I play with the traffic every time I cycle to and from work. About 20% of my return journey is on segregated cycle path, but another 70% of my journey is on cycle lanes, all of which leave just a line of white paint between me and the traffic passing me. 10% of my journey requires me to cycle alongside all other road users.
To be fair, my commute is relatively safe, compared with those that others face. However, there are two places – a roundabout and a turn-right junction – which leave me feeling vulnerable and exposed. I could ride on the footpath and cross three roads, acting as a semi-pedestrian (instead of cycling around the roundabout), or use three pedestrian crossings (instead of using the turn-right junction), but I shouldn’t have to do that, and I do not do so. Instead, I make sure that my road positioning is ‘assertive’, I wear a high-viz vest in the dark, I display two lights back and front, and I make sure my hand signals are as clear as possible. Most road users respond well to this approach, but there are others who ‘buzz’ me as they overtake, and/or they simply drive past too close.
Peter Walker’s premise in his book is that I shouldn’t have to be exposed to the dangers of motorised transport in this way, that I should feel safe on the roads, and that transport planning has to change, such that more people feel safe enough to choose cycling as their ‘go to’ everyday transport . But how do we change minds?
Bike Nation is a compelling read. Of course, I am already one of the converted, so I welcome Peter Walker’s preaching … his arguments are well thought through- they are not ‘preachy’ and they are backed by extensive evidence, underpinned by common sense. The problem is that common sense is in frustratingly short supply at the policy-making level in this country.
The core argument in the book is that there will only be a significant increase on the use of bicycles for local transport in the UK (and many other countries worldwide), if cycling is perceived as safe. That will only happen if cycle paths and lanes are segregated from the rest of the traffic, and given appropriate priority it crossings and intersections. This is how it works in The Netherlands and this is how it should work everywhere else.
No other strategic policy change has the ability to improve environmental and health outcomes as significantly as this. The evidence is overwhelming that this will reduce CO2 (and other) emissions, it will improve traffic flow for vehicles who still need to use the roads (for goods transport, and for long-distance commuting), and it will transform communities currently suffering from endless streams of vehicles clogging up their village/town/city centres. It is also proven that such a policy change would massively decrease heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes, and levels of obesity, all of which are on the rise in the UK.
In other words, it is a no-brainer.
This book has the capacity to change minds. Every person responsible for transport in this country – politicians, planners, architects, and engineers, etc. – should be given a copy, and told that it is required reading. Every person responsible for improving health outcomes – politicians, NHS trust managers, doctors, occupational health workers etc. – should be given a copy as well. I urge anyone reading this blog to get hold of a copy, if you haven’t already read it … it will either reinforce your world view, or change it … I hope!
[When I ordered my copy from my local bookshop, they charged me the same as I would have paid on Amazon. I could also have borrowed a copy from my local library, since they could have obtained one from another library in their network.]