Diggers were out last night in Birmingham. They were putting the finishing touches on key parts of Brums share of the National Cycle Network.
Route signs were still being erected today by Warwickshire council in advance of a posse of cyclists riding from Birmingham as part of the Longest Ride, 10 000 miles of new, existing or proposed National Cycle Network being ridden in Y2Ks longest day by hundreds of cyclists all over the UK.
Warwick wasnt the only place where there was a last minute dash to complete key parts of the Network jigsaw. Many other local authority partners of Sustrans were also scrambling to meet todays deadline as hundreds of cycle events started around the country.
At the national launch in Birminghams Centenary Square the rain held off for most of the opening ceremony as hundreds of cyclists assembled from the four capitals of the UK and handed over symbolic ceremic mosaic pieces used as a metaphor for the Network jigsaw being completed today. The first 5000 miles, that is. Another 5000 are scheduled to open by 2005.
Culture secretary Chris Smith MP formally annouced the completion of the first 5000 miles as he placed the last piece of mosaic on the specially commissioned 12ft ceramic map of the UK.
"The national cycle network will deliver social, environmental and economic benefits right across the UK," said Smith.
The new network will help reduce traffic congestion and air pollution, and encourage people to get active, which will have long-term health benefits for everyone using the routes."
John Grimshaw, director of Sustrans, said: "The inauguration of the network is the beginning of a rediscovery of the bicycle as an efficient, sustainable and thoroughly modern form of transport."
When all the speeches were over, the cyclists had left the square, the media throng had packed their bags and the dignatories had retired to quaff champagne, the heavens opened.
Halfords came to the rescue with their specially printed umbrellas.
There was a strong Halfords presence at the launch a mini marquee overprinted with the Halfords logo, the brollies, and hundreds of water bottles handed to the assembled cyclists but IBDs and the bike industry in general were later lauded by Sustrans director John Grimshaw in a presentation at Birminghams plush Council House.
Birminghams Lord Mayor, Cllr. Theresa Stewart, handed commemorative plaques to industry figures, including IBDs representatives Laurie Sedman of CoBR and David Wilsher of the ACT.
John Grimshaw, Sustrans Director and Chief Engineer, said: "The part the industry has played in supporting the development of the Network cannot be overstressed. The Network will carry on growing and we hope our productive relationship will continue. We all want to see more people using the bicycle as an everyday form of transport."
And, then, after a buffet lunch it was all over. The launch so eagerly awaited by the trade had happened. Now, can the newly joined-up Network start to deliver on its promises and turn passive cyclists into active ones, and create new cyclists from a population which largely eschews two wheels in favour of four?
Birminghams Lord Mayor flanked by industry figures. L to R: Mel Payne (deputy president of the BA), Fu Wong (Cycleurope), Grant Allen (Giant), Laurie Sedman (CoBR), Mike Townsend (H&J), Alan Smith (Universal), Nick Fish (Trek), Rick Starnforth (Saracen), Chris Hickson (Raleigh), Dave Patten (Halfords), John Moore (Moore Large) and John Grimshaw of Sustrans.
Chris Smith MP laying the last piece of the Network jigsaw
David Wilsher of the ACT getting his plaque, John Moore waiting behind him (the invitation said dress informally so he did).
Halfords brollies wheeled out for dignatories in danger of a dampening
There were a fair few cyclists at the launch