The green man flashing reinforces your protective aura across the road. No vehicles would run a light with a pedestrian already on the crossing. Slam – a mouthful of abuse. Cutting up the side of the traffic, the cyclist probably couldn’t see you any more than you, him. And yet, the Highway Code clearly testifies a cyclists’ obedience to traffic signals – including red lights! A Tour de France commentator once said slowing Armstrong’s bike was like ‘trying to put a handbrake on a raging bull.’ Perhaps some cyclists would do well to remember they are not Lance Armstrong and Central London during rush hour is most certainly not Le Tour de France.

The advent of the Boris Bikes has put an extra 6,000 bicycles in central London. Alongside the ever growing figure of well over half a million journeys made by bikes every day, the heated debate around the effects of cycling on our streets becomes increasingly prominent.

…should we let the tribal warfare of the road extend to the pavement?

Take, for example, our opening incident. While some cyclists are guilty of running the lights, collisions also occur when pedestrians obliviously walk into cycle lanes. Evidently there is a sphere of contention between such forms of transport, but should we let the tribal warfare of the road extend to the pavement? A quick glance at the many schemes for cycling in London has left me questioning: to what extent is this at pedestrians’ expense?

Long established since 1835, Section 72 of the Highways Act states that it is illegal for cyclists to ride on the pavement. It seems hypocritical to complain of cars leaving little room and forcing them off the road when some cyclists inflict the same practice on pedestrians. Witnessing an old-lady knocked off balance when an impatient ‘pavement-hog’s’ handle bars clipped her arm formed my opinion that cyclists compelled to use a busy pavement should dismount. ‘If I hear a bell ushering me out the way on a crowded pavement – I just glare at them.’ (KCL Student) Clearly some pedestrians feel indignant.

I’d rather break the law than risk my life…

In spite of this, the fixed penalty notice introduced in 1999 against cycling on footways emphasises its enforcement only in the face of inconsiderate riding which endangers others, but what is ‘inconsiderate’? Some regular cyclists commented on the frequent necessity of cycling on the pavement. A KCL rider said ‘I’d rather break the law than risk my life.’ Indeed, dangerous sections of road with inadequate room for cyclists plus the avoidance of obstacles such as potholes, broken glass, queued traffic in the cycle lane and reckless driving often force them off the roads and thus onto pavements. Is bad cycling practice a necessity rather than a deliberate attempt to wind up other commuters? Perhaps clearer regulations would help calm this frictional issue.

Evidently, it is unwarranted to tar all cyclists with the same brush as the minority of anti-social riders. There are numerous advantages of the sport, especially as an alternative form of travel. Personal health benefits for the cyclist range from bettering cardio-vascular fitness to protecting against diabetes thereby increasing their life expectancy. On a wider scope the reduction of carbon emissions is environmentally beneficial, while the reduction of vehicles can help to ease congestion and noise pollution. Nevertheless Sarah, UCL, challenges this; the congestion intensifies through increased halting, blaring horns and the snail pace traffic when there’s no room to overtake.

A cyclist is a hybrid of vehicle and pedestrian and, it seems, is unwilling to be tolerated by either. It appears impossible to disentangle arguments for and against the many forms of transport using are roads, but ultimately aren’t we all just trying to get somewhere?

 

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