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Media Fear!
A rant about the perceived danger on the roads
“What? You cycle that far to work? Well I suppose I’d think about cycling myself but the roads are sooooooo dangerous and there’s no cycle paths at all for my journey...”

How often do we, as regular cyclists, hear this? To be honest, it’s every time we mention that we cycle in the first place!

Why? It’s because the majority of people seem to believe that cars are dangerous and anybody who ventures onto the tarmac surface between kerbs except drivers will be killed instantly.

So where does this fear come from?

Personally, I put this fear down to a lack of knowledge, coupled with and fed by media opinion which is biased and incorrect.

“Safer routes to schools”. This is a high profile scheme being pushed by Sustrans at the moment. Whilst at first it seems a good idea, I am now no longer certain. By saying that a safe route to school has to be created, they imply that danger exists everywhere a dedicated route has not been built. Therefore children who don’t live on the routes suddenly feel at risk (or rather, their parents do) and so children who used to walk or cycle start being driven because “no safe route to school exists for this road”.

More amusingly (in my mind) are the car parks I now see created for the “walking bus”. In other words, rather than encourage children to walk to school from home Sustrans are encouraging parents to drive their children to the safe route. This increases vehicular traffic and also increases the risk of accident at the drop off zone by compacting pedestrians and cars into a small space! The complete opposite of Sustrans published aims!

Now for another question. Why do all the children I see in the walking bus wear a bright reflective tabard even though not only are they are on a pavement well away from the road, they do not even venture into any area of conflict with the road? I understand that children who do not wear such a tabard are not allowed to even join the bus.

Frankly I find this repulsive and something I’d only expect to see in the writings of the ABD (a misguided drivers group). The implication here is that the children have to be made as visible as possible so that drivers don’t have to take as much care when in the area of a school. In fact, by conditioning drivers to expect to see all pedestrians, especially schoolchildren, wearing bright yellow reflective clothing, these schemes are placing normally clothed pedestrians in great danger.

Drivers are no longer looking for “pedestrian” they are looking for “bright tabard”.

In summary, a child who can quite safely walk or ride to school appears to be a reckless lunatic if they don’t follow a prescribed path whilst wearing high visibility garments. Gone are the days of wandering to school in ones own time wearing school uniform. One now has to follow a prescribed “safe” route, or be taken in the car.

Moving on from the dedicated routes to schools, onto a general cycle path structure as a whole. I really don’t like them. The off road paths, or rather the pavement based paths have exactly the same troubles as the school routes discussed above. The fully off road paths, such as some of the NCN network, can suddenly become impassable to cyclists not riding chunky mountain bikes. The on road routes scare me as they force cyclists to take up an unwise position on the road.

The whole situation that we are seeing ourselves moving towards is unacceptable as we are being forced towards a poor and dangerous solution by people with a complete lack of knowledge as to the safe transport solution.

I struggle to find a way to explain the “lack of knowledge”. The best I have come up with so far is that of the situation I encounter each time I use my motorcycle to ride home from work. Here I encounter a road which has a painted ghost island as a centre marking, along with a heavy amount of stationary congestion.

As I approach the first right hand bend I have no option but to remain in the queue. It would be both unsafe and unwise for me to do otherwise. However, once around the bend, I have two options. The first is to remain in the queue, the other is to leave the queue and to ride past it, using the centre island as a “motorcycle lane”.

Maybe now is the time to remind readers of highway code rule 109, which relates to these markings. In this situation I understand it to be perfectly legal to pass the queue; if it is safe.

If I remain in the queue, then it appears dangerous to leave it whereas once I make that effort everything shows itself to be safe. There is a very wide safe corridor to use, but I have to be committed enough to pull out and use it before it becomes apparent.

And this is the big jump with cycling on the roads. Until you make that leap and try it, you’ll always be in fear.

However, remember I said that on the motorbike I was going around a right hand bend? This actually means that if I look as I approach the bend I can see that not only do I have that wide safe corridor to pass the traffic, I can flow into it smoothly as I round the bend and so do not need to pull out of a stationary queue with little visibility.

This is what we need for the development of cycling. We need to show people where it is safe on the roads. We need to show people what to look for and how to plan ahead. But most of all we need to show people how to get there and how to use it for their advantage. Safely.

This is why I dislike cycle paths, whether away from the main carriageway or as a painted lane on the carriageway. They not only force cyclists away from where it is safe, they prevent cyclists from positioning themselves sensibly on the road for visibility and progress; above all they give the implication to non and novice cyclists that cycling on the road is dangerous.

So let’s ignore the important aspects of road positioning for a minute (that’s an entire topic in itself) and go back to the business of cycling in traffic and the dangers.

One of the big media induced fears in recent years is “speed”. Whilst I won’t here discuss speed (again an entire topic in itself) I would certainly say that it is not an issue for the majority of cycling that the majority of people would do. Why? Because on our congested streets, the cyclist is travelling at the same speed (or faster) as the traffic, so the relative speed is zero.

Yes the cyclist is travelling at a set speed, so there is a chance of an accident should they hit a pothole or other obstruction. However the chances of an accident caused by a vehicle strike is very low.

To the cyclist forced to travel at a ridiculously low pace on the pavement, the cars passing on the road seem dangerous. To the non-cyclist the cars passing even faster are a dangerous hazard that must be campaigned against and never joined. To the cyclist on the road the cars are tame playthings constrained by rules and congestion and there to provide an interest in an otherwise boring commute.

Come on all you timid cyclists, stop wishing for cycle paths and shared pavements; get out on the road and enjoy yourself! It really is both safe and fun if you ride sensibly and whilst paying attention!

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