I am a fully-fledged vehicular cyclist. Taking the lane, avoiding the door zone, tackling 40 mph roads with pinch points and keeping trucks at bay with a Hard Stare. Wriggly little back streets routes shared with pedestrians? Too slow. Not for me.
And yet. It is stressful, always having to fight for my space on the road. Having to be awkward, more awkward than I’d like to be, because I can’t trust drivers to treat my safety as more important than a few seconds of their time. So if the exaggerated stereotype in the first paragraph was ever true, it is becoming less and less so.
Take my journey to get to the swimming pool on Monday evenings. There are a couple of bicycle only cut-throughs that I use simply because that’s the most direct route. However when I get to the Meadows, I have a choice. I can stick to the road, which does have a painted bike lane, and is fine, a normal road with a painted lane, though in the summer in particular people often park (totally legally) in the lane so you have to move out and round them. And there’s a couple of sets of traffic lights, so you usually have to stop. The other option is North Meadow Walk, which was widened a couple of years ago and now has a cycle path on one side and pedestrians on the other. If it was in The Netherlands the whole thing would be twice as wide, of course, but for a British cycle facility it is pretty good. However I think my top speed along there is probably less than on the road because there are always pedestrians and as the faster and more dangerous path user I make sure to take plenty of care. I’m particularly cautious at the junction with Middle Meadow Walk especially since cyclists coming down the hill there can pick up a bit of speed.
So, my choices were usual road, or slower and mostly less stressful path. Sometimes I would go one way and sometimes the other. However, at the far end of the Meadows it used to be that you were back onto the road, and all the options involved having to take the lane because of parked cars, slightly uphill, on a poor road surface, with impatient motorists behind you, and lots of traffic lights. That was, until the Meadows to Innocent cycle route opened. (The “Innocent” is a cycle path on the route of the Innocent Railway. I don’t know why it was called the Innocent Railway.) When I first saw the plans my initial reaction was that this was a wriggly little back streets route that would be slower and less convenient than going along the road. Fine for families and less confident cyclists, but I’m used to the road, I will stay there. That was before I actually rode the route. Now I always go that way. Yes, it is further than going along the road, but the lights are pedestrian/cyclist crossings which change fairly soon after you press the button, while on the road you have to wait your turn with the traffic. But best of all, you are on quiet roads or little cycle lanes, so you don’t have to fight for your safe space. Those little cycle lanes are proper segregated lanes. Again, they are too narrow, but at 7pm there are not too many other cyclists and pedestrians around. I can imagine that if I was going that way at a busier time of day I might find the road more convenient.
The balance between speed and convenience is illustrated nicely by the fact that on the way home from the pool, when it is even quieter, I have so far always gone on the road. I should try the cycle route in the other direction sometime!
My choices when cycling from the station to the office in Livingston have changed, too. Up until recently, I’ve always gone along the roads, even though this means dealing with my 40 mph road with pinch points. I am not actually sure what has changed, there certainly has not been one particular incident that I can point to, I think I have just been worn out of fighting with traffic. So I have been using some of the shared use paths, away from the road, so that I can avoid the worst bit. (I could actually do the whole route on shared use paths, but the access to the office from the tarmac path is a little muddy path that I don’t want to use because I don’t want to get my bike and my shoes muddy. So I do the last bit on the road.) It is really very pleasant, away from the traffic, there are just a few dog walkers and some kids playing football, who asked me to name a footballer beginning with B – it took me a while to think of Gareth Bale – rather than impatient drivers who don’t think I should be on the road and don’t understand about passing space and pinch points. So I am sticking with going that way for now. However, when the ice and possibly snow arrive, I will be back on the road. The local council do grit and clear some of the paths, but I don’t think that the ones I use are among them. So I will be back on the road at that point.
So where are we, after all this rambling? I guess partly saying that this cyclist who cycles regularly in traffic doesn’t necessarily enjoy it and would be happy to get away from it, and that even not very good dedicated infrastructure can be better than nothing. Rubbish infrastructure, however, is worse than nothing…