Thursday, 3 March 2011

On the one hand this, on the other hand that

In our local paper today there is a letter that supports the development of dedicated cycle lanes, on condition that cyclists are forced to use them. I suspect this is a fairly common view among road users who don't cycle. They see dedicated cycle lanes as a means of getting bicycles out of the way of cars.

That's not how cyclists see things though. Many are keen to see more cycle lanes because they want to encourage safer everyday cycling. Others oppose them on the basis that it is important to preserve the right to use ordinary roads. None (as far as I know) want them to be mandatory.

The debate can get heated, and I can see persuasive arguments from cyclists on both sides. Many people find busy roads frightening, and they have good cause. Letters such as this one show that there really is a need to defend the general right of everyone to use the roads.

It feels like one of those discussions that will never be resolved as matter of principle. When it comes to questions of how best to improve a specific stretch of road then I suspect that the issues are relatively straightforward, but when arguing about generalities, both sides have their point, and the debate will no doubt continue.

Sitting on the fence about the principle doesn't stop me disagreeing strongly with this particular letter though. Part of the writer's case is to (perfectly correctly) point out that some cyclists ride irresponsibly, and thoughtlessly. They are also right to point out that a cyclist using an ordinary road can slow down the traffic.

So much is unarguable - but so what?

Cyclists inconvenience car drivers. Car drivers inconvenience buses. Buses inconvenience lorries. Lorries inconvenience people riding horses. People riding horses inconvenience steam traction engines. Steam traction engines inconvenience white vans. White vans inconvenience cyclists. Come to that, some cars inconvenience other cars. And so on. We all share the roads, and I'm afraid we all just have to learn to live with others who share them as well.

Inconvenience has nothing to do with removing a general right to use the roads. Poor behaviour has nothing to do with deciding the best way to facilitate different types of road use.

The logic of the letter implies that decisions on the design of the transport network should be based on the levels of courtesy that different types of road user exhibit, and the level of inconvenience they cause. That seems a most peculiar view to me.

Apart from anything else, if it was pursued to its logical conclusion, I'm not sure that car drivers would fare very well. If I was to say "Some car drivers throw litter out of the window, and exceed the speed limit..." it would be true. And if I concluded "...therefore we should exclude all cars from the A4" it wouldn't quite come over as a rational argument.


townmouse said...

you're right about the litter. They should be made to pick it all up and THEN be banned from the road :-)

tko said...

Peculiar view indeed, coming from a car driver. Considering that private cars are by far the largest contributor to congestion - which inconveniences everyone - and injuries I'm in total agreement that private cars should also be most inconvenienced by road design. Conversely buses and bicycles least contributing to congestion should be least affected by it.

I could support motorways and busy roads on the conditions cars are forced to stay on them.

One can always dream, right?

Chris Hill said...

Badly implemented cycle lanes are very bad news for cyclists and other road users. There are many local examples of lanes that increase the danger. A footpath has, without modification, been designated as a shared use cycle lane/ footpath. It is wholly unsuitable. There are already complaints about 'ungrateful' cyclists ignoring it. I wouldn't ride on it any more than I'd ride on any other footpath. In Molescroft there is a fairly busy road where the cycle lanes are so wide at each side that cars cannot pass each other without entering the cycle lanes. That endangers the cyclists who might be expecting other vehicles to stay out of the lanes.

Well designed and built cycle lanes are a great idea, especially if they are separated from other traffic. Ill-conceived cycle lanes that are just painted lines on an otherwise unmodified road can be worse than no lane, especially when they are there to just meet an arbitrary target. Making bus lanes open to cyclists as a way of increasing the number or length of cycle lanes is also a crazy idea. I'm just as likely to be killed by a bus as by a white van, and most of these bus routes are only restricted at peak times so the rest of the time the white van man or sales rep can nail me at the junction anyway.

I have an idea: every time a new 'link road' or the like is built, why not dedicate the old route to engine-free commuting?

I intend to continue to exercise my right to use the public highway on foot or on a bike when and where I see fit and only in a cycle lane if it suits me.