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.

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Helmets and Accidents

According to the Bikeradar website, Swedish car company Volvo have teamed up with a ‘top sports protection specialist’, POC, to develop a new children’s cycle helmet.

Recently promoted at a primary school in the Netherlands, the bright orange lid has sparked controversy, with critics accusing Volvo of hypocrisy, stating that “Volvo introduces helmet to protect against Volvos” and comparing their promotion of the cycle helmet with Smith & Wesson introducing children’s bulletproof vests.

Volvo have also been accused of using the lid as a cheap ploy to market their new pedestrian safety detection system. Critics point out that this is only available as an option on one model, the S60, which undermines the company’s claim that safety is their paramount concern.

I’m going to leap off the fence here and say that that I agree with the critics for four fundamental reasons;

1 Firstly, it must be a duty to make motorists more aware of vulnerable road users. Particularly as they have more right to be there than motorists as Vehicle Excise Duty hasn’t paid for the roads since 1937. If it takes 20mph speed limits in residential areas, or more innovative approaches to streetscape design to keep speeds down in urban areas than so be it. If motorists can’t keep their foot off the accelerator where children are about than that option will have to be removed from them. Cycling isn’t a dangerous activity, believe it or not.

2 If we made helmets compulsory for our children, it will have a negative effect on child take-up of cycling, like everywhere else this has happened. If we don’t make the streets safer, then obesity will get them in the longer term. The health benefits of cycling outweigh the dangers many times over. The speed of traffic would probably rise too with less cyclists on the roads. The cyclists that remain will venture out wearing protective helmets thus making it OK to drive like a lunatic around them and a downward spiral is set in motion.

3 Sometimes, dare I say it, our children will ignore what we say to them. One day my son may want to cycle to the local shop to get some sweets. He may think ‘it’s only 2 minutes away. I don’t need a silly helmet. Who cares that I have to wear one and dad told me to’. If we made helmets compulsory and your child gets hit by a car whilst not wearing a helmet, there may be no hope for compensation if a head injury is sustained as your child will be negligent. Consider the amount of times you did things as a child without your parent’s knowledge and consent if you still think I’m wrong.

4 Volvo feel the need to make everyone else wear a helmet (probably pedestrians too if they had their way) because their cars are so tank-like they show no consideration for anyone or anything else in the outside World. They are basically encouraging their consumers to drive their products like wankers (‘It’s OK to drive like a lunatic! We’ve put helmets on everyone outside, even children!).

I’m not against helmets but I’m definitely pro-choice and if you decide to put a helmet on your child than great (just check the bike over first too). It’s essential as a civilised society that we have to make the roads safer first for everyone instead of wrapping people up in cotton wool. For the record, I wear a helmet on my 24 mile a day commute (partly because no-one in Brighton & Hove can drive correctly) but I respect your choice not to wear one.

You may be wondering, dear reader, why I may be showing a little animosity towards motorists despite being a car owner myself. The week before my 10th birthday (Halloween 1982) my father was driving my mother and I home from a birthday party. He needed to turn right on a junction of the A3 (it has a flyover now). This meant crossing over the northbound carriageway. A VW hatchback came hurtling around the corner and smashed into us side on. We were in a transit van and not wearing seat belts as they had not been made compulsory. The Police at the time said had I been wearing one I probably would have been decapitated. This is because the force was so great I took the passenger door with me and hit the A3 head first. A helmet may have saved my life or given me a spinal injury as well. Who knows? What I do know was I ended up with a multiple fracture of the scull and my leg was ripped to shreds. My hand required extensive stitches.

The thing is I thought my hand required stitches because I logically believed that any person would probably stick their hand out to protect themselves if they hit the ground. You’d be wrong, dear reader. I only found the truth out this year from my mother. I needed stitches in my hand because motorists were getting so impatient at us for having a nasty car smash, they started to drive their way through the wreckage and someone drove over my hand. Let’s reiterate; a motorist drove over the hand of a 9 year old unconscious boy lying in the road after a massive smash (the car that hit us was doing 70mph according to the skid marks).

All involved, I’m pleased to report, made a full recovery. My belief that motoring brings out the worst in people and is the most anti-social, selfish thing you can do remains unchanged, however. Ride a bike instead, dear reader. I can even recommend a helmet for you, if you so choose.

Road Tax

Yesterday I found myself in a place I don’t often frequent – the DVLA local office in Brighton. Our beloved little car is no longer fit for purpose so we traded it in for a 5 door ‘family saloon’. This is partly for Wife who through a combination of bad luck and woefully bad surgery has a bad back but also because we seem to have accumulated a lot of stuff since The Boy arrived on the scene. The Space Shuttle taking supplies to the International Space Station is nothing compared to my household embarking on an overnight stay. It does make you wonder how we coped before but years ago families lived much closer together. Sometimes too close in the case of the village where I grew up.

Anyway, the point of today’s sermon is that I was buying a new 12 month tax disc. I put it in my bag and later on I cycled 12 miles home. However, there are a lot of motorists out there that believe that I should be displaying a tax disc on my bicycle too and that cyclists should ‘pay for the roads’. These people are what I like to diplomatically call ‘Morons’. The reasons are as follows:

Motorists Don’t Pay for the Roads

“There has been no direct relationship between vehicle tax and road expenditure since 1937.”
Policy and External Communications Directorate, DVLA

‘Road Tax’ doesn’t exist. In fact, it hasn’t existed since 1937 when the ‘Road Fund Licence’ was abolished. Even when the ‘Road Fund’ existed, motorists only ever paid a fraction of road expenditure. It was Winston Churchill that instigated its abolition stating
“It will be only a step from this for [motorists] to claim in a few years the moral ownership of the roads their contributions have created.”

The round disc I was carrying home to put in my windscreen is actually called Vehicle Excise Duty (or VED). It is a tax on the car, not its use. Road maintenance comes from central taxation. Even my month old son is indirectly paying for the roads from the VAT on the packs of Pampers we’re steaming through at a rate of knots.

VED Is Emissions Linked

Even if cyclists had to display a ‘road tax’ disc, a bicycle is a zero emissions vehicle and therefore would pay nothing. Beaurocracy would have been created at further expense for no return.

Cyclists Have More Right to Be On the Road

Cyclists, pedestrians & horse riders all have the RIGHT to use the Queens Highway. Motorists have to be licensed which is a privilege that can be removed by law. If you choose to operate a piece of heavy machinery that can move at lethal speeds which can kill if used incorrectly, it’s only right that you should have the correct licence, that the vehicle has an annual test and that the correct insurance covers its use.

By the way Cyclists can get Third Party insurance automatically by joining CTC – the National Cyclists Organisation (www.ctc.org.uk) or London Cycle Campaign (www.lcc.org.uk)
It may interest you to know that CTC years ago helped campaign for the creation of motorways (which cyclists obviously can’t use) reasoning that all cars would use them freeing up the minor roads for cycling and other lawful pursuits. Yes, that was probably a little naive with hindsight.

So there you go. I’ve bought a disc because I’ve bought a piece of machinery that pollutes. Nothing more, nothing less. If you want further information on the ‘Road Tax’ myth, journalist Carlton Reid has set up a brilliant website (<a href="www.ipayroadtax.com“>www.ipayroadtax.com) with further fascinating articles on the idiocy that cyclists face every day from people that think they own the roads when in reality have less right to be there.

Now that I own a 5 door family saloon, I shall not start watching Top Gear or reading the Daily Mail although I might end up towing a caravan. These are heady times we live in.