Sunday, 18 April 2010

Dear Mr Irritated

You asked why I wasn’t riding in the road, but you were in too much of a hurry for me to explain. This will have to do instead.

Like most cyclists I've encountered a small number of drivers who don't think I should be on the road at all, and a few who think cyclists are supposed to use cycle paths whenever they are provided, rather than the road. You are my first experience of a pedestrian who didn't think I should be on a shared-use path. Or at least the first who has told me what they were thinking.

The Highway Code is specific about how cyclists should use most facilities. We are not supposed to cycle on a pavement unless it is marked for shared use by cyclists. When it is marked for shared use then we are not obliged to use it. If we chose to use a shared pavement then we should allow plenty of room for pedestrians. We are urged to be particularly careful around children and the elderly. Even though you and your wife don’t fall into either category, I still ought to be considerate.

In other words, I had as much right as you to use the footpath, but I was under a greater obligation to be careful and considerate.

I assume you are not a cyclist. Some cyclists who ride on pavements are clearly idiots. I know some cyclists feel safer to be riding out of the way of traffic. However, my own experience is that with sufficient confidence in dealing with traffic the road generally feels safer than the pavement.

I almost always chose the road. Progress is quicker. There are fewer obstacles to avoid and fewer junctions to negotiate. Cycling on any footpath brings a constant fear that a car will shoot out or cut across unexpectedly. Vehicles on the road are bigger, faster, and more scary than pedestrians, but they are also more predictable. By the time you have taken sufficient care riding anywhere near a loose child on a footpath you might as well get off and walk. So normally the road is faster, safer, and on top of all that it often provides a more comfortable ride.

So yesterday I was on the shared footpath for a different reason. As you will remember, the footpath was just about wide enough for cycles and pedestrians to pass each other. More to the point, the road wasn't wide enough for a car to pass a bike without crossing into the approaching lane. You and your wife were the only people on the path (apart from me), but there was a steady stream of cars passing in both directions. Any cyclist on that road was forcing traffic to chose between following at the same pace, or waiting for a gap in the opposite carriageway to shoot past. In the previous section of that road there was no shared footpath, and I’d watched several cars making a dangerous manoeuvre to overtake me. I suspect the highway engineers knew what they were doing when they designated this particular shared footpath. It was my choice entirely, but my view was that riding on the shared footpath was no skin off my nose, and less inconvenient for cars.

So thank you for your question, and please pass on my thanks to your wife for stepping aside to make room. I wish I could claim that I always ride in the way that I should, but if I’m honest with myself, I can’t. You’ve made me think again about this occasion though. I never had any doubt that I was entitled to be riding where I was. On reflection, I still reckon it was the most appropriate and considerate choice for us all.

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