Is There Still Space For Cycling In This Cash Strapped Land

The CTC have been promoting the “Space For Cycling” campaign and asking members to petition their MP and local councillors for change and given the recent spate of cycling deaths on London’s roads any pressure and improvements to get people cycling in a safe environment must be applauded but given the revenue generated by the motor car and shrinking budgets any change will be hard-fought.

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Is there still space for cycling or is this the end of the road.

As a child of the sixties I cycled everywhere, 4 miles to and from school every day, summer, winter, rain and shine. We did so without cycle lanes, helmets and Hi Viz clothing but along came the car, affordable to most households and cycle use declined as the nations waistband expanded. Car use has tripled since the 60s but we still use the same road system and it has gotten to a point where we have had to introduce congestion charges to keep vehicles out of our large cities. It has taken 50 years but the bicycle is enjoying a renaissance, sadly we do not have the infrastructure to accommodate cycle and car together. An increase in cycling numbers on a degenerating dangerous road network and  ever shrinking council budgets will make any resurgence difficult to sustain.

The concept of Dutch style segregated lanes for cyclists is an ideal situation but would need a massive investment from government and local councils to a transport matrix designed for the motor car and given the reliance on it by our busy modern lifestyle any alteration will be long-term and will have to be fuelled by a will to change. One relatively cheap quick fix would be the introduction of a 20mph speed limit within towns and built up areas which would make cycling safer and would probably encourage more people to take part. As a car driver as well I can appreciate the alternative point of view and the reality is that any “Space For Cycling” must be implemented with and not instead of the motor car.

Our local council have introduced cycle lanes and seem keen to promote cycling but coloured tarmac and white lines coupled with the state of repair of said lanes do little to convince local cyclists of true commitment, either cycle outside the lane and risk the wrath of motorists shouting abuse for encroaching their carriageway or stay within the boundaries and swerve out every 20 metres to avoid the potholes, Hobson’s choice.
Shared cycle paths have also been introduced, these are not ideal pitching together dog walkers, families and cyclists and need to be used with courtesy shown by all sides, a trait sadly lacking by society in general. The other down side of cycle paths is the lack of maintenance given, it does seem that once designated no path cleaning is carried out from one year to another and fallen leaves and broken glass are left to present another obstacle for the bike.

Our County council is responsible for the repair of potholes and we have recently had many roads repaired by a new method that invokes filling the holes with tarmac and chippings under high pressure. This method is called top-dressing and is a cheap and nasty alternative to doing the job properly, it is meant as a temporary fix but sadly because of the “cheap” bit it has become very popular with cash-strapped local authorities. And that is the problem, it is not rolled flat and is totally unsuitable for cycling over, given a choice as a cyclist I would vote to leave the potholes, do the 50% you can afford properly to an acceptable standard and I will avoid the rest.

Supermarket cycle rails. They are not expecting many customers on bikes

Supermarket cycle rails. They are not expecting many customers on bikes

The promotion of cycling is important on so many levels not least the benefit to health and the savings to the NHS. People are returning to the bike in huge numbers. Thanks to the Olympics and our success in the Tour De France, cycle clubs and organisations have seen membership numbers soar. Writing to councillors and MP’s is a start but it needs a total review of how cycling can totally integrate within towns and new road schemes.  I took a ride around my home town of Alton to see how cycle parking facilities figured in the current town plan. Two large garden centres provided no spaces for cycles, four spaces at our local supermarket that has just had a multi storey car park completed, four spaces at the library, four spaces at the community centre and seven in the high street with one cycle chained to a lamp-post The ten spaces at the sports centre took line honours and rather worryingly none at our local hospital or either of the two health centres.

These statistics say to me that any “Space for Cycling” will be a long drawn out war of attrition , we need a vision of what we are trying to achieve longterm and a town planning policy in harmony with those thoughts, alternatively we could all emigrate to Holland.

 

 

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