GIVE CYCLISTS ROOM
The Driving Standards Agency is cramping my style. Among other revisions proposed for the next printing of this bible aimed mostly at motorists - cyclists, as usual, are not so much ignored as tolerated - is the injunction to use cycle lanes "where these are provided". This doesn't seem a mile away from the current advice to use them "when practicable", but is proving something of a red light to campaigners whose antennae are constantly tuned to long wave outrage.
It doesn't take a lexicographer to see that the campaigners have a point. Our freedom of choice to discriminate between genuinely helpful facilities and those which could be politely termed 'farcilities' is being abrogated piecemeal in what some see as the continuing plot to abdicate our right to travel with the rest of traffic on the Queen's Highway.
The worry is that insurance companies will happily leap through this loophole in a bid to deny payouts to cyclists who are injured while ignoring the safety of the Code's umbrella of best practice, as the Stationery Office's slim bestseller may "be relied upon by any party to the proceeding as tending to establish or negative any liability which is in question" in legal proceedings.
I have no love lost for most cycle lanes. Let me count the ways:
- They are frequently dangerous through lack of maintenance.
- The designers' brief appears to have been to keep us out of the way rather than to integrate us into the landscape of bodies in motion.
- They often begin nowhere and end nowhere, with exasperating injunctions to dismount in between, making a mockery of hard-won momentum.
- Where they exist as a simple lick of paint, there is little respect for the virtual reality of our need for space, which almost appears to be relegated to the final frontier.
In any case, I don't place a great deal of faith in the ability of a coloured line on the ground to protect me; I rely instead on my cyclist's intuition, which tells me to trust my senses and experience rather than a book bought and ignored by millions.
The DSA's consultation process is due to be wrapped up early this May.
We need not just a cushion of air, but a comfort zone. One cyclist who appreciates this is Justin Beattie, beleaguered Irishman currently spinning his wheels in Scotland, and author of the 'Give Cyclists Room' initiative. He has announced a war on SMIDSY ("Sorry Mate I Didn't See You") drivers by launching stickers meant to be displayed on the rear of cars and aimed at speed-reading motorists to increase public perception of the problem of cramped quarters.
Even Tour de France riders are complaining that the UK motorist's rampant trespasses are inhibiting their ability to seriously train. Seeing as the commercially lucrative Tour is passing through Kent next year, perhaps the sports-loving British public can look into their wallets if not their hearts to buy a sticker in aid of the cause, which has also been championed by MSP Jackie Baillie, who has introduced a Motion to the Scottish Parliament in acknowledgement of Beattie's grassroots campaign which serves as a kind of memorial for the many cyclists who have been killed on Britain's over-crowded and under-considerate roads.
It's a small island, and we've all got to find the best and safest way of sharing it. Involuntarily segregating environmentally conscious pedallers is not going to solve the problems that integrated private transport presents. The way forward is to acknowledge the desire and need for alternative forms of locomotion tailored to suit the individual rather than feed the mass delusion that the roads should be totally given over to a Darwinian struggle ending in survival of the gas-guzzling dinosaurs which currently make the earth and many of its politicians tremble.
Even if you can't imagine life without a car and only saddle up when high summer days thaw the bike lock and you have to ask the neighbour's kid for a pump to elevate the rims above ground zero, you owe it to your fellow road warriors who, after all, are taking up much less space than that 4x4: please give them a little room to breathe free, to live, and to ride.
Cycling Plus, May 2006