Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Cycling and Cycling Facilities

A recent discussion on the excellent Blog of my friend Daniel in Australia regarding cycle facilities and the compulsory wearing of cycle helmets there prompted me to reply to the ensuing discussion from a UK point of view.

I don't cycle anywhere near as much any more as I used to, although I'm the proud owner of a Brompton. However, I have strong views on the subject of cycling as a means of transport and many factors, from the behaviour of cyclists, pedestrians and road users to the attitudes of planners usually get me a bit hot under the collar.

Anyway, I thought that my contribution merited reproducing on my Blog, too. so here it is:

The view of the general public here varies from outright hostility to cyclists (from motorists and pedestrians who only notice the many cyclists who ignore zebra crossings and red traffic lights) to well-meaning paternalism.

The latter sees both helmets and cycle paths as Good Things. In fact, I've seen as much evidence that helmets make things worse as I have that they make things better. Badly fitted helmets are a particular problem.

Cycle "facilities" are often very poor and frequently (and I mean FREQUENTLY put cyclists in more rather than less danger. Specifically, they confine cyclists to the extreme left hand side of the road, making them less visible and they create far more conflicts with other traffic flows, both regarding motor vehicles and pedestrians.

My view is that cycle lanes and paths do have a function but usually only at extremely busy grade separated junctions or to allow cyclists to avoid complex and lengthy one way system detours.

The problem is that few people seem to regard cyclists as what they are: traffic. Motorists think that "in this day and age"......."they shouldn't be on the road" as "it's too dangerous". Planners think that cycle paths "make cyclists safer" and cyclists themselves weave between being "traffic" and "pedestrians" when it suits them.

I can't offer a solution but I do think there's a lot of merit in treating bicycles as "traffic" just like anything else.

(Incidentally, I would draw a distinction here between cycling as a means of transport and leisure cycling, often involving young children, families and people going especially slowly. In such cases, scenic cycle paths like the Camel Trail which we recently sampled in Cornwall have much to commend them. Even there, though, the conflict between faster cyclists, slower ones and *very* inexperienced ones sometimes led to some hairy moments!)

1 comment:

  1. I tend to never wear a helmet, its questionable as to its value. The thing which tends to kill cyclists is going under the wheels or the engine block on the car bonnet. Helmets don't help much there.

    People confuse cyclists with motor cycles, the latter who I completely see the value for full face helmets. Its a different issue for them, and speed they are going...

    So often people use them for a "alse sense of safety.. But apparently car drivers tend to get closer to those with helmets, because they regard them as experts and less unpredictable...

    I'd say cycle lanes have value though, when well done. However, they're rarely ever well done at the moment. Much better in Brussels... In Belgium they tend to be on the much wider pavements, which removes half the safety issues (except for those who insist on walking on them though).