In the past few months, I haven’t done any *proper* cycling (i.e. wearing lycra and clipless pedals)
All my cycling has been on my commuting bike within the Oxford ring road. It is mainly a commute into town. It has slowly grown from a 2.5-mile commute to a 4.0 mile commute (which makes around 8 miles a day). The extra 1.5 mile has made a big difference to the enjoyment of the cycling and benefits to fitness.
Firstly, I took a detour to avoid the main roads and to be able to cycle on the excellent river towpath. It’s all flat, no traffic and wide enough. It also has fantastic views over Christ Church Meadow.
However, the flat cycle path wasn’t quite enough. Almost unconsciously I found myself taking a detour up two short hills (around Rose Hill). The roads are very quiet and off the beaten track.
The first hill is called Tree Lane and then there is a descent down a bumpy private road. Then around the corner in Iffley Village, there is another hill called Adderbury Lane.
Cycle lanes come in many different forms – the good, the bad, the ugly and sometimes the downright bizarre.
In recent years, the number of cycle paths in the UK have increased substantially. In theory, they have the potential to make cycling safer, more enjoyable and reduce friction between different road users. However, because of the haphazard nature of creating cycle paths, there often seems little continuity in design and implementation. It means we have cycle paths ranging from the good to downright bad and some just silly.
More than anything, we need road planners to be bolder in actually designating more space for cycle paths. We widen roads to make dual carriageways, often all we need is a couple more feet to create a really good cycle path. Also a good cycle path is much more than painting a white line on a pavement and hoping it all works out fine.
Segregated Cycle Paths
This cycle path is separate from the road. It doesn’t conflict with pedestrians and is wide enough for dual way. This is an ideal cycle path for an inner city path. It is the kind of path which would encourage a huge range of new people to start cycling.
Mention cycling and red lights and many people will immediately see ‘red’ for want of a better expression. In 2013, over 4,000 cyclists were issued with fixed note penalties for jumping red lights.
Red light jumping is also prevalent amongst motorists. In 2006 the then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, said 43,500 fines were issued for drivers caught jumping red lights (London.gov.uk).
Given the emotive nature of the issue, some may be surprised to learn that red light jumping is less prevalent than people’s perceptions (like the people who tell you ‘all cyclists never stop at a red light’). This is partly because ‘bad behaviour’ sticks in the mind much more than following the rules.
According to TFL between 1998 to 2007, 4% of pedestrian injuries were the result of red light jumping by cyclists. Whereas 71% occur when a car driver jumps a red light and 13% when a motorcyclist does. (CTC) Which shows that cycling through red lights does put others in danger, at the same time highlights the fact most road casualties are the result of motorised vehicles.
A while back – whilst in York, , I saw an advert encouraging people to cycle to work. – ‘It only takes 15 minutes to cycle to work – give it a try.’
So inspired by York’s cycling campaign here are 10 good reasons to commute by bike.
1. Save Money
A good bike may cost £200-£400. But, it can last for years. You will save petrol, car parking / bus fares. It can easily add up. In Oxford it would cost £9 to park all day – if you can find somewhere to park. Bike maintenance is likely to be nothing more than a few inner tubes, and new chain and cassette every 3,000 miles. When you take your bike for a service, generally you don’t have to worry about spending hundreds of pounds like for a car.
Cycling is an excellent way to get low impact exercise. If you do very little exercise, cycling will improve your aerobic fitness and help to avoid heart related health problems. If you don’t have time (or the money) to go to a gym, why not try cycling to work / shops. People may worry that cycling is perceived as a dangerous activity. But, the health benefits of lower obesity / lower heart disease e.t.c. far outweigh the risk of accidents. See: How How safe is cycling? – Cycling Statistics
3. Save Time
For many short distance commutes through town, cycling can be quicker than driving or getting the bus. Many of our car journeys are less than 3 miles. If you try cycling, the time is often much quicker, especially in city centres. In commuting periods, you often get traffic jams and cyclists can both help reduce congestion and get there quicker. For me, getting to centre of Oxford, cycling is 5 minutes quicker than driving and 15 minutes quicker than the bus.
Also, a bike is more reliable than public transport, less likely to turn up late. Fate is in your own hands.
When its raining and wet, the congestion in Oxford always seems to be 10-20% worse. I’m not sure why this is. But, with several serious traffic works, that extra 10% seemed to tip the city into near gridlock.
It does make you feel grateful for being able to cycle into town and avoid a near 30-40 minute journey which can take 15 minutes on the bike.
Though on the other hand, why do people drive when it takes twice as long?
I used to think one reason for the perceived increase in traffic congestion is that when it’s wet, perhaps people use their cars rather than cycle. But it seems just as many people are cycling in the wet. If you have a reasonably waterproof jacket and waterproof trousers you can’t get too wet in a 15 minute commute. Your hands and socks may be a bit damp. (thick socks are as good as anything for keeping your feet dry)
This picture is good for showing the amount of cyclists who were able to squeeze down the narrow cycle lane – still a narrow lane here is probably better than nothing. What the picture doesn’t show is how stationary the traffic is – nor does it show the rising tempers which come from inching along a congested road at 3mph.
It is a little grim cycling in the wet, but I don’t mind. It’s kind of fun in a way, at least undertaking 100 stationary cars does make you glad you aren’t wasting too much time.
The smiling E-On add in the bus stop where I was taking a few photos.
Commuters in the usual mixture of clothes. Wet jeans are a bit of a pain though.
On the high street.
Reflection in the puddle.
The camera exaggerates the effect, but when it is grim and grey, bright jackets do stand out. Look how the third cyclist blends into the road.
I’m glad Chris Boardman did his BBC piece wearing normal clothes. But, there are times when you need to be seen.
The middle cyclist really stands out compared to the black clad cyclists.
Patiently edging forwards
I went shopping at Lidl and all I got was this pair of wellingtons.
Not sure about that duffle coat it does seem to block sideways view, which you ant need. A good old fashioned cycling cap can keep the worst of the rain off and fits under a helmet.
I was happy to hear it’s cycle to work day. I saw some signs advertising it near Rawdon, Leeds a few days ago. I didn’t notice any difference on the commuting roads of Oxford today, but hopefully a few people were inspired to dig out in the bicycle from their garage and cycle to work. I’ve been cycling to work for the past 13 years (I used to be a teacher starting at 8 or 9am. But, these day I call work – going to a cafe for 9am to write some economics). Even though I work from home, I still like to create a cycle to work in town.
I’ve only ever been late once (when I fell off a slippery manhole and lay on the ground for 15 minutes. Perhaps I also got a puncture once and had to go in by bus, but that is a very distant memory. The bike is very reliable – ust avoid those cheap tyres you may get on a £100 bike from Cycle King.
In those 13 years, I’ve saved a lot of money. An alternative is the bus. Roughly the bus costs £3 return 13 years * 200 work days a year = 2,600 days. 2,600 * £3 = £7,800.
£7,800 – Wow, that is nearly enough to buy a new bike. In those 13 years, I’ve had only two commuting bikes. (one got stolen). My current commuting bike is quite low maintenance. Every year, I spend about £70 for service at Reg Taylor cycles to get a new cassette, chain and brake blocks. Overall, I must be in profit by about £6,000.
By the way, if I’d driven into town, I would have faced a car parking charge of over £10 a day before even petrol and all the costs of a car. I’ve never tried working out how much it would cost to drive into town. I’m a great believer in expensive car parking charges, but that’s another story.
I recently heard a cycle campaigner who suggested that one of the best tips for cycling position on the road is to always cycle one metre from the edge. Interestingly, the Dept of Transport have also given out advice to cyclists that it is advisable to cycle 1 metre from the edge (Direct Gov link).
The problems is that although this is good advice, motorists can get very impatient when they see a cyclist in ‘middle of the road’.
One metre from edge is just over 3 feet and much further out in the road than the average cyclist will generally be. In fact I remember when I was very young and starting to cycling someone told my I should cycle in line with the outside of drains (basically 1 feet). When I was looking through photos of people cycling in Oxford, it was much easier to find people cycling by double yellow lines than it was 1 metre from the edge!
Stay central on narrow roads. Try to ride away from the gutter. If the road is too narrow for vehicles to pass you safely, it might be safer to ride towards the middle of the lane to prevent dangerous overtaking by other vehicles.
For many years I thought that is where I should be. But, I don’t advise this position.
Benefits of Cycling 1 Metre from Edge
If you are 1m from edge, you are more visible to cars turning right. This avoids the “Sorry, I didn’t see you mate type accidents”
You are more visible to cars turning right.
You are more visible to cars coming from behind
It is harder for cars to turn left just in front of where you are cycling. This is a big problem where cars overtake cyclists and then soon turn left, leaving you squeezed on the inside.
It gives you more flexibility to avoid potholes. If you are in the gutter and swerve out a foot to miss a pothole cars will sometimes beep because they are overtaking you too closely. But, with a metre you have room to move in
It is where motorbikes tend to position themselves.
It could make cars more careful in overtaking because they can’t squeeze through when traffic is passing in opposite direction. They have to wait for a genuine gap.
You avoid nasty accidents from cars opening their doors into your path and other obstacles in the road
Sometimes cars will be in a long line. The car immediately behind you might see you, but if they overtake close to you, the 2nd car in line might not
Congestion in Oxford encourages people to take an alternative. Cycling into the centre is significantly quicker at rush hour. Will the forecast increase in congestion lead to a rise in cycling rates in the UK?
No one likes sitting in a traffic jam, cycle lanes help avoid the worst of the congestion.
There are both internal costs (to driver) plus external costs to other road users and society.
The CBI estimate that traffic congestion costs the UK economy £20 billion a year. (link) Other estimates of the costs of congestion widely significantly, but you don’t need to be an economist to realise traffic jams going nowhere are an inefficient use of resources.
The big concern is that congestion is expected to increase over the next 20 years, due to rising population and increased use of cars.
Road use and time lost due to congestion
In 2010, an estimated 19 seconds per mile were lost due to congestion.
By 2035, this is estimated to rise to 32 seconds per mile. This is a 68% increase in congestion from today’s levels.
Solutions to congestion
1. Build more roads. This has been the primary objective of government transport policy from the 1960s to 2000s. The number of roads has increased. But, the limitations of this approach include:
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.