The picture below shows a cycle lane in Salford, England. It was taken in the middle of a Friday morning, after the commuter rush had died down. For me, the picture captures perfectly the entrenched, and frankly very unhealthy, attitude that pervades the United Kingdom when it comes to the relationship between motor traffic and people: the car is king and everyone must get out of its way or be crushed.
The fence is there to stop pedestrians from stepping out of line and entering the motor car’s sacred domain at any point other than the designated place. It is not sufficient that their community is split apart by the barrier that is the road carrying fast-moving traffic; they must be protected from themselves lest they venture into this restricted area since everyone knows it is unreasonable, nay impossible, to expect motorists to drive carefully and responsibly.
The cycle lane at the bottom of the picture represents about 1 metre of road width that has been grudgingly given over to the cyclist. Even better, a solid white line has been used to mark off this lane, encouraging motorists to drive their vehicles at speed within inches of the cyclist’s right elbow. After all, everyone knows that it is impossible for a motor vehicle and a bicycle to come into contact if there is a white line painted on the ground between them.
About half way up the picture, there are some traffic islands in the centre of the road. The second of these has been provided as a place for pedestrians to catch their breath as they risk their lives to dash across the flow of fast-moving metal to visit their neighbours or go to the shops.
Where the road passes these islands, it is imperative that the motor vehicles must not be slowed down, so everything else is pushed out of the way. The cycle lane becomes a tiny strip that is not even wide enough to accommodate the narrow width of a bicycle itself, let alone provide sufficient space for safe passing. Any sensible cyclist, especially if properly trained, will be riding in the centre of the carriageway at that point, but arrogant motorists, supported by ignorant highways designers, will often take exception to that and bully the cyclists by driving in an aggressive manner, shouting: “Get in the f*****g cycle lane!”
On occasion, the motorist trying to squeeze through will be driving a large van or heavy goods vehicle, and the cyclist who foolishly, or through ignorance or subservience, does “get in the cycle lane” will be thankful that they managed to live another day without being crushed against the metal fence … or sometimes, they won’t be so lucky and the fence will become a convenient object against which to lean another ghost bike.
How did we let our culture get into this sorry state?