have none of that in Bristol," he said.

Mr Grimshaw, 50, is a civil engineer by trade who worked on road schemes and big projects such as the Barbican in central London. He does not own a car and takes his bicycle around the country on trains visiting Sustrans sites.

He created Sustrans after organising the construction of Britain's first cycle path, between Bristol and Bath. It took him four years to overcome the bureaucratic obstacles and to build that path with the help of volunteers working at weekends. Almost the minute it was completed, the type of cyclists who had been chased off the roads, such as pensioners and children, flocked to use the path.

He realised there was a great need for such amenities and since 1983 has devoted himself full time to Sustrans. His cousin is Nicholas Grimshaw, architect of Waterloo International station in London. His father was a colonel who became a missionary and a colleague said that Mr Grimshaw seems to have inherited both sides of his father's character: "He is a brilliant organiser and has a real sense of vision."

Mr Grimshaw, who sported splendid walking boots at the announcement of the Millenium Commission's grant in Westminster yesterday, certainly has a missionary zeal about him. "Look at Westminster, the constitutional heart of the country and all we have is cars," he said. "It is crazy that Parliament Square and Trafalgar Square have cars in them when there's millions of tourists coming to visit them."

For Mr Grimshaw, the 6,500-mile cycle network linking 20 large towns is the beginning, not the realisation, of a dream: "Why is it that in Denmark, they have projects to encourage children to cycle to school and more than 20 per cent do so, while in Britain it's more like 2 per cent?"

He points out that surveys have shown that three-quarters of young people don't get enough exercise: "Young people under the age of 17 are trapped by not having an independent means of travel."

News Analysis, page 13