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More cycling hell..

Written by Fiona July 20 2010

My previous blog has sparked a lot of interest on Twitter. So I thought I’d reproduce an article I wrote earlier. It appeared in the Daily Record some years ago but it’s still relevant.

My commute from hell

The Scottish Executive wants us to get on our bikes. They have been going on about it for years and have some serious targets to meet by 2012.

Getting more commuters to cycle – in fact doubling the numbers – is part of the grand plan to dramatically reduce carbon emissions produced by cars.

One little-known “green” scheme gives cyclists who work up to 50% off the price of a new bike and millions of pounds are earmarked for councils to improve and expand cycle ways and policies.

This week, Glasgow City Council is marking European Mobility Week with a number of cycling challenges.

For our part, if we care at all about our health, cycling is a great idea.

Cyclists who put in at least 20 miles a week cut their chance of heart disease to less than half that for non-cyclists.

They’ll also lose weight (100 calories burned per 10 minutes) and tone thighs and butt.

So commuting daily to work by bike would seem like an obvious solution to both reducing your personal quota of carbon emissions and staying fit.

But have you ever tried it? I have, every day, six miles each way, for years.

Travelling from Bearsden to Glasgow city centre, I have used the traffic-free canal from Loch 27 to Spiers Wharf and the Kelvin Cycle Way from Garscube to Kelvingrove Park, as well as main roads via Maryhill.

All of these routes have their problems.

I have been spat on, chased by a group of drunk lads and had three punctures caused by broken glass along the canal.

Cycling the Kelvin, I’ve had dogs run into my wheel spokes and under my bike, I’ve been caught up in dog leads, shoved by an angry walker, shouted at, had four punctures and cycled through numerous piles of poo.

Dark winter mornings and evenings made me seriously doubt the safety of these routes. Then in October, 34-year-old Farah Noor Adams was murdered on the riverbank.

Glasgow City Council say they have considered better lighting on sections of the Kelvin Way but believe that encouraging greater use by walkers and cyclists should increase safety.

I’m still not convinced and prefer to use Maryhill Road.

But while I’m never alone, I am forced to do battle with drivers.

I have been knocked off by a white van driver, driven at by a road rager and squeezed out of the cycle lane on to the pavement by drivers who have no idea that their car is equipped with an inside wing mirror.

It doesn’t matter who the driver is. I’ve been cut up by a blonde in a sports car, a fat guy in a jeep, a Volvo driver drinking a cup of tea and reading the newspaper, a Nova-driving teenager,  a family in a people carrier, half a dozen pensioners, at least 20 taxis and 30-odd buses.

I have also been screamed at by drivers who believe I shouldn’t be on the road “because I don’t pay road taxes”.

(Actually, I do. But my car sits on the driveway, while I commute to work by bike.)

What is it with pedestrians, too? They’ll check the road for on-coming cars but never see or hear a fast-moving cyclist wearing a bright yellow jacket and flashing red lights.

But I’ve been lucky. I’ve never been badly hurt, while two friends have spent a year each recovering from serious incidents involving their bike and a car.

Other cycle commuters that I’ve met on my daily journey recount tales of frequent near-misses.

I don’t think the cycling community is blameless either. The minority who jump red lights, cycle on pavements and kick cars in anger as they go by tar the reputation of the majority.

So why do I continue to cycle? The benefits of my daily trip include saving more than £1000 in train fares; cutting my commute time in half and toning up swathes of wobbly body parts.

Statistically, the risk of injury to cyclists is far less than the long-term health benefits.

But does cycling really have to be so stressful?

The number of cyclists in Scotland has been rising slowly in recent years.

There have been increases recorded on minor roads and designated cycleways into our towns and cities. But the figure has decreased on main roads.

In Glasgow, the number of cycle commuters is up from 0.8% in 1996 to just more than 2% today. But that is still a very small percentage of the population.

There have been less reported accidents involving cyclists, too, from 170 in 1995 to 107 in 2004.

As a nation we still have a long way to go say campaigners.

Erl Wilkie, chief executive of Cycling Scotland, a Scottish Executive funded pro-cycling organisation, says: “There is so much we can do to encourage cyclists.

“We should not necessarily be telling cyclists to avoid main roads.

“We are asking for these roads to be safer.”

Wilkie would like to see the maximum speed for drivers decreased.

“I also think we need to re-educate drivers. We should have road safety lessons for drivers so that they have more respect for cyclists.”

Earlier this month, a Share the Road campaign was launched in London. The mayor Ken Livingstone is calling “for a shift in the culture on our roads … where cyclists and drivers obey the rules of the road equally”.

Other campaign groups believe that teaching children to be more road and cycling aware is vital.

CTC, the UK’s oldest and biggest independent cyclists organisation, has relaunched Bikeability, a three-tired cycling scheme for children and adults that operates most specifically in England.

There is a similar programme, the Scottish Cycle Training Scheme, north of the border, which is overseen by government-funded Road Safety Scotland and aimed at schoolchildren.

Cycling Scotland is keen to see bike training promoted more extensively. “At present only 10% of children complete an on-road level of cycling proficiency,” says Jim Riach, education and training manager.

“These children will be the drivers of tomorrow so their education is very important.”

Riach adds: “We also want to see more instruction for adult cyclists.

“There is a few such training centres but not many. Feedback is good though and many adults do go on to cycle confidently to work.”

Meanwhile, Sustrans, the UK’s leading sustainable transport charity, prefers to promote cycling on more traffic-free and traffic-calmed roads.

“If we can get cyclists out there in the first place, on quieter roads and cycle paths, then perhaps they will start to feel more confident using ordinary roads,” says Gill Harrison, a Sustrans spokesperson.

Local councils, too, want in-town cycling to be seen as a viable and sustainable option.

Glasgow City Council proved yesterday in their Time and Climate Change Challenge, part of European Mobility Week, that cycling 4km to work is almost seven minutes quicker and much greener than driving a car, then parking it and walking to the office.

The council has also run campaigns to try to improve courtesy among all road users, is also committed to delivering a more joined up network of cycle routes on city roads and has installed some bike-priority traffic lights.

Wilkie believes, though, that the most important key to safer cycling is “more cyclists”.

“The few who do cycle just now need to get out there, put in the miles to and from work, hold their lane in the line of traffic and make their presence known,” he says.

“The more that drivers see cyclists the better aware they will become.”

Harrison adds: “Hopefully some time there will come a tipping point. As greater numbers of cyclists use the roads their visibility will improve – and motorists will be forced to take note.”

Hmmm. Meantime, I’ve heard that Asda are selling a great line in big bike horns.

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