Letter to the Editor

From Mr Kevin Jestice

I have just read your newsletters of February and April and while I am not a signed up member of the Campaign I was most impressed by the way the very important aims of the organisation are approached.

However I feel I must comment on some of the assumptions that underpin some of your policy decisions regarding shared-use footways.

My credentials

I use three forms of transport, as do many people in Cambridge. I walk, cycle and drive. I also live off Barton Road and have a vested interest in the upgrading or alteration of the shared-use footway.

My concerns

The tone of the newsletters, naturally biased towards cycling, is sadly also very anti-car and slightly anti-pedestrian. Of course the campaign organisers are very focused on cycling and rightly so, but I do not feel I can join a campaign that ignores the realities of current life.

This city must have adequate facilities for all modes of transport and in an ideal world pedestrian, motorist and cyclist would all travel on separate and separated surfaces with no interaction. But in reality a shared option is not a last resort but a practical solution to the shortage of space.

If I am to use a shared-use cycleway I do not want to share it with motorised transport. Not because I am anti-car, far from it. But because of simple fear engendered by the presence of large metal machines approaching from behind at more than twice my speed. I have no control over any possible collision and I cannot react in a defensive manner to bad driving.

Shared use with cars on the main road still has the disadvantages of:

1) Vehicles approaching from behind and have the potential to enter the cycleway, illegal or not. Never mind Zero Tolerance, I’m still injured.

2) Space has been taken from Barton Road which will narrow to the point that car driving becomes completely congested at all times as well as dangerous to other motorists.

Of course these are a small number of cyclists who do not have this fear because they travel in 18th gear, head down and keep up with the 30 mph traffic, so very little overtakes them. These people are a very small minority of cyclists and appear to have excessive influence over policy.

If I must share space then pedestrians pose significantly less risk. Granted, they are less predictable but not many of them are made of metal and travel over 30 mph. If I collide with a pedestrian death is unlikely to both parties. If I want children to ride with me they can make their mistakes in relative safety on a shared footway. There may not be a second chance on the main road. Let motorists hit each other, not me or my children.

Thus I am forced to conclude that if a surfaced, marked, signed, and perfect, shared use car and cycle way was provided I would cycle on the path and break the law. “Illegal but alive”

Penarth Place, Newnham

Dave Earl replies

The points that Kevin Jestice makes are central to the reasons the Cycling Campaign was formed. I hope that some of you will contribute to the next newsletter on this issue as well. Here is my own response.

Mr Jestice says we are ‘sadly’ anti-car and anti-pedestrian, and that we are ignoring the realities of current life.

I’m not speaking for the Campaign when I say this, but I admit it, I am anti-car and not sad to be so. That doesn’t mean I never use a car, but it means that I want a more equitable allocation of road space and to tackle the problem of road safety at source, rather than by giving in to the domination of our City by cars.

I do resent being called anti-pedestrian, though. One of the reasons that we have taken the position we have on shared use is that pedestrians complain vociferously about cyclists sharing their space, and find cycles on the footway intimidating. It is not fair for cyclists to do to pedestrians what cars do to cyclists, and the problem is getting worse.

As for the realities of life: well, the realities are changing. There is now a widespread acceptance that motor vehicles in urban areas need to be tamed.

However, we aren’t advocating that cyclists should be mixed with the motor traffic – what would be the point of the Campaign if it aimed to maintain the status quo? What we do want is for the space allocated to cyclists to be taken from motor vehicles, not from pedestrians. Where cyclists come into contact with vehicles (which will be nearly everywhere for a long time to come), it needs to be in a safe way that does not make the cyclist a second class road user subservient to the car.

In general the pavements aren’t wide enough to take cyclists comfortably, even if there were no pedestrians, and they were properly maintained. If we are to see levels of cycling in line with the National Cycling Strategy (doubled by 2002), then space will be even more of a problem. And statistics show that the majority of collisions are at junctions, not when travelling straight on along the road. This is also true of pedestrian casualties. I had a phone call from someone last week saying that her child was nearly hit by a car pulling out of an entrance across a shared-use footway. ‘Aren’t these supposed to be safe?’ she said.

The approach we are taking is broadly in line with national cycling bodies, and also with the Department of Transport endorsed guidelines. These don’t say never have shared-use, any more than we do, but do put it low down the list of priorities. Does Mr Jestice accept the criticisms we make of the way shared use is currently provided, even if he does not accept the conclusion? I think we still have some work to do in our conclusions in relation to accompanied young children, and shared use in conjunction with safe routes to school.

No cyclist is ‘in a position where very little overtakes them’. Very few are riding at more than 20 mph, and most travel around 12-15 mph most of the time. I do think, though, that it is important to learn to ride in traffic, otherwise one’s horizons are limited by how far the shared-use footway goes. Large numbers of ordinary cyclists vote with their pedals every day, ignore shared use and stay on the road. This isn’t a ‘very small minority’.

In the end, most decisions are a compromise. If I start from a position that says ‘I’m happy to let the cars push me to one side,’ then that’s exactly what will happen. I have found over years of campaigning that if you adopt a ‘give and take’ attitude, then what happens is cyclists give and motorists take.

Dave Earl