Cycling is a dichotomy of chaos vs. righteousness. On one hand, cyclists are despised by cars and and pedestrians alike. They don’t follow the rules and they cause accidents and near-misses wherever they go. They ignore their own infrastructure and run riot over the roads.
On the other hand, cycling is encouraged by environmentalists and politicians. Cycling is good exercise and takes cars off the road. Bikes have a lower barrier to entry, and the machines themselves are far simpler and safer. People who cycle stick to it, despite the obstacles, because it’s exhilarating and liberating.
Our road system is not set up for cyclists, it is set up for cars. This is why cyclists and cars have problems when they try to share the roads. Cars are deadly, large, and polluting, yet bikes are classed alongside them as vehicles according the Highway Act of 1835. This hodge-podge of rules, designed around cars first, pedestrians second, and cyclists last do not reflect responsible or realistic cycling. Bikes don’t have the same speed, power or protections as cars, so expecting them to just fit in to the road system, which isn’t designed for them, naturally results in hostility. Cars dislike how slow and narrow cyclists are, whilst cyclists resent how wide and fast the cars are! This is easily exacerbated by media, in favour of cars.
It’s also interesting to note that though the current road system literally sidelines pedestrians, once it was they who owned the streets, and cars who were the intruders. The system of traffic lights and pavements was invented to allow cars to travel with less danger to pedestrians. In America, it’s an actively enforced crime to intrude on the street. However, modern alternatives to this segregation do exist. Road systems focusing on collective cooperation. e.g no fixed pavement divides, have been proven to reduce accidents and improve traffic flow.
There are of course people who face more obstacles than others, for example young children, people with physical disabilities or poor health. I won’t argue that everyone should be forced onto bikes, but not only do accessible biking options exist (such as power assisted bikes, or trailer bikes), but also drivers lives would be improved by more people choosing bikes where they can. For example:
- showers at work benefit cyclists, but also people who exercise before work or who start their day early.
- More bikes means more car parking space, less noise pollution, and less car traffic, encouraging pedestrians and making public transport faster.
- More bikes means less pollution, less fossil fuels, and cleaner air.
- More bikes means a healthier population, whereas cars damage peoples’ health.
- More bikes supports a flexible approach to travel, considering what is most effective for the task at hand e.g. do you need a full car, or are you only carrying a backpack?
Bikes are the legislative opposite of cars, which are heavily legislated and dependent on infrastructure due their power and size. For bikes, there’s no pollution tax, no parking charges, no MOT’s, and no registration system. This freedom from red tape is also a vulnerability, because it means cyclists are seen as a threat to the system. Because we do not pay vehicle tax, or insurance, or have a license record, we’re seen as tax-dodgers, dangerous, and irresponsible. In reality, the bike is simply safer (to others) and easier than a car, and reflects a choice that many people don’t realise they have.
People think that cycling is too difficult or uncomfortable because the transport system is preferential to cars. People believe that any concessions in the form of bike lanes will damage driving, when in fact it just makes cycling safer. Allowing a choice means the reasons to resent cycling become excellent reasons to switch over! Who wouldn’t want a simpler, healthier, zero-emissions ride if it became pleasant and easy? In many cities, bikes can already travel faster than congested cars; even with limited support. With more bike-friendly roads, cycling would be safer and faster.
Ultimately this is a story of power. The dominance of the car industry shaped our infrastructure. It’s not designed to be friendly to the competition. It has yet to be seen whether the hostility against cyclists will win out against the benefits of a renewable, cost-effective, convenient transport method in an age of increasing environmental awareness.