To be fair, it’s not their fault, but when I’m driving around I regularly encounter cyclists on the road and it generally drives me nuts (no pun intended). The reason is simple, British roads are often narrow little things, claustrophobic at times, in fact some of the roads I use feel like you need to breath in when you meet oncoming traffic.
So what you do not want to meet is a cyclist, because the road isn’t wide enough to go around them if there’s anything coming the other way. If you do meet one you end up sat behind them travelling at ten miles an hour, or, usually, much less (meet one going up hill and it feels more like you’ve stopped). When there’s a lot of traffic coming the other way it can be hugely frustrating, especially when you add the pressure of traffic behind you.
What’s worse is that there are plenty of cycle paths around where I live and the cyclists are often pedalling along, blocking my smooth transition, right beside a path dedicated to them. It has caused me to utter more than a few obscenities at the offender.
Generally I can sympathise though. I’ve been out on a bike in the not-too-distant past and there’s a frustration when using cycle paths because they’re an afterthought, built by people who don’t cycle. Taking a pavement, widening it a bit (if at all) and slapping a sign on it does not make a cycle path.
I liken cycling to being a lorry driver. I’ve had the displeasure to drive a van that was so slow that I adopted the same techniques as lorry drivers to avoid losing momentum at all costs, because once it’s gone, it takes forever to build back up. That’s why you see lorries sat on the back of the vehicle in front, or overtaking at a speed barely faster than the vehicle they’re passing, purely to keep rolling along, because the minute they touch the brakes they know it’ll take miles to get back up to speed again.
The same is true for cyclists, once you’re motoring along it takes far less energy to maintain it and you just want to keep cruising. The cycle paths in the UK constantly force cyclists to drop down curbs, or come to a halt to cross roads, or divert off around traffic lights or roundabouts. Not to mention they’re often in small stretches which either simply end, or in one case near me, switches sides of the road. If cyclists stick to the road they don’t face these problems.
I lived in the Netherlands for a bit and there is a country that knows how to handle cyclists. (My colleagues and I used to joke that walking was the lowest-ranking mode of transport with bicycles way out in front, then cars and finally pedestrians, often sidelined to a thin strip of path.) You see, their cycle paths are designed as routes to get to places, like roads are, not just small strips that eventually spit you out onto a road or just stop. When a cycle path meets a road in Holland, not only does the cyclist have right of way, the road surface is raised up (similar to some speed humps in the UK) to meet the path and allow a smooth transit. (Talk about synchronicity, I had a link to this post on the Atlantic in my NextDraft email last night, some good ideas there.)
So if the government wants to encourage a cleaner, healthier form of transport, namely cycling, then they need to start designing the environment to better cater for them, at the moment its success has largely been in spite of the poor environment they have.
So come on, Dave (Cameron), help me stop swearing at cyclists and let’s start addressing the problem in a smarter way, rather than just painting a strip down the side of the road and ticking the box to say we’re doing our part, because we’re not.
(On a related not, I have to confess some of Jon Hick’s bike creations are whetting my appetite, those are some stylish machines.)