Friday, 30 November 2012

Road or path - a bit of a rant

There are two immutable facts about travelling by bicycle.  Cars don’t want you on the road and pedestrians don’t want you on the footpath.  So what do you do?
The better-lit “Winter Route” (as it has now become known) which I use to commute at the moment follows for the most part one of the Sustrans National Cycle routes.  This can mean one of many things from a dedicated, traffic-free pathway, a spilt level pavement, a cycle lane at the side of the road or a shared pavement.  I’m glad we have the cycle route system as it’s something which many countries cry out for.  It’s not perfect, but it’s much better than nothing and I think Sustrans are doing their best with the hand they are dealt.  I digress…
My route is generally of the shared pavement type.  It is well signposted but that doesn’t stop pedestrians blithely dawdling along in the bike lane (which I note they don’t do in the road).  The pavement (shared or otherwise) also has the disadvantage of plenty of kerbs to bump up and down which, on 20” wheels can be bone-jarring. 
So then there’s the road.  Cars, vans and trucks simply don’t want bikes there at all.  They are so locked into the rush hour race to get to the next static traffic queue as fast as possible (or so it seems), that a cyclist is quite an inconvenience to them.  Incidentally, I found an interesting site the other day explaining that historically, roads were not built for cars.  It is, appropriately enough, at and makes an excellent point.  A point which is sadly lost of my fellow road users, every morning and evening. 
My solution is to use whichever option is the safest and most considerate at the time.  If the road is busy and the pavement not, I’ll use the pavement.  If the pavement is busy, poorly lit or poorly surfaced I’ll use the road.  If there is a clear, well lit and well surfaced cycle path, I thank the Lord for my good fortune and cycle on unimpeded and with a huge grin on my face*.  Sometimes there’s no option and I just have to use whichever route is at hand in the best way that I can.  In other words, I stay switched on and ride to the conditions at hand.  This is something that car-drivers, on commuter auto-pilot, are shockingly bad at doing. 
Ideally, I don’t want my journey to work to be an inconvenience to anyone.  On the contrary, I want to have less of an impact in terms of noise, pollution, congestion and general annoyance to those around me.  However, very little of our transport infrastructure is built around the needs of cyclists.  This is despite the fact that cycling offers a genuine sustainable alternative to most car journeys (which are I believe under 5 miles).  Until the Government wises up to the fact and design roads and towns with cycling in mind, we cyclists are just going to have to keep campaigning, keep our wits about us and ride in the best way we can.
And to end on a lighter (but relevant) note, there’s this sign which I found somewhere on the internet (credit to whoever took the picture – it’s not one of mine):
A valid message!
*Throw in a decent tail wind and I’d die happy there and then. 

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