Oxford has taken part in a network of twin cities exploring cycling since 2015. Oxford cyclists have visited Leiden (Netherlands) and hosted cycling visitors from Leiden, Torun, and Bonn. This year we were invited to send a group to Torun – here is an account of the trip from one Oxford cyclist!
On the 20th of June, a group of four Oxonians departed for Poland. Truly representative of Oxford – two immigrants to the city with a love for cycling, a council employee with a passion for using cycling as a means to improve public health, and a community member who’s hobby-turned-passion is recreational and leisurely cycling – our delegation arrived unsure of what to expect and unfamiliar with each other. After all, we had only met twice before, in order to prepare our presentation on cycling infrastructure in Oxford.
Our hosts in the Polish city of Toruń immediately helped make us welcome though. We arrived on Wednesday evening to friendly faces and a kitchen fully stocked for snacking and breakfast – replete with English breakfast tea! After settling in the first night, we were ready for the full program, along with the remaining delegations from Kaunas, Lithuania, Novo Mesto, Slovenia, Leiden, the Netherlands, and, of course, Toruń.
Day one began with presentations from each of the groups on the state of cycling culture and infrastructure in their respective cities. While it was duly noted that Oxford has incredible bike traffic (both in the sense of having many cyclists and also having actual cycling traffic), our group soon realised that our city lagged behind in terms of installing physical infrastructure and the efforts made to increase cycling; while we took for granted the presence of cycle commuters without necessarily having extensive cycling paths, other cities had started by building in cycling lanes in order to attract more cyclists. Naturally, the City of Leiden dazzled all of the groups, with it’s existing infrastructure and cycling rates and further with its plans to expand cycling parking.
Each group yielded insights for us though:
- In Slovenia, cycle friendly companies are awarded a certification, based on criteria like accessibility for bicycles, storage/parking, etc.
- Our Polish counterparts host very visible events each year, in particular, eight “critical mass” rides, designed to showcase the amount of cyclists in the city and remind officials that cycling is important to citizens. Attendance, depending on weather, varies between 300 and 700 cyclists.
- The Lithuanian contingent noted the importance of marking cycle lanes and cycle parking with distinct paint. Not only does it help the visually impaired feel safer on the road, but it also improves driver awareness of cyclists.
- Finally, from the Dutch we learned how much further Oxford can take its cycling schemes; bicycle-sharing programmes are operated as part of the public transit system, meaning one can use his or her train card to rent a bicycle upon arriving at their destination.
Perhaps most importantly, however, we realised that regardless of the status of our cycling infrastructure and rates of cycling in our cities, we had similar complaints. Cycling safety – and accompanying driver awareness – is always a major concern. Moreover, with the potential cycling can have for public health and pollution prevention, there can never be too much cycling.
Oxford is fortunate. Designating some areas as pedestrian or exclusively for buses/taxis encourages cycling and already plays a role in reducing traffic. However, our weekend showed us ways to improve both simply and ambitiously. For children, adults and the elderly alike, cycling should be the logical mode of transit, and that is future we have envisioned for Oxford.
While the City of Toruń has a medieval walled center, it actually sprawls 115.75 km2, and has several large green spaces with cycling routes.
Within the walls, traffic is highly restricted. Some areas are pedestrian only.