Children call for more bike space at Inverness Kidical Mass protest ride during COP26
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Making space for safe cycling is something I’ve been passionate about all my adult life, so it’s great to see youngsters out calling for action during the climate change conference in Glasgow.
My own children were keen to join the latest Kidical Mass ride in Inverness. They cycle to school every day – whatever the weather – and as a family we try to get about by bike or foot as much as is practicable.
But they are already well aware of the fact that the roads are too busy, especially just before 9am on a weekday, and the pavements are not ideal for sharing what’s left of the space with pedestrians.
Kidical Mass was launched in the Highlands by Kat Heath in September in response to the removal of the temporary Spaces For People routes set up during the first Covid lockdown. She acknowledges these weren’t perfect but argues taking them away has been detrimental for safe cycling as well as walking around the city.
But the Kidical Mass ride is about much more than those few temporary routes. Kat says she is calling on Highland Council to create joined up safe routes across the city.
She told me on Saturday: “There’s limited use in having paths that aren’t connected, you’ve got to be so confident to then navigate the main roads, so we’re asking the council to give most schools a ‘school street’ to allow kids to cycle safely, have segregated pathways where possible – there’s funding out there to get this – and then to have Bikeability in all schools.
“I cycled in London before the infrastructure came in then after it came in, and it’s such a different world.”
Streets in Inverness were blocked for a short time on Saturday as 150 people pedalled along a three-mile route through the city.
We met at Bellfield Park before heading off en mass along Castle Road and Bank Street, heading under the Friar’s Bridge and crossing the Black Bridge. Our return down the other side of the Ness was along Gilbert Street and under the Friar’s Bridge again, along Huntly Street, King Street and Ness Walk to reach the Bught.
The finish was at the archive centre, where – as well as some dinosaurs to entertain the young ones – there was cake, face painting, stamp cards for the riders and bike games to take part in. All in all, it was perfectly aimed at the kids, with a short enough bike ride that even little ones on balance bikes were managing it.
Not only that, but the Spokes For Folks trike riders were also giving a ride to a few participants who were unable to cycle themselves, and there were also walkers and at least one person in a wheelchair taking part.
As I always find with these events, all the drivers briefly held up by the protest ride – the shortest ride registered as an official COP26 Pedal On Parliament route – were patient and friendly.
For me, there are not many more heart-warming sights than scores of young children being able to cycle safely through my home city. It’s what it should and could be like, if only the roads were designed with all users in mind.
The weather at the weekend was blustery and wet, but we were lucky as the sun came out for most of the short ride. The two people braving the dinosaur costumes at the finish had a bit of a battle with the wind, but they provided much entertainment for the kids, with my three-year-old quite relieved when he saw they were “just people in costumes”!
All three of my children cycled back home with their faces painted, and no complaints about the weather. My eldest had written a letter to the council to go along with other letters written by participants, which organiser Kat was planning to hand in to officials this week.
The demands are simple – a safe way to get to school and to travel about the city on their bikes.
Kat said: “I cycle with my nine-month-old son Blake and I now have to battle traffic to go to his baby classes, so what we wanted to do was to say to Highland Council that there are lots of people in Inverness that do want to be able to cycle safely, that do want active travel and we want clean air.
“There’s 150 people turned up in bad weather today, 239 last month – hundreds of people want this and we just want to show the council that we just want to cycle safely.”
With COP26 ongoing in Glasgow, the climate change message was prominent at Saturday's protest ride, too.
“We wanted to give an opportunity, as not everybody could cycle down to Glasgow – they can’t get the time off work, I couldn’t cycle with a nine-month-old baby down to Glasgow – so this was about giving people who are local a chance to make their voices heard and tell the council they care,” Kat said.
“It’s not just people in Glasgow who care about climate change, it’s people in Inverness that want this to become a reality not in 30 years’ time but in the next couple of years.
“Inverness is growing, congestion is already a problem, cars are getting bigger – it’s not just about cycling and clean air, it’s about moving about the city. If we don’t get more people on bikes and more people using public transport, the city is going to become gridlocked.
“I appreciate not everyone can cycle, but if we can get everyone who can cycling, people that need their cars can get through the city safely.”