The tinkling of bells and the sound of happy laughter was all you could hear. There were no cars, and all you could see were bikes stretching off into the distance. We were cycling on both sides of the road; there was nothing to be scared of. I was cycling so slowly trying to soak in the moment that an old man in tweed on a red penny farthing overtook me.
Before I arrived at Pedal on Parliament last Saturday it was described to me as one of the most polite protests I’d ever go to. And when I got to The Meadows in Edinburgh for the start of the ride down to Holyrood, sure enough there was an orderly queue of people and bikes, waiting patiently on one side of the cycle path that winds through and around the park.
The sun had come out, and around noon around 4,500 of us set off slowly to the Royal Mile and then down the hill. The mix of cyclists was just right – young, old, men, and women. There were children in baskets and on balance bikes, a woman on a rented ‘People Make Glasgow’, and the penny farthing, which I can’t help mentioning just once more.
What did we look like? Well, there were people in lycra, me with my Glasgow cycling gloves (entirely unnecessary and alien if you are a cyclist in the South), some in hi-vis and others in shorts. Not everyone was wearing a helmet either (sorry Mum). Basically, everyone and anyone was there, which is as it should be.
On the way there, though, the question had come up – what can we do to get people who don’t cycle to come to Pedal on Parliament? It might sound like a strange question, but it is a really important one. Cycling benefits everyone for so many reasons, even people who don’t cycle or use cars. Apart from being good for the environment, making streets that are fit for cycling will encourage more people to leave their cars at home (and maybe even sell them), clearing the roads for those who do want to drive.
And that is something to dream of, and to Pedal on Parliament for. The experience of cycling freely along a quiet road – in this case, downhill along the Royal Mile when it was closed to traffic – is a wonderful feeling. Let’s hope the politicians were listening.