Tuesday 19 September 2017 07.15 BST
Stevenage, the first of England’s post-war New Towns, was widely proclaimed in the 1960s as a shining example of how the provision of high-quality, joined-up cycle infrastructure would encourage many people to cycle – not just keen cyclists.
The town, 30 miles north of London, had wide, smooth cycleways next to its main roads which were separated from cars and pedestrians. There were well-lit, airy underpasses beneath roundabouts, and schools, workplaces and shops were all linked by protected cycleways.
Stevenage still has these cycleways. Throughout the 60s and into the 70s, it was put forward as proof that the UK could build a Dutch-style cycle network. An article in New Scientist magazine in 1973 claimed that “Stevenage cycleways and cycle underpasses [are] premiere exhibits … [in a] traffic revolution.”
This revolution flopped. Few outsiders have any inkling that Stevenage is veined with the kind of separated cycleways commonplace in the Netherlands, and even locals are largely unaware they have a 23-mile cycle network.
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The borough council did not apply to become a “cycling demonstration town” when Cycling England offered fat grants for local authorities to encourage cycle use in 2005.
The organisation was seeking “low hanging fruit”, and if its expert board members had been aware of Stevenage’s cycleways at the time they might have chosen to target the town in a bid to boost bike use, says former Cycling England head Phillip Darnton.
“Stevenage would have been interesting because it clearly already had some good cycling infrastructure,” he adds, “but a burning question would have been, why wasn’t it being used?”