Saturday 24 October 2015

Bad cycle facilities - The Milton Road Effect

Britain is full of councils and local road administrators who live under the quaint notion that any kind of cycle facility at all must be better than no facility. They might perhaps believe that while a good, wide, segregated cycling route would be great, that would just be inconveniencing the motorists too much so they'll just put some paint on the pavement and call it a cycle lane, or section off a foot of road outside the gutter for cyclists. They seem to seek a compromise between encouraging cyclists and pleasing motorists by spending as little cash as possible on almost nothing for us, and then not give a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut when no one cycles. The self fulfilling prophecy of a moronic mindset that assumes that because only swimmers currently cross a river, no one would benefit from a bridge. 

The result of putting in dreadful cycle routes is well understood in Cambridge, by planners (who still do it because clearly they don't give a shit)  and by cyclists who don't want to ride such routes. I've seen it called the Milton Road Effect - named for Milton Road, in Cambridge, the site of some of our worst shared use facilities, and occasional ambush site for Police who want to collar cyclists with no hope of knowing where they can or can't ride legally.

The problem is simple. We're presented with the option to use a dreadful cycle facility which may be too narrow, too badly surfaced, crammed with paked cars and pedestrians, too indirect or give way to far too many driveways and side roads to be useful or safe. The use of such facilities is not only inconvenient, it may often be very dangerous due to poor visibility of what can come out of driveways and of cars that will just turn across you without looking. But because the lanes are visible and sign-posted we get no end of aggro from people who think they know better than us - there's a cycle lane there, and they reason that (1) it must be better to ride there than on the road and (2) it should be expected of us to be in that lane to be out of the way.

The result? Abuse and threatening behaviour, at worst. Or condescension at best.

Proof? Here's a driving instructor who apparently has in the region of 17 years experience teaching. He's actually ignoring his student for a while there (who unless my eyes deceive me seems in overtaking me to spook the oncoming motorist sufficiently to swerve into the bus lane opposite) so he can gawp at me and direct me towards the cycle route I'm not using (because, as I intoned above, is crap). And that's at the better end of things - this is the sort of stupid, pointless (criminal, it was judged) behaviour (aggressively sounding the horn at me and passing close and fast for 'being in the road' while also being on his mobile phone - pretty crap really) we get at the worst end. It isn't every motorist - but how many such incidents do you think it takes to give most people a life-long fear of cycling?

These bad cycle routes make our lives more hazardous by bringing out the worst in motorists - and we've got whole generations of them picking up bad habits and dangerous mind-sets from the very instructors who should be teaching them to drive safely. It is incumbent upon ever yone of us - every cycling advocate, every cycle campaigning organisation, and everyone with an interest in the health and fitness that comes with active transport to oppose every single bad facility and to only cooperate with local authorities when cycle facilities on offer are of excellent quality. And if too many cycling bodies continue to compromise on this? We may as well give up.

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