Having been back in Leicester for a couple of weeks, I have had the pleasure of being re-united with an old and faithful friend – my bike.
For several years now, cycling has been my main method of getting from A to B and having cycled well over 100 miles in order to mould my leather ‘Brookes’ saddle into the unique shape of my bottom, I would be devastated if my bike were stolen.
It was during a conference on climate change about a month ago that I sat with a sense of smugness as I listened to a speech by Professor Ian Roberts. He claimed that walking, cycling and public transport – as methods of transport – are the lifeline to urban sustainability. He argued that “car use in rich countries increases the price of food because oil is now an essential agricultural input and rising car use drives up the oil price.”
His talk was fascinating and his arguments can be read in the blog he wrote earlier this year. I hadn’t previously considered links between transport, food and the environment – but on reflection the connection seems to be so blatantly obvious I feel a bit of an idiot for not considering them before.
My ears pricked up later on in the conference when Leicester was mentioned during a discussion about urban responses to climate change. Apparently Leicester officially became Britain’s first “Environment City” in 1990 and was one of only twelve cities from across the world invited to attend the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.
Despite living there for the duration of my medical degree (4 years) I had no idea. In fact I had been searching all over my local area for a bottle bank for a couple of years until a variety of recycling bins appeared outside my block of flats last summer. Needless to say, the “glass only” bin was overflowing with bottles in less than 24 hours (not just from my personal contribution I hasten to add).
I recently switched to wine boxes as more cost effective when wishing to drink quality wine on a tight budget – there is always space in the ‘card only’ bin for the flattened wine box. On reflection, one would expect more than the boast of an ‘Eco House’ from a city with recognised green credentials. The city’s other tourist attraction is the National Space Centre (space travel not being well known for its environmental friendliness).
This brings me back to cycling. Having cycled to work in London for several years before starting medicine, I presumed that cycling in a smaller city such as Leicester would be a doddle – surely the traffic would not be as hectic or congested as in London.
I am disappointed to report therefore that I have never felt as threatened or vulnerable as when I am cycling in Leicester. Cycling clearly isn’t the ‘done thing’ – it appears to be far cooler to have a 4×4 gas guzzler with a personalised number plate, speed up when the traffic lights are turning red and have a blatant disregard for pedestrians and cyclists. It also appears to be entirely appropriate for cars NOT TO STOP when a pedestrian is attempting to cross a zebra crossing. Is this part of the highway code which has changed since I took my driving test in 1991?