on the road – again

I walk more than I cycle, and I cycle more than I drive, but I do all three with a certain amount of frequency and I believe it is this mix of modes that informs my etiquette in each! Ideally, whenever stepping out of the house to move from point A to B, I hope that I am in a state of equilibrium; conscious, aware, and not distracted by life, the universe and other such things. I like to consider myself a safe and competent walker/cyclist/driver, but I am increasingly aware of not wanting to be on the roads in London!

Walking – I like walking. It provides a rhythm, an opportunity to think, look around, smell the roses or chat with a fellow walker. But I don’t like being forced onto the road, into a hedge, or up a step by groups of walkers who seem oblivious to the fact that the sidewalk is a two-way system (at the moment). To pass safely, there must be an accommodation of both parties!

According to the UK Highway Code, if a pedestrian has started to cross…at a zebra crossing/cross walk, they have right of way, yet it is rare to meet a driver that knows it. I have found that most London drivers do tend to stop. However, I am not confidant enough in this to walk in to the cross walk without having clearly seen the car slow down and engaging in some form of eye contact/hand gesture with the driver. In Paris, forget about it. You can be standing at the cross walk in the most torrential downpour, and the drivers will never stop – seemingly driving in the puddle in front of you! In contrast, whilst in Basel, Switzerland, being anywhere near a crossing caused drivers to stop and wait to see what I was going to do.

I totally understand why cyclists want to cycle on the pavement. I do too. But when confronted with a cyclist who seems to think that bike=bigger=primary right of way, I get a tad annoyed. No! This pavement is for my feet! I am sharing it with you! Flickering thoughts of citizen’s arrest and collecting the fixed penalty notice of £50 cross my mind! Hmm.

Cycling – I love cycling… the wind blowing in my hair, Easy Rider style. This swift flexible machine that allows me to sails past lines of cars sitting in jams, to stop, to walk, to push on as and how I choose. The ability to get somewhere so quickly and easily; no parking hassle. Totally agile!

But I don’t like cycling on the roads. Squeezing past cars that are curb hugging. Feeling the push and pull of wind tunnels from busses and trucks. Feeling invisible to the turning car or the unforeseen “dooring” incidents.

I know it’s an offense to cycle on the pavement. The law is reflected in the Highway Code which prohibits cycling on the pavement – Rule 64: “You MUST not cycle on a pavement” However, the Home Office issued guidance calling for careful use of police discretion, particularly in respect of children. And there is no way I want my 7 year old to be cycling on the road.

Germany, Switzerland and Spain have large networks of cycle paths or pavements that are split between cyclists and pedestrians, similar to the bike paths on the Westside highway in NYC and Paris that I have enjoyed using. I feel much safer cycling and accommodating pedestrians than I feel when sharing a road with cars. But then when there is a bicycle painted on to the pathway, why can’t pedestrians stick to their pathway??!! There is a certain level of obliviousness that I frequently encountered by pedestrians wandering over into the bike lane. Whether to get a better view of the Eiffel Tower, or being distracted as they talk on the phone or being lost in headphone soundtrack world, it’s the lack of peripheral awareness that bemuses me. Everyone is so distracted by their own world…maybe we always have been, but I don’t believe it!

There have been a couple of grave stories in the news recently of cyclists hitting pedestrians with fatal results. As I trundle around on my 3-gear, back-pedal break Schwinn, I don’t think I go that fast but with the average speed of 12+mph, three times faster than the average speed of a pedestrian (3mph). I don’t consider myself a reckless rider, but I have had the terrifying experience of almost colliding with a toddler who ran out in to my path. I think I was more shaken by the incident than the toddler! That could have been one of those moments that changed lives in a blink of an eye.

Driving – I love driving. I love zipping from one place to another, the freedom of the open road, the idea of clutching my Jack Kerouac as I speed across vast plains, like Thelma and Louise – freeeeee….

But it’s another self-contained environment that makes it easy to forget that there are a zillion bits of information you are processing as you hurtle through the world at 80 – I mean 70 – mile per hour down the highway. My music, my coffee, my phone, my stuff… decked out with trinkets, furry dice balls, bobbing hula dancers, bumper stickers, slogans, shaded window, privacy/shade blinds, this is my mini home from home. Or maybe not so mini.

Due to our ever-expanding buttock size, Yankee Stadium replaced their original 1920’s 18″ seats with new 22″ seats in 1973. As I contemplate the increased width and general size of cars, I wonder if this is also due to the fact that we have gotten so much bigger as a race, but then as I walk towards the school gate, I see these skinny skinny women sitting in their oversized Range Rovers or some other such over-sized thing and think it can’t possibly be because their bums are so big.

So why have cars gotten so big? As a cyclist, I am pushed further out in to the road as these over wide machines don’t even fit in to the parking boxes. I don’t believe London roads were built or designed for the wide cars of today, and if I were in government, I would ban the personal use of oversized cars in cities. There is no need! They block the road, visibility, and they spew out pollution.

Any way, I digress. I kind of like the idea of driver-less cars, but I think my vision is to have a system that is set up where there is no “car ownership” per se. Rather, I prefer the idea of a network of driverless shuttles that you engage to get you from A to B – like an Uber pool on steroids. Everything would be automated to avoid traffic jams, parking issues, collisions, and reduce pollution… Now that’s the kind of transport system I would support in cities. As for the open road… I still need my ford mustang convertible please.



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