You don’t have look too hard on social media to find the ravings of drivers muttering about being delayed, impeded or obstructed by someone cycling ahead of them. Usually it’s a rant about someone being ‘in the middle of the road’, or people riding two abreast, or not using a ‘perfectly good cycle path’ – often accompanied by a photograph uploaded to the internet by the driver.
The general background impression of all this noise is that delay and inconvenience on the road network is exclusively bike on motor vehicle; that it’s the slower, two-wheeled vehicles that cause the hold ups. That’s intuitively understandable – cars are fast, bikes are slow, slow things hold fast things up.
But there is, of course, a different perspective – one from behind the handlebars. This week – in a poor attempt at a parody of social media moaning – I tweeted a picture of terrible congestion on Shaftesbury Avenue.
Why is it motorists think they can drive three abreast, holding up hardworking cyclists? STAY TO THE LEFT! pic.twitter.com/kBixG9pJzr
— Mark Treasure (@AsEasyAsRiding) May 6, 2015
I was being held up; this very wide road was completely clogged by a large number of drivers, travelling three abreast. If they weren’t there, or if they were to stay over to the left, I would have been able to make stately progress.
A little further on, and I was still unable to cycle at the speed I wanted to. In fact I was stationary.
And again, later that same day, in the evening, streets in Westminster were completely clogged. I gave up, and walked on the pavement.
This is all so commonplace it’s background – I suspect even many people cycling will not reflect on the fact they are being held up and impeded by motor traffic. It’s so normal it’s not worth commenting on. Queues of traffic that are often difficult to filter past are everywhere in urban areas.
And it’s not just the traffic that is moving – or attempting to move. The car on the right of the picture above is parked. Without that parking occupying valuable road space, again, I would have been able to have made progress. Parking is often tremendously obstructive, yet this passes without comment. It’s a subtle way in which other modes of transport are impeded, yet unnoticed. And of course having parking on both sides of narrower streets means that roads have to be made one-way, causing needless delay (in the form of diversions) for people on bikes who would otherwise be able to take direct routes.
If all that parking wasn’t there, this road wouldn’t be one way, and I wouldn’t have to cycle around three streets, instead of just taking the direct route down this one. I’m directly, or indirectly, impeded up by motoring.
I’m also held up by traffic lights, pretty much everywhere I go by bike, in urban areas.
Traffic lights are so ubiquitous it is very easy to forget that they essentially only exist to facilitate the passage of motor traffic – and to allow people to cross roads dominated by motor traffic. Where motor traffic levels are low, or non-existent, there is of course no need for traffic signals, even where human beings are moving about in tremendous numbers.
And of course the width of motor vehicles means I am unnecessarily held up, where otherwise I would be able to pass by oncoming traffic without difficulty.
There are probably countless other ways in which motoring is obstructive and causes delays – feel free to point them out in the comments. The problem is that this delay is a result of street design and layouts that seem to be ‘natural’. Nobody questions parking on both sides of the street, and how that might affect flow or capacity. Nobody questions the existence of traffic lights, or one-way systems – both subtle ways in which motoring is privileged at the expense of delay and inconvenience to non-motorised users. Nobody questions the effects of motor traffic congestion itself on the free movement of non-motorised users.
This isn’t to say that people cycling won’t ever hold up people driving; just to say that there is a very large flip side to that coin. The solution to these difficulties, for both people cycling, and for people driving, is to place these two modes onto different systems – to separate the two modes of transport as much as possible, creating parallel routes for cycling on main roads, and removing through motor traffic from access roads, in line with the principles of sustainable safety.
If you’re a motorist complaining about being held up – firstly, the person who is cycling in front of you will almost certainly be held up by motoring just as much, if not more, than you, and secondly… there’s an answer out there.