We’ll use cyclepaths when they’re good enough

Opinion columnist Neil Collins

Opinion columnist Neil Collins - Credit: Archant

Should cyclepaths be compulsory? Many motorists would says 'of course' but as keen cyclist Neil Collins explains, there's another side to the story.

If only all our cyclepaths were like this... the Netherlands-standard cyclepath on Newmarket Road, N

If only all our cyclepaths were like this... the Netherlands-standard cyclepath on Newmarket Road, Norwich. - Credit: Archant

It is already commonplace in the Netherlands, the home of the cyclist, so is it time to make some cyclepaths compulsory in this country? There isn't any law to enforce this in the UK at the moment so cyclists can choose to use a cyclepath running alongside a road if they want to but there's nothing to force them to. At the risk of upsetting a few of my fellow cyclists, I think there is actually a case, in some situations, for doing just that.

The trouble with cyclepaths is that they are not, by a long way, all the same. One absolutely ghastly example runs alongside Victoria Road in Diss.

It is truly awful but does serve to illustrate, in a few hundred yards, everything that is wrong about cyclepaths in this country.

For starters, it crosses driveways and entrances to various shops and businesses. Drivers coming out of these driveways naturally look at the road they are about to turn on to. They don't spot the cyclist on the cyclepath until they fly over their bonnets only to rejoin the cyclepath on the other side of their car – sadly, and painfully, leaving their bike behind.

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Just as bad are side roads. Would you be happy, as a driver, stopping at every side road, waiting, getting of your car, then back in and then carrying on? Well, of course not, but that is what cyclists on this cyclepath are expected to do. The alternative is to look in three directions at once to spot cars turning left, turning right and pulling out – meaning you have to look left at the same time that you're straight ahead and over your right shoulder. Highways engineers in Norfolk County Council may well have three eyes sticking out on stalks and can perform this feat. Mere cyclists, however, cannot.

The other problem is that the path is 'shared use' – that is to say it is shared between pedestrians and cyclists. Perhaps our friends in Highways think cyclists ride at the same pace as people walk? Or maybe they walk really fast?

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No – the reality is that cyclists on shared paths need to become adept at spotting the pedestrians who are likely to wander sideways into their path. They're usually the ones with earphones in, swaying gently to the music from their phone and oblivious to the bell-ringing cyclist descending upon them until they put in that final sideways jig just at the wrong moment.

Given these sorts of problems, it's hardly surprising that cyclists throw their hands up in horror at the thought of being forced by law to use cyclepaths. Why would they commit themselves to using paths like these? They won't and they're quite right not to.

So why, you ask, do I think there's a case for making some cyclepaths mandatory? Well, there are a few cyclepaths starting to appear which address all of these problems. They are smooth tarmac. They give cyclists the right of way across joining side roads. They are separated from the car lane and footpath by gentle, pedal-friendly kerbs. They cut inside bus stops rather than looping around the outside of them and leave and join the carriageway with easy entry points rather than sharp right-angle turns. These are Netherlands-level cyclepaths, designed by real people who ride real bikes and live in the real world; Norfolk Highways take note.

I would have no problem whatsoever with making cyclepaths of this quality compulsory. Knock yourself out. Make them as compulsory as you like. It will make no difference either way as cyclists will use them whether compelled by the law or not. Build them and we will use them.

So how many of these higher quality, Netherlands-level cyclepaths have we got in Norfolk? Norfolk Highways maintain 6,000 miles of roads in Norfolk and, they assure me, that all cyclepaths in the county are 'fit for purpose and well maintained' (seriously – I've got the email to prove it and get it out every time I need a good chuckle). Have a guess. 100 miles of them? 10 miles? No. There is one. It has just been completed and it is on Newmarket Road in Norwich. It is about 500 yards long and only goes one way but let's call that a start.

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