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Are cycle paths a good thing? There are times - when a lorry passes me with inches to spare - that I think that I would like to see a wide network of cycle-only paths. Other times I think that Cycle Paths are a form of segregation, an attempt to keep bicycles bicycles off the main roads. Bicycles after all, are just one form of road transport and all road vehicles have a right to use the roads. In actual fact, Bicycles have more right than cars to be on the road. Bicyces, Pedestrains, Horses, Horse-Drawn Vehicles - all these have an absolute right to use Public Roads. Motor-vehicles do not have an absolute right, and may use Public Roads only by license - the Vehicle Excise Duty (erroneously known as the Road Tax or Road Fund License). The Vehicle Excise Duty does not pay for the roads as Motorists' Organisations would have you believe, it's not ring-fenced for transport and in fact goes directly to the Exchequer for general use. The roads are paid for out of general taxation. The Income Tax we all pay is what goes to pay for the roads, so in answer to the ABD and other such groups, I do pay for the roads.
Many people are put off cycling by a perceived risk, that the roads are dangerous to cyclists. Anything that gets people out cycling, and replaces car journeys with other forms of transport has to be a good thing. Cycle Paths do encourage people to get out cycling, so they have to be a good thing. Well, they do if they're good cycle paths. If they are bad cycle paths then they can put off people even more.
So what makes a good cycle path?
This road junction in High Wycombe was closed for vehicular traffic, but the council put in a short cycle path to allow bicycles to get across the pedestrian pavement. The two fences were put in to prevent motorcycles using the short cut. So, by the time you have negotiated the two fences, it is quicker to dismount, pick up your bicycle and lift it across the pavement.
Why do local tansport offices put in pointless cycle paths like this? They are required by national legislation to set up a certain amount of cycle paths. Every little counts towards the required totals, so even this small section gets the council "off the hook" over their required provision.
This is another example of a poor provision, something which has been installed at little cost to the council, and is ineffective. Very few cyclists actually use this route between Amersham and Little Chalfont, preferring to risk using the fast road with the bottlenecks formed by traffic islands. The islands force the passing cars to sweep close to cyclists as the attempt to pass in the limited distance between the islands.
So why exactly is this a bad cycle path?
Where to begin? Obviously this has been done on the cheap - all the council have done is to paint a white line down the middle of the pavement and designate one side as being the cycle path. This brings fast moving cycles into very slow moving pedestrians. Young children will not understand that part of the pavement is closed to them, and jump out in front of the cycle. Pedestrians are not the only hazard for cyclists. As you can see in the left photo, there is a Belisha Beacon right in the middle of the cycle path, likewise there are lampposts all along the road. Avoid that, and you're in the pedestrain path. And of course, there will also be cars coming out of driveways to avoid. A pedesrian walking along the pavement has time to avoid the moving car, but a fast moving cyclist doesn't have time to avoid the car. Every time you come to a road junction, the cyclist has to stop and give way - though if on the road the cyclist would have right of way. At the junction the cyclist is forced to a narrow point where the kerb is dropped to the road level. As can be seen from the stippling on the concrete, this point is originally designed as a crossing point for the visually impaired.
The idea of cycle paths is to move the vulnerable cyclist away from the motor vehicles which pose the threat. Here though, if there is an incident between a cyclist and a pedestrain, the only escape route available to the cyclist is to take to the road, presenting an immediate risk to the cyclist.
On the south side of the road there is a large margin before the private land beyond. Plenty of space away from the road on which to put a cycle path. Heavily planted with trees though, so there would be a cost (monetary and environmental) to be bourne in placing a cycle path here. If it was for road widening the trees would be gone in a flash. Why not for a cycle path. As I mentioned, there would be an environmental cost in removing the trees. However, if a truly safe cycle path was provided here, it might encourage people to leave their cars behind. Savings in reduced pollution would counter the effect of the lost trees. Well, nearly.
Good Idea, Bad Implementation
This is a better example of a cycle path on the edge of Bellingdon, and is similar to the excellent paths found all around Europe. What makes this a good cycle path is that it is seperated from the road. What makes it bad is the width (and the length - after a kilometre it fades out). For a path which is designated shared cyclist / pedestrian use this is just impossibly narrow. There isn't space for two bicycles to pass safely, never mind a cycle trying to pass a couple or a family. Make it four time wider (well, at least three times wider) and you would have a good path. The path doesn't actually go anywhere, just taking the traffic out of the town, so it is little used by pedestrains. However, it still needs to have separate pedestrian channel before it would be completely safe for cyclists and pedestrians.
In fact the only thing that's wrong with this cycle path in Aylesbury is that it could be a bit wider. The cycle path isn't segregated from the other traffic, but is separate. The cyclists are apart from the vulnerable pedestrains though. Cost-wise this would be no more expensive than the bad example in Little Chalfont - after all it too is just a white line down the side of the road. The difference is that it's in the right place - on the road not the pavement. Not all roads are wide enough to allow such a cycle path. This road is just wide enough to allow the limited cycle lane,in one direction only. There's a big space down the middle of the road though. Get rid of that and there would be space to have a cycle path down both sides of the street. There is also spare land though between the roadway and the railway on the left which could have permitted the widening of the road to allow the cycle lane to be wider or to allow the lane to run both ways. There would be a cost involved? What is the going rate for cyclists' safety these days?
Another Almost Right
An oft quoted example of good cycle path planning is the Redway System in Milton Keynes. Best I've experienced, but it still has the same drawback - it's shared with pedestrians. Otherwise the Redways are pretty good. There are other problems, most notably where the Redways cross the main roads. At some crossings there are either bridges or tunnels, but most are regular crossing points, and at this point the cyclist is vulnerable.
If it would be so easy for good cycle routes to be provided, how come planners make such a hash of it? Partly it's because motorists don't want us on the roads. There is a perception that cyclists hold up other traffic, and the motor vehicle Manufacturers, Road Haulage Association, the ADB and the like, forms a powerful lobby. Cyclists and pedestrians are weak beside these giants.
Further information to be added soon
I've lost times I've taken an earful of abuse from drivers complaining about my cycling. Not that there was anything wrong with my cycling, their gripe seemed to be the very fact that I was on the road. There was a cycle path close at hand, but as it's one that features above, you'll understand why I wasn't using it. Car and van drivers will complain that you don't have insurance, you don't pay road tax, you should be on the cycle path; Just get off the bloody road!
Who has a Right to use the roads in the U.K.? Pedestrians, Cyclists, Horses and Riders, Horse-Drawn carriages. And That's It. Motor Vehicles do not have a Right to use the Roads. Motor vehicles require a license to use the roads. Drivers seem to believe that the road belongs to them. It doesn't. It belongs to us all.
Often the motorist will complain that the cyclist doesn't pay Road Tax. Well, actuall I do. it's called Income Tax. It's Income Tax and other taxes which go to pay for the roads. Vehice Excise Duty (Road Fund License as it was previously called) is not 'ring-fenced' for Roads Development, but goes into the Exchequer's General Fund. So Vehicle Excise Duty doesn't pay for the roads either. Vehicle Excise Duty is designed to try and influence your transoprt choice - the bigger the engine, the more you have to pay. Buy a small efficient car, and you don't pay too much V.E.D. Buy a big gas-guzzler, and expect to pay through the nose.
Cycling actually saves the exchequer more money than I would pay in V.E.D. if I drove a car. Every journey I make on a bicycle reduces the congestion on the roads. Congestion costs everyone money when goods and workers are caught up in gridlock. Cycling cuts down on pollution, so hopefully fewer children will develop asthma, which will in turn save the NHS money. I'm fitter too, so I attend the GP and the hospital less often. I haven't been to see my GP in over four years. I don't get any rebate on my National Insurance contributions, instead I am subsidising the sedentary, smoking, overweight driver.
Another complaint is that cyclists don't carry insurance. Personally, I do. I have a third-party insurance through the CTC, though fortunately I've never had to call upon it. Cyclists don't actually cause many accidents. The most common casue of Road Traffic Accidents is the careless, inattentive motorist, still chatting away on his/her mobile phone, a year after it was made illegal. There are over a million un-insured cars on the roads of Britain today, it would be far better to pursue these un-insured (and un-taxed, and without MOT) cars, than to complain about lack of insurance amongst cyclists. If you do choose to force cyclists to have insurance, then (as with the proposed bill to force young cyclists to wear helmets) you could be forcing more, especially young, cyclists off the road. We need to be encouraging more people to take up cycling, to encourage more activity and better health, rather than driving them off the roads. Once cyclists have been forced to take out insurance, do you stop there? Pedestrians are often the cause of accidents through negligence, and are more likely to be at fault. Should we also force pedestrians to take out insurance.