I have a love/hate relationship with bike lanes and cycle tracks. Too often, they’re like the little girl from the nursery rhyme.
She rode down the street on a bike that she’d borrowed,
When bike lanes were good, they were very, very good,
But when they were bad, they were horrid.
OK, so I’ll probably wait a long time for that call for the position of Poet Laureate. But you get the point.
I seem to have a bit of a campaign-thing going against Gateshead’s new college development, and the really poor facilities they’ve put in place there. I want to assure Nick Clennett, the Council’s Head of Transportation and Highways that I’m not picking on him or the council specifically – despite the fact that I personally don’t believe Nick Clennett’s claim that the kerb on the uphill side of the road was always scheduled to be re-worked at additional cost after completion, just to make it safe to use. No, it’s just that this is a great example of what’s wrong with bicycle infrastructure in the UK.
When there’s a new development like this, I believe we have a right to expect so much more from those doing the planning, controlling, and building.
If they were to at least adhere to the Department For Transport’s guidance, it would be a start.
The routes around the college could reasonably be classed as “commuter routes”, where the design speed should be 12-20mph. On the steep hill coming down in front of the college, pretty much any cyclist could find themselves riding at the upper end of that speed range.
So instead of being part of the traffic (which also has a 20mph speed limit here), bikes are meant to use the cycle track on the pavement (sidewalk). The problem is, that the narrow, one-metre wide cycle track, up there on the pavement, and right next to a bunch of students hanging about outside the college, is just an accident waiting to happen. And it very nearly did happen when I tried to give Gateshead’s facilities a go. Thankfully, I’m reasonably experienced, and had anticipated the situation . . . a newbie on a bike could easily have ended up skewering a pedestrian, or swerving into the road, right under the wheels of a surprised car.
Take a look at what happened to me:
I understand that this is precisely the sort of thing that both the Cyclists’ Touring Club (CTC) and Living Streets were concerned about during the development’s planning phase. Yet for some reason, Nick Clennett, Gateshead Council’s Head of Transportation and Highways didn’t want to take their concerns on board.
I’m all in favour of experimentation and trying new things to improve people’s lives. It’s how the Dutch moved from a society that was heading along the same car-dominated lines as ours in the mid 1970s, to one where nationwide, 27% of all trips are made by bike, and in some towns it’s almost 50%. It’s not because they’re Dutch, it’s not because the country’s flat, and it’s certainly not because they have great weather. It’s because they figured out what works, and created an integrated, joined-up network of facilities that made cycling convenient and safe.
In the UK, fewer than 2% of trips are made by bike, and all the while local authorities are still approving cycle infrastructure like that around Gateshead College, it’s a figure that’s unlikely to improve.
So Nick if you’re reading, now that you’ve seen for yourself what sort of problems the “safety” features you’ve allowed to be put in can cause, will you consider changing them?