Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Cycling and Bike Share Schemes

I used to be quite a keen cyclist. Not the lycra or £2,500 bike, etc. but I did cycle quite often and am the proud owner of a Brompton folding bike, a splendid piece of British-built kit which you now see more and more on the streets.

One of the beauties of Bromptons is that they make multi-modal journeys easier; you just fold them up and pop them on the train, in the boot of the car or even, apparently, on the bus (not that I’ve ever tried the latter).

I’ve always meant to take the Brompton to London for the day but somehow never managed to get around to it. Something else is about to happen, though, which might bet me on two wheels in the capital from time to time: Transport for London’s new Barclay’s Cycle Hire. This scheme, similar to Velib in Paris or Melbourne Bike Share in, er, Melbourne, sees a large number of bicycles for hire at special docking stations around the capital. Basically, you go along to one, pay a hire fee by credit card and cycle away! (It’s actually rather more complex than that with an “access fee” and so on but you get the idea.) You can return the bike to any docking stand and the charging system is designed to encourage shorter term use.

One thing the scheme won’t have though is cycle helmets for hire. Unlike in some countries, the use of cycle helmets in the UK is not compulsory. But the absence of them (and who’s likely to just ”have one on them”?) may well put some people off. It will certainly cause at least some negative comment in the press, I think.

Not everyone thinks that helmets are a good idea, though. It’s sometimes said that safety features in cars, like air-bags for example, make people more reckless and that the same applies to cycle helmets. I’ve also heard it suggested that they can compound injuries in certain cases, especially if poorly fitted.

That said, when I cycle (which as I say is all too infrequently nowadays) I always wear one. I feel safer - a bit safer - with it and always take as much care as possible. On a more mundane note, it's saved me from being hurt by overhanging branches on off-road routes a couple of times!

But “safety” on two wheels is often at odds with “perceived safety” by the Great British Public. For example, a bigger gripe of mine is cycle paths and lanes. Beloved of planners who like to Do Things To Encourage Cycling, these often put a cyclist at much more of a disadvantage and in more danger. They introduce far more conflicts and junctions, are generally poorly maintained and swept and give motorists the latent belief that bicycles somehow don't really "belong" on the road.

That said, many (MANY) cyclists make life hard for themselves and the rest of us by blatantly flouting the rules of the road, using footpaths when it suits them and ignoring red lights. This means that as soon as you stick up for cycling as a means of transport, people throw the behaviour of cyclists back in your face.

Anyway, despite that homily, I’ll be watching Barclays Cycle Hire with great interest, though. If I ever get around to trying it out, I’m sure I’ll have plenty to report.

1 comment:

  1. Sixty or seventy years ago, when the A449 and A34 dual carriageway in Staffordshire was being laid out, the cycling clubs did not want the cycleways that were being provided. Plus ca change!