Monday 10 November 2014

Two tribes

People tend to discuss cyclists and motorists in a two-tribes fashion, as though they are somehow different breeds, with no connection with each other.

In terms of my travel habits, I am first and foremost a middle-distance commuter.  I travel some 18,000 miles a year on my daily train journeys to and from work.  That is considerably further than I travel by any other mode of transport.

I am a cyclist, primarily as part of my commute – I cycle from home to the railway station in Haslemere where I fold up my Brompton, carry it onto the train and then unfold it at Waterloo for the final leg of my journey to the office in Blackfriars.  However I also cycle Saturdays and Sundays down to the town centre for shopping.  I could drive, and sometimes I am tempted, if the weather is bad, but driving imposes additional hassle, in first hunting for a parking space, then walking over to the machine to get a ticket, fumbling for the right change, probably overpaying because I don’t have the right change, then walking back to the car to put the ticket in the windscreen.  By the time I have done all that I could be half-way through my shopping errands, because like most people these days we have abandoned the “weekly shop” at the big out-of-town supermarket (read this and weep, Tesco) and make almost daily visits and small purchases (which I am sure, as the research literature shows, amount to more than more occasional, car-borne shoppers).  So I save time, hassle and of course money – I even get a parking rebate in our local Waitrose as they just assume you must have driven there.  I do cycle purely for exercise or leisure, from time to time, though not as often as I really should if I want to stay healthy as retirement looms. I don’t really have any excuse as I live on the doorstep of a fantastic area of National Trust heaths and commons around Hindhead, Thursley, Witley, Hankley, Bramshott etc. with an extensive network of bridle paths.

I am a pedestrian.  Apart from walking the dogs at weekends, which I don’t really think of as “pedestrian”, more “walker” or “rambler”, most of my pedestrian activity is associated with work, in central London.  Popping out for lunch, a trip to Boots, walking to a tube station etc account for a modest daily mileage but certainly I'm exposed to the realities of being a pedestrian in a big city.

I use taxis and – whisper it – Addison Lee cars.  Being employed in a professional service firm I have a lot of meetings with clients across the city and, as we sell our services by the hour time is a precious commodity.  We need access to a mobile signal so we can continue working, and we travel together so we can discuss our plan for the meeting ahead, something we can’t do on a bus or tube. 

Finally, I drive.  Almost entirely in my free time, at weekends.  I live in a rural area and although I can make a number of my routine journeys – to my French tutor on Saturday, down to the sailing club in Portsmouth to sail my dinghy – by bike/train, there's a lot of trips which simply can only be done by car.  Taking my teenaged son to his Saturday job in the bakery section at Waitrose in Godalming, for a 6am start, or doing winter maintenance work on my boat when I will be carrying stepladders, buckets, power tools (those Kรคrcher pressure washers are really handy), spare parts etc in the boot of my car.  I guess I probably do about 5,000 miles a year behind the wheel, which is not a great deal more than I do in the saddle.

I can understand the frustrations felt by any of these “ists” when they meet delays and obstacles.  I get irritated by the delays, cancellations and overcrowding I experience from time to time on my rail commute.  I acknowledge that I can start to feel impatient if I am stuck behind an organised group of cyclists, even though at the same time I am pinching myself to remember that I, too am a cyclist, and that those guys out there (they are almost always guys) have every bit as much right to be there as I do, and have almost certainly paid similar amounts of vehicle excise duty and road fuel duty as I do.  They have probably also paid comparable amounts in council tax, and income tax and national insurance contributions too.  All of these together go into the common fund which pays for roads.

For all of this, I suppose I define myself as a cyclist, and I am probably pigeon-holed as such too, by people who are ignorant of, or care nothing for my alter-egos.

As a motorist, I am only too acutely aware that, with no malice and no wilful negligence, impatience or a tiny moment’s distraction or inattention could turn me into a killer.  For that reason as much as because I am a “cyclist”, I pine for cycling infrastructure of a decent standard, with segregated facilities where appropriate so my errors can pass without incident.  I’d like to see them all over.

First of all, I’d like to see them on the North-South and East-West routes set out in the TfL consultations which have just ended.


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