Pedal Power: Cycle lanes are ‘good investments’ as motorists feel frustrated

Cycle lanes in Warrington are of good investment for the town says the council, despite some opposition from critics who claim the paths are being under-used.

In its bid to encourage more residents to take up cycling and other ‘green’ modes of transport, Warrington Borough Council secured £4.65 million of funding from the government’s Local Sustainable Transport Fund. The money will be spent on promoting sustainable and low carbon travel choices, including proposals for additional cycle lanes and paths in and around the town.

A Planning Focus Group discussion in late 2007 reported how only 3% of residents in Warrington used a bike to get to work, whilst cycle paths were described as “horrible” and “disjointed” leaving them with little use. Criticisms of the town approach to cycling and healthier lifestyles led to a town based campaign to encourage more people to cycle. Measures including introducing cycling lessons in to schools and improving paths, lanes and access around the area.

Councillor Dan Price, Labour, Great Sankey North said the money “is a good investment” but told me that “maybe it isn’t the most productive way to spend money.”

He added “getting people out of cars is safer to the community, more eco-friendly, and with the backdrop of rising obesity levels, healthier.”

There are no questions about the council trying to improve Warrington’s infamous traffic congestion problems, alongside making the town ‘greener; even some of the town’s buses are helping the environment. The investment in cycling in Warrington encourages healthier lifestyles, care for the environment and a more environmentally-friendly way of living, in a town that has been bottom of government commissioned quality of life surveys.

Some motorists I have been speaking to say there are “mighty questions” that need bringing up. Many, who regularly drive personal cars, said they support local council investment in cycling lanes, one anonymous person saying about cyclists “they cause too much of a hazard and they are dangerous”. The general sense I got from both group and individual discussion was that there is some frustration toward cyclists who insist on using the busy roads rather than designated paths. At the same time, from those who cycle, I have been told of continued “road rage” from motorists.

In order to find out what was happening on our roads, I spent some time along a busy stretch of road. Close by are schools, leisure facilities, several housing estates, a supermarket, offices and a warehouse. It was a stretch of approximately 1.5 miles of road next door to a refurbished and widened path with a newly created cycle lane. In the short distance I travelled, no fewer than 5 cyclists were cycling in the road, at rush hour, parallel to the council’s investment of safer cycle lanes and paths for them. Two of them wore dark clothing and had little lighting on their bicycles.

This astonished me. There have been many a TV programme where cyclists are shown as the victims of the road. Indeed in Warrington there are still many instances where cars, buses and lorries either purposefully or accidentally put cyclists lives in danger. However, it cannot be ignored that some cyclists are ignoring the purpose built tracks for them to keep them safe and off the roads.

Interestingly, there was little visible anger or ‘road rage’ from motorists. The majority gave adequate room to the road-using cyclist, others indicated. Perhaps rather disillusioned may say the cyclist and, judging by the following YouTube footage from a Warrington cyclist, it is clear to see why there is upset within the cycling community.

The footage is harrowing and some of the cycling charities and organisations I have been researching say that this is a regular occurrence for cyclists. The National Cycling Charity frequently upload videos and images from its users to the website and social media to highlight the problem. Their focus, they say, is to ensure the police conduct “high quality investigations” in to road traffic collisions, as well as ensuring severe sentences are given to offenders to discourage bad driving.

In the balance of the argument, motorists who I have spoken to say they are frustrated that cyclists do not pay to be on the roads and similarly do not have to take tests to use their bikes on their public highway. Whilst councils across the country may invest heavily in cycle lanes, there are some, not all, who do not want to use them.

A waste of investment? Warrington Borough Council, like many others across the country, say they are committed to encouraging more people to use bicycles and other ‘green’ modes of transport. At the same time some cyclists are not using designated safe areas whilst others are forced in to the paths of traffic because there is inadequate space for cyclists to go. Similarly, many drivers give way but others do not. It is clear to see why both cyclists and motorists are driven to frustration when it comes to sharing the same space.

The fear for any road user is that cyclists are being put in danger. All factors including weather, poor driving, lack of cycle lanes, clothing and street lighting are at some level to blame. Examples like the above should strike fear in to council chiefs. Are their segregated lanes working? Are there enough suitable paths? There are many studies which show what should work and what shouldn’t. The Buchanan Report of 1963, Traffic in Towns, highlights how segregation of traffic and pedestrians alike should improve the flow, whilst the Shared Space study from Hans Monderman suggests there should be no rules and that all road users should naturally interact with one another to improve traffic flow.

When I put the question to Cllr Price about motorists and cyclists disregard for each other, he said “without a comprehensive cycle network with specific lanes, you will never solve that problem.”

For years there have been comical instances involving cycle lanes. From those that last less than 50 yards to those that are impassable. But this is a serious issue. The increase in traffic on the roads should not be leading to cyclists competing for space and putting their own lives in danger. Whilst I can praise the council for its work on encouraging safer cycling, it is difficult to understand why some choose to ignore it.

Figures of Rospa (The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) say at least 19,000 cyclists are involved in accidents on Britain’s roads. That figure has continued to rise given the increase of cyclists in recent years. With the rising and long-lasting population, the future of our roads seems certain to get busier and busier. And so the steps to safer road use today could save lives for generations.

Have your say
Whether a cyclist or motorist, tell us what your experiences are. What could be done to improve road safety? Could councils better spend their money elsewhere?

YouTube video source: PeowPeowPeowLasers

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