Concessions over civil liberties may be needed to create happy relations between cyclists, motorists and pedestrians.
If you’re the legal or academic-looking gent who rode his Cannondale bicycle aggressively at pedestrians on the pavement linking Holborn and Lincoln’s Inn Fields yesterday, I am the old git in the black trilby who tried to put his foot through your front spokes.
If you want to make anything of it, as I believe the expression goes, you know where I am.
Likewise to the lady in the green Vauxhall who pulled out of the Shell petrol station on Holloway Road the other morning. I am the cyclist in the DayGlo jacket who reminded you somewhat forcefully of the need to look right before executing such manoeuvres.
Cycling in our big cities arouses strong passions. Understandably, when, in the past nine days five cyclists have been killed in London. (One in Cheshire, too.)
London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, stoked passions further by remarking to critics of his feeble cycleways plan that it is very difficult for transport engineers to second-guess people who do not obey the laws of the road.
Johnson is right, if insensitive, but we should definitely not take that as an excuse to delay investing in decent segregated cycle lanes.
However cycle lanes will never go everywhere, so this investment should go hand in hand with another look at the legal status of urban cycling. At the root of the current problem is that, while cycles are banned on pavements (the law seems to go back to the Highway Act 1835, though I would welcome any clarification), cyclists are barely tolerated on roads. In theory, the old bikers’ survival technique is to assert yourself by occupying the middle of a lane, but this doesn’t always go down well.
As a result cyclists become, literally, marginal, road users, vulnerable to opening car doors and turning lorries. And feel little need to reciprocate by obeying the Highway Code.
My modest proposal would alleviate this problem by recognising that we have two basic breeds of cyclists, let’s call them the Lycra louts and the sit-up-and-begs. While I have always opposed mandatory cycle registration and licensing, I think the time is right to require a radio frequency ID chip to be fitted in all bikes used on on city streets so that Highway Code offenders could be identified automatically or by suitably equipped police officers. The scheme could be tied in with mandatory insurance and training. And, yes, an element of road taxation. In time, motorists would come to see cyclists as legitimate road users and behaviour would improve all round.
To meet objections based on civil liberties, or the needs of hard-up or very occasional cyclists, there’s an essential quid pro quo. This would be to allow the sit-up-and-beg brigade to share walkways - provided that they rode at walking pace and, preferably, kept eye contact with pedestrians. It seems to work in Tokyo, where I lived for three years. Of course pedestrians would have to be confident that the rules would be enforced, perhaps through the - anecdotal? - offence of ‘furious cycling’, but if both parties were sure of each other’s status, behaviour would improve on its own.
So there’s my solution, which no doubt contains something to offend everyone. I am open to suggestions, but in case anyone wishes to remonstrate in person I’ll keep my helmet on all day today.
Michael Cross is Gazette news editor