Saturday, 3 March 2012

Less car, more bike.

The current "highest ever" cost of petrol and diesel is leading to the predictable calls to the government to delay the next planned increase in fuel duty. That is akin to asking the government to emulate St Augustine, who famously prayed for chastity, but "not yet."

We all know that we must prepare for an economy and lifestyle less based on dependence on oil, and , rather than put off the evil day, a sensible government would seize every opportunity, of which the current high price is one, to encourage alternatives to car use.

So the call should be for more car sharing, more use of public transport, more waling, more living nearer one's work and more cycling.

I was re-introduced to cycling during my stint as a VSO in MalaƔi, when our standard issue for transport was a "sit up and beg" boneshaker with rod brakes and no gears. Our US equivalents, the Peace Corps, who were issued with modern mountain bikes with umpteen gears, expressed scornful surprise that "they still make those things."

Well, I rattled along painfully but healthily with only one accident and resolved on returning to the UK to buy a bike beofre I bought a car, which I did. I'm now on my third and, although I don't use it as much as perhaps I ought, find it an acceptable way of getting around, particularly for journeys of less than three miles which don't involve crossing a motorway junction (which can be quite a hairy experience.)

Here are a few suggestions to make cycling and cyclists more acceptable.

1. Cyclists should obey the Highway Code like anyone else. That includes stopping at traffic lights and carrying lights when it's dark. Cyclists should be fined or given community service if they ignore these common-sense frequirements.

2. Motorists should be fined or given community service if they park across cycle lanes.

3. More pavements should be designated for use by cyclists as well as pedestrians. These could be designated by little signs, which, as a letter in today's Guardian points out, would be cheaper than painting white lanes for cycle lanes. It would also be safer for the cyclists, since many roads are really too narrow for cycle lanes. This is partially true when there are pedestrian refuges in the middle of the road. Large lorries do not seem to slow down for these and if you're there on your bike at the same time you are liable to be swept into the gutter.

There would need to be a clear order of precedence on such common pavements, and cyclists should give way to walkers, and dismount and push when there are young children about.

4. All bicycles should have a bell, which the rider should use, especially on the approved pavements.

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