Thursday, 19 January 2012

Give me some space...

After 20 years of city living and urban bike commuting I've recently moved to a more rural part of the country. Before the move I was looking forward to my new routine and saying good bye and good riddance to cycling alongside rows of slow-moving congested traffic on cycle lanes that start and end on a town planners whim and muscling my way into advanced stop boxes every morning.
Now however, commuting from my rural idyll, I'm faced with a new set of dilemmas: faster drivers, narrower roads, no cycle lanes and often no road lighting. Suddenly I find myself longing for those incredibly congested, yet relatively well-lit, wide carriageways of Manchester and London.
Of course the main flaw in my escape to the country is that although I now live in a rural area, I still work in a nearby town, one which involves an 18 mile-round commute along minor lanes and busier cross-Pennine trunk roads... and in this part of the world the car, or rather the 4 x 4, is most definitely king.
In my previous urban life I was a committed - some may say fanatical - cycle commuter. I'd be forever ranting at my car-driving friends to ditch their motors and get on a bike, smugly gloating that I could travel my seven miles to town in a fraction of the time it took them to drive in.
Now, in my new location, I'd be hard-pressed to even begin to try to convince my new neighbours just to cycle down to the village shop, never mind commute to work and I have to admit that I can't blame them really, as recently I'm having a job on just convincing myself.
On these cold, dark and windy January mornings, I'm finding it a real battle to resist the lure of my car as I walk past it in the drive every morning and jump on my bike for another encounter with a steady flow of half-awake, impatient motorists who are unwilling to share their narrow stretch of tarmac with me without putting up a fight.
Outside of our towns and cities cycling infrastructure is never going to become commonplace, it's just not economically viable, so commuting cyclists like me have to rely on the good will, consideration and patience of our fellow road users and on many mornings this seems to be in short supply. I'm a cyclist AND a driver and I'd like to think that I'm a courteous and socially aware road user regardless of what form of transport I happen to be on the road with - why does it always have to be 'them and us' when many of 'us' are 'them' too?
And this, I guess, brings me on to the point I'm trying to make. All the cycling infrastructure in the world is not going to make the UK a more cycling-friendly place unless we manage to change drivers attitudes towards cyclists and educate all road users (cyclists included) that the roads on which we travel are a SHARED space, irrespective of coloured strips of tarmac and white lines.
If we're ever going to make cycling a truly viable form of mass transport in the UK rather than just a weekend leisure pursuit, then an emphasis on education rather than infrastructure is surely the key to success. Unless we all learn to share the space on our roads and be jointly responsible for each others safety then our aim of expanding cycling will always be out of reach. Infrastructure seems to be pushing cyclists off the roads rather than promoting their right to be on them and in rural areas where infrastructure will never be an option, education is the only tool that we have in order to make sure that cyclists are safe.
I'm sure that as the days grow longer and the mornings get lighter I'll begin to appreciate my new commute with it's stunning views across the Pennines, but for now I'll just grit my teeth, be nice to my fellow road users and keep resisting the lure of my car.

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