This article was published in 2001, in Newsletter 37.
A lorry may move left at any moment
With reference to the article, in Newsletter 36, ‘Safer Cycling Promoter’. It is not only when long vehicles are turning left that it is dangerous to cycle up their left side.
Take the very busy Gonville Place, with many kinds of road users. Picture a cyclist travelling towards the Catholic Church junction. Ahead of them is a coach, or long vehicle, moving slowly in the same direction. The cyclist decides to pass the coach, through the narrow gap by the vehicle’s near side, i.e. the left side.
The driver hears a fire engine’s siren and pulls over nearer the kerb. The cyclist cannot move out of the way. There is a metal railing barring his way onto the path…
A potentially lethal situation.
The road to Fulbourn
Nicholas Reckert suggested in the last Newsletter that it was wise to use the shared use cycle path along Cambridge Road, the main road to Fulbourn past Capital Park, on the old Fulbourn Hospital site.
I use the road after dark, because I’ve had one of my nastiest near-misses on that very path. I met a cyclist coming the other way. She or he was riding an unlit, dark coloured bicycle without reflectors, wearing dark clothing, and going at a fair speed on a wet evening. We were about five feet apart, with a relative speed of 20-25 mph, before I could see. This other cyclist could presumably see me (my bike has lights) but I don’t like to depend on luck – that I’d left enough space to pass – and then entirely on someone else’s judgement.
Since then, after dark there, I use the road or go through the hospital site. On the road, I can see anything about to overtake in my mirror, to pull well in if appropriate, and any more unlit cyclists are either on the path or on the other side of the road.
That straight stretch of road could do with a 50 mph speed limit (rather than the 60 limit it has now). The Hinton Road junction has a bad accident record, and there’s such a short stretch of ‘fast’ road between the hospital’s 40 mph section and the traffic calming on Windmill Hill and Fulbourn’s 30 mph limit that there’s no point in driving terribly fast.
As you no doubt understood, I don’t want to challenge anyone’s right to cycle on the road (and when heading into Cambridge, I always leave the cycle-path at the Capital Park exit). But not all cyclists are as road-aware as [Mark]; some are not car-drivers, and when they’re on a brightly-lit bike, riding assertively and generally in control of things, I believe they can get a mistaken sense of invulnerability. They should try driving behind themselves in a car (if you see what I mean) in the rain and the dark. Each to their own – I’ll stick to the path (with my lights) and wish your [editor] safe riding on the road!
The route through the hospital grounds is great, and I manage to suppress any qualms about whether it’s permitted. And when is the Tesco shortcut going to appear, which will give a nice back route into Fulbourn?
Nick’s views are not unusual, but they display some implicit assumptions about cyclists and drivers which I feel need to be countered.
He talks of drivers ‘held up’ by cyclists. Are these same drivers not held up by thousands of other drivers every day in queues? Are those other drivers ‘stretching a point of principle too far’ by using the road? Of course not; there is a double standard here. We all have an equal right to get where we are going, and in fact the cyclist has a huge moral advantage over the car driver as their travel mode is several thousand times more sustainable.
Would the drivers prefer those really-quite-easy-to-overtake cyclists to all be driving to work? – I think not.
To suggest that it would be ‘better’ for the cyclist to be on the shared-use path, rather than the road, again assumes implicit superiority of the driver. It may be better for the driver if the cyclist is on the shared-use path, but it’s not better for the cyclist, and it’s not better for any pedestrians. Why should the driver’s desires win out? It like telling other drivers to drive down some B roads in order to clear space on the motorway. You can see why those told to go down the B roads would not see why they should. A cyclist will choose the best route for their journey, just as will a driver. Being on the road is safer and more convenient for the cyclist, just as it is for the driver. Unless you really do think that drivers are ‘better’ than cyclists or have more rights to get where they are going, then there is absolutely no justification for suggesting that the cyclist should use the shared-use rather than the road.
One of the most insidious aspects of segregated cycle-facilities is that the more you put in, the more people think that they are a necessary precondition to cycling. Slowly you breed a generation of cyclists that dare not use the road, incorrectly believing it to be more dangerous, and then they will be happy to collude with drivers who want to be rid of ‘pesky cyclists’ and accept curtailment of their right to use the road. Thus we make ourselves what has been described as a ‘bicycle bantustan.’
The cyclist has thus become a second-class citizen, forever forced to give way to motor traffic at every side road. This wouldn’t be so bad if it was actually safer to use segregated tracks than roads, but it has been shown over and over again that it isn’t, so we get slower journeys, more hassle and increased likelihood of death and injury. For what? So that drivers never have to wait for a safe place to overtake a cyclist? An astonishingly poor deal in anyone’s book. Think very carefully before even starting down this road. It is already happening.