I’ve been knocked off my bike – and I’m REALLY annoyed

Apologies in advance – this is one of my occasional “ranty blogs”. But I think it’s justified. I am VERY angry.

Yesterday I was knocked off my bike.

Before I go any further – I’m OK.  I’m very stiff and sore and I’ve got some big bruises on my legs and a couple of scratches.  I suspect I’ll feel worse before I feel better as the bruising comes out. My bike survived.

What long term impact this has on my life I’ll have to see as I’m in a bit of a delicate situation at the moment (regular Cycle Sprog readers will know I’ve been suffering with Long Covid for the past 6 months – I’d only recently got back on my bike).

So I think getting knocked off my bike gives me the right to be angry.

But it’s a bit more complicated than that.  Riding along minding your own business and ending up on the tarmac is a real bummer. I’m pissed off.  I think anyone would be.

But what I’m REALLY hacked off about is this…….

I was RIDING ALONG A NEWLY OPENED STRETCH OF CYCLE PATH.

Yes, that’s right….

I GOT KNOCKED OFF MY F***ING BIKE RIDING ON A F***ING CYCLE PATH.

A cycle path that was designed in 2019 and built in 2020 – not some really old path that people have been complaining about being dangerous about for years.

This is where it gets even more complicated…….

This is a stretch of cycle path that I’ve invested a whole load of time, effort, energy and emotion into.

So excuse my profanities but I am REALLY F***ING ANNOYED.

I’m not quite sure who to be most annoyed with.

I’m REALLY annoyed at the council.  I spent hours and hours last year trying to make sure this cycle path would be safe to use. I walked the route with them several times. I commented in minute detail on the plan – every single part of the route that I foresaw as being dangerous (for, oh dear reader, there were many  parts of the route that sent shivers down my spine – ironically it was one of those that I’d considered to be not quite as dangerous as others that caused my accident).  I sent them examples of good design for each part I felt was a hazard. I attended meetings. I sent emails.  I sought the input of many cyclists in the area and fed that back to them, lest they thought I was being a ranty woman with too much time on my hands (ha!).  All of this was unpaid, all in my own time.  They’re the experts. They’re getting paid.  They should be responsible for building safe infrastructure.  Bloody hell – it shouldn’t need a member of the general public to have to stand up and point out things aren’t safe!

So, should I be really annoyed at the council for building a cycle path that resulted in me getting knocked off my bike, when I told them that would happen?

Perhaps.  But my time spent liaising with them has made me realise that their hands are tied.  I met people at the council who would love to design and build the very best cycling infrastructure. But they can’t.  Three main reasons:

  1. They don’t have the money
  2. The elected politicians don’t let them
  3. There’s no law forcing them to meet certain standards – at the time there weren’t even any standards (since this was built there has thankfully been a new set of standards released for infrastructure design, which would have meant this scheme would have had to be built to a higher standard)

So, is it really the council I should be angry with? Perhaps its more productive for me to be angry at the planning process.

The entire reason the cycle path was built was because the council had been given some money for a cycle path as part of a deal to allow a big Sainsbury’s to be built on the edge of town.  A sweetener in other words.  Except the planning process allows this to go through, and the superstore to be built before the cycle path has even been considered in detail, let alone costed out.

Because there are no standards to adhere to, no commonly agreed cost of building infrastructure to a safe standard, Sainsbury’s can get away with giving a sum of money that isn’t anywhere near enough to build  a proper cycle path, to tick a box on their planning application.

So, I’m angry at the entire planning system – but that feels like an ant up against an elephant.

I’m also annoyed at the political system.

It means that our elected officials will make decisions based on what they think will get them re-elected at the ballot box, not what is necessarily the best overall decision for the town and the people who live there. So, several years ago when a very small but vocal group of residents got cross about the proposed cycle path passing their houses, they got the attention of their councillors, pressure was applied and the plans for the cycle path were put on hold.

It all got very close to the expiry date of the funding, but thankfully there was a last minute realisation of what was going on by some more environmentally conscious councillors and the plans were able to be revisited and the money spent in time (albeit not enough money!)   The initial stalling was done quietly, meaning that most people in the town weren’t even aware that there was the money, and that the decision had been almost been taken to forego it.  But this is a cycle path that goes to one of the local secondary schools, past several business and industrial estates, housing estates and sporting facilities. It has the potential to affect hundreds or thousands of people, and how they travel around every day.

And, again, this is where it gets even more complicated.   Should I be angry at the local residents who kicked up a fuss about the scheme and almost got it canned?

I am angry at those residents who were complaining because they didn’t want any form of cycle path because it meant they might not be able to park two cars directly outside the house (and the one or two who clearly came across as “anti-cyclist”)

However, should I be angry at those residents who were raising concerns that they thought a two-way mixed use cycle/foot path passing directly in front of their driveways may not be safe.   They had exactly the same concerns as me that mixing slow moving pedestrians and fastermoving cyclists is not a good idea, and that having no change in surface or markings to remind them as they pulled out their drive that there could be cyclists coming both directions would be an accident waiting to happen.

So, yes I’m angry at the NIMBYs, who called for the path to be scrapped totally for reasons of their own convenience but I can’t get annoyed at those who asked for the design to be revisited for safety reasons. I was doing the same!

What I am really angry about is the national funding process for cycle infrastructure. There is so little money available and it all has to be bid for in a laborious process that never looks at the holist needs of a community as a whole.  As an example, the money announced with great fanfare earlier in the year for post Covid-19 improvements has just been allocated in our county. One town will get a bit of provision – the rest of us get hardly anything.  My town (population 29,000) is due for several hundred metres of “cycle path”, if that doesn’t get shouted down.  If you have visions of a new cycle friendly future after all Boris’s announcements you’re going to be sadly disappointed.

What I’m also annoyed about is the political games around all this.  I got told in no uncertain terms that if I made a fuss about the safety of the proposed path to such an extent that it didn’t get built and the funding lost then our entire town would be seen as being difficult, and we’d probably never get any funding for cycle infrastructure again.

This is the REALLY difficult bit for me to get my head around. Is poor infrastructure better than no infrastructure?

I really struggled at the time.  I spoke to different seasoned campaigners from around the country, as I was new to this, and they split into two camps.  The “Go for anything you can get” brigade, who then have to work tirelessly for years to get it upgraded to something safer, or the “We only want Dutch style infrastructure here” crew, who hold out for the best, but may have to wait longer / forever.  The latter tend to be successful only in high density urban environments where every metre of infrastructure built has the potential to be used by thousands of people every day.

When you live in a smaller town or village, you end up with a stark choice.  Would you rather have your child cycling to school in the fast moving traffic or on a badly built mixed-use path that has vehicles pulling in and out of it with no warning, stop/starts all the way along it, isn’t continuous and swaps sides of the road as you go along it, and spits you out in dangerous positions at both ends, that may one day be improved in parts?”

With a heavy heart I opted for the latter.  And now it’s built it’s as crap I as feared.

And it makes me angry because I’ve been lucky enough to cycle in places where cycling is considered as the most viable form of transport for short journeys. Where the towns, villages and cities are designed for people, rather than cars.  I know what it feels like not to have to worry whether you’re going to make it to your destination if you choose to cycle.    It’s a much nicer world. People are happier and fitter. The towns and villages feel nicer places to be, plus the air is fresher.

I’d love to live in a place that had the same attitude.  The sort of place we were sold earlier in the year, when Boris stood up and told us all we should be cycling and walking. To make us healthier and happier, To beat Covid-19.  To save the environment and improve the quality of life in our towns and cities.

Instead, I live in a town with a crap new cycle path.  But, until yesterday I felt obliged to use at least part of it – the bit I felt was less dangerous.  Why?

Several reasons – firstly I’ve been subject in the past to motorists who wind their window down and shout “Use the f***ing cycle path” at me as I ride on the road (this has been near other badly designed stretches of path in our town – we really are blessed!)  It’s not nice.  The path is there, which leads me on to…..

Secondly, I feel an obligation to use it so that when the chance to build better infrastructure comes along there’s some proof that it’s needed.  It removes the chance for the anti-cycle path brigade to say that “cyclists just don’t bother using cycle paths and ride on the road so they’re a waste of money”.

Thirdly, I’d almost convinced myself that perhaps I’d been too harsh on the council.  Perhaps it wasn’t as dangerous as I thought.  Given lockdown and my poor health I’ve only been able to use it a handful of times since it opened, and thus I’ve been giving a stretch of it the benefit of the doubt (I’ve been to scared to ride the other bit).

Fourthly, and perhaps the one that makes me most sad, is the fact that since I got ill I’m not as fit as I was. Riding on the roads of our town really needs you to ride fast, make your presence known (taking primary position).  I’m nowhere as fit as I was, so it just feels more comfortable and safer to ride away from the traffic.

This upsets me so much as it’s the very reason most people don’t cycle.  You have to be of either a certain level of fitness or a certain level of risk acceptance to take primary position on a fast moving road.

At the moment I don’t feel like that person, so I need to use the mixed use path if I’m going to ride my bike.

Except that yesterday I’d already come into conflict with two pedestrians at a point where it narrows down to single file, so I’d had to go onto the road to avoid intimidating them as I tried to pass from behind.  Then I’d made the conscious decision to cross over the road onto another stretch of cycle path (yes, the “wrong side of the road”) to get away from the fast moving traffic – it’s a 30 mph road but cars usually go faster.   About 10 seconds later I was flat on the ground looking close up at the tarmac.

And yes, I should be angry at the person who knocked me off, but she was really upset. She told me she’d been really worried about the new path. Yes, she agreed she should have looked more carefully as she pulled out (and yes, before you ask, I was wearing hi viz, I had my lights on and was wearing a helmet – should I REALLY need to get dressed up like that during daylight hours just to get around town?)

I could have raged at her, but I don’t really think its her I should be getting angry at. Do you?

 

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