Saturday, November 26, 2011

Marginalized Cyclist

What is it about a person on a bicycle that makes everyone else regard you as a nuisance? I'm serious. I've heard plenty of cyclists moan about other road users and their apparent dislike of two-wheeled transport. Why is this? Is it because we can park where they can't? Because we pay no road tax or insurance? because we don't need a licence? Or because we can 'off-road' whenever we feel like it? I think it's probably a combination of all of those things, and a little jealousy.

But what is it about us cyclists that causes pedestrians to get pissed off? Because they do, I'm telling you.

On an average journey into town from my house, there are certain stretches of road where, frankly, I'd rather go on the path. East Hill is a case in point. A heavily used stretch of road, used by people coming in and out of town yet during the day constantly blocked on one side by parked cars. Vehicles are continually having to stop and yield to oncoming traffic, and being a cyclist in that little mix is no picnic. I'd prefer to ride on the path but of course people tend to walk on that and so I find I'm almost always getting off and pushing for most of the way. Similarly the intersection of Oaks Rd and East Cross is a nightmare with traffic coming both ways on the A28 and it's just easier if I can enter the Rec and cycle across it. But here this provokes stares as if cycling across grass is unnatural. I've got knobby tyres, I can do it. This town has lots of lovely little shortcuts that one can use in order to avoid the High Street but even there people look at you as if you are an alien lifeform.

When I've used the path in preference to committing hara-kiri in traffic, I've encountered oncoming pedestrians and pulled off to the side or used the grass verge so as to avoid knocking them over, because I am a nice considerate person. But apparently that's not good enough. I pass them and hear them mutter "mumble mumble PATH mumble BIKE mumble ROAD mumble..." . In Rolvenden recently, where there are cars parked on both sides of the High Street, I used a short section of path when there was a bus going one way and a lorry going the other. Suddenly an old lady waved her stick at me and yelled, "You're supposed to be on the road, young man!" (which I must say, amused me somewhat - I'm 46) to which I replied "Madam, I will go back on the road when and only when it is safe to do so!" (I was only about 100 yards from my destination anyway).

Thus far in my travels around town the only stretches of dedicated bike path are to be found tucked away in St. Michaels, in the Henley Fields/Col. Stephens Way area, and only in the little cul-de-sacs. Nothing very useful for those of us that use our bikes to actually get somewhere. The path that goes between Abbott Way and Sandy Lane provides a useful shortcut into town, but it has been designated a No Cycling area. What we need is a small network of bike-only paths or bike lanes, but can it be done in Tenterden? Who can point us in the right direction? Anyone know where we need to start?

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