Over on Bikeforall.net I answer a load of queries sent in to the site. Most are either too banal or too localised to be worth broadcasting. Everybody gets a personal reply but some of the questions are of general interest. These get posted to the FAQ section – with an answer – for all to see.
Generally, the questions are from new cyclists, worried parents or returnees to the fold. Sometimes the questions are from non-cyclists and these tend to be more strident. One came in earlier today. I answered it at length. J Clift of Colchester (who I assumed is a Mr.) really doesn’t like people cycling on pavements [US=sidewalks]. I don’t either. It bugs me when I see adults riding on what are clearly footpaths. But I know why those adults are not riding on the road.
See if you agree with what I wrote to Mr Clift.
Q: “I am somewhat angered these days by the amount of people who ride on pavements, young and old, and no-one in authority seems to care or be about to stop this. The public just seem to think they can do this because there are no effective actions to stop them. I just grow angrier and madder by the day. Sometimes I have suggested to the riders they are illegally riding but I fear for my safety! What can I do before I explode?!”
A: Cycling on the pavement is illegal and cyclists can be fined £30 on the spot (and often are).
But, just as motorists routinely break traffic laws (running red lights, driving in bus lanes, habitually speeding, driving while talking on mobile phones), sadly, some cyclists also break the law and cycle on pavements (i.e. footways).
Sometimes this is ignorance of the law. Other times it’s laziness. Often it’s due to confusing local authority cycle facilities: many pavements have been designated as cycle paths and yet, just a little further on, the very same stretch of ‘cycle path’ reverts to being pedestrian only.
Mostly, however, it’s out of fear of motorised traffic. Not that cycling on the pavement is necessarily safer than being on the road. Sometimes motorists mount footways and kill people. For instance, on Friday, a pregnant woman in Carlisle was killed by a dangerous driver who hit the woman while she was walking on a footway.
Rest assured, all the official advice from cycle organisations is for cyclists not to ride on footways. Bikeforall.net has a page all about ‘cycling and the law’, where cyclists’ rights and responsibilities are spelled out in no uncertain terms.
This article leads with the ‘cycling on pavements’ issue. A bike shop in York also has a Stop At Red campaign aimed at cyclists who run lights. I don’t know of any motoring organisation that has a similar single-issue campaign aimed at stopping motorists committing the same offence.
Many motorists also routinely park on footways, a dangerous practice for passing pedestrians, wheelchair users and pushchair pushers. It’s also very damaging to pavement slabs; costly for councils to repair.
In an ideal world, no cyclists, drivers or pedestrians would break the law: but we don’t live in an ideal world. By all means campaign against cyclists using footpaths but perhaps there are mitigating circumstances on some of the footpaths in your local area (speeding motorists, poor signage of where cycle paths start and finish etc)?
If the majority of those you see cycling on footways are youths in hoodies, ask your local police to take some action. Maybe they’ll send out some bike bobbies to nab the worst offenders? A few FPNs (fixed penalty notices of £30) might reduce the problem.
Looking on the positive side, it’s probably better to meet a hooded youth cycling on a pavement than meeting the same youth acting illegally in a car. Cyclists riding on footways are wrong and irritating; they’re very rarely life-threatening.
Don’t explode. Take up the footway cycling issue with your local council. Consider widening your campaign to include complaints against all forms of anti-social transport behaviour. In fact, if your local streets were made safer for cycling, there would likely be less need for cyclists to ride on footways.
Cars are heavy, fast and potentially lethal to flesh-and-blood cyclists and pedestrians. If your area saw dramatic reductions in car speeds, I’d warrant you’d see a dramatic reduction in traffic violations by cyclists.