Thursday 24 January 2013

Cycling downhill in Surrey

The Google Map below shows my daily cycle ride down to the railway station from home.  It is 1.6 miles – 2.5 kilometres, a gentle downhill decline from 180m alt to 130m alt and going home, of course, a gentle climb which even a Brompton can eat up without getting indigestion.  It takes me roughly 6 minutes to go down in the morning, about twice that to return in the evening.

View Station in a larger map

Most of the way it is a quiet country lane.   For  some unaccountable reason there are a few motorists who rat-run through here to avoid the town centre, but they must have to cover at least twice the distance.  Then there are occasional cars passing which come to rest to park at the bottom of the lane, a short walk from the station.  These are a nuisance as they create pinchpoints and, because they park for their own convenience, not mine, they often choose poor locations with limited sightlines.  At least Surrey CC is shortly due to impose controls to limit the number and make them park where the lane is straighter and wider – there, they might serve a useful purpose in restraining the enthusiasm of the rat-runners.

Overall though, it feels safe and pleasant enough.

There follows a short section along a private drive/public footpath then through the station car park, and then the last 200m is on the main road, the B2131, and this really isn’t very nice.  It is one place where I still religiously follow the Franklin maxim of adopting full primary position – squarely in the middle of the lane so that cars don’t have room to pass me outside into oncoming traffic, or inside either for that matter.  And believe me, they have tried.

If – when - I reach the end of my tolerance of the Cyclecraft way, I won’t have to stop cycling this route because I could just get off and push that last 200m.  I shouldn’t have to, of course.

As I collapse my Brompton and take it with me on the train I don’t have to worry about cycle parking, which at the moment is mediocre and lacking in capacity, but straws in the wind suggest that a reasonable improvement is in the pipeline.

The red pins on the map are people I know to cycle down to the station.  There are of course others but I don’t see them, or they live in other parts of town.  The blue pins are people I know to drive down in their cars.  Two are driven by their spouses, the others park near the station.  All of these are closer to the station than I am, some of them much closer, and those who drive themselves still have a ¼ mile walk from where they park, so at best are saving a ½ mile.  But they live in a housing complex which is notoriously car-dependent.

Why?  None of them have a disability that I know of.  All of them are younger than me.  I can’t believe they save much time by driving, bearing in mind that they have to walk to or from their cars first while I whizz past on my bike.

Part of it must be simply the sheer inertia which car ownership has driven us all to.  Just as water doesn’t run uphill, and electricity finds the shortest path to earth, unless they are personally motivated, most people will feel the temptation to slouch into their car and take the easy way.  Our cars have corrupted all of us, to some extent.

But a significant part must also be perceptions of the safety or palatability of riding a bicycle in the prevailing conditions, and as I have observed before, while there are many quiet country lanes around here where your granny or your 8 year old can ride fairly safely, for most there is going to be some point at which they have to interact with a through road, and hereabouts they are just not nice to cycle on, not nice at all.

And I have no expectations whatever that the County has the will to do anything about that.  More’s the pity – residents, commuters and council all know only too well how driving to and parking near the station is strangling the town.  Why?  After a dispiriting afternoon at a council committee meeting, listening to a bunch of entitled baby-boomers, now gone grey, bellyaching about how important free parking is so that they don't have to walk/cycle the mile from their homes to the shops or spend any of their index-linked final-salary pensions from their former jobs at Shell/BP/ICI etc on feeding the meter, I think I know who the councillors* are going to listen to.

[*  More final-salary pensioners - who else has the time?] 

No comments:

Post a Comment