This article was published in 2011, in Newsletter 97.
The Cambridge Cycling Campaign received the following two letters on consecutive days. Our response follows.
From ‘a careful lady driver for 44 years’
As a car driver who drives to Cambridge daily (too far to cycle) I thought what a good idea to construct the cycleway. However I am disappointed at the refusal to use the sections already completed by some adult male cyclists. The route is really dangerous if cyclists are on the road both for them and for the car drivers who have to weave around them.
This week I gave two male cyclists a gentle pip on the horn and indicated that they seemed to have not realised that there was a safe route constructed for them, costing £450,000 I believe. All I got was verbal abuse. When the route is finished will there be penalties for those diehards who refuse to use it?? My own unofficial survey puts use at 40-60 percent of users between Cottenham and Milton park and ride this week. Ladies and schoolchildren come out top.
This is subject particularly close to my heart as I lost a work colleague at the Water Lane junction a while ago. She was a lady cyclist killed in a collision with a lorry. I myself have stopped cycling since. Cyclists and vehicles do not mix.
From a cyclist
I just thought I would let you know about an incident I had on Saturday within the 30mph zone on Histon Road in Cottenham in case you can help. This location has a footpath but is not shared use (until outside of the village and 30mph zone). I sometimes get the feeling that overtakers on Histon Road within the 30mph zone are too close to be a mistake. Twice this year I have managed to speak with drivers to find out their state of mind whilst overtaking me and it is generally of the form ‘you should be on the cycle path’ and I am certain that the driver was trying to intimidate me off the road. I have reported these incidents to the local Police.
I am now certain that the footpath/cyclepath confusion is quite common and this inevitably leads a minority of drivers to a state of mind where they will drive their car at a cyclist on purpose. The confusion is not helped by many cyclists using the footpath. If you can find a way to help reduce the confusion it would really help increase safety. Something simple like painting a picture of a cycle on the carriageway on both sides of the road might help legitimise the use of the road for cyclists in the eyes of these motorists. Anything you can do to help would be much appreciated.
The Campaign’s response
A pavement cycleway has been constructed to help people who are starting out cycling or who are nervous about cycling in traffic. It is not compulsory to use it, and is not suitable for all cyclists. Even though the standard to which the County Council builds cycleway has improved (partly because we have pushed for this), we are still nowhere near the quality provided in the Netherlands, for example, where levels of cycling are comparable to Cambridge. The particular problems remain: narrowness, discontinuity (especially forcing give way over side roads which doesn’t apply on the road), lumping cyclists in with pedestrians (and the inevitable resentment that causes pedestrians), and giving up or reducing quality where it gets difficult to find space.
There will always be cyclists who will want to continue to use the road. The higher the quality of cycleway the more cyclists it will attract, but is unlikely to satisfy those who cycle long distances at higher speeds.
Cyclists are completely entitled to use the roads. Until such time as a cycleway network can provide the same level of service to all cyclists as they would have using the road we will strongly oppose any attempts to make using them compulsory.
Finally, please do not use your horn in the way you describe. This is an offence. The only permitted use of the horn is to warn other road users of an immediate danger, for example if someone hasn’t seen you. It is extremely alarming and shocking to have a motorist come up behind you and blow their horn at you for no apparent reason.
You cannot have a conversation with a cyclist with your horn. There is no way someone can deduce from this that you are trying to tell them you personally disapprove of them doing something which is perfectly legal. All that happens is that you are perceived as an intolerant, aggressive driver. It will be read as ‘get out of my way, you have no right to exist on my roads’, and it is no surprise that you therefore get abuse back – you abused them.
Indeed, we had an email the day after yours from a cyclist on this same stretch of road complaining that they were being abused by motorists complaining aggressively ‘you should be on the cycle path’. This is not the case and we unapologetically defend the right of cyclists who choose to use the road.