Railway Path: Speed over Sense
Jon Usher, Sustrans Project Manager.
"We held an event last week looking at how we could improve some traffic issues around a primary school. Having worked with the kids at the school for a number of months to establish all the issues, it quickly became clear that motorised traffic wasn’t the only problem. You see the school in question is right next to the Bristol Bath Railway Path – the busiest traffic free route in the country, with over 3000 cycle journeys being made per day during the summer. Many of the children come to school via the path – either by crossing it, and thereby only using it for a few metres, others come from further afield. One of the main concerns the school kids had on their school journey was the Railway Path – the speed of cyclists in particular.
At the event we decided to hand out leaflets to cyclists approaching the crossing too fast – by too fast I mean approaching 20mph or more (not a scientific measurement by any means, but more of a perception of speed) since these were the types of cyclists the kids had identified as being intimidating. There had been reports of children being hit by cyclists (although thankfully no serious recorded injuries), parents being shouted at for getting in the way and various other unsavoury events. The leaflets had been designed by the kids during lessons and we’d hoped that by handing them out – letting the ‘offenders’ know that their actions were scaring children at a busy location, that they might choose to moderate their own behaviour.
Now, things didn’t quite go to plan. To help get the message across we had 1 PC, 2 PCSOs a Police van, and had even coned off half of the Railway Path to further narrow down the space to encourage slower speeds. To help we also had two members of the LSTF Roadshow team to give advice, since the Railway Path has become a key commuting corridor for sustainable modes. A big enough presence you’d think to indicate that something extra-ordinary was happening, and maybe enough you’d think to encourage a slower speed even if just for the day.
Here’s a report I got back from one of the Roadshow team:
“Interesting shift, a real safety problem. Of about 50 cyclists I asked to slow down only 2 acknowledged the request and only about 10% responded, despite the presence … Earphones partly to blame”.
I don’t want to get into the realms of penalising everyone because of the poor behaviour of the few – and let’s remember that it is certainly the minority that travel too fast. But, and the big but is – how do we begin to change the behaviour of the few for the benefit of the many? I’d hoped that Friday’s event would help solve the issue. It pains me to say it, but the experience of Friday’s event can only give the impression that there are some out there who truly exhibit the kinds of traits that the local press would have us believe all cyclists share – arrogance, selfishness and an overriding sense of self appreciation because ‘we’re saving the planet’, or other some such. The engineering solution would be some form of traffic calming. What would you rather?
- Be given the reigns to think for yourself – to slow down a fraction maybe 30-40 metres from a busy crossing, allow people to cross if they’re waiting, and then speed up if the going is clear on the other side.
- Have the decision taken from you. Chicanes or speed bumps introduced to forcibly slow speeds at the crossing.
Option 2 is clearly the last resort – and would destroy the continuity of the Railway Path, something people have campaigned, fought for and cherished since it was first opened 30 years ago.
Now, as someone who rides a bike on a daily basis on and off road, with and without traffic, I know when and where speed is appropriate. I also know what it's like when a car cuts me up or passes too closely. When it happens - it takes you aback for a few seconds and then you feel angry for having been made to feel vulnerable - so I know the virtues of passing distances. I can imagine pedestrians feel exactly the same about bikes passing them, as 'we' do about cars passing 'us'. I get particularly annoyed about cars acting in an aggressive manner, and travelling at anti-social speeds, and I'm sorry to say that after Friday’s event I'm beginning to feel the same way about a few (emphasis on the minority here) cyclists on the Railway Path.
If you want to cycle at 20/25/30mph, don't do it on the Railway Path! They're generally not designed for those kinds of speeds... I don't want to stop lycra on the Railway Path per say, but please... if you're someone who expects to ride as fast as your training regime dictates or your world record commute attempt - please spare a thought for the people you insist on passing within inches... slow down, especially around kids.
Because here's the rub... when you're walking, you're generally travelling at about 3-4mph. A fair average cycling speed is generally at around 15mph, and let's assume driving (in my ideal, perfect world) is about 25-30mph on city streets. Either way - the speed differential between the modes of travel is fixed at around 10mph. So even if you're going at a fast average speed on a bike passing a pedestrian - you feel to them like a car passing you at 30mph. Think about it... and slow down!"