Shem's Blog | Creative solutions | Dyfi Mountain Biking | Surf | Design | Beer Shem's blog!: The problem with cycle paths and why they havn’t been designed for cyclists!

Monday, 3 March 2014

The problem with cycle paths and why they havn’t been designed for cyclists!

There’s no doubt that cycle paths are slowly increasing in numbers across the UK. The increase in the number of paths isn’t as constant as I’d personally like to see, and it always leaves me feeling frustrated when a new section of road is built without a cycle path, or even a narrow lane for cyclists, along side the main highway. Surely it has to be more cost efficient to add one to any on-going infrastructure developments, instead of what appears to be the norm of building them independently?

There is however a big problem with the cycle paths we have, and the problem is that they havn’t been designed with cyclists in mind!
Having added a road bike to my fleet of mountain bikes recently, I was shocked when I first put my peddle to the path.

Cycle paths are a ‘nudge’, they aim to get more bums on saddles, and there are many positive reasons to get more people cycling.
·         More people traveling by bicycle means less people in cars. This saves the individual money and helps lower the country’s carbon emissions.
·         If people participate in regular active travel then they will more than likely become healthier individuals, both physically and mentally. As well as living healthier lives, this will also save the NHS financially.
·         Cycle paths also help to promote tourism and allow family’s to enjoy active times together in a safe environment. (I wouldn’t want to take my 8 year old cycling along the twisty roads of West Wales.)

The Welsh government strategically set out to do just this as stated in its Action plan for cycling and walking 2009-2013. With focus on wellbeing, health and fitness and tourism all being led from cycle paths and designated trails, of critical importance in this document was the need to ‘Change Behaviour’

So, why don’t cycle paths appeal to cyclists, or am I on my own with this opinion?
No, I’m not, ask any keen road rider and they’ll give you the same answer. Cycle paths are not for serious cyclists, and the UK has an ever growing number of serious cyclists.
I asked other cyclists on twitter what their thoughts where on the matter and here a re a few of the replies I received, (anonymously)

@shemKSW Narrow, dogs, walkers, dark, vegetation growth...etc. Never use them’.

@shemKSW as a paramedic scraping you off the road along side the cycle path is rather painful for both you & me’.

‘Lorry parked across Festival Way #cyclepath in Bristol docks this morning. Driver nowhere in sight’
 and so on…

Just one example on a section of Cycle path near Machynlleth. A parked car, loose gravel and traffic light signage are just some of the obstacles and thats before you have to cross the road to continue the path, on one of the busiest bridges in Wales! 

Yes cycle paths are generally raised from road levels, and sometimes even have a hedge to block you form the road and make things even safer for cycling with children, but they still don’t appeal. The main reason they don’t appeal is because they do appeal to lots of other users and don’t provide the same benefits that riding on the road does.

Surface is a major problem. Many cycle paths are surfaced with the cheapest form of tarmac possible, you only need to look at a 19mm wide racer tyre pumped up to over 100psi to realise that this rough surface is not going to feel good for the bike rider! Further more, gravel that becomes loose is a hazard for cyclists, especially for, you guessed it for keen road riders that can maintain speeds of around 20mph or more.
Debris is a major problem. Any rubbish thrown out of cars will generally land on cycle paths, this means dodging not only loose gravel but other obstacles as well.

One of the major off puts is thorns and branches. When roads get hedges cut, its common to see a road sweeper following along clearing up all the Debris that could give car drivers a puncture. Cycle paths do not have this privilege, and most cycle paths I’ve used are covered in tyre wrecking potential. If there’s one thing cyclist’s hate, its punctures. During many a ride I’ve exited a cycle path within seconds from fear of ‘copping’ a puncture.

As well as the above there are all the other reasons not to use a cycle path if you’re a cyclist. These include; other cyclists, yes we’re all bike riders, but when your trying to beat a personal best or simply maintain a steady pace, the last thing you want is to be slowed down by children or leisure riders or which brings me onto my next off put, walkers. Of course I want people to get out and walk, but why call it a cycle path if it’s designed for people to walk on as well?

Finally my pet hate, people using them as a car parks. Yes you can fit a car on one, yes there’s not any ‘No Parking’ signs, but does that mean its right to park your car there? Car drivers are more than happy to point out that a cyclist is using the road when there is a cycle path readily available, as cyclists we are however entitled to use a road and just because there is a cycle path, doesn’t mean you have to use it; in-fact if there’s a car parked on the cycle path, its very hard to use it, in the same way that its hard to use it, when there’s walkers, other cyclists, thorns, loose chippings and various debris to dodge. So, what needs to be done to make cycle paths attractive to cyclists?

In my opinion it would actually be pretty easy to get more cyclists to use cycle paths, you need to look at what cyclists want, not just give them what some one that’s never ridden a bike or spoken to cyclists thinks they want.

My suggestions would be :

·       Smooth tarmac, it feels good when your on a bike, cyclists would flock to it! (build it and they will come principle)
·       Designated lanes rather than a free for all path, a large amount of European roads have a cycle lane on each side of the road to ensure cyclists don’t collide.
·       Keep them clean! Roads get swept and kept clear, couldn’t cycle paths be?
·       A code of conduct, we have a highway code, wouldn’t a cycle path code make sense? This could inform all users, including walkers, roller bladders, cyclists, car parkers? What and what not to do.

Enough ranting! Over all I’m happy that cycle paths are slowly on the increase, the people designing them do however, need to start considering their end users needs if they want them to be fully accepted and used.
If you have any comments I’d love to hear them, please drop me a line here or tweet me on my handle @shemKSW 


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