Town's riders are endangered species

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The Independent Online
The Ringway, a noisy dual carriageway, encircles the heart of Basingstoke in Hampshire, a town rebuilt in the 1960s to suit the car and home of the Automobile Association.

Eight roundabouts control motorised access to the centre and its acres of private and public multi-storey car parks. People have become so addicted to four wheels that they even take the dog for a walk by car.

Not surprisingly, cyclists are an endangered species in this unfavourable environment. Despite being relatively flat, fewer than 3 per cent of the town's working population risk joining the Ringway's rush hour by cycling to work. Along with Newbury and Birmingham, it has one of the lowest bicycle counts in the country's urban areas.

"If a cyclist did use the road network, they would be suicidal," John Linden, 36, and a campaigner for better facilities said.

Bill Fergie, director of development of Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council, admits that nothing has been done for cyclists since the 1960s. "There isn't a great incentive to cycle at the moment ... Basingstoke is a car town, but the fact that we are looking at cycling and other things shows we know we can't go on with the old philosophy."

When the Tour de France passed through the town last year, council officers persuaded councillors to commission Sustrans, the civil engineering and bike path charity, to make recommendations on a cycle network. It suggested the extensive infrastructure of walkways and 87 subways could be adapted to create traffic-free routes for cyclists. The network could be achieved at a cost of pounds 100,000 a year for 10 years.

One of the cross-town routes has been constructed, another is to be built this year. But there is still no legal access for bikes. Basingstoke has just one council-funded cycle rack in the town centre, for 14 bikes. There are 3,000 public car parking spaces. Cyclists chain their bikes to litter bins and drainpipes.

While welcoming the council's change of attitude, cyclists think progress is far too slow. Mr Linden, a member of the town's road safety committee, believes that many local politicians see cycling in terms of accident statistics and as an activity not to be encouraged.

Even the town's business community does not seem to be impressed with claims that cycling improves the health and efficiency of employees. Joy Dalzell, a computer programmer who regularly cycles the 20 miles from her home in Crowthorne, to work in Basingstoke, said her biggest problem was somewhere to leave her bike safely. "When I asked my company for a small cycle shed, they said they hadn't enough money. They had just spent a fortune on providing an extra 100 car parking spaces."