Gareth Huw Davies

Environment Blog

Wheel spinning start to Lakes' green transport revolution

Occasional cyclists approach the Lake District with caution. As well as all that water, aren’t there hills?

It is time for some incline-busting technology to take the hard work out of that up and down landscape.  Electric bikes are not new, but they do seem to have passed the stage of a faltering advance on a 100-year-old idea. They are established enough to be adopted as a tourism initiative. You can find them in Derbyshire, and now the Lake District.

This summer (2011) an electric bike hire scheme  was launched in the national park. A fleet of 50 bikes are available at locations around the southern and central lakes. Visitors are given maps showing suggested routes and places where they can recharge the machines.

These are not pure electric bikes, where your feet sit idly on the pedals and the battery does all the work. You are encouraged to push: and the more you pedal, the more speed you generate from the battery’s power supply.  You  won’t exactly look like a Tour de France stage winner, but you will be able to retain some pride as traditional cyclists whizz past.

The lakeside hotel on Lake Windermere is one of the first local businesses to hire electric bikes to its residents under the Lake District Electric Bicycle Network – it focusses on the central and southern Lake District, with other hire points at Brockhole Visitor Centre, Coniston Boating Centre and sites around Windermere. When we stayed At Lakeside, there wasn’t enough time to try them out,  but it was clear they would  have given immediate relief from hills in both directions  on the road from the hotel.

So far this year (2011) the bikes, solid, serious and quite expensive (around £1000), been  made available in hire networks in the  Derbyshire Peak District  and Devon,  with new areas  planned for 2012.   The  Lakes scheme, supported by Cumbria Tourism and the Lake District National Park Authority, is one of the first components in a wider ranging green transport  initiative,  just  approved by government. The plan is to turn the central and southern Lake District into a high-class hub of sustainable transport.

The  electric bikes will make a tiny, but symbolically important, contribution to reducing the 205,000 tonnes of CO2 per year  visitors create  in driving around the national park. Currently 87% of the  park’s 15.8m annual visitors and tourists come by car. And that results in emissions of 322,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.

The Lake District Sustainable Visitor Transport Beacon Area initiative, from a bid by  Cumbria County Council and the Lake District National Park Authority, aims to transform how people get to and travel around the Lakes. The Lakeside is one of the hotels already offering its visitors a “don’t use your car” option. They put together an integrated public transport option for us that kept us busy all day.

First we took the lake steamer halfway up Windermere to Bowness,  to visit to the World of Beatrix Potter exhibition. Then back down to Lakeside to catch the preserved steam train down to Haverthwaite. Here we did  rather diluted the purity of our mission with a visit to the Lakeland Motor Museum, although in mitigation it does have an informative little display an electric cars. Then it was back on the free shuttle bus to Lakeside for a visit to the Aquarium.

Expect to see a lot more of that.  There is about £6 million to spend, most of it from the government with contributions from  the local authorities  Who have mapped out a four-year programme of investment and improvements.

The money will be spent on initiatives such as joining up passenger transport services so there is far more scope for switching between bus, boat and bike on a day in the Lakes, using a “smart” ticket.

Safe, continuous networks for walking, cycling and wheelchairs will also be developed, as will a network of electric bikes and low-carbon vehicles for hire.

Moving towards more sustainable transport  could save over 11,000 tonnes of CO2 in 2015, generate an extra 100 full time jobs and bring in an extra £7m per year into the county through tourism revenue.