Chairman’s Letter, December 2017
Dear RCC members,
Right. I am going to start jumping red lights when riding my bike*. I have patiently sat at traffic lights waiting for them to turn green for many years. It wasn’t always so, as a younger man I certainly used to jump them, but not at the moment though.
I now enjoy stopping. I enjoy watching the world around me for a few moments, noticing things I have missed before. I sometimes see people I know and so easily move to one side and stop even longer for a chat. I can catch my breath if I have struggled up a hill.
I also enjoy confounding the stereotype.
‘All cyclists jump traffic lights’ is one of the big problems people who don’t ride bikes have with people who do.
Often when I stop at lights, I wonder how the drivers feel now I am in their way. If I had skipped the red I’d be gone, they could press on once the light changed without having to wait until after the junction to pass me. Now they will have a few more seconds delay as I pootle across the road.
I know I get more respect, most of the time, which is as bizarre itself as the moaning about cyclists as if they were the only people on the highway who ignore the rules.
Figures published in the media the week I am writing this following research carried out by the Royal Automobile Club indicate that more than a million drivers get a penalty for breaking speed limits in their cars, vans or trucks every year.
If, as you might concede, most drivers get away with it most of the time, the true level of lawlessness by drivers is truly staggering. The survey only collected information about a small range of offences too, not about unproven careless driving or mobile phone use, defective vehicles, not even the results of people prosecuted for drink driving or mobile phone use.
It is clear that drivers are just as much offenders as cyclists. Despite the claims by some that number plates will stop cyclists breaking the law, it seems that having number plates makes no difference.
Of course there are many more people driving than cycling. I was driving a minibus the other day, and I came back into Reading along the London Road at 5pm. I was sat in a queue from one end of the road to the other for 40 minutes. As the three lanes of nose to tail traffic crept along I had ample time to make some observations:
Many drivers use their phones in traffic like this.
Some cars still emit smoke.
Few cars (or few drivers) cut the engines when stationary.
Hardly anyone cycles. I counted eight people on bikes. (Remember the £1.2 million spent here a couple of years ago from the Local Sustainable Travel fund? It hasn’t made the slightest difference!)
After the publication of the report into driving offences, reports in the media focused on the issue of drivers getting fined for jumping lights, and speeding being seen as treating drivers as a cash cow, not that this level of offending might be itself reprehensible. Or even dangerous.
What gets me though is the grief I get from people because other cyclists don’t stop at red. I am somehow liable for the actions of others. It also affects some of our politicians. One of them for ages banged on about how Reading welcomes responsible cyclists, to appease the anti-cyclists.
(Yes, bizarrely there are people who dislike people who ride bikes, because they ride bikes, and it is usually based on their lawlessness.)
Sometimes I am engaged in some conversation with someone and it comes around to cycling, and very soon red lights are mentioned. I always defend this by pointing out that the lack of proper infrastructure leads to cyclists who treat the network with contempt. It is how anyone who cycles will feel. ‘Cycle route end’ and ‘cyclists dismount’ signs, cyclists told to ride on the pavement and then prosecuted for riding on the pavement.
Cycle lanes that don’t go where you want put you in dangerous positions; cycle networks poorly thought out, and then unmaintained; the town is littered with utterly rubbish examples of ‘infrastructure’ for cyclists. People who try and use this stuff will soon be sick of being treated as the bottom of the hierarchy, and they will even if only subconsciously revolt.
And that is what I feel like doing. Kicking back against a system that is so totally skewed against anyone who wants to ride a bike.
As anyone reading this will know that loads of journeys carried out by bike is entirely possible, it happens in other towns all the time, but in Reading the number of people and the number of journeys is tiny.
Don’t listen to what the Council tells you. Find the time to stop for 10 minutes beside any road (at the Vastern Road crossing to the station is somewhere you will have to do this if you are to wait for the traffic lights to change in your favour) and look at how many people cycle and how many people drive.
The design of the town is eminently suitable for driving, despite what many drivers say when they moan about how difficult it is to drive in. If it was difficult why are so many people still doing it? Why is there a queue from the IDR to get into the car park to go shopping in the Oracle?
More to the point though is why do so few people ride a bike? Well, given the obvious discontinuity and inept design of the infrastructure, and the lack of funds and political will to put this right, we have to now, and always will have to, use the road or break the law and stay on the pavement. Any increase in cycling on the pavement is going to get some people apoplectic with rage.
So the answer if we are to make any change at all is to change the way we use the roads. The West Midlands police have started a close pass project; it is actually quite old now, but it targets drivers, in a bid to teach them how to share the roads with cyclists.
It is the driver squeezing past a cyclist that is off-putting at best, dangerous at worst. If all drivers knew how to overtake the roads would be way more pleasant. There wouldn’t need to be any change to what we already have (except we could abandon all the stupid shared use pavements and narrow cycle lanes) and lots more people would start to ride their bikes.
Despite the logic of this Thames Valley Police still insist on educating cyclists in the handful of ‘events’ they have run under the close pass tag. I have yet to even get a response to my enquiries asking when they’ll be doing it in Reading, and if the RCC could help. One day I’m sure they will get back to me, and we can begin to teach drivers how to share the roads.
Until then I’m going to jump some red lights*.
*I’m not really.