Cycling on pavements – problems and solutions

I have been reliably informed that if there is any discussion of cycling on internet, it is inevitable that, some poster (or several) will bring the conversation around to the stock comment – that cyclists use the pavement and are a real nuisance. It can be about any topic related to transport, such as improving road safety, the dangers of using mobile phones. But, the fact that some cyclists use the pavement is used ad nauseam – as a sweeping statement to tarnish all cyclists and negate any sensible discussion. I’m sure that somewhere in the Bacchanalian depths of the Daily Mail comment section there is the logic that since some teenagers cycle aggressively on the pavement we should ban all cycling on the road.

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I have no idea why the guy on a foldup is using the pavement. There’s hardly any traffic on this road.

The law on pavement cycling

Firstly, it is against the law to cycle on the pavement, unless it is a shared footpath

It is illegal to cycle on the pavement, unless there is a sign indicating a shared use cycle path. Cycling on footways (a pavement by side of a carriageway) is prohibited by Section 72 of the Highway Act 1835, amended by Section 85(1) of the Local Government Act 1888.(Highway Code)

This includes children. Children are not allowed to cycle on the pavement. Though the police are generally advised to use their discretion and not prosecute in this instance.

Why do people cycle on the pavement?

  1. Safety. Many roads and junctions are dangerous to cycle on. Cycling on the pavement can be a way to make a journey safer for the cyclist and avoid dangerous roads / junctions.
  2. Ignorance of the law. A study by researchers at Lancaster University found many people (especially children) were not aware that cycling on the pavement is illegal.
  3. Laziness / impatience. Sometimes you see people cycling on the pavement because they want to get their quicker and are too impatient to wait at a light or they see the pavement as a short-cut. This motive may be mixed in with the first motive about safety. Also, you get the impression with some road users that they just don’t care if they inconvenience other people.

Problem of cycling on the pavement

  1. Cycling on the pavement is one of the most frequently raised local issues to the police. Many people really dislike having the pavement space threatened by fast moving cyclists. Even if there is no accident, old people can feel uncomfortable when a bicycle passes by at close speed.
  2. Accidents. Accidents can happen when fast moving cyclists collide with pedestrians. In rare cases it can be fatal or lead to serious injury. Very roughly, on average one pedestrian is killed by a cyclist per year.
  3. It creates ill feeling towards other cyclists. When a drunk driver kills a pedestrian because he is speeding and loses control, we don’t go around hating other drivers. But, it does happen with cycling on pavements and it is a problem because it exacerbates tension between different road users and makes non-cyclists less sympathetic to any cyclists.

Sense of Perspective

In terms of fatalities and serious injuries, it seems that the threat posed by cyclists is exaggerated. Pedestrian and motorists are quick to complain about nuisance cyclists, but it is motor vehicles which are responsible for the vast majority of serious accidents. In 2011, there were 480 pedestrian fatalities. (cycle stats) These were not caused by cyclists on the pavement. It’s not just cyclists which invade pedestrian areas, but also parked cars and cars which lose control.

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Patience is a virtue on the road

One thing about being a British road user is that it teaches you patience. Well, it’s either you learn to be patient, or you become really quite angry and irritable. I was dropping my bike off at Beeline this morning to re-fit a power meter. It took a long time to drive the one mile during rush hour; it’s so much slower than cycling. I realised now why I never drive in Oxford, unless I can avoid it. It takes considerable patience to drive the one mile down Cowley Road. The problem is that most of the roads around here were not designed for two rows of parked cars and heavy traffic.

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They were designed in the halycon days of the 1930s, when everything was in black and white and people couldn’t afford a motor car.

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The good old 1930s. Workers leaving factory. What happened when all these workers bought a motor car?

But, if you start off with the mindset of being patient and expecting it to be slow, it’s much easier to retain some equanimity. If you can’t enjoy the drive into town, and least at doesn’t leave you agitated.

As a cyclist, you often have to be patient. You could look at the top picture and get annoyed. Why are cars taking up so much space? If the other person was on a bicycle, there would be no delay.  “Why can’t you be nice and thin like me?” But, if you start thinking like that, you don’t end up in a good place. A little patience goes a long way; sometimes you have to wait a few seconds for a 4WD to carry its great hulk through the road. But, that’s fine, we all share the road – even Chelsea Tractors. 

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Cycling in Leeds

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Recently I was in Leeds during the rush hour. I took a few photos of cyclists and the basic cycle infrastructure.

Leeds has a fairly low % of residents who cycle once a month. According to the Department of transport just 11% of residents cycle at least once a month. It’s not the lowest rate in the UK, but it lags behind other cities.

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Leeds cycle facilities

In the city centre there are some dedicated cycle facilities. It’s not much, but they seemed to be well used during rush hour.

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Dedicated cycle path cyclist-path

A temporary brake in the cycle path. The cyclists I saw used their common sense and were cycling at low speed to avoid any problems with pedestrians. But, it does seem to sum up the patchy cycle lane provision.

Leeds cycling campaign.

The Leeds cycling campaign is working with the city council to try and improve facilities for cyclists and make the city more attractive place for cycling. (Leeds Cycling Campaign)

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Proposals for better cycling facilities.  Cycle vision for Leeds

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The growth of bike sharing schemes across globe

At last years United States Conference of Mayors, the forum concluded:

“communities that have invested in pedestrian and bicycle projects have benefited from improved quality of life, healthier population, greater local real-estate values, more local travel choices, and reduced air pollution.” (Economist)

Can the country of Henry Ford and eight lane highways really be on the verge of embracing the bicycle? Well words are one thing, action on the ground is another. But, in the past few decades, there has been a remarkable growth in the number of bike sharing schemes across the world.

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Photo: Adam Fagen Flickr – Madison – US

Generally bike sharing schemes didn’t get off to the best start. Cities like Amsterdam and Cambridge which offered free bikes, typically saw the noble endeavour of offering 500 free bikes taken up mainly by bike thieves who promptly stole the bikes, leaving only good intentions and critics claiming vindication bike sharing could never work.

However, since then there has been a steady evolution of bike sharing schemes. With better technology and good administration enabling bike sharing schemes to have varying degrees of success. It is no longer a fringe idea of cycling nuts. American mayors are looking to embrace these eye-catching (and possibly vote winning) schemes. Cities with bike sharing schemes have not exactly gone Dutch, there is no cycling nirvana; but t in cities which have really embraced the bike sharing idea, there is a noticeable shift in cycling rates.

The growth of bicycle sharing schemes

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Source: Earth Policy

One of the first bike sharing schemes was tried by Amsterdam in 1965, 500 free white bikes left around the city. But, this was not the most auspicious start. Bikes tended to soon disappear, and the scheme was later abandoned. Though, it is worth noting that this was a period where Amsterdam and the Netherlands saw a resurgence in cycling rates.

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