Cycling, signs and separatism
These are interesting times for cycling and cycling matters, at least in the national newspapers (for national read London-based). Several newspapers have recently added their weight to calls for something to be done about what is claimed to be the rising toll of cyclists killed on our roads, especially on the roads of the capital, and cities in general. At the end of last year there was a spike in the number in collision with lorries, particularly at notorious junctions in London. The Independent started a campaign some time ago, so too the London Evening Standard. The Times has its own campaign, with eight points drawn up in conjunction with the CTC. The manifesto was launched three months after an accident in which one of its reporters was badly injured as she cycled just yards from her workplace. She has been in a coma ever since.
The campaign by The Times, "Cities fit for cycling", is well-intentioned, I don't doubt. I'll leave it at that for now. (I've yet to read the full 12-page supplement produced for the launch of the campaign; I still won't buy Murdoch's papers, but some material at least is not hidden behind the online newspaper's 'paywall'). Instead, and by way of a comparison to the doom of stories of cycling in London, here is another flavour of the cycle network in the nearest city to where I live (see also the variation to my commute).
Kingston upon Hull is said to be the fourth best cycle city in the country. Some facilities are good; some not so good...
The image above shows something that London cyclists presumably don't come across too often. It is a set of traffic lights that stops five lanes of traffic for cyclists only to move away in one of three directions. I can't be sure, but I think it was installed during the then Labour council's administration in the 1990s.
The road immediately across from the cyclists' traffic lights can be busy at peak times. So there is a "segregated route for pedal cycles and pedestrians only" (formerly a footpath now with a line painted down the middle and a bike symbol drawn on it). I won't use the thing. I don't hang about on the road, but that didn't stop a woman in a car that over took me – I didn't look at her so I don't know if she was the passenger or driver – reminding me that there was a cycle path alongside the road. Or words to that effect. I didn't respond; I just cycled on at a fair pace.
I have no idea if the woman genuinely believed I was supposed to use the cycle path. That there is some compulsion for it to be used. But I do imagine that many motorists believe this. And that some other motorists feel that cyclists should use it to get out of their way regardless of whether its use by cyclists is compulsory or not. It is not compulsory, of course.
In fact, apart from needlessly slowing down my journey it actually puts me in greater danger. Along this short stretch there are two junctions and a works exit. One of the junctions is a crossroads, so by my reckoning that means the cyclist riding on the path has to watch out for vehicles coming from seven possibile directions (plus those coming in and out of the works exit), and the drivers of these vehicles will feel they have right of way over cyclists on the path. I'm sure they do have right of way, but a cyclist on the road has the right of way over all of them.
Ignorance of the rules regarding cycle lanes isn't the preserve of motorists, however. Elsewhere on Hull's cycle network is the following bit of handiwork. Presumably some aggrieved cyclist took matters (and a can of yellow paint) in to their own hands and sprayed this and other statements on to "their" side of the route. But the person is misinformed.
According to Hull City Council's helpful "Go Cycle" map, on a segregated route pedestrians may use either side, the implication being that cyclists must, however, stick to their own side. Admittedly, this isn't stated in the Highway Code.
There have been a few deaths of cyclists in Hull over the past few months. Just this week a "cyclist struck the vehicle [a DAF truck] and fell off", according to the Hull Daily Mail, at one of the big roundabouts I now avoid if at all possible. But overall I think that cyclists in Hull have a fairly good deal. That would not seem to be the experience of cyclists in London.
In a piece that doesn't sit behind that Times paywall Jon Snow – CTC president, Channel 4 News presenter and celebrity cyclist – made a number of rather pessimistic observations, including the following paragraph:
"Cars and bikes do not mix. It’s not just the fumes that compel me to wear a mask, but the obvious reality that so consumed Mary Bowers’ [The Times journalist] consciousness. It is the absolute fact that half a tonne of vehicle and 80kg of bike and human cannot coexist in the same road space safely. "
Crikey. I have to confess that this simple northern fellow wonders why people would want to live in the capital, let along cycle there, judging by all the alarming stories we see and read, but each to their own, I suppose. I don't share Jon Snow's separatist mentality. He must realise that what he is suggesting is simply way too impractical in over-developed areas of the country such as his. It's surely too late in this country for the ideal others point to on the continent.
Although The Times manifesto was drawn up in consultation with CTC, it seems that a few things have been slipped in that CTC wouldn't normally support. Cyclists are urged by the newspaper to wear hi-viz gear and helmets. (It has been pointed out by some that James Cracknell, the former Olympian and fervent helmet propagandist still recovering after being hit on the back of the head by the door mirror of a US truck, is sponsored by a manufacturer of cycle helmets.) Unsurprisingly, the campaign by The Times has divided cyclists (we're a bit like the Peoples Front of Judea, aren't we? Or should that be the Peoples' Front of Judea?). I had a brief look at some of the message boards and quickly got bored reading the sniping comments on some of them. Much like avoiding the pointless exchange that would have followed had I responded to the woman in that car when she reminded me there was a cycle lane I wasn't using, I no longer use the message boards such as those on the CTC forum. It's not just that I found they took up too much of my time. It's also because I found some people on them to have a little too much aggression.
There's enough of that on our roads.