I had a great time taking my daughter twice round the Leicester Skyride circuit today in her newly installed front child seat.
Despite inspiring me to dust off my bike, I was left slightly wondering what the whole event was about. Having registered a few days ago and despite a lot of publicity from Leicester officialdom it felt slightly unclear where we should go and what we were supposed to actually do. Just turn up and start peddling seemed to be about it.
On the day we happily meandered between the various stopping off points via various barricaded and marshalled routes (some better showcases of the city than others).
Having only recently realised that the 'Sky' in Skyride is none other than everybody's favourite satellite TV broadcaster I was anticipating a bit of 'corporate' gloss on the event. I've got no problem with sponsorship of good causes though in actual fact there was precious little visibilty of the company other than their brand name (which seemed strangely neutered within the 'Skyride' brand).
When companies do this sort of PR it usually means they are attempting to change perceptions rather than drive immediate sales. I would guess that Sky wish to appeal to the cycling types who are probably a bit more middle class than their traditional customers. A bit of digging revealed the actual brief (page 4) from Sky's PR firm RPM: "To drive perception and awareness of Sky’s sponsorship of British Cycling, whilst encouraging 1 million more Brits to start cycling by 2013." Again I don't have a problem with this provided we the punters get something measurable in return.
My gut impression though was a deal along the lines of "Let's let Sky use our city for a mass PR stunt and hope that it encourages more people to cycle more regularly".
What I would like to see are more measurable results (i.e. what is the true legacy of Skyride on cycling numbers? How many less cars are on the road as a result? etc, etc). All that RPM's document could tell us was that for the London event "37% said they would cycle more regularly" - a statistic which is probably more exciting to a PR firm client than an urban transport planner!
I'd also like to see Leicester capitalise on this event better. The city should be able to get access to the Skyride registrations database and do some serious follow-up marketing to all the people who took part. It should also be measuring cycle usage before and after the event to see if it has any lasting effect.
As one of the original Skyride cities I'd also like to see if Leicester has the guts to be the first to run this on a busier day such as a Saturday. It's a big leap from a fenced-off course on a Sunday to a full-on weekday rush hour but we have to head in that direction if we're to achieve the critical mass of cyclists which will start to really affect traffic and exercise levels. Research I've read seems to suggest it only takes a small percentage reduction in car usage to substantially unclog roads - something which benefits cyclists and car drivers alike.
Finally, here is a thought-provoking little clip of what is possible (though read this and weep!):-