Thursday, December 1, 2011

The other thing I’ve been thinking about whilst cycling

It amazes me just how strong the anti-car (or driver) and anti-cyclist feelings are.  Well to be honest my only real source of information comes from reading the comments on various news articles and the “odd” blog. I mentioned this example in my last post, but I’ll mention it again it was on the BBC News website – “Cyclists ‘urged to get insurance’”, which was closed to comments at 525. I feel that it reads more as an advert for insurance than a news report although to be fair they also quote a spokesperson from the London Cycling Campaign who does also support the idea, but points out that “although cyclists may be more vulnerable on the roads, statistically they are less likely to be responsible for an accident than a motorist – that is reflected in the premiums”.

What is interesting though is the sheer volume of comment from No. 474 - “I find that cyclists are the biggest hazard to traffic on the roads today”. Or No. 523 “I think cyclists should be prosecuted for not using cycle lanes where they exist”. Or No. 441 “These people saying cyclists are a danger to pedestrians need to know some facts. In the last decade just over 7600 pedestrians were killed by motorists. How many were willed by cyclists? 29. Says it all really.” And finally No. 440 “Yes let’s stop this cycling nonsense. Let’s all drive cars instead, preferably big 4x4s. This way we can become fatter, which must be a good thing and also our climate will become warmer. Excellent. Let’s go for pedestrian insurance next.”

The road to Upware on a busy day

Now I do know that this is not a representative sample of all road users and therefore not necessarily representative of the feelings of all road users. The trouble is that cyclists are what is known as vulnerable road users – they come of worse in a “coming together” as it used to be known in Formula 1 circles. I have been shouted at a few times by motorists telling me to get on a cycle path, although the last few times they’ve then been held up in traffic, allowing me to cycle past smiling broadly at them as they look fixedly ahead ignoring me.

I don’t know why people driving motor vehicles are so sensitive about cyclists really. There is probably not one single issue. In no particular order some of the frustrations are probably:

  • Congestion on the roads is worse than ever and cyclists are seen as yet another hazard
  • Cyclists get in the way and slow the traffic down
  • Driving a motor vehicle requires more concentration with increasing complexity of road layouts, traffic calming,  increased signage and the last straw more cyclists makes it even more difficult. (This applies to those with limited driving skills and professional drivers of large vehicles such as HGVs and buses)
  • The type of road user you are is a “metaphor” for social class and knowing your place in the road society is even more creates an even more rigid structure than the social class system
  • Perceived inequality,  roads are seen as paid for by motorists and should be reserved for motorists
    • Another perceived inequality probably also relates to the “war on the motorist” through speed cameras, parking charges and the like – problems that cyclists don’t have
  • Guilt – motor vehicles are noisy, polluting and expensive – damaging the planet and your wallet – so it creates resentment of cyclist goody-goodies
  • Fear – motorists fear being deprived of their motor vehicles and forced onto public transport or to cycle.

Now I am not going to rehash all the arguments but instead will point to a couple of Guardian articles. The first one deals with the “Myth of ‘road tax’ returns to haunt us again” and summarises some of the nonsense. Here are ten cars that are free to tax. Here is the second Guardian article – “Why regulating cyclists if unnecessary and harmful” – it also points to a “typical comment”. However I couldn’t resist this comment – “Lycra-clad louts are taking over” which I saw on “Bristol Traffic”.

So where to take it from here. Well, as someone who thoroughly enjoys cycling I feel that a lot of perceptions motorists have about cyclists are actually misperceptions. I also feel that there are motorists who might well switch to cycling as an alternate form of transport, but feel that the roads are just too unpleasant. The reality is that roads such as the A14 and M25 are chock-a-block for reasons that are nothing to do with cyclists.

A14 – wot no cyclists?

So I feel that the fact that motorists resent and/or don’t like cyclists is a problem as it creates an unnecessary us and them mentality. So what should we do about it. Well put simply “one more cyclist is one less car”. I do feel that that there are important road users, valuable to either our wealth or health that ought to have more priority than they currently do on the roads. Whilst I might be happy to cycle-commute say 20-30 miles a day I would certainly not do 100 miles day.  If I were to drive a lorry for a living then I might get a little frustrated at all the single-occupant cars commuting up and down the A14.

Regular readers will know that I feel that the provision for cycle parking at Cambridge Railway Station is appalling and has been for a long time. It has become one of the more significant issues on the Fixmytransport website. The issue was reported in September and as of today has 236 supporters. One simple reality is that if the cyclists didn’t cycle and drove in instead then there would be parking chaos. According to the First Capital Connect website there are 435 car spaces.A recent (June/July 2010) survey by the Cambridge Cycling Campaign it indicated that 1,200 cycles went through the barriers and 1,000 parked there.

High-density Cycle parking – Cambridge Railway Station

I would imagine that the “powers that be”  consider that a lot of the bikes are either; semi-abandoned or not used on a daily basis, or owned by school children or students or owned by people who don’t have cars. I would also imagine that the car park gets neat to capacity each morning – so despite the long-running concern about cycle parking at the station they see it as a marginal problem and fob complainants of with the promise it will get fixed in the future.

Leafy Cycle parking – Cambridge Railway Station

The trouble is this discourages would-be cyclists and once they start running longer trains it will get much worse. We are even promised faster 125mph trains, although to be fair that is another manyana promise as it is not due until 2018! Rather bizarrely the North-East Cambridgeshire MP also trumpeted the positive effect this would have on land prices. Sorry kids, you’ll have to move away if you want to buy a house.

Mind you the effect of  longer trains on the number of people requiring parking might get cancelled out by the proposed new station for Cambridge – “train station plan is right on track”. Although the article does not actually indicate when it might get built – just that it would expect 2,800 passengers daily. According to Wikipedia the current Cambridge railway station had 7.661million users in 2009/10 which equates to just under  21,000 passengers a day. No wonder there are cycle parking problems. (We also have station  litter problems as well because the provision of litter bins  has also been tied into the CB1 development.)

Rather strangely at the same time there are problems with too many users at the Cambridge railway station, free parking is being introduced at Shepreth station and charges halved at Meldreth Station.

So back to the question how do we get motorists to see that actually more cyclists less congestion and easier parking. It doesn’t trip of the tongue I’m afraid

“Every  bike is one less car in your way”

Back to the parking, it would be interesting to know how many of the daily cyclists who park at the railway station have cars.  My guess is if enough of them switched  to using their cars and went early to the car park  and parked - they would get themselves noticed as hoards of later arriving car drivers found themselves unable to park. It would also be perfectly legitimate and show just how beneficial it is to those that choose to drive since it means they get to park their cars.

Before I finish I see that as part of kick-starting the economy the A14 is getting some money, but I find it even more interesting that there will be money for rail projects, such as the East West rail link.

A14 from Girton Bridge

Let’s hope that the new link gets bridges  there have been a couple of level crossing incidents reaching the courts – one at Foxton and the other at Ely. (One got a 3 month ban, the other didn’t"!)

I think that this is the Ely level-crossing in question – seen from the railway line


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