Thursday, September 10, 2009

Horses for Courses - cycles for Roads or Cycle Paths?

When I put my head outside of the door this morning - it seemed to be freezing, although not literally In fact the morning temperature was around 8C at 6.30am, which was quite a bit cooler than it has been. I put on a fleece for my morning cycle to fetch my newspaper. One of the advantages of working from home is that I can get up early get my work done and still have time to pop out for a late afternoon cycle ride. Although a quick read of the email "traffic" from my membership of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign highlighted extensive and passionate discussions on the subject of ASLs (Advance Stop Lines) and Cycle lanes in respect of some recent work on a bridge near to the town centre. It got me thinking, I certainly admire the passion whichever way the person might happen to be arguing, it got me thinking about why I cycle and what I want from the "powers that be" for cycling provision.

I cycle because I enjoy getting out and about, seeing the countryside and getting a bit of exercise and fresh air. I also used to find that cycling to work (when I did not work at home) put me in a good frame of mind for the rest of the day. I certainly like the fact that it is "green" but that is not why I do it, although I do think that we all need to live greener lives, I know I still use aeroplanes - not the greenest of transport, and whilst I appreciate the health benefits I don't cycle to be greatly fit. So taking those things into account I want pleasant,safe and fast routes to work/railway station and safe and pleasant scenic routes for my meandering rides.

It also turns out that today the Times newspaper (also on-line here) published a piece on some research which suggests that "Cycle lanes encourage motorists to drive closer to bikes". The sort of lanes they refer to are the ones where a white line is painted on the road and sometimes the lane is highlighted with a green or red surface. In the past there has also been research by Dr Ian Walker, a traffic psychologist from the University of Bath, indicating the drivers will pass cyclists closer if they are wearing helmets or Lycra. The suggestion being that motorists assume a higher level of competence on the part of the cyclist, or maybe the reverse is true that they worry that a wobbly cyclist might damage their paintwork and give them more room. The finally piece of research suggests that "More cyclists means fewer accidents" as reported in the Guardian newspaper.

So why I am telling you all of this. Well my attitudes have changed over the last few years. I believe that bicycles are fully entitled to their road space, but there are so many slapdash drivers I prefer to cycle on cycle lanes/quiet roads when I can. So my view is that we need to consider what the purpose of the route is/might be in order to decide what is best. I now firmly believe that there should be dedicated cycling commuter paths to encourage more people to cycle to and from work. Similarly I believe they should be of high quality, with direct routes and with priority over car traffic. Where the commuter route is at its extremity I accept that perhaps a shared cycle/pedestrian path is expedient and since commuter cycle traffic is tidal (in in the morning and out in the evening) it represents an acceptable level of quality. There should also be routes, as Sustrans does which encourage leisure cycling, the surfaces are less important, the more they can be traffic free the more they will encourage family cycling. Over the summer I have thoroughly enjoyed cycling on the converted disused railway lines.

I also feel that motorists need re-educating on the vulnerability of cyclists. In the last week I have had cars whizz by at 60MPH, whilst I was doing around 20MPH with a separation of around 9inches 0 I don't know about you, but if frightens me. I also find that when i cycle out in my lane, most motorists respond and slow down and wait until there is a gap in the traffic so they can pass safely. Great I think, assertive cycling really works, except every now and then an idiot flies by swerving in towards me. Now I am not a timid cyclist, I have cycled for over 40years and have cycled around 60,000miles in the last 12 years or so, but as I know it only takes one driver to mistime slightly his (or her) overtaking manoeuvre and I get a world of pain. When it happened to me in February - I only suffered a broken collar bone - but I do believe that a small minority of motorists are more intimidating. During the last 5 or so years the abuse I get shouted at me by passing motorists has increased - cyclists must not be treated as second class citizens - it is too dangerous. Now if I think that, then I am sure (and have heard anecdotally) that non-cyclists will be put off cycling.

Enough ranting - I have seen quite a few more cyclists out riding around the Fens over the last few days - here are two enjoying the late summer sun along a typical fen road. More cyclists along this road should help to slow the few mad drivers down.


Although it is a bit colder , there has been no sign of rain so the irrigater aeroplane was set to take off on this field of potatoes.


I can't resist taking pictures when the sky is blue and the clouds are puffy.


I even cycled up a rough old track, which I normally only use when on my MTB - but it leads to an inner part of Wicken Fen. )Yes I have tumbled off my bike once or twice on this bit of track, but in my experience non-car collisions don't cause anywhere near so much pain.


On my way back I noticed the the "traffic" counter checking on the usage along the White Fen path is solar-powered. I also passed a couple of cyclists here as well. It saves me having to cycle up and down a few times to ensure that the count is good!


All in all it was a really pleasant ride with the bonus of having the wind behind me on my return. It was one of those cycling days that I really enjoy and when I got home I realised that my total distance for the year had passed the 9,000 Km mark (around 5,600 miles) not bad considering I had a 6 week spell of the bike.. I have also taken over 4,000 pictures this year as well. I know it is not about quantity - but it shows that quite a lot has caught my eye whilst out cycling.

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