It's been a very long time since I have made a post on this blog, and this is mostly because there are so many great blogs out there that seem to cover everything possible that I have really had nothing to add to any form of discussion. However I have noticed that more and more I am getting frustrated, upset and angry. I am now ready to put this into print.
First of all I want to give a little run up to my situation. Although I hate doing this I have to bring my age into the equation as I feel with the rant I am about to give it is relevant.
I am 67 years old at the end of this year, and prior to retiring at 60 I had never ridden a bike, yet all my life I had wanted to. I had tried twice in my younger 30s and 40s, even going to the expense both times of buying a bike and then on finding that I simply didn't have the nerve to get out on the roads, I sold them and gave up. Even now I own a gorgeous sit up and beg Dutch type bike, which I bought 2 years ago, that I once again tried riding but haven't had the nerve, up until recently, to learn to ride her, although I have now started doing a bikeablity course (but that's another story).
On the year of my retirement I spotted a trike in a local bike shop. I kept passing by the shop looking and longing but not sure I could afford it, and even if I did, would I actually ride it? On my actual moving day when moving from Hastings in East Sussex down to a quiet seaside location in Christchurch, Dorset I made a decision. I knew I would kick myself if I didn't buy that trike. I quickly popped to the bike shop and bought the trike and loaded it directly onto the moving lorry without ever having ridden it.
For the last 7 years a trike has been my only form of personal transport.
My age and situation takes me out of what most people think of when they think of people riding a bike in the UK.
I am not young and fit. I do not have to fight with city traffic to commute. I do not mountain bike. I do not have a young family that drive out to use the recreational cycling ways specifically set up away from urban areas simply for fun rides. I am an older lady, with a little dog, that plods along utility bicycling for transport.
Much is talked about on all the blogs and social sites of city cycling and recreational cycling. Much is also talked about of getting people on their bikes for commuting, you could spend several days watching all the videos on Youtube regarding this, and charities spend a lot of time and money on getting people to recreational bicycle, even if they do, wrongly, push the yellow jackets and helmets. None of which draws attention to the needs or importance of utility cycling.
My actual location is rural. This means several things.
My choices of getting from A to B consist of fast main roads, country
lanes, and less used residential roads.
First a little list of daily, weekly, monthly, frequent journeys I have to make that take me out of the village.
Dentist: 2.1 miles
Sainsburys: 2.4 miles
Doctors: 3.7 miles
Christchurch Town: 4.3
Visiting Sister and Niece: 4.4 miles
Christchurch hospital: 5.1 miles (visit 3 monthly)
Bournemouth hospital: 6.5 (visit 6 monthly)
As you can see none of these distances are further than would be comfortable to cycle, yet all these journeys take me twice as long as Google Maps states that it should take simply because of lack of infrastructure. And bear in mind that I have only added to the list places that I "have" to visit on a regular basis.
Being as how I live right on the border of Dorset and Hampshire, neither County Councils seem to want to take responsibility for me to have safe and convenient cycling from home into Hampshire or Dorset. But let's be fair and tell of what has been done so far by both county councils up to this point regarding the little bit of cycling infrastructure that has been added to take me into my nearest towns for shopping in either direction and into both counties.
None of my immediate, including my own, residential roads have been made 20 miles per hour. My own road, which is also used as a route to the beach where there is a large car park for visitors and, believe it or not, only 10 bicycle parking rings, is also used as a rat run by motorists to avoid using the traffic lights at the top of the road and missing out on driving the half mile on the A337 that runs through the village.
This road and other smaller ones coming off of it could easily be 20 mph but seemingly I have to go around knocking on all the doors of all residents and get up a petition to apply for this before the council could even consider this. That's without even having the nerve to ask for it to be a non-through road.
So for the first mile from my home and heading into Christchurch there is no planned safe cycling. Half of that part of the journey is cycling on the main A337.
The rest of the journey the council have given some thought to safe cycling. They turned the north side A337 pavement into shared ped/cycling by putting the little blue and white signs up on every few lamp posts. In the majority of places this pavement is totally uncared for, so narrow in most places that even pedestrians passing each other have to step to one side and onto a narrow grass verge. And where it is slightly wider the residents of the houses have let their hedges grow so deep that they smack one in the face as cycling past. On top of that one has motorists coming out of their drive ways. (I narrowly missed being knocked over in this area once). Along with there being plenty of side roads to give way to.
Halfway through the journey there is Sustrans way. This is a massive over pass to take the pedestrian and cyclist up and over where the A337 becomes a duel carriage way. Except it's a "get off and push for the cyclist". Have you ever tried pushing a trike or similar up and over one of those over passes? NO? Well, for a woman of 67, with one heart attack and a TIA under her belt, along with arthritis of hips and foot, it aint no fun. And don't forget the obligatory staggered barriers that one has to get a trike through at the top of all exits.
On reaching Christchurch town the shared path comes to an end and we are guided into on coming traffic on a road that is still duel carriage way. But.......... They have been considerate and put up a sign saying "Cyclists dismount" - From there it's a case of pushing bike/trike down and under an underpass in order to get to the high street and cycle parking.
If I want to visit the first main town in Hampshire, which is 2.5 miles from me, it's a case of sticking to the A337 hopping on and off shared pavements when allowed, or go illegal and stick to all of the pavements. The pavements in Hampshire are in much better repair than in Dorset.
If I wanted to go a longer way around and stick to so called quieter roads, which it is advised to, I risk being knocked down in the narrow, winding lanes that are the national speed limit, plus adding even more time to my journey. Once again there seems to be no urgency in slowing traffic down on residential roads or country lanes.
The sad thing is that is that everyone down here, and I do mean everyone, well, probably 80% of people, including the elderly, own bikes. Every member of my family, except my Sister, own a bike. In our little family out of the 12 of us, 11 of us own a bike. Yet only 2 of us cycle on a daily basis. The others will cycle if they are forced to if they suddenly don't have access to a car. When they do cycle they make sure they only cycle on pavements, legally and illegally, because they are so terrified to be in traffic. My Daughter and Niece, both grown women, when asked why they won't cycle simply say that it's far too dangerous and they aren't prepared to risk getting stopped by the police if on a pavement. Even my Son-in-Law is constantly warning me about being careful on the road.
I fully understand how they feel. I am also terrified to ride a two wheeler on our roads. I know that the only reason I have the nerve to ride on the roads is that I ride a rigid, chunky trike. I am easily seen, and an older woman with a dog in the basket, and in general motorists do tend to give me a lot more space than they do a bicycle. Even then on fast main A-roads I ride on all pavements, legal and illegal. I am not the only one. Every time I leave home I see bicyclists of all ages. From teens to 70+ year olds, families and older couples, and they are all cycling illegally on the pavements.
Now whether it is or isn't safe to ride on our roads down here is simply not the point. The point is that people don't "feel" safe. We have no idea how many people would cycle for utility if we simply had real cycling safety 100% of the distance on a fast main A-road and all residential roads being made 20 mph.
My friend, who's Mother is living in The Netherlands, informed me the other day that her Mother of 83 has just progressed to an e-bike. 83!!!! and still cycling. I often wonder if I will still be cycling by the time I am 75 let alone 83, or will traffic and lack of infrastructure have driven me off my tike. I have already had 3 very near misses through stupid motorists. How many more will it take before I lose my nerve?
I would love to have a member of my family keep me company on a ride
into town. Or ride with me to hospital instead of having to go with
them in the car if I need or want company for an appointment. Or have company on a nice trip out to a local landmark. If I want company to go anywhere I have to go in their cars with them. What breaks my heart is that I know that if we had safe infrastructure there would be no problem getting any member of my family on a bike.
So you see, it's not only London, Bristol, York and other big cities that need the roads redesigning. It's not just recreational cycling that needs to be encouraged. It's also those of us that want, or would love, to cycle from one country town to the next safely and enjoyably.