Get on the Cycle Path!

These two links popped into my consciousness recently;

  1. http://youtu.be/fp-G2bdt1_4 – bus driver road rage incident captured on camera;
  2. http://www.yorkpress.co.uk/features/readersletters/10628039.Why_don___t_cyclists_use_proper_paths_/?ref=m Typically bat-shit letter in local rag

Both touch on that age-old question of “why don’t cyclists use cycle paths?”.

Probably most worrying is the claim from that guy (who looks like he should know better, being associated with one of the biggest bus companies in the country) in the YouTube video that if there is cycle path next to road, cyclists are banned from using the road. This is also indicated in some of the more vitriolic responses to the letter in the York Press. Any cyclist, and anyone reasonably familiar with the Highway Code, or the Law, would know that cyclists are permitted to use any road unless a specific prohibition exists – motorways carry this prohibition by default, but other roads can have them – fairly few do, however. The presence or absence of a cycle path makes no difference. The HIghway Code makes it clear that use of such tracks by cyclists is optional.

But, the question leads to another question – “if a cycle path is there, why don’t cyclists use it through choice?”. The questioner is usually hinting at some nagging feeling that these cyclists are not using the cycle path just to be awkward, just to get in the way, just to be bloody minded. But, this misses the point. Cyclists, like every other transport user, are allowed to select whatever legal route they wish, taking into account their own personal preferences for speed, safety, energy-expenditure, etc.

As a thought experiment, imagine a brand new motorway was built and opened, bypassing a congested town centre, and no-one chose to drive on. Would anyone question the motives of the drivers? No, they would obviously think that whoever had planned and built the motorway had got something fundamentally wrong. If a motorway is being built, it is because it should offer a more attractive route that the one going through the town centre – and all those drivers stuck in the congestion of the town centre would see that the motorway offers a better route and would start using it. If no-one chooses to use it, the people who designed and built it got it wrong. No-one could possibly argue otherwise.

But, if a cycle path is built and cyclists choose not to use it, it is somehow felt to be the fault of the cyclist, not the people who designed and built it. One could argue that cycle paths are built to encourage those who currently drive to try cycling – so every car that drives on a road with an adjacent cycle path is almost a witness to the cycle path’s failings.

Anyway, here are my top 10 reasons why I don’t use cycle paths next to roads;

  1. They are shared with pedestrians, who deserve their own space;
  2. They inevitably make the cyclist give way at every side road, and as I don’t have eyes in the back of my head, it is impossible to check if any traffic is coming without stopping
  3. they are seldom gritted in winter
  4. they seldom have over-hanging branches cleared
  5. they seldom are designed to recognised design standards
  6. they often are obstructed by street furniture
  7. they are often obstructed by parked cars
  8. they often have blind corners
  9. they often have bus stops on them
  10. they are never wide enough to pass pedestrians or other cyclists

Many cyclists tell of drivers shouting “get on the cycle path” at them. This has only happened to me twice. Once, it was a Wakefield Council gritting lorry that passed me far too closely, then sprayed me with its grit. It soon got stuck in traffic, I overtook and the driver shouted “get on the cycle path [expletive deleted]!”. Being the driver of a gritting lorry might, one could suggest, have led him to think why I might have been avoiding the cycle-path at that time – it was covered in ice.

Another time, a fat and red-faced man shouted it at me – we got into an altercation;

Him: You should be on the cycle path, you [expletive deleted]!

Me: Why?

Him: Because you should – it is safer and better.

Me: Who says?

Him: I do!

Me: If it’s so good, why aren’t you cycling on it?

Him: I don’t cycle anywhere.

Me: Oh, you seem to know a lot about it.

Him: I don’t.

Me: Exactly.

Bradley’s Helmet Call

A topic that I will probably return to many times, and a suitable one for my initial blog post – cycle helmets!

Up until a few days ago, Bradley Wiggins was a hero of mine. Winning le Tour, being a nice-chap, having a huge collection of guitars – all things I can only dream of. But, after winning his Gold Medal in the time trial at the Olympics, was asked to comment on the tragic death of a cyclist just outside the Olympic Park. One thing he seemed to suggest was that helmet wearing should be compulsory (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-19090898).

The first thing that sprung to mind was why was he even being asked for his views? Is Jenson Button asked to comment every time someone is hurt in a car crash? Is Paula Ratcliffe asked for her views whenever someone gets run over? Bradley is a sportsman – a great sportsman – but he is not, as far as I know, a road safety expert.

This seems to part of the media’s (and, by association, the Great British Public’s) inability to disentangle the sport of cycling from the everyday activity of riding a bike. Things that apply to one do not apply to the other, and, just as Formula 1 racing is very different to driving down to the Co-Op, everyday cycling is very different to the type of cycling Bradley does.

Anyway, I disagree with Bradley’s idea, and later reports state that Bradley claims he was misunderstood. Fair enough.

Here are my ideas for how cycling can be made safer (in no particular order);

  1. lower (and enforced) speed limits on residential and urban streets
  2. a commitment from highway authorities to filling in potholes
  3. if cycle facilities are to be installed (I remain unconvinced as to whether they are actually a good thing), they must meet the published guidelines
  4. no-fault liability for motorists
  5. blind-spot mirrors on all large vehicles
  6. cycle training to be made available to everyone who wants it
  7. a lower drink-drive limit
  8. enforcement of existing traffic laws (especially those regarding mobile-phone use and overtaking on double-white lines)
  9. conversion of large roundabouts to continental geometries
  10. cyclist-awareness refresher courses for drivers of buses and HGVs