Lazy danger of shared footways

Pavement cycling shouldn’t be a common conflict but it’s being actively designed in by lazy road engineers – leading to dangerous conflict.

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A common complaint on the radio show is the scourge of pavement cyclists. Here’s an example from the BBC’s Nolan Show in June 2015 (based on a strange London-based petition with just four signatures at the time of transmission):

Bertie in Lisburn (12.24 onwards): “Well, cycle users – I think some of them are a disgrace – not all now – but you get a certain amount of them and they will insist on riding on the pavements.

“The cyclists here in Lisburn they’ve no regard. You see, they forget about disabled people. There’s the like of myself, being blind, and then there’s people with hearing difficulties, there’s people in wheelchairs, and ladies with youngsters on the pavements. And they just mow right through them. And if you say anything to them, well – all you get’s the “F” word. [Nolan: “Oof!”]

“So I think they should made carry, it should be made compulsory for them to have insurance [Nolan: “Mmm hmm. Yes!”] also to have markings or their name [Nolan: “Yes!”] or something on their coat or their helmet [Nolan: “Absolutely.”] that if they knock anyone down that they’ve to stop and people can identify who they are.” [Nolan: “Have a big bright sign on their helmet!”]
The Stephen Nolan Show | BBC Radio Ulster | 25 June 2015

The level of debate is fairly low, and presenters baiting radio show callers doesn’t help. But there’s a point of agreement behind Bertie’s wild exaggeration. The situation is clear – pavements are not for riding bicycles.

Highway Code Rule 64

You must not cycle on a footway or footpath unless on a cycle track where one has been provided.
Highway Code for Northern Ireland | nidirect.gov.uk

Today’s cycle campaigning rightly focuses on favouring street and road design which caters for the different needs of each type of road user – pedestrians, bicycles and vehicles should be allocated dedicated space or restricted, where traffic volume and speed (and street purpose) are factors.

Except the situation is as clear as mud, due to the second half of that sentence in Rule 64. Our road engineers generally haven’t put the needs of pedestrians and bicycle users above that of vehicle traffic, and really good cycling facilities on busier roads needs space. And that leads to the convenient option of the shared footway.

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In Belfast and beyond, miles and miles of pavements are perfectly legal to cycle on, primarily because taking space away from vehicles is taboo. Little thought seems to be given to the pedestrian experience, given most projects don’t involve any widening of the footway.

Take Belfast’s Albertbridge Road for example – one small stretch of shared footway in an ocean of tarmac on a mega-junction for vehicles.It’s a prime and busy arterial route for all modes, but ensuring high-volume vehicle through-put is sacrosanct.

Heading east there’s on-road cycling before and on-road cycling after this section. But in the middle the lazy option was favoured to mash together pedestrians and users of bicycles, wheelchairs, mobility scooters, prams etc. And the compromise leads to dangerous conflict as you can see in this video:

As late as 2012 there was still an advertising board on the bus stop. We all have to look out for each other on the roads, but people cycling from a standing start, waiting in front of impatient, snarling traffic at the junction, can easily hit 20mph by the time they reach the bus stop – and that’s the way some box-ticking civil servant intended it to be.

It isn’t a “disgrace” that anyone is cycling along the pavement here – it’s what people are meant to do. And woe betide those cycling on-road beside a cycling facility.

“Lumping cycling in with walking ducks .. crucial issues of cycle-specific design. It’s easy to put cycling on footways, but it presents significant design and safety problems at junctions, as well as storing up trouble for the future – shared use footways are not a place where large numbers of people cycling will mix easily with walking.

“They are a ‘solution’ (if they are even that) only for the current low-cycling status quo.”
Against shared use | As Easy As Riding A Bike | 19 Nov 2015

If there’s a lot of people cycling on the pavement where you’re walking, it’s a sign that your city is failing to design for bicycles. Ignore the instinct to vent on the airwaves – engage your brain and look for the reasons. Is it a scary road to be on a bicycle? Are people trying to negotiate a one-way system designed to control vehicle flow? Could there be a better way to cater for cycling? Or (the kicker) are they allowed to be there? Has someone made you share that footway with bicycles to duck having to inconvenience drivers?

Meanwhile collision data supports the idea that vehicle drivers present a far greater risk to pedestrians on the pavement than cycle users.

So when the dangers of pavement cycling are being discussed remember this – it shouldn’t be a common issue to be faced by pedestrians but it’s being actively designed in by our road engineers. If the road conditions are too dangerous for mass cycling by all ages and abilities, we all need to club together to press for dedicated cycling space to be created, instead of lazy, dangerous compromises.

3 Replies to “Lazy danger of shared footways”

  1. John F says:

    Cyclists on the footpath (non-shared use) annoy me greatly, but then again I have to think that they’ve made a risk calculation that they will not be prosecuted and more importantly they won’t be killed.

    When cyclists and pedestrians mix it’s usually more of an annoyance for both parties. When cars and cyclists meet, the stakes are much higher.

  2. Michael Martin says:

    Honestly, if it hits a point where I know the footpaths and roads are extremely busy with cars and pedestrians, I usually opt to just hop off my bike and push it alongside me on the footpath. Because I’d rather not be compromised in a dangerous position on the road or risk causing injury to a pedestrian trying to cycle through crowds or people who may not see/hear me coming.
    The same reason if I need to head to Belfast via bike I almost always go via Airport and Sydenham road as they’re nearly 100% pedestrian free and have a decent cycle path for the most part.

  3. dtrnr says:

    I cycle in cycle paths when I’m able, but otherwise I’m one of those horrible people that cycles on the pavements. I’ve been in too many crashes, and near crashes, as a passenger in a car to feel safe on the roads. I’ve tried it. Every time I know a car is behind me I get nervous… which isn’t great for me or the car behind me. I end up stopping and lifting my bike up onto the pavement until the traffic has passed. With the traffic Belfast sees I simply can’t go anywhere on the road like that, there are too many cars.

    With that said, I also defer completely to pedestrians when on pavements that aren’t cycle paths. It’s their space, they get right of way. I’ll patiently cycle behind them when they’re walking, thank people that make the choice to step aside for me. They don’t have to do that, and I appreciate each and every person that does. I’ll stop and let pedestrians get through narrow spaces on pavements, again it’s their space above mine. I got thanked for that today. That was an interesting, and new, experience.

    Sadly I’ve seen a lot of cyclists that will just fly down footpaths, ducking and weaving past everyone. That’s really not great. Treating people with the courtesy you’d like to receive yourself is a pretty easy thing with a little effort.

    As a genuine curiosity, how would one safely manage to cycle from the Gordon Street Belfast Bike stand to the Donegal Quay cycle path? I genuinely cannot think of an easy or bike friendly way to get from one to the other that doesn’t involve pavements or being terrified of cars on the road…

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