A year after Yorkshire hosted the Tour de France, three stars of cycling urged the region to tackle health and transport problems with world-class cycling infrastructure, at a Sustrans conference in Leeds to celebrate 20 years of the National Cycle Network.

Sir Gary Verity of Welcome to Yorkshire and Malcolm Shepherd of the charity Sustrans, who also received a CBE for his work to promote health and environment, spoke alongside Yorkshire’s grandfather of cycling Brian Robinson, to encourage more investment in a safe cycle network for healthy travel choices.

Sir Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire said: “Yorkshire’s hosting of what the French called ‘The Grandest Grand Depart ever’ really got people in Yorkshire inspired and excited about cycling, but the real cycle race is only just beginning. We want to build on the enthusiasm of the Grand Depart to make Yorkshire the cycling capital of Europe. We’re a long way behind cycling cities like Copenhagen or Amsterdam, but if bicycle travel became established it would help to tackle some of our biggest urban challenges, from low levels of exercise to air pollution to traffic congestion.”

Malcolm Shepherd, chief executive of Sustrans said: “Yorkshire’s 1000 miles of National Cycle Network is a fantastic base from which to build and develop a world class centre for bicycle travel. We think the next phase for cycle infrastructure is now in our towns and cities and commuter routes, which are too dominated by the car. We could double the number of high quality, safe cycle routes so more people could choose a healthy way to travel to work or university or school.”

In 1955 Brian Robinson was the first British person to complete the Tour de France and became the first Brit to win a stage in 1958. Brian said: “I never expected to see the Tour de France in Yorkshire. It was fantastic to be part of the groundswell of enthusiasm here in the county. Cycling doesn’t just have to be an elite sport that we watch, it’s a form of transport that most people can use, whatever their age or ability. It’s easy, healthy and a lot of fun!”

Sustrans held the National Cycle Network 20:20 Vision conference at Northern Ballet, home of Phoenix Dance Theatre, which created the Ghost Peloton performance for the Yorkshire Festival as part of last year’s Grand Depart of the Tour de France. The conference aimed to discuss the achievements and plan the future of the network in the next 20 years.

Over 1000 miles of Sustrans’ National Cycle Network are in Yorkshire, the largest share of the 14,000 mile network of any county in Britain. West Yorkshire Combined Authority recently won £37 Million as part of the Cycle City Ambition grant and there are projects such as ‘Bike Libraries’ around the region that are working to make bicycles accessible for everyone.

Despite this much of the road network is geared towards car travel, with few segregated cycle lanes which attract high numbers of bicycle use elsewhere in Europe. Around 2% of people currently cycle to work, school or university in West Yorkshire compared to 45% in Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark.

In a Sustrans poll of 500 people taken last year during the Tour de France in Yorkshire a third of people said lack of quality cycle lanes was the single most important thing which put them off getting in the saddle.

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