Cyclists, or people on bikes?

By Roger Symonds

I am not a cyclist. As Mikael Coalville-Anderson, author of Copenhagenize said:

“I am just a modern city dweller, who happens to use a bicycle to get around because it is safe and efficient.”

In a culture dominated by the motor vehicle, such as the USA and – to a lesser extent – the UK, ‘cyclist’ is often used as a pejorative term to describe a person riding a bike. It’s a term that conjures the image of an aggressive male rider, dressed in Lycra and cycling for sport. Whereas this description might fit a minority, this limited and dim view of ‘cyclists’ unfortunately lumps all people riding bikes into the same category. The Copenhagenize description seems to fit better; most people riding bikes are not aggressive, are considerate of other road users, cycle for lots of different reasons and in many types of clothing.

All cyclists are people. Many cyclists walk, drive and use public transport in addition to riding a bike. Grouping people under a single heading is unhelpful. People on foot, people on bikes, people on buses and people driving cars is not only a fairer description of us all, it is all the more precise.

The most vulnerable of these groups – people on foot and people on bikes – are frequently forced to share the same space, increasing the potential for conflict. The paths created by Sustrans are often based on these groups sharing and – given the length of the National Cycle Network – we can infer that, by and large, few problems arise. Indeed ‘Sustrans’ means ‘sustainable transport’, which benefits everyone: most of Sustrans off-road paths are shared by people on foot and on bikes, people in wheelchairs, people on horses and little people being pushed in buggies.

In Oxford, some pavements, river and canal towpaths are shared. Although, the shared space is often too narrow for both groups to operate without getting in each other’s way. It is only through individual goodwill and consideration that these paths can work. Walkers and bike riders prefer when they are allocated separate spaces, which is not always possible because motor vehicles are given the highest priority when it comes to space.

Looking at countries like the Netherlands and Denmark, we can see what can be achieved when people on foot and on bikes are prioritised over motorised traffic. In Oxford, there are some areas given over entirely to people riding bikes, such as the segregated cycleways at the side of the ring road and on Donnington Bridge. The County and District Councils should construct more of these segregated spaces and push ahead with Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, where ‘rat running’ motor traffic is prevented in residential areas making it safer for everyone that lives there, regardless their mode of transport.

The future of Oxford can be similar to Denmark, where all people on bikes fit Coalville-Anderson’s description of bike riders.

For more of Roger’s writing, check out his blog: Two Wheels Good and read his thoughts on Riding a bike in Oxford.

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