News > Hazards of pavement cycling

The Oxford Mail

       June 26th 2012

On yer bike: Cyclist came close to demolishing Bob the builder

By James Styring

ALTHOUGH we have finally moved back into our house, Bob (his real name) the builder is still sawing and planing and sanding our house. He's working around us, or we're working around him. It's hard to tell sometimes which is the greater labour: building a house or raising a toddler.
Reducing four Victorian-scale ground-floor rooms to two larger open-plan areas has been a longer-than-anticipated process. The originally mooted six to eight weeks has extended to 11. The decorators and the floor sanders and the industrial cleaners have come and gone, but Bob builds on like a builder in a Duracell advert. In fact, he may never have finished the job if a cyclist had had her way.
Bob had gone out to his van to get more tools. He slammed the back door of the van shut and turned to cross the pavement. Milliseconds before his foot hit the kerb, a bike whooshed past his nose. We live on a hill and the girl on the bike was going at some lick.

Bob was shaken and stirred. He was certainly stirred, more like stirring, when he described the incident to me in the kitchen. I think he was taken aback by my whole-hearted condemnation of the cyclist. There seems to be this weird expectation that if you are bike-mad that you will defend to the hilt all things cycling, whether or not they are right and proper.

I told Bob he should have stuck a spanner in her wheel. It sounds extreme and I guess I never would, but there's something about wantonly stupid behaviour that really gets my goat. She could have killed or seriously injured poor old Bob, and for what? What is the point of riding at 20mph along a narrow pavement down a steep hill when there is an empty road right next to you?

I remember (distantly) that with youth comes a strong sense of invulnerability. But on the pavement outside my house, I can't understand how anyone could ride at speed without being in fear for their life, which would surely cause them to slow, or even to use the road.

Until the 1960s it was (I have it on good authority) unheard of to cycle on the pavement. People seemed to know the rules and stuck to them. By the 1970s no one cycled any more and the collective memories of cycling etiquette were apparently lost. I am sure that many (though not all) pavement cyclists have no idea that it is wrong. This is partly because the police rarely bother to censure pavement cyclists.
Also, when the going gets tough you'll often see a cycle lane marked on the pavement. A mixed message is sent to cyclists when the council permits on-pavement cycling. This is where the rules begin to get eroded.
It would be better if cycle facilities were never confusable with pedestrian ones. And if the police were more rigorous about controlling cycling on pavements.

There's an octogenarian who lives four doors up from me. He glides at walking pace down the pavement, crosses Cowley Road pushing his bike, and then he pootles on to the James Street Conservative Club.
I have never begrudged him cycling on the pavement. He is an old gent and always pauses for the pedestrians to overtake. I turn a blind eye to the peaceable way in which he gets about, but if we make an exception for him, can we be surprised when people a quarter his age ride on the pavement too?