OPINION: 'We need to create more cycle lanes on our roads - and use them!'
- Credit: Archant Library
My means of transport seems an odd thing to have an opinion about. It’s just how I get about.
Sometimes I walk, if I’ve got plenty of time or am not going far. Sometimes I drive, if I’ve got something bulky to carry or am going a long way. I get the train to London and have been known to take a plane abroad, but mainly I identify as a cyclist.
So cycling is something I do, rather than have a particular opinion about, until I come across attacks on the concept of cycling and cycling infrastructure. Then I think a little more deeply about why cycling is not just good for me, but A Good Thing with capital letters.
I choose to cycle for most of my journeys - to work, to shop, as exercise, as a leisure activity and to meet up with friends. I used to cycle the school-run, still enjoy bike rides with my husband and grown-up children and this weekend cycled around the park with my five-year-old granddaughter who has just learned to ride without stabilisers.
The park has shared-use paths and she had no trouble slowing for pedestrians and giving them space, overtaking when safe and if there was plenty of room. It was the kind of competence, awareness, patience and respect for others which is essential for all road users.
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Normally I cycle on the road – using cycle paths and cycle gates when they are safe and available. I like the cycling infrastructure which is making cycling easier and more popular. I like it as a cyclist, but I also like it as a driver and as a human being.
Every person who can be encouraged to use a bicycle is contributing to reducing the number of cars on our overcrowded roads.
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Even when all cars are electric they will still be polluting, with toxic brake and tyre particles, and drivers in Britain will still drive into and injure many hundreds of other road users every year.
Every cyclist is also freeing up space for people who really do need to travel by car – those with jobs involving multiple home visits or heavy loads, disabled people, the very old and the very young.
What cyclists are not doing is taking up space which would otherwise enable drivers to flow freely through urban areas. The days when everyone could drive into the city centre, stop by the shop of their choice and pick up their groceries are long gone - unless you are on a comparatively tiny bike, in which case, fill your panniers.
There are many more cars on UK roads than 30 years ago, significantly more miles are travelled by car every year, and cars are also considerably wider, meaning they take up more road space in every direction. The only way of preventing gridlock is to limit the number, or size-per-person and per patch of road, of vehicles.
My cycling habit began in the village where I grew up and became daily when I moved to Norwich and worked out that allowing enough time to get the bus anywhere could take as long as cycling to my destination.
Why pay to go to the gym and sweat on a static bike when you could be getting your exercise pedalling down gloriously quiet lanes to beautiful villages in some of the best cycling country in Britain? If I’m going to be riding for several hours I’ll even wear lycra (for comfort, not because I’m part of a 'lycra brigade' some people seem to imagine exists). On the subject of misconceptions, cyclists pay tax; cyclists pay for roads. Most adult cyclists are drivers too.
Drivers causing congestion and seeing a free-flowing cycle lane alongside could complain about the bike lane - or consider getting a bike and alleviating rather than contributing to the problem.
Joined-up cycling routes are good for individual and general health and, far from being bad for businesses, the transformation of noisy, dirty, dangerous streets into places pleasant to linger is likely to attract more shoppers, diners and visitors.
I’m not suggesting cycling should be compulsory, just the more the merrier - for everyone.