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Great Debate: should rules for cyclists be relaxed?

By Gloucestershire Echo  |  Posted: September 05, 2012

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IN the wake of Great Britain's cycling success in the Olympics, we ask whether regulations for cyclists on roads and pavements should be relaxed.

CHELTENHAM resident Max Wilkinson, a cycling convert, argues why rules for two wheels should be relaxed.

PEOPLE across Gloucestershire will have watched in awe this summer as Britain's cyclists dominated the Olympics and the Tour de France.

We are, apparently, the world's best elite cycling nation and our top athletes are household names like Hoy, Wiggins and Pendleton.

The magnificent achievements by the members of Team GB and Team Sky came after years of thought, planning and preparation.

Now is the time for our policymakers and politicians to follow the lead of Dave Brailsford by forming their own blueprint for the future.

At the moment, it is estimated that around half of all journeys of under 5km in the UK are made by car.

That's roughly the distance from the centre of Charlton Kings to the racecourse, but many trips will be far shorter.

We all know that journeys by car create pollution, which is bad for our health and the environment.

They also clog our streets with traffic jams, that oh-so-annoying everyday occurrence not just in Cheltenham, but in every town and city in the country.

Imagine how much more pleasant, and how much less polluted, our streets and town centres would be if we exchanged those car journeys for cycle journeys.

Of course, there are a number of reasons why not everybody can cycle and not all trips can be cycled, but let's put that to one side and talk in general terms.

Generally, there's no reason that people shouldn't be able to cycle a couple of miles to work, or a couple of miles to the local shops to pick up provisions.

That's where we, as people, should probably change.

To help that happen, the people in charge of roads, paths and pavements need to make it easier and safer for people to get on their bikes.

In some cases, that could mean lowering speed limits to 20mph in built-up areas and putting in cycle routes.

In others, it could be allowing cyclists to use stretches of pavement and perhaps even our pedestrianised town centre.

As long as cyclists respect drivers, drivers respect cyclists and everybody respects pedestrians, there's no reason it can't work. Other countries manage it; there's no reason we can't.

There are a lot of positive feelings towards cycling at the moment and, for the sake of the future health, happiness and well-being of our town, this is an opportunity too good to waste.

PETER Davies, chairman and chief observer of the Gloucestershire Group of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, argues why the rules are important.

THE Highway Code makes it perfectly clear, from rule 59 to 82 and in section one of the annexes "You and your bicycle", that these rules are published in the interests of safety for road users, not just for those using a bicycle.

Therefore, to even contemplate ignoring or abolishing the rules is surely an act of selfishness and a display of lack of consideration for others, even those others who are cyclists.

In the interests of all, it might be helpful to realise from reading the introduction of the Highway Code that many of its rules are legal requirements. Disobey these rules, you are committing a criminal offence.

Such are identified by the use of the words "must" and "must not". To name just a few, a cyclist must have a white front and red rear light, must not cycle on a pavement, must obey all traffic signs and traffic light signals.

And why not? Can we imagine the consequences of the alternative?

Better driving or motorcycle riding teaches a disciplined system of driving. If a driver is unable to see a cyclist because of insufficient lighting, if it is unknown whether a cyclist intends to react to a traffic light aspect, I fail to see how this will benefit either the cyclist or the driver and surely pedestrians should be entitled to their own safer area on which it is illegal for drivers to park and cyclists to ride.

The Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) has published an excellent book called How to be a better cyclist, in which John Franklin, Cycling Skills and Safety Consultant, writes: "The fact is that people who cycle regularly live longer, on average, than people who do not cycle, with less ill health says all. The benefits of cycling greatly outweigh the risks, and all the more so if you take the trouble to learn to cycle skilfully."

Surely 'skilfully' can only be achieved with the use of a disciplined system of riding, and matters of common sense and not too much freedom for cyclists to do just what they want.

I am aware some motorists are unfair and uncaring in their regard for cyclists just as some cyclists are unfair to them.

I think it would be splendid if drivers and cyclists were "helpful" to each other.

Nevertheless, in the interests of all road users we need some rules followed by all.

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  • daniboy72  |  September 09 2012, 6:53PM

    Britain also did very well at clay-pigeon shooting. Presumably we should therefore relax firearms regulations and encourage shotgun-use in public parks and squares. Cyclists on pavements are, de facto, cowardly, bullying louts, who endanger life and limb and break the law in the assurance that the police are too shiftless and inactive and pedestrians too slow to take them on and impose the statutory £35.00 fine. Not only have I had a dog's leg broken by one of these smug thugs, but my mother, then 86 and suffering from the first stages of dementia, was knocked down, broke her wrist and, more gravely, was terrified and disorientated and never emerged from hospital. Yet, in common with many others who believe that they are saving the planet and therefore cannot give a damn for its inhabitants (a common failing in stupid idealists, aka totalitarians), these people persist in bringing the law into disrepute and sacrificing the welfare of pedestrians (who have every right to be small, old, drunk, erratic, playful, visually impaired etc. and to count on safety on walkways) for their own convenience. The law is absolute: 'Sail before steam' - and so all the way up to juggernauts - that is, the more vulnerable and slower modes of transport enjoy right of way over the more powerful. Pedestrians are therefore supreme. Then come horses, then cycles, then motorbykes and so on. Certainly let cyclists have more (and more clearly painted) cycle-paths, but let the budget for these come entirely from fines imposed upon their own brethren who choose to disregard the law. I could easily make £3,500 a day in central Cheltenham alone by imposing the statutory fine and a great deal more by impounding bikes on a second offence. Thus will the planet be saved ******bly. We will show cyclists courtesy and consideration when they do the same for us. And let the craven police do their job, even at the risk of unpopularity amongst their beloved urban middle-classes. Cyclists on pavements are making laughing-stocks of the police and of the law. Stop the special pleading. You are common thugs, relying on your greater speed and size to win your own way.

  • noodledoodles  |  September 06 2012, 9:43PM

    'I think much of the conflict between cyclists and other road users stems from the fact that anyone can just walk into a cycle shop, or buy a bicycle on eBay, and just take it straight out and ride it at high speed on the road (or, more often, pavement) without so much as a cursory glance at the Highway Code.' Great point.

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  • gallopingbear  |  September 06 2012, 2:02PM

    I don't think wiggins and Hoy plow through elderly pedestrians on pavements in town centres. By all means, make cycling safe: improve and create cycle lanes; but cycling on busy pavements, especially in town centres is unacceptable and the law should be better enforced. I was hit by the shopping bags of a young male (usually the case) who was speeding along the town centre pedestrian zone with his dog on a lead alongside him. NOT a danger any citizen should have to encounter. Had I been old or infirm it would have knocked me over for sure. High profile cyclists should be setting an example. There is no reason whatsoever for cyclists to be on the pavement. If they need to use it, they should dismount and walk.

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  • Ms_Superstar  |  September 05 2012, 7:34PM

    I think much of the conflict between cyclists and other road users stems from the fact that anyone can just walk into a cycle shop, or buy a bicycle on eBay, and just take it straight out and ride it at high speed on the road (or, more often, pavement) without so much as a cursory glance at the Highway Code. Cyclists need to know where they may and may not ride, and what the road signs mean, whether this is on an ad-hoc basis through a friendly ticking-off by a wakeful police officer or through brief introductory training at the cycle store. Yes, some car drivers are also guilty of poor driving - just the other night I saw someone start to drive the wrong way along Albion Street, then change his mind and drive the wrong way down Winchcomb Street instead - scraping the bottom of his car on the pavement in the process. But, statistically, these are a small minority. 'No Entry' signs and red traffic signals are not rocket science, and if people are not aware of them then one has to question whether they should be out on their own, let alone riding a bicycle or driving a car. I ride a bicycle myself, and I'm content to obey the rules just as they are.

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