I am prompted to write after reading the article about a Cycling Survey and Report in Tuesdays Mercury (14 August).
I’m not convinced that dedicated cycle paths are the way to go to encourage people to use bicycles instead of cars to commute. Rarely are they the most direct or flattest route, and they often have a number of obstructions, including pedestrians, that make swift travel on them dangerous and unrealistic. I’m not suggesting they don’t have a place. However, if we are serious about people commuting on bikes and leaving their cars at home, then we need to make the roads friendlier places for cyclists.
I’m sure that much of the antagonism from motorists results from a lack of appreciation of why cyclists do particular things whilst riding on the road, combined with some degree of misunderstanding of the legitimate and legal rights of cyclists to use the road.
Cyclists have the right to occupy a lane, like any other vehicle. They are also allowed to ride two abreast and to feed through on the inside of vehicles at an intersection. Most road bicycles have narrow tyres, so that the wheels role efficiently, but they also easily puncture. The edge of the road is often littered with glass and other potentially damaging debris. Similarly cracks, ridges and drain holes that can make it difficult to safely control a bicycle are more prevalent. Hugging the edge of the road invites cars to try and squeeze past leaving little room for error. For these reasons many cyclists ride a meter or so in from the edge of the road, often about where the cars left side wheels travel.
At a decent speed on a bicycle it can be difficult to hear vehicles coming from behind, particularly if riding into a head wind. I doubt those drivers who pass cyclists with cm to spare have seriously considered the potential consequences of their actions. Similarly high beam at night can blind a cyclist.
You wouldn’t normally pull out in front of a truck so that it had to brake hard, yet it often happens to cyclists. Yet the truck can probably brake and swerve better than the cyclist. To get going again can take a fair bit of energy too.
And for those motorists who still can’t abide the fact I ride a bike, consider this. By leaving my car in the shed and riding my bike, I’ve created more room on the road for them. They should be offering me a beer rather than working themselves into an indignant state.
So my suggestion is that instead of building bike paths for commuting, more resources are put into education about cyclists and their legal rights, particularly as part of driver training and testing. And cyclists who break the law, doing things like not wearing helmets and running red lights, should be prosecuted in the same way as car drivers who break the law.