Why cyclists sometimes opt for the pavement | Erin Gill

The £30 fine I received last week for cycling on the pavement was not my finest moment. I almost always stick to the road and other officially sanctioned “carriageways”. One, roads are faster and, two, I don’t like intimidating pedestrians. I like to think of myself as a considerate cyclist, and am proud of my scrupulous behaviour at zebra crossings.

But last week I faced the choice between approximately 100 metres of pavement cycling or an almost one-mile diversion via a pointless and thoroughly outdated one-way system cooked up in the car-crazy mid-20th century. If this bizarre rat run was ever fit for purpose it certainly isn’t now and I would be willing to ritualistically humiliate myself – even ride a BMX around town for a day dressed as Boris Johnson – if I thought it would encourage Transport for London (TfL) to get on with converting it back to two-way traffic. The council can’t do it, as it’s a strategic route and, thus, “owned” by TfL.

No prizes for guessing that I chose the short route, which I concede was against the letter of the law. I might add that I cycled very slowly and, coincidentally, did not encounter any pedestrian under the age of 30 or over 65. Indeed, my slow, walking speed is why I easily noticed the police officer waving me over to issue me with a fine. I trust pedestrian activists are reading this and punching the air.

In possession of the £30 penalty and continuing my journey, I did not fume about the police officer’s behaviour. He had politely parroted his script, but knew full well that he was positioned at one of the borough’s best traps for generating maximum cyclist cash while being in no danger whatsoever of coming face to face with a genuinely antisocial pavement cyclist. It was far too early for hoody-wearing teenage boys to be out, weaving between prams and toddlers and shouting into their phones.

It may be an unpalatable truth for some, but there are reasons why cyclists opt for the pavement. Fear of motorists’ behaviour is one and although I empathise I believe the place for cyclists is the road – the more of us in the road the better behaved drivers will have to be.

The second, significant reason for pavement cycling is obstructions in the form of irrationally designed road traffic systems that keep us from riding directly toward our destinations. Chief among these are archaic one-way systems. Who knows how many of these beasts from the recent past exist on this island. Far too many. They may mildly annoy motorists, who sometimes despair about petrol and time being eaten up as they are forced to travel miles in lieu of yards. For cyclists, these complex gyratories are physically and mentally tiring – eating up calories, consuming far too much of the day’s muscular strength, and conjuring up mental images of hamsters and wheels.

Like many urban cyclists, I am proud when I chalk up some good mileage, but I like to get somewhere. No modern traffic planner familiar with current central government guidance would now dream of introducing long, complicated one-way systems, but their removal is another matter. In London, it took Hackney Cyclists years of careful collaboration with authorities to redesign the former Shoreditch one-way system. Anecdotal evidence suggests that pavement cycling fell noticeably after much of the hellish one-way was dismantled in 2002. The changes also re-civilised an area that was blighted by car traffic and were a major factor behind Shoreditch’s subsequent rebirth as the hipper-than-hip area it is today.

Unfortunately, there are fewer tenacious cycle campaigners across this land than there are horrific one-way gyratories. The powers that be need to prioritise making our towns and cities cycle friendly. Remove these relics of car-centric urban transport planning and you’ll find that reluctant and infrequent pavement cyclists like me will get back where we belong.

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