I just spent a few days in Oxford with my wife. We didn’t ride bikes, but did do a fair amount of walking. As we expected in Oxford, we saw lots of people on bikes, mostly with flat handlebars and normal clothes and very few of them wearing helmets. I reckon close to 50% of those riding were female. A lot of the bikes had child seats and/or tagalong child bikes and I saw quite a few cargo bikes – probably more than I’ve seen in my life before.
So I was looking forward to seeing the infrastructure that encourages so many people to ride, but it just wasn’t there. Most of the cycle lanes we saw were just as crap as the ones back home in Bolton – little more than painted gutters – and many roads had no cycle lanes at all. The people on bikes were sharing roads that were just as busy with motor traffic as ours, especially buses, and speed limits seemed to be typically 30mph. Yet I probably saw about 50 times the number of people on bikes that I typically would see at home.
So what was the difference here? Well, the first thing that struck me, when walking along Abingdon Road, was the standard of driving. People on bikes were actually riding along the road without being tailgated, or having horns blasted at them. Drivers were consistently waiting at a safe distance behind the people on bikes until they were safely through pinch points and then moving out to pass them, slowly, leaving a gap of well over a metre!
I really don’t know why things are so different here compared to home. I really do think that the safety-in-numbers theory accounts for at least some of it; people are used to driving around bicycles, and are more likely to ride bikes themselves, or at least know people who do. Perhaps the police pay more attention to dangerous driving than GM Police do. (That wouldn’t be difficult.) It even occurred to me – dare I say it – that the average level of intelligence might be higher in such a revered seat of learning. (Surely not.)
Whatever the reason, I am sure that if I had been commuting 25 miles a day in this environment, I would never have felt a need to buy a single video camera, let alone the two cameras I used for my Bolton-Salford commute for over four years.
Of course, it is most certainly a factor in the high cycling numbers that there is a high density of students living in fairly small place, and the vast majority of those on bikes seem to be young adults. However, we did see far more people of my age cycling than we see of any age at home.
The one disappointing aspect was that there were very few children on bikes. Of course, this is where protected infrastructure would have the biggest impact. Rationally, I think that children as young as 8 would be quite safe riding on the roads here, but I still would find it hard to set aside my, probably irrational, fear and have my granddaughter’s safety entrusted to even these drivers.
The problem is that it remains very difficult to convince politicians and highways planners to make the leap of committing fully to protected infrastructure on a large scale; putting aside the sacred cow that is motor traffic flows and reallocating road space to people instead. Loads of talk, such as that in Monday’s political debate, are still producing little more than hot air. We need perhaps to pay attention in the short term to addressing driver behaviour through education and enforcement, thereby allowing more adults to cycle, if only as a political action to prove that the demand is there to people who currently refuse to see it.
- Myth: “Essential motor vehicles” August 17, 2021
- How to lie with statistics. August 8, 2021
- Myth: “But I have to park on the pavement.” July 29, 2021
- Myth: “Unsightly, invisible wand orcas” July 18, 2021
- A staggering level of ignorance from a councillor. July 3, 2021
- Myth: “The data show this road is not dangerous…” April 16, 2021