Despite having absolutely no need to commute to work, with it being Cycle To Work Day today, I took the bike out at just after 8am and went for a twenty minute ride in the spirit of the event.
Riding at this time of day – a work day (obviously), during rush-hour when schools are back after the summer break, and choosing busier roads – is a real eye-opener compared to my normal leisure rides. Drivers are rushed, impatient, inattentive or just plain bullish in their attitudes. I’ve experience this before, of course, but it seems much more so this time.
This is no surprise really. I used to drive to work and I know how frustrating it is doing the same slow, congested journey day-in, day-out, just to slog it out for eight hours at work before doing the same journey in reverse. But seeing it from the view of the cyclist is a whole different experience. Full situational awareness is absolutely essential to deal with close passes and drivers coming from the opposite direction and pulling into my path to overtake a parked car, causing me to take avoiding action.
One particularly incident saw a driver hang back behind me for a few seconds rather than immediately racing past me, leaving me to consider she was perhaps a good, patient driver. However, just as I was about to move out to overtake a parked car, after I’d checked her position, signalled my intent and started to move, she decided that was the ideal opportunity to overtake. My reading of the driver’s behaviour was obviously wrong. She seemingly had no situational awareness of the parked car ahead or believed that I must have the magic ability to ride through obstacles. She got a telling-off as she passed me and perhaps realised her error as she promptly put her foot down and sped off.
This occurred in a quiet, narrow, residential street littered with parked cars, where 20mph is really the maximum sensible speed (despite it being a 30mph limit), particularly at a time when children are going to school. So, not only could she not safely overtake a cyclist, she also drove down the road at excessive speed. A dangerous, foolish driver indeed.
My one-off experiences are obviously purely anecdotal, but based on them, I’m not surprised more people don’t cycle. I’m confident on my bike and was able to deal with everything but those less confident would easily be put off, I’m sure. The ironic thing, of course, is if more people got out of their cars and onto bikes, traffic congestion would be reduced making commuting a much more pleasant experience for both cyclists and the remaining drivers alike.
Of even more importance, is actually having some decent infrastructure to allow people to get from home to work, including between neighbouring cities, towns and villages, of the sort they have in the Netherlands. If we could only change our national mind-set to see cycling as a viable transport option, as opposed to something solely for the hobbyist, enthusiast or child, we might just make daily commuting that much more pleasant.
Whilst Cycle to Work Day does its bit to make that adjustment (and I’m certainly not belittling its aims and achievements), I think a single day a year is too little. Taken in isolation, I expect it’s unlikely to encourage many beyond those who already own or have access to working order bikes, to leave the car behind. A single day is also not enough to change habits and whilst some people may have made their commute by bike today, it may be seen as a novelty and the car will be back on the road tomorrow. Perhaps in conjunction with the one day event there should also be a Cycle to Work Week and/or Cycle to Work Month – a challenge for participants to make, say, 60% of their commuting journeys by bike in the time period (3 out of 5 days, for example).
For me, perhaps the biggest disappointment was that other than school children, I didn’t notice anybody else out on their bikes this morning. That’s not to say they weren’t there of course, just not in any great number. With this being a fairly small, nondescript town, I suspect such places are not where the bulk of people who decided to ride today are located, and that it’s perhaps more of a city thing, where work and residences may be more closely located.
I’m sure many people see driving as the only viable option for getting to work, particularly in places like this, but the nearest city to me is just 8-10 miles away. In theory, it’s cycleable within an hour but a good, minimal traffic route doesn’t exist. There’s a canal but it’s not direct and has a poor surface in parts. Even on the better surfaced sections, it’s prone to mud and puddles, never mind the fact that a canal towpath is just too narrow for a large volume of cyclists.
But what if the linking key road routes featured segregated Dutch-grade cycle lanes running as near to alongside them as possible, with appropriate supporting infrastructure feeding into it from the villages, towns and cities along the route? Inter-town and city journeys would become quick and reasonably easy with bike riders insulated from the worst of motor traffic and the remaining motor vehicles benefiting from reduced congestion and not being ‘inconvenienced’ by slower moving active transport. This would surely be a win for everyone.
Whilst the aims of Cyclescheme’s Cycle To Work Day are laudable, I don’t believe there will be a really significant shift without the supporting infrastructure. Plans for new developments, town and road improvements must incorporate proper cycling routes (not just paint on roads or wideish pavements being designated as shared space). Only then we will see a surge in the use of bikes for all sorts of journeys and the associated benefits that brings to everyone.