The Road Less Travelled

I’ve generally found in life that there is a time and place for everything.  When my six week old son does a loud burp immediately after a meal everyone coos and applauds. You don’t get the same response aged 37, I have learned.

It would be nice if our local authorities realised this when it comes to installing their often hilarious takes on ‘Cycling Infrastructure’. To look at some of their efforts, the casual bystander would be forgiven for assuming that they were created for a circus chimp on a BMX by designers who clearly spent more time as a child on an Etch a Sketch than a bicycle.

For a decent cycle path to work, it has to be direct, continuous, with a good level of surface and good sight lines. It should clearly demonstrate that cycling is the quickest, safest most direct way to get about. What we often end up with are ‘Shared Use Facilities’ where a pavement is upgraded with a fresh coating of tarmac and shiny bicycle symbols painted on (quite often there’s no resurfacing).

These usually take a more circuitous route, are slower, usually running right past the entrances to peoples homes and driveways raising the chance of a collision with pedestrians. They offer no priority at junctions meaning the cyclist has to stop frequently losing their momentum. I take the view that if a cycle path needs a ‘Cyclist Dismount’ sign, than it has failed as a cycle path (unless of course it is for something like a canal lock). It is like asking a motorist to get out and push.

It also means that, with fewer bicycles on the road, the traffic speeds up which is particularly undesirable in residential areas, school zones and near medical facilities. The quicker cyclist, not choosing the path because it would be more dangerous, may also find themselves getting abuse from motorists who think they should be on the path even though the cyclist has more right to be on the road.

You may wonder why local cycling campaigners don’t say anything. This is generally because (from experience) by the time they get a whiff of ‘consultation’, the works have already been designed, signed off and programmed. But at least the local authority can now say they have ‘spoken to cyclists’.

The safest place to be, believe it or not, is on the road moving with the flow of traffic. This is partly because you are traffic but also because of the big secrets that some in the media and Motoring Lobby don’t want you to know. Do you want to hear one?!

Ready?

Cycling isn’t dangerous!

Incredible eh?! They may and try and portray it as dangerous by encouraging us to wear helmets and fear-mongering but they’re only distracting us from the fact that they are the danger on our streets that needs to be addressed (as brilliantly illustrated by this must-read article from Copenhagenize.com).

Do you want to hear another fact that they don’t want you to know?

Cyclists have more right to be on the road because driving is merely a privilege that can be removed and motorists haven’t paid for the roads since 1937!!!!!

Mind blowing!

There are cycle paths out there that do work very well, but usually it’s because they simply can’t fail such as the conversion of abandoned railway lines or wide coastal promenades like Worthing. The glorious Downs Link for example allows me to cycle from the South Coast to Surrey where I was brought up with next to no traffic interchange whatsoever.

You would have thought it child’s play to design a facility for something bewilderingly simple as a bicycle. Unfortunately, the end result usually looks like child’s play. Use the road instead for the moment. You belong there after all.

Campaigning With Style

Brighton played host to the annual Naked Bike Ride yesterday. It’s a mass participation event that’s a cheeky (pardon the pun) protest against car culture and oil dependency. It’s a celebration of the bicycle and the ‘power and individuality of the human body’. They obviously haven’t seen my body which looks like the bastard child of Christopher Hoy and Christopher Biggins. It also highlights the vulnerability of cyclists in traffic.

It should come as no surprise that Brighton & Hove hosts such an event. It’s a city that likes to tout itself as ‘alternative’ because it contains a higher than average gay & student population along with artists and a 45% higher ratio of ‘street performers’. Alright, I made that last bit up but on a sunny day or any day containing a protest these people appear eating fire, juggling with fire or strumming a guitar as they connect with the fire that burns within. It’s basically everyone I’ve ever wanted to set on fire whilst giggling like a maniac at every party I’ve been to.

Today’s sermon is based on my humble opinion that events like this do not help the cause of cycling at all. The Naked Bike Ride is a massive turn off to cycling for the general public in every possible way and plays straight to the Jeremy Clarkson cyclist stereotype of tree hugging, Guardian reading, lentil eating, sandal wearing tosspot. I’m no prude, despite living in Worthing. I just feel that if the motoring lobby (or indeed any lobby) can present itself professionally than so can cycling.

I used to cringe when I attended cycle forum meetings. These were usually hosted by a council in a room containing above average coffee and biscuits where we would express the views of cyclists to council engineers who would listen and then totally ignore what we said. They would then carry on painting bicycle symbols on pavements and calling it ‘infrastructure’ (but that’s another ramble). All council officials were wearing suits and looking very professional. All the cycle campaigners were wearing tired old lycra with smug scruffiness and generally looking as though they have a bath when they accidentally trip into one. They thought that just being a cyclist was enough. They thought wrong. I have found in a cycle campaigning capacity that I gain greater respect from non-cyclists and they listen when I’m dressed in a suit as suddenly I look like one of them making an effort.

The fact is that, sadly, these are times of soundbite and spin. Where image counts over competence. British politics is lurching toward the right wing and I believe that cycle campaigners and lobbyists should do the same with rampant smart dressing. I would like to see an extremist wing of cycle campaigning formed where cyclists of all creeds, colours and ages say a resounding ‘No!’ to pointless nudity, ‘No!’ to cycle campaigners speaking to officials in clapped out lycra, ‘No!’ to bloody scruffy fire-eating hippies thinking that cycling is just about saving the environment. ‘No!’ to cycling organisations sending representatives out in branded polo shirts. Not in our name! Dressing smartly and presenting yourself professionally as a campaigner is easy to do, it’s playing the Government and the motoring lobby at its own game and is also more effective than wearing nothing.

In any case, if we tried a Naked Bike Ride here in Worthing, it would look like a pornographic ‘Last of the Summer Wine’.