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We rolled back from our recent cycling holiday to a surprise. When we were away, the local council had installed cycle signage right outside our cottage. It’s excellent for our home to be highlighted as officially bicycle-friendly!
We live in a wooded valley called Jesmond Dene. It’s a two-mile linear park following the Ouseburn river to the Tyne. As well as being a key recreational park for residents of Newcastle, it’s a wildlife corridor.
However, it’s wildlife of the motorised sort which can often be a headache down here. Ouseburn Road looks and feels like a winding country lane, despite being just 1.5 miles from the centre of Newcastle. Locals therefore treat it like a country lane: it’s a high-speed rat-run for idiot motorists.
Traffic, thankfully, is light but, of course, that makes cars go faster. They love ripping around the corners as though they were taking part in the RAC Rally of GB.
At night the road is very much a race track, with motorists zipping along at 40+mph, taking blind corners as though no other road users could possibly wish to be travelling at the same time as them.
During the day - especially when it’s sunny, like today - it’s not uncommon to see pedestrians, cyclists, horse-riders and others fanning across the width of the road. Locals swarm to the area: Jesmond Dene was recently voted the top picnic spot in the North East of England, beating the Alnwick Garden and Gateshead’s Angel of the North.
One day there will be a major impact on this road, with a strolling family wiped out because of a rat-running twat. The road’s speed limit is unsigned so presumed to be 30mph. It could do with being downgraded to 20mph. But Newcastle City Council has yet to do this because the road is not - yet - an accident blackspot.
A few years ago, a small amount of traffic calming was put in place. Some build-outs were placed at pinch-points, with right of way being given in one direction only. Naturally, this only rarely slows motorists down. In fact, most tend to speed up to get past the half-chicanes. What’s needed are full chicanes and meaty speed bumps. Such measures may be part of the council’s lottery-funded £6m redevelopment of the Ouseburn Parks. But I shan’t be holding my breath.
As an interim measure perhaps the cycle route signage will help to slow down motorists? Again, I’m not holding my breath.
But anything that officially says ‘cycling is welcome here’ has got to be a good thing, free advertising in effect.
A lot more could be on its way, not just in Newcastle but across the UK. In the summer, the Department for Transport will publish the long-awaited Cycling Infrastructure Design guidance.
This will take the place of Cycle Friendly Infrastructure (CFI) guidelines from 1996.
The CFI is out of date but it was the first place to recommend a ‘Hierarchy of Provision’ for cycling, tackling the major deterrents to cycling at source.
The ‘Hierarchy of Provision’ recommended that reductions in motor traffic volumes and speeds should be considered first as they were potentially the most effective. At the other end of the scale it suggested that new cycle routes segregated from motor traffic should only be implemented if the other alternatives had proved impossible or unlikely to achieve the desired benefits for cyclists.
Junction treatment, hazard site treatment, traffic management
Redistribution of the carriageway (bus lanes, widened nearside lanes, cycle lanes etc)
Segregated cycle tracks constructed by reallocation of carriageway space, cycle tracks away from roads
Conversion of footways/footpaths to unsegregated shared-use cycle tracks alongside the carriageway
The hoary old argument about whether cyclists should be on the road or on separate paths will never be settled. Too many people - newbies and old-hands - would never, ever consider cycling on roads, even though roads usually offer the most direct route to a destination.
The CTC says:
While separate paths may look good on paper, in the real world cycle facilities are not all they’re cracked up to be. Moving cyclists off the road makes them harder for drivers to notice, and puts them in greater danger at junctions. Many cycle facilities are badly designed, and separating cyclists from drivers reinforces the idea that roads are primarily for cars.
Most collisions occur at junctions, as drivers turning left or right collide with cyclists continuing straight ahead. Cycletracks force cyclists back into the traffic at junctions, forcing them to merge with traffic at the very place they are most at risk of being hit.
A comprehensive study of Copenhagen’s segregated routes found that while there was a 10% decrease in the number of collisions between the junctions, the number of incidents at junctions rose by 18%, with an increase of 9-10% in collisions overall.
The average cyclist travels at 12 mph, with commuter cyclists travelling far faster. However most facilities are not designed for such speeds; cycletracks can be narrow and shared with pedestrians, while cycle lanes are often blocked with parked cars or broken glass and debris.
Cycletracks take cyclists off the road between junctions, where they are less at risk of being hit, then force them to merge into the traffic at junctions, where they are most at risk.
Taking cyclists off the road reinforces drivers’ feelings of road-ownership
Even a well thought out network of high-quality routes is not going to provide door-to-door coverage, meaning that at some point you will be cycling on the road. It’s therefore very important to look at how investing in cycle facilities affects the relationship between cyclists and other road users.
Studies by the Transport Research Laboratory show that drivers dislike having road space taken from them, and get frustrated when cyclists choose not to use cycle paths, even if the path is badly designed or blocked by or parked cars.
Their reports also found that most drivers thought cyclists who weren’t using a cycletrack were being “irresponsible”. Some even claimed they drove aggressively “to encourage them to get over there”.
The more cyclists there are on the roads, the safer cycling becomes, as drivers get used to being around cyclists. Taking cyclists away from traffic means drivers spend less time around cyclists and increases the likelihood of a crash – whether there is an off-road cycletrack or not.