I’m usually enthusiastic about better ways of lighting things . . . aren’t I? So why am I so reticent about the new Lighting Guide from ILP: PLG23 Lighting for Cycling Infrastructure.
Its probably because I’m a cyclist. So let me count the ways . . .
Let’s start with a summary of what the Guide is trying to do, then see if I can put a doubting finger onto my prejudices.
Why now? The fall-out from Covid-19 has seen an unexpected number of people moving away from public transport and getting on their bikes. Sales of new bicycles have never been so high and every manufacturer has a waiting list for their machines.
Who for? Night-time cycling is hazardous. Organisations (see FoE below) call for separation between motorised traffic and cycles. But the vulnerability doesn’t stop there; separation between cycles and pedestrians is also needed.
How to achieve it? If we’re building new traffic infrastructure its possible to incorporate separate tracks for cycles; if we’re working with existing infrastructure then the options are either to create cycleways along the pavement side of a road; or to subdivide a pavement into footpath and cycle path.
So what’s the problem?
Here we go . . .
The Why: The Covid-19 experience has been blessed with some really great weather for cycling (pace climate crisis watchers). I want to see what happens once we get into the winter weather.
The Who: Good question. Who cycles at night? Why would you want to do that? The sentimental response to this usually brings shift-working essential workers who are doing their best on a minimum wage and who wouldn’t be able to work at all if it wasn’t for their bicycle.
And I get that.
I also get that everyone who needs to cycle after dark is already doing it and knows what to look out for when they’re out there. And the newbies will soon find their way around.
The How: I think this is where I’m getting the prickles at the back of my neck.
I’ve cycled since I was at school. True – road traffic at the time was slow, mainly horse-drawn and road surfaces were rutted and broken (no change there, then) but it still hurt if you got hit by an Austin 1100. Cyclists have always been obliged to be self-sufficient; it is the only way to stay safe.
If I go out at night (a rare occurrence, I admit) I will have made an assessment of the route and will dress and kit my bike out accordingly. I certainly DO NOT rely on any services provided by any local authority. Oh, and it’s not just at night that cyclists need to look out for stones, branches, potholes, cracks and defects, other road/pathway users, walls, fences, sign posts, lighting columns. (PLG23: para 2.1)
And this is what concerns me. The more that we codify an activity, the more distance we put between self-reliance and the expectation that someone else is looking after us.
What happens when the cycle track runs out . . . and the cycle track ALWAYS runs out?
Two things, then: expecting new cyclists to cope with road traffic when they are basing their experience on the availability of cycle tracks is not helpful and – the other side of this (not quite logical) coin – the inevitable pressure to move cyclists off the main carriageway altogether.
Ah . . .
I think I’ve just hit the source of the nagging voice in my head. Cycling is one of the few activities that we’re able to pursue with almost no official interference. We don’t need a licence, MOT, insurance. We’re not obliged to wear safety gear (hi-vis, helmets etc). Everything that we NEED to use we’d have chosen to have for ourselves. Cyclists are wanderers. We can ride off into the gloaming with nothing but a sandwich and a bottle of water, should we choose.
I don’t like cycle tracks. Never have done. I believe that motorists need to get used to us being around ALL THE TIME and not be surprised to find a cyclist just round the bend that they’ve taken twice as fast as conditions permit. But once we start to produce dedicated cycling facilities then we risk the defence of “I wasn’t expecting to find a cyclist in front of me” . . . and that’s not to mention our very special friends, the “Oi – get that bike out of here” crowd.
It may have something to do with having just finished reading The Book of Trespass by Nick Hayes. Its essential reading for anyone who wants to escape the confines of a society that seeks to bind us and limit our connection with nature.
‘The Book of Trepass takes us on a journey over the walls of England, into the thousands of square miles of woodland, rivers, lakes and meadows that are blocked from public access.’
Published by BLOOMSBURY: ISBN 978-1-5266-0469-9
I’ll be accused of putting cyclists lives in danger. I don’t think I am. What I want is for motorists to acknowledge that the roads don’t belong to them. The roads belong to us all – to share – equally.
Is the Guide useful?
Of course it is.
Will lighting of cycle tracks help some of the two-wheeled brethren?
Of course it will.
Does it make sense as a guide to lighting practice?
Of course it does?
Will it make any difference . . . ride on, my friends.