The things people say, number 2

This article was published in 2002, in Newsletter 42.

The Council spends thousands of pounds of my money on cycle paths. Why don’t you damn well use them?

That’s a question that is often asked in more or less abusive terms to the people on our Campaign stall. It illustrates one of the problems of installation of poor quality facilities. Unfortunately it isn’t just the kind of resentment that shows through the question, it’s the all too real hazard it generates.

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Take a recent example where a motorist overtook me at speed in the narrow gap approaching a central island in Harston. When he pulled into his driveway a few yards further up the road, he made it plain to me that he thought I was ‘fair game’ if I wasn’t riding on the pavement (which happened to have a blue sign, but is in no other way suitable for cycling).

A letter we received last month is typical asking the same question at the milder-mannered end of the scale.

Can you tell me if there are any plans to mount sign posts directing cyclists to use the cycle paths/ways provided for them? I have seen several ‘near misses’ on the Trumpington Road and on the Stapleford Bridge. The problems were so unnecessary because thousands of pounds have been spent providing cyclists with paths along both routes, but cyclists are still using the roadway.

I am a motorist who drives in Cambridge during the day because of the work I do. I want to be cyclist friendly, but when I see a bike going over the Stapleford Bridge, holding up traffic that has just come out of a 30 zone, I feel like shouting out ‘ don’t you know there is a cycle path’. In one week I saw six cyclists on that road, and two almost caused head on collisions because cars were overtaking them on the brow.

I’m sure that it is ignorance of the existence of the path, what other reason could it be?

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It is not this cyclist’s fault if a car overtakes him on the brow of the hill and hits a car coming the other way.

What does this tell us? Does this motorist think that it should be compulsory to use cycle facilities, whatever their quality? I think so. Quite clearly there is resentment that money is wasted on cyclists. But the staggering suggestion that it is the cyclists using a bridge that are at fault simply by being there, rather than the motorist who overtakes in an unsafe location, is really deeply offensive. It is not an uncommon attitude among motorists, however, in places where there is a cycle facility nearby. Does the phrase ‘I want to be cyclist friendly, but…’ imply a threat of withdrawal of ‘friendliness’ when a cyclist doesn’t use the path?

Perhaps the point which bothers me most is the attitude to safety. Clearly the writer thinks that a cyclist’s only motivation in choosing where to cycle is their safety. This reflects the message that has been drummed into people over the last ten years: that cycling is not safe. (Rail travel is pretty risky too, but driving is, however, safe).

It is a pervasive message, which is reinforced by misguided advertising, construction of highly visible cycle paths and helmet wearing. It is a reflection of our risk averse world, yet people who say they won’t cycle for safety reasons will often do much more risky things in other walks of life. The small additional risk of cycling is seen in absolute terms cycling is not safe, driving is often from a position of no experience. This is used as an excuse not to cycle, when the real reasons are things like comfort and laziness. But if someone does try cycling from this starting point, setting out with expectations of terror and nervousness must surely confirm their prejudices.

Our writer lives not far from the M11. Motorways are statistically many times safer than rural and urban roads. The Government has spent hundreds of millions of pounds of our money building the thing. Why doesn’t she use it? What possible reason could there be?

David Earl

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Trumpington: Better quality cycle paths attract more users. But look at how uncomfortable this first stretch is dip and dive across three consecutive driveways. If I want to turn right at Long Road it is no use to me at all. Stapleford Bridge: Cyclists heading away from Cambridge would have to cross the road twice at difficult points to use the narrow, bumpy, overgrown, flood-prone path which bypasses the road bridge.