Cycling on the motorway (or freeway)
British round-the-world cyclist Ken Roberts has been cycling on the motorway, at least along the hard shoulder. This is legal, but not in the UK. It's legal in Bulgaria, which Ken has been crossing this November on his way to Turkey. The alternative was a detour that would cost him a day or more.
Allowing bicycles on motorways seems a daft idea. Even in the inside lane, it would be suicidal. But the hard shoulder is usually empty. There are now about 2,200 miles of motorway in the UK – 3,219 kilometres – and the hard shoulder is 3.3 metres wide. So it occupies 10,622,700 square metres, which equates to 2,625 acres, or a square piece of land with sides of over three and a quarter kilometres. That's more than the size of a small town. It's a big space doing nothing most of the time, and it's surfaced with tarmac that people could cycle on to get from A to B. Why not use it to create an extra 2,200 miles of cycle lanes in the UK, at a cost of almost nothing?
Motorways first appeared in the UK in the late 1950s when cars were much less reliable than they are today. The hard shoulder was a safe place to stop when your engine boiled over, or a footpath to get to the emergency telephone. Sixty years on, you still see the occasional clapped out family saloon parked with it's bonnet up and it's occupants sitting up on the grass at the side of the motorway on holiday weekends, but for most of the time on most of the motorways in the UK the hard shoulder is redundant. A few minor alterations could make it safe for cyclists.
Of course this is never going to happen, not just because motorists hate cyclists. Motoring and cycling are too fundamentally different. The vast majority of cyclists would never want to cycle on the motorway even if it was legal and safe. Cycling from A to B is essentially a filtering process, travelling comparatively slowly, taking side streets and lanes, going along bridleways, over footbridges, through parks or along the side of rivers and canals – that sort of thing.
In a car, you just want it over with: an unthinking journey at the fastest speed possible, with nothing in your way and the minimum stopping. It's why motorists take to the motorway whenever they can.
Cycling along a motorway would be far too boring, and would hardly ever be the most direct route on the short journeys cyclists tend to make. Denmark has the nearest thing there is to cycling motorways: dedicated two-lane cycle paths that run for miles along the side of major roads between towns. They're used by hardly anyone, even in this nation of natural-born cyclists.
Cycling on freeways
Like in Bulgaria, you can cycle on freeways in parts of Australia. The State of Victoria allows cycling on rural freeways because they "usually provide the most practical route for cyclists" and they "carry relatively low volumes of traffic on entry and exit ramps that cyclists need to cross." Cycling is not permitted on urban freeways because "there are other routes that cyclists can take." On the rural freeways cyclists are expected to ride in single file and as near as practical to the side of the hard shoulder. One such rural freeway is the Calder Highway from Melbourne to Bendigo. I drove it on my way to Hanging Rock in 2005.
Read more about cycling motorway madness on Ken Robert's round-the-world cycling blog »