25 years ago, some friends and I, aged between 13 & 15 decided to go for a bike ride. We packed sandwiches and flasks of squash into bags and cycled from our home village of Elstead, Surrey to Bury Hill, West Sussex. We had intended to cycle further to Arundel or the sea but we decided to quit while we were ahead. We had cycled 40 odd miles (including the stout climb up the South Downs) and had another 40 to get home. The freedom was exhilarating.
The majority of our route was on A roads and it was still a pleasure. We were cycling outside of rush hour on a week day; drivers were courteous, when a lorry slowed down behind us we pulled over to let the driver pass safely and he thanked us with a wave and a toot of the horn. We did all this with no helmets, no high-viz and without fear. Little did we know that Mrs Thatcher and the road building lobby had other ideas.
25 years later, cyclists can still use A Roads (they have a right to) but they aren’t exactly filled with pleasure, unless you’re the Marquis de Sade. Many have been ‘improved’ and ‘engineered’ to the extent that they have become dual carriageways – motorways in all but name that now bypass the very communities the original roads were meant to serve. They have become incredibly hostile environments for anything that doesn’t have a motor attached to it. It’s strange to think that you can’t cycle in or out of a seaside town such as Worthing due to the A24 being a fast dual carriageway unless you’re Mark Cavendish on amphetamines. There isn’t even a consistant path at the side for pedestrians or horse riders either.
Cycling as a result has become a very schizophrenic activity; on the one hand experienced cyclists claim that we must assert our right to the road and that if enough people do it we will reach some sort of tipping point or critical mass. Others believe that this will never happen all the while that cycling is increasingly perceived as a dangerous activity and that cycle lanes or shared use facilities are the way forward.
All very engaging stuff, but I would like to propose another way in the same vein as the Conservative road building policy of the 1980s and 1990s. I don’t mean London Cycle Superhighways or the National Cycle Network. No way. That’s for wimps!!
I want Town Planners and Highways engineers cowering in my wake as I pursue with extreme prejudice Cycle Mega Highways across the land as much as 5 metres wide!! I want them to be fast (or slow. It’s not a race), direct, with priority at junctions. Yes! Priority at junctions! I want ruthless planting of hedgerows and trees to act as windbreaks and encourage wildlife (that won’t get run over). I want to see people of all creeds, colours and ages riding to work and school with stupid grins plastered across their faces. I want to see the mass burning of High-viz tabards and helmets when people realise that cycling isn’t a dangerous activity and that they had been lied to by the motoring lobby and ‘road safety’ groups. I want the designers of ‘Shared Use Facilities’ and other crap cycle infrastructure put in large wooden stocks placed at the side of the Cycle Mega Highways to remind them constantly how it should be done. I want all ‘Cyclists Dismount’ and ‘End of Route’ signs melted down and turned into statues of Tommy ‘Angel of the North’ Simpson, Beryl ‘Angel of the North’ Burton, Sir Chris ‘Angel of the Track’ Hoy and Victoria ‘Angel of Angels’ Pendleton. I want people’s house prices to spiral upwards out of control when a Cycling Mega Highway stampedes nearby with its deafening levels of peace and quiet and obscene levels of fresh air. I want residents to attempt claiming compensation from the RSPB when the sound of birdsong starts becoming too much. I want pedestrians to worry about whether they’re wearing any deodorant due to no cyclists brushing past them on the pavements. I want towns and cities to become liveable and civilized again! I want local businesses, cafes and farm shops to enjoy rampant good trade due to happy people cycling past and local money staying local. I want the Chancellor to say at a budget ‘we don’t need to raise spending on the NHS because you’re all so fit and stress free. We’re diverting money instead to the treatment of the Top Gear fan base as they’re not getting any younger either.’
Above all, I want a proper legacy for my son and his children to enjoy. Not a sloppily converted pavement. Nor a strip of paint that fizzles out at the precise moment a cyclist would need it most. I mean a proper sustainable transport network. And I bet it would cost less than the proposed High Speed Rail Link too.
Some people say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. Please look at this brilliant blog entry from David Hembrow comparing British & Dutch streets.