A comment on cycling infrastructure
Confession: I whacked a car window today. It was the conclusion of a conversation with a driver that had grown more and more heated as we both tried to make our voices heard, a conversation that had no end other than anger. She yelled expletives; I used my fist. Her transgression: daring to suggest I should use the cycle lane.
She was trying to be helpful; I was trying to get where I was going. She thought she was looking out for my safety. But the reality is, I don’t have to use the cycle lane. I can use it if it will help, but this particular lane (and many others) wouldn’t have. It was part of the pavement, a painted line all that demarcated the space between cyclists and walkers. Pedestrians wander across the line, paying scant attention to my passageway, and so they should; it’s easy to ignore. Partway along, the separation ends and the area becomes dual use, with a crowd of buggies and mums waiting for the bus. Here, pedestrians have priority; I have to slow down. Each time there is a side road the cycle lane gives way while on the main carriageway the traffic sails on by.
These are my choices: potentially endanger pedestrians, take longer getting to work, and give up my right of way at each side road, or potentially endanger myself by sharing with motor traffic, but take a fast, direct, well-surfaced, clearly signed route along which I can ride quickly. It’s a positive choice I make to use the carriageway, though the unsolicited advice and abuse is not quite so pleasant.
These are common problems with cycle infrastructure: too narrow, poor surface, unfavourable priorities, disappears just where you need it, doesn’t go where you want, unclear signage. We’re in a stage of transition in London at the moment, where there is plenty of new infrastructure going in, some good, some quite awful, and, at the moment, no legal obligation to use it. Motorists hate it because roadworks cause congestion, the new infrastructure takes away lanes from the main carriageway, and there’s still a bl**dy cyclist sitting in front of you; cyclists hate it because it’s not quite good enough to make use of, yet it encourages people to yell at you for not using it.
The frustration that resulted in my hand making contact with a car window is common amongst all road users. I’ve had my fair share of drivers who scream at me before winding up their window and driving off, offering no right of reply. I’ve also been the one to do the screaming. It’s impatience, frustration, but mostly fear that leads to these exchanges. None of us is perfect, and we’re all just trying to get where we are going. Currently, the infrastructure isn’t helping.
Perhaps at some point in the future there will be a good quality cycle lane along every road, and then I will use it. Until then, we all just need to share the space better.