Tuesday, 11 May 2010
During the very slow journey, I was so bored I started to count the number of cyclists who were whizzing past my car at a pleasing speed, despite the fast, wet sleet, interspersed with painful hail, that was being fired into their faces by the remarkably inclement weather. I drove approximately 12 kilometres in a circle, and during that time I counted no fewer than 146 cyclists. (Yes, I know I am a total anorak, but have you noticed me ever asking how YOU get YOUR kicks?)
Since our traffic jam was going nowhere fast, I could well understand their chosen mode of transport. In fact, despite the vile weather, I felt a twang of envy. There they all were, helmeted, hatted, gloved, waterproofed and travelling at speed in the lovely 2 metre wide cycle path that is the norm beside any road in Norway. I would love to know how many cars are not required to drive in the morning thanks to the splendidly organised system of cycle paths this country has....of 146 cyclists, I can only guess that at least 100 cars did not have to go out this morning.
More to the point, at least three-quarters of these cyclists were children, some of whom, with their Barbie and Batman cycle helmets, were clearly at the younger end of the school age. None of them appeared to object to the perfectly beastly weather conditions of the morning....they all had the right clothes, as always, including waterproof covers for their school bags. Several enhanced the look with a Norwegian flag fluttering from their backpacks....must be some big day coming up soon, I guess. It was all very carefully thought out to enable maximum comfort, speed, convenience and above all, safety. There are some places in Norway where barriers come down over the roads during the rush hour to prevent cars from using back streets in residential areas...thus making it far safer for children to walk or cycle to school.
It is a delight to see. I am, however, saddened that such a scenario will not be possible when we return home to Scotland. Our offspring will be living approximately 1 mile from the school, and because I am a mean mother, they will be required to walk across three fields, one of which is full of horses and mud, in order to reach school. I would love them to be able to cycle, but there is no cycle path, and the roads are so dangerous I wouldn’t even cycle on them myself.
I cannot express how irritating this is. We Scots are not unwilling to cycle...we would love to be able to do so far more than we do. With the cost of fuel forever spiralling upwards, it would be a useful solution. Scots, like Olympian Gold Medallist Chris Hoy for example, are pretty good at cycling. We have bicycles, we like to keep fit, and we are not scared of bad weather. But we sure as heck ARE scared of the traffic. There have been some truly appalling and tragic cycling incidents in Scotland, often involving the most experienced of cyclists. I find it heart-breaking.
If you want to take your bike on holiday in Scotland, you would be well-advised to do so. There are some fabulous cycle routes around the country, with unbeatable scenery and varied, at times challenging, routes. But I am talking about every-day cycling...to school, to work, to the shops. Our built-up areas are not necessarily conducive to cycling, particularly for children. As a means of alternative transport, cycling has certainly been on the agenda of the Scottish Government. Without boring you with too many facts and figures, the Government know cycling is good for our health and the environment, and there is funding directed towards cutting carbon emissions. However, often this funding is directed towards individual local authorities and is not specific to cycling. This means funds can be siphoned off towards other worthy projects, but the results, as far as cycling is concerned, can be patchy.
But there is hope. Sustrans, for example, is an organisation that has helped to build up the National Cycle Network, a 12,000 mile system of traffic-free paths and routes across the UK. Celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, the Network carries over 1 million ‘walk or cycle’ journeys every day.
People in Scotland know how to cycle, and are yearning to do so on a daily basis. But safety is the main barrier. I really believe we Scots ache to see a cycle path beside every road in the land. Until there is more provision for cycling, you are not going to persuade us all to leave the car at home and ‘get on our bikes’. Funnily enough, that’s what we’re itching to do.
Posted by Returning Scot at 12:28