Sadly, Preston has a wealth of natural beauty spots and is unfortunately surrounded by wonderful countryside to the north. As Lancashire’s brief summer lopes on, a leap in pandemic bikesales coupled with the glorious landscape Preston was tragically blessed with inevitably means that drivers and cyclists will be having more ‘interactions’ on their journeys. As the sun bathes the picturesque, undulating country roads leading to Beacon Fell and the winds gently kick the dust of the Longridge peaks – the air has been once again cut by sleek aluminium frames and Lycra-clad forms.Advertisement
I was recently forwarded an article where the writer bemoaned ‘lycra louts’. These cyclists shouted and woke up whole villages at 7am, they rode 15 abreast and were a clear and present danger to pedestrians, dogs and sheep… Yes, not even the sheep were safe from these marauding bike hobbyists. Could this article be baseless polemic? Sheer hyperbole and clickbait to bump readership and fuel an unnecessary and divisive culture war between drivers and cyclists? It got me thinking about my own year as a cyclist in Preston. Could I be a menace on the roads?
For the most part, I can only take away positive experiences of cycling this past year. Locally there’s a good selection of cycling clubs like Hoppers Rollers and the Ribble Valley Cycling and Racing Club, which cater for all fitness and experience levels. There’s also a near limitless number of routes taking in coastal roads, beaches, urban sprawl, hilly climbs and gentle countryside. It’s also an egalitarian form of exercise; I keep meaning to join my dad’s cycling group on one of their regular jollies through the Trough of Bowland. He just turned 70 and is still able to hike his way around 30-mile circuits. Yes I am a cyclist (one of the insufferable kinds of cyclist who worries about having a bike under 9kg, carbon frame rigidity and gear-sets) but after hundreds of miles of pleasant, relatively uneventful riding this year, I don’t feel like a menace.
Certainly I’m not blind to the realities. Of course there are cyclists who routinely mount curbs at speed and jump red lights. It’s annoying, and possibly dangerous, but let’s not extrapolate from there that all cyclists jump red lights. If you’re thinking this problem is unique to cyclists, let me take you by the hand and lead you to the A6 / Lytham Road junction. We can crack open a packet of Skittles and watch cars jump a red with every traffic light rotation.
My takeaway here is there are bad cyclists and there are bad drivers, let’s not tar everyone with the same brush.
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Similarly, just as being stuck behind a cyclist for anything up to 20 seconds might cause some drivers to fly into an unstoppable gesticulating fury, there’s also cyclist-on-cyclist road rage. It’s rare but not unheard of. My only run in with another cyclist this year was when I apparently didn’t signal a left turn enthusiastically enough while approaching a junction after I’d gaspingly reached the summit of a hill outside of Inglewhite. An octogenarian and his wife on a tandem bike who were waiting to pull out subjected me to a sustained and heartfelt stream of abuse. I’d never seen tandem bike riders so angry and hope to never again. At the time I was baffled as it seemed disproportionate, but I’ve since taken heart from the fact that cycling still allows them to get out at that age and enjoy the countryside. So again, there are bad drivers and bad cyclists. Actually, I’d like to simplify the equation: there are bad road users. If cyclists and drivers could just stop focusing on this division we’d be able to worry about the real problem, the rise of the E-Scooter.
As for Preston’s approach to cycling itself – again, there have been minor triumphs like the Guild Wheel, which, if anything, has partially been a victim of its own success as crowding and issues of shared spaces came to light earlier this year (cyclists and dogs on extender leads have never made good bedfellows).
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Other successes include lottery funded enterprises like Preston on Wheels, which has been doing great outreach work for years allowing people with autism and disabilities or anyone who might not ordinarily feel comfortable cycling to experience it in a safe, managed environment with a range of adaptive bikes; a chance they might not otherwise have had.
However, it’s also safe to say there have been some major missteps. Only the most biased of Prestonians would suggest that the roll out of the cycle lanes during the pandemic has been an unqualified success. The rather hurried implementations of the lanes caused some Preston drivers to politely raise the issue of huge, crippling tailbacks and perceived safety issues with the council.
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In fairness, a recent study conducted by True Solicitors Law firm in 2020 found that Lancaster was, on several metrics, the best city to cycle in the UK. My few forays north of Galgate have always been very pleasant so it wasn’t completely unreasonable to expect that the extra budget secured by Lancashire County Council to improve Preston’s cycling infrastructure might have yielded similar results. Sadly, it seems the road to hell was paved with good intentions, poorly implemented contraflow systems and a lack of proper consultation.
While some social media commenters have dismissed these pop up cycle lanes as a quick fix to secure extra funding, I did feel they were well intentioned. Nevertheless I can’t help but feel the news of the expansion of another poorly used Penwortham cycle way is a little misguided.
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I’m not a town planner, I don’t have any relevant qualifications in infrastructure, nor any real understanding of how council funds for road maintenance are allocated, but I’m going to spout off anyway. If I can extend an olive branch to delayed drivers, can we agree the money would be better spent repairing potholes in and around the city?
UK-wide research suggests that apparently there’s a road defect every 110 metres on average on this country’s roads… One defect for every 110 meters, what luxury! That’s 109 meters of smooth sailing. That’s a distance few roads in Preston can guarantee. Surely a better way to tempt people on to bikes is to actually have a road surface that isn’t constantly trying to buckaroo riders out of the saddles. Improved road surfaces might save a few shock absorbers and suspension springs too.
Actually, while I’m making concessions, I’ll offer this piece of advice to the kindly van driver who screamed I should be paying road tax while on a steep ascent to Chipping: If you’re paying road tax, I’m sorry to say you’ve been the victim of an elaborate scam as no-one has legitimately paid road tax in almost a century. You should report it to the police and your bank. However, on the off chance what you meant was cyclists should pay council tax, income tax and VAT on their purchases to help in road repair, I’m sure most of them do. If people could refrain from yelling that then I’ll promise to never ride three abreast on the road. Sound fair?
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