I was recently reading a blog post on “Cult Of Fear” when I was struck by the story about a woman killed while riding along a dual carriageway, the CTC’s resistance to the provision of off road cycle provision and how the two things became mixed up.
The risk with this sort of tragedy is to over simplify the cause, and see things in black and white. There a tendency for the debate to become polarised, which wastes time and energy. There is a real problem with the culture of driving in this country and the “blame the victim” nature of “road safety” campaigns.
Having ridden on some dual carriageways, they can be good usable routes if traffic volumes are low, as drivers tend to give you far more space, because they can simply move to the outer lane when overtaking. However, as soon as the traffic volumes increase, the situation changes rapidly and they become far more dangerous places to be.
Most people wouldn’t ride on dual carriageways out of choice, I have only done so in the past under certain conditions (basically I didn’t have much choice). There are a small group of cyclists who will actively choose to ride solo on dual carriageways, those who ride time trials (a form of sport I have never really understood). Time trials are generally carefully planned events which take place at times when the traffic volumes are low and so have a good safety record. There are many sport cyclists who are very worried at the prospect of loosing this sort of access to the roads. In a rational country there is no reason why they should be banned from the roads. Sadly, this is not a rational country.
Of course sport cyclists are only ever going to be very small part of the whole population of the country. If we want to get cycling taken seriously as a viable means of transport, we need to have a route network which is available to everyone. And in areas where there are high volumes of motor vehicles, this means a fully separated provision.
Sport is a leisure activity which can be timed to take advantage of the quiet times on the road network, as it is an aim in itself. Whereas transport is a means to an end, it is not about the journey, it is about getting somewhere to do something else. Herein lays a major part of the problem, cycling is not marketed as a viable form of transport but rather as a sporting activity that can on occasions be used to get to work.
As it is sold almost entirely as a sporting activity, the idea of cycling purely as a means of transport has been lost. Unlike driving, where the sport and transport side of things are seen as (largely) separate, cycling is seen as a form of transport than is only for the “sporty”.
Driving in all its forms is more dangerous than its cycling equivalent. However, driving as transport is regarded as being relatively safe and therefore not needing special equipment, whereas cycling as transport is seen as being as dangerous as the more dangerous forms of cycling sport (even though these are generally safer than driving as transport).
In motor sport it is common for the drivers to wear special protective clothing and a helmet. Yet the ordinary motorist would never consider donning a flame retardant suit and helmet to drive to the shops (although a strong case could be made for doing so, based on hospital admittance studies and this would undoubtedly save lives). Whereas, to ride a bicycle, it is considered a necessity to use sports-based “safety equipment”. There is also confusion about the intended function of this “safety equipment”, the helmets worn for racing aren’t primarily for head protection, but rather as they offer the rider a small aerodynamic advantage. Although this advantage maybe very small, racing is about winning and 1/10th of a second advantage can be the difference between winning and loosing, but not much use when going to the shops.
So to make progress we need to normalise cycling as an activity, put in a separation between cycling as a sport and shopping by bike, to show that riding a bicycle is an activity for everyone, not just the sporty few.