Monday 10 October 2016

The Problem With Treating Us Like Cars... that we're not.

I've always been an advocate of riding assertively where we have to do so to remain safe on our roads. It just makes sense. If we've got to claim the lane in a road to make it clear that this isn't a good place to overtake safely then yeah, whatever, go for it. Its not like there's a better choice.

But I'm not a car. My bike isn't a car. In riding that way I do not, as I am so frequently accused of, acting like I think I'm a "fucking car, mate". I don't appreciate the way that people respond to cyclists riding this way, by referring to us as being like cars. I ride assertively because its a safer way to ride, but I don't like that it means that people think I'm being a dick for riding as if my vehicle is somehow the same as theirs. And I'm annoyed that I'm even discussing this in terms of the perceived heirarchy in road users.

I've been increasingly of the opinion that adapting cycling to fit the road space available is the wrong way round. Not just that we're getting it wrong with regard to how we build cycle facilities as add-ons to road space, at the margins, at the edge, both physically and in terms of funding, but also with how we handle the whole question of cycling. 

Imagine, if you will, a road network without cars. Built for cycling and people getting around burning cake rather than petrol. What would it look like? And how does that differ from what we actually get? It would connect places directly and simply. We'd have straight lines rather than be taken all round the houses like cars are - there wouldn't be one way systems (which necessitate driving a greater distance but reduce journey time by lessening conflict at junctions), and those on the main cycling route would have priority over side entrances (which all too often doesn't happen for bike routes). Junctions would be simple - we wouldn't have to cross multiple streams of traffic in weird, odd directions to avoid the nastiest bits for cars.

There wouldn't be many traffic lights. Really busy routes might need them, but for the most part we'd have a 'make eye contact and cross' rule, as we sort of informally have on shared use routes we have already. Cyclists would rather slow a bit to let people pass than have to stop entirely, its so much easier continuing on your way.We'd ride somewhere towards the middle of the lane, all the time, and it wouldn't be considered weird. We'd do that so that pedestrians wouldn't be worried about stepping out in front of us.

I think where I'm getting to is that while roads weren't built for cars, they've been so heavily modified in favour of everyone being in a car that the few who aren't have to act as if they are to avoid being killed, but we're resented for acting that way anyway because we're not in cars. The paradox of vehicular cycling - we ride in a way that reduces danger at the expense of increasing conflict.

We need to back up a bit and maybe stop JUST demanding more and better cycling facilities and ask what whether we're really missing the other thing that we ought to be asking for - to be treated like cyclists, rather than either a modified form of pedestrian or an inferior car. This doesn't only impact on the kind of route we ask for, its also about how we should be asked to behave on the roads. Dare I suggest that perhaps that design for cyclists and the culture we would expect thereof might make a better road transport system for everyone? Maybe, for the good of pedestrians and cycclists, we should be demanding that everyone does things our way, rather than the way that motorists want? 

I guess this touches on other questions I've asked here before - whats the point in us obeying rules set up to facilitate better motoring at the cost of our own safety and convenience? Is it really worth suffering the wrath of motorists rather than riding slowly and tentatively on a wide pavement that we're legally un-entitled to but much safer on? Is there really any point in me stopping at a red light if the driver behind will be angry that I'm there anyway, and probably try to run me off the road as I enter the junction ahead?

Is fighting for a transport culture that enshrines cycling culture worthwhile? And how would we redesign roads to facilitate this?

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