Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Road users and manners, Gumption and Cycling

Although Spring has yet to, well, spring, I am still venturing off my usual beaten paths when out on my bicycle. The weather can be very changeable and I am still waiting for some snow to cycle on - it makes a lovely crunchy sound.

One of the ways I follow my hobby is through reading two magazines - Cycling+ and the CTC magazine (Used to be the Cyclists' Touring Club - If you have ever read "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" - one concept is the need to keep up "gumption" levels, which provides the "enthusiasm" to tackle problems that crop up even with hobbies. For me "gumption" helps me go out cycling in the wind, rain and the dark. I always enjoy it when I do, despite not wanting to set off. One of the things that helps top up my gumption levels is reading about cycling in its various forms.

This month one of the CTC magazine articles was about a cyclist in Scotland who uses a video camera to record his journeys to work (and other routes I suppose). As you can imagine he also records quite a few cases of poor driving and cycling. It can be quite amusing to watch, although it has put me off from doing anything similar. There was apparently some fuss over whether it was "right" to record scenes in this way. Although why it should be ok for police cars and buses, but not bicycles was not really tackled.

I think that the problem arises when there are two types of road user with different characteristics. Here in the Cambridge area during the rush hour a nearby stretch of road bans lorries from overtaking during certain times of the day (rush hours). This is because the speed limit for lorries is different and they have tachographs that record their speeds, so when one overtakes another it can take quite a long time as the relative speed difference is small. So it becomes expedient to create a situation in which many car drivers benefit to the detriment of a small number of lorry drivers. Woe betide the lorry driver who gets stuck behind a very slow lorry.

The same occurs when cyclists and motor vehicles are brought into conflict. Both sides feel hard done by and in my view both cyclists and motorists could do with improving their motoring manners. One response was the creation of shared use cycling/footpaths - unfortunately this brought cyclists and pedestrians into conflict. I quite often get hard stares from pedestrians when legally cycling on shared-use paths, I have also been sworn at by an irate motorist because I was on the road rather than on the path where i "f!*&*ing belong".

The trick would seem to be to avoid bringing any two groups into conflict through good road design, but not easy when many roads are constrained by the areas they run through I would also help if motorists/cyclists/pedestrians understand each others' perspectives. It seems to me that much of the problem is a significant reduction in "manners". It seems more road users jump red lights, park where it is inappropriate, disobey road signs and fail to to be courteous to other road users - then spend time overlooking their own shortcomings whilst blaming others.

One of the benefits of cycling along certain country lanes regularly I that I am probably recognised by the other road users - mainly tractors and other farm vehicles. I have found that they are always very polite and wave, which in turn makes me more ready to pull in to let them by.

One of the cycling routes in Cambridge follows the River Cam, although it peters out at Waterbeach, the cycling route that is not the river. Here is a view up from Bottisham lock.

I also found myself cycling up from Cottenham along a country lane, this had the misfortune of running alongside a large rubbish tip. When I say large I mean huge, loads of birds were flocking round and the smell was very strong. A reminder of the need to re-cycle. Although with the current economic crisis apparently the demand for waste materials to recycle has fallen significantly.

I have also been cycling the "wrong way" round to change my perspective on my routes. Once again I have seen deer on White Fen. It is really nice to cycle through a field when it is pitch black - very peaceful. Here with some miles to go it was starting to darken.

Here at White Fen it was dark and I took pictures by resting my camera on the the new bridge and letting it take pictures with an exposure of 2 to 4 seconds, when normally it would be 1/60 of a second.

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