Sunday 29 December 2013

Give us good, straight bike routes!

The Romans knew a thing or two about transport. They understood that it can be hard and tiring, so they tried to build straight routes to connect locations - hardly surprising because mostly folk would've been walking, and people want to walk the shortest route between two points. The roads in Britain that still follow Roman routes are very often easy to spot by their conspicuous and convenient directness.

Somewhere along the way far too many folk stopped travelling in straight lines - they got in to cars which started clogging up our cities in such a way that those straight routes didn't make sense any more. In fact we started expecting to drive all around the houses on one way systems to get where we're going, but that's kind of okay when you're not burning your own biological energy. Its no more 'effort', its just a little more time - and as there are so many of these cars clogging the roads it wouldn't be any slower anyway. 

But those of us who get around by bike or on foot are still rather Roman. We can't really be doing with these crazy systems designed to take us way out of the way before getting us where we're going. So if you tell us that a route is quieter to ride on, its only another couple of miles, we're probably going to want to slap you. Rather like when a road junction describes a series of wide, sweeping curves for cars to motor round at high speed but which require pedestrians to travel another 50 or 100 yards - no one wants to do that, they just want to walk in a more or less straight line to their destination.

Now when it comes down to it all we want as cyclists is for the direct route to where we're going to be safe to ride on. We don't want to be told that there's another quieter route to go on, as that is always going to be way more effort than we feel the need to expend. We can even get quite resentful when presented with such 'alternatives' - resentful in a way that a motorist will only see as selfishness. But that rather ignores the lessons of millenia - people burning their own energy want to go in a straight line. The worn down footpath directly across a field, the Roman road, the short cut or rat run. Cyclists aren't the ones causing the congestion that necessitates motorists be held up by one-way systems and crazy bypass routes, don't expect us to be sympathetic when you suggest we should suffer the restrictions caused by and necessitated for motorists.

The bottom line is that the straight line routes we (quite reasonably) want to use need to be safe and convenient for cycling, otherwise most potential cyclists will be clogging up the crazy road systems in cars. And where they're not, out transport network utterly fails cycling. I'm going to expand upon these thoughts more with some examples of pretty clear straight-line routes in to Cambridge that are anything but good for cycling. But for now, feel free to let me know what you think about my starting premise - am I right that all it is we want as cyclists is to go from where we are, to where we need to be, safely and without a detour that feels like it could take us to Belgium and back?


  1. I quite agree! :-)

  2. All cyclists want is to travel safely and conveniently but in this crazy, mean-spirited, car- centric society that is simply not considered a realistic proposition.

  3. Actually, there's one situation where I'll happily take a longer route (within reason) and it's not because of safety: it's because of traffic lights. I'll take an off-road route that allows me to make constant progress over the stop-start of lights installed for motorists.

    It's one of the very few advantages of some shared-use paths: shift one metre to the left onto a shared-use pavement and suddenly it's quite okay to cycle amongst pedestrians. Stay on road and you're a menace if you don't obey the lights (I do: I would hardly consider it an advantage if I didn't).