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Sustrans' man in Bristol reiterates his message that go-faster cyclists intimidating pedestrians & all cyclists a bad name...

In an opinion piece for bristol247.com, Jon Usher of Sustrans calls for some cyclists to slow down, lest we all be “perceived by pedestrians in the same way we perceive cars. We are becoming the menace that needs taming,” he writes.

Usher, the Sustrans area manager for Bristol, Bath and South Glos, writes that he thinks the recent increase in popularity of fast road bikes is damaging the perception of bike riders.

“The sale of racing bikes [is] up across the board,” he says, as the success of British cyclists inspires people to take to two wheels and drop handlebars. “However, this surge in sporting goods for leisure is percolating rapidly through to the urban cycling for transport realms.

“This transition has meant a shift from a relatively slow, cumbersome machine in urban environments to something much faster.”

This is not good, Usher reckons. “The blurring of the lines between transport and sport means that people’s perception of us is changing. Fast moving bikes are beginning to have a negative impact on people’s perception of taking to a journey on two wheels.”

You might think, given the certainty of these comments, that Sustrans had performed an extensive survey on the public perception of cyclists. But it appears the evidence here is Usher’s own observations.


Bikes with skinny tyres and drop handlebars ... are a cause for real concern

“Bikes with skinny tyres and drop handlebars are regularly ridden at excessive and frankly anti-social speeds on my daily commute. They are a cause for real concern,” he writes.

However, it turns out that what Usher is really concerned about is speed on shared use paths, like the Bristol and Bath Railway Path, “where their use was never foreseen or catered for.”

“As a cycling community on these shared use paths, we are beginning to be perceived by pedestrians in the very same way that we perceive cars on the roads. Collectively in the eyes of many, we are becoming the menace that needs taming,” writes Usher.

“When we take to two wheels, we become ambassadors for all other cyclists. The arguments for investment become that much more difficult when you have to overcome negative perceptions before meaningful discussion can take over.”

“We need to take a leaf out of Amsterdam’s book,” he concludes. “We all have a collective responsibility to behave and not intimidate others.

“We have a collective responsibility to slow down.”

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

70 comments

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bendertherobot [1147 posts] 3 years ago
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He's right, of course.

He's right that, in shared use circumstances non pedestrians should take care. Runners, dog walkers, people on bikes.

It's a shame that caveat isn't awfully clear.

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SammyG [274 posts] 3 years ago
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He explicitly mentions shared use paths, and he is absolutely right!

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gazza_d [465 posts] 3 years ago
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Presumably on my straight barred fat tyred bike I can go as fast as I like, which can be very quick.

Inconsiderate people can cycle slow or fast. Type of bike doesn't matter. they can be on foot or horseback as well.

It's like singling out dog walkers who walk a particular breed.

I appreciate the sentiment, but the comments come across as odd.

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angus h [11 posts] 3 years ago
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Note to self: don't jog in to work. It blurs the line between transport and sport, and that's bad  3

(He's right to a point, racing bikes bring out the same mentality in some people as streamlined cars with ridiculously low suspension.. but yes, consideration is what matters, not choice of equipment)

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harry [13 posts] 3 years ago
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I commute on the Bristol/Bath cycle path, and while I commute at a 'fast' pace, I always make sure to make myself aware to any pedestrians/joggers etc. This is confounded by the majority of joggers being plugged into iPods, who are startled when I pass them despite rings of bells and calls of attention. It has to work two ways!

That being said, I've often seen people on time trials bikes at peak (commuting) times and wondered whether it was an appropriate time to be barreling up and down at almost 30mph...

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Bristolbybike [14 posts] 3 years ago
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"We need to take a leaf out of Amsterdam’s book,”
... and build proper cycle paths on busy routes and not crappy shared paths.

From what I've seen in the Netherlands, It's a big myth that everyone cycles slowly. And shared paths are a rarity.

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700c [960 posts] 3 years ago
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He is right.

Unfortunately by the time you've got to the bit about shared use paths, you've already been given the impression that this chap is making sweeping statements damning all cyclists on road bikes who dare to go quickly. By which time you're probably angry about the awful man from sustrans who is trying to limit our freedom as cyclists!

I do find this sometimes with road cc articles- headlines, or selective, perhaps misleading, quotes, which are designed to make the story more sensational, or to make individuals appear more 'anti bike'. I can only assume this is to appeal to the cyclist readership, and it had the effect of stiring up anger, in much the same way the daily mail does. Really not cool!

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CraigS [129 posts] 3 years ago
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This is exactly why I refuse to support Sustrans!

On a wide, relatively empty path with good visibility why shouldn't you go fast? On a narrow path at peak time it's probably best avoided but that just goes to show there's a problem with the infrastructure!

As a pedestrian I've been clattered into by more joggers on shared use paths who expect everyone to part like the Red Sea than cyclists!

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John Stevenson [251 posts] 3 years ago
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I think my precis of his argument was kind, actually.

In the original, he takes 700 words to get round to mentioning shared paths, by which point I was ready to go to Bristol and have a full and frank exchange of views with him.

Of course, by the time I was pootling down the lovely Bath-Bristol path, I would certainly have calmed down.

That path is unarguably a victim of its own fabulousness. I daresay when it was built it was impossible to get funding for a bikes-only facility, so it had to be shared-use, and Sustrans' mentality at the time seemed to be far more about building recreational facilities than transport ones.

But to complain that it's now being used for something that it's clearly functionally if not culturally very, very well suited for, going quickly from A to B, and that you personally don't like that, is daft.

Ironically, it's like road planners claiming a new dual carriageway will cope with traffic growth for the next 20 years, then acting all surprised when it's a peak-time car park 18 months later.

Brian Deegan, who is engineering future London facilities, gets it:

I remember saying to Dutch engineers: “Well cyclists don’t stop at the lights.” And they said: “Well what’s the matter with your design?”

http://lcc.org.uk/articles/interview-brian-deegan-transport-for-londons-...

Humans are not going to change, whether they are walking, driving or riding bikes. Sustrans' job as a designer and builder of shared-use facilities, is to understand people and engineer accordingly, not rail at us for not behaving the way they'd like.

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dave atkinson [6251 posts] 3 years ago
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700c wrote:

He is right.
Unfortunately by the time you've got to the bit about shared use paths, you've already been given the impression that this chap is making sweeping statements damning all cyclists on road bikes who dare to go quickly. By which time you're probably angry about the awful man from sustrans who is trying to limit our freedom as cyclists!

I do find this sometimes with road cc articles- headlines, or selective, perhaps misleading, quotes, which are designed to make the story more sensational, or to make individuals appear more 'anti bike'. I can only assume this is to appeal to the cyclist readership, and it had the effect of stiring up anger, in much the same way the daily mail does. Really not cool!

unfortunately, by the time Jon got to his bit about shared use paths he was twelve paragraphs in, has made plenty of sweeping statements of his own, and he doesn't confine his argument to shared use even when he does get around to talking about it.

it's all well and good saying how we should go all amsterdam and utility and pootle around but that's to entirely miss the point. people can pootle around in amsterdam and elsewhere because there's infrastructure designed to accommodate that. but there's also long-distance infrastructure designed for faster journeys between centres. what we have in the bristol-bath is a long-distance path that you need to ride at a decent lick if you actually want to use it for communting journeys and make it into work without having to get up at the crack of dawn. it's 16 miles long, don't forget. but it's not well designed to cope with those journeys. sustrans have done the best they can with it but as a proper resource for heavy duty use, it's suboptimal. for everyone.

if bristol and bath were joined by a direct route (it's only 11 miles in a straight line), say segregated infrastructure along the A4 designed for commuting cyclists, then most of those cyclists would use that instead. but instead we have to share. don't expect a better path that's more fit for that purpose to built any time soon. after all, we 'already have a cycle path'. it's not like roads, where overuse and conflict are used as a primary argument to build more roads. precisely the opposite.

there's a nice saying i learnt doing engineering: "your system is perfectly designed to give you the results you're getting." If the infrastructure we have is causing conflict then what we need is better infrastructure. not better behaviour.

finally, the idea that "When we take to two wheels, we all have a collective responsibility to ourselves and to the rest of our communities to ensure we demonstrate that investing in us is a good thing" is nonsense. Who ever said that about vehicle infrastructure? no more roads until everyone stops speeding and talking on their mobile phones? there is no collective *we*, people on bikes are a disparate as people in cars.

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WolfieSmith [1326 posts] 3 years ago
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On shared paths he's right. The only problem with going fast on the road is drivers at junctions ahead who give you the single look - check the other way - and then pull out without giving you a second look and by doing so realising you're doing 25mph and not 15mph.

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dave atkinson [6251 posts] 3 years ago
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also, i'd argue that the preponderence of fast bikes in the uk is directly related to the shiteness of our bike infrastructure, for two reasons:

1) if you're mixing it with HGVs and buses, you need something that's quick away from the lights

2) if you're mixing it with HGVs and buses, you're likely less risk averse, fitter and more male.

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dave atkinson [6251 posts] 3 years ago
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on shared paths he *is* right, yes. but shared paths, for the most part, is all we have. and the alternatives are busy roads where people die. so go fast along the bristol bath and risk the ire of the pedestrians – and you have to go even faster, because it's not as direct - or go along the A4 and risk being flattened on the Keynsham bypass. that's the choice for bristol-bath commuters, and it's the same nearly everywhere.

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dave atkinson [6251 posts] 3 years ago
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The whole 'we need to get our house in order' argument is dissected here much more eloquently than i could ever manage

http://aseasyasridingabike.wordpress.com/2013/07/04/the-issue-of-black-c...

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SammyG [274 posts] 3 years ago
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After reading his article I can see his premise, leave the fast competitive style of riding to open roads, not weaving between traffic flying past pedestrians to grab a KOM on strava.

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girodilento [32 posts] 3 years ago
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Well said Dave Atkinson and John Stevenson!

I genuinely wonder if organisations like Sustrans or the CTC actually get the points you're making.

In my view Shared use paths are another infrastructure fail. They're neither fish nor foul yet the focus seems to be around pedestrians with cyclists fitting in and this seems to be a Sustrans specialty - paths for pootling along and riding around pedestrians. Not paths for usefully getting anywhere (i.e. transport cycling). I don't want to ride with traffic ideally (especially HGVs and I don't want to ride with pedestrians either - I want proper segregated cycling infrastructure that allows me to make convenient, safe and easy journeys on a bike with my kids.

I'm delighted that you're critical of this thinking by Sustrans in the story - they need the criticism and they need to design better paths - separated ones. We need anyone designing bikes paths to be held to a higher standard than they have been to date and they need to be called on nonsense if they speak it. Keep up the good work!

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gmrza [16 posts] 3 years ago
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I wouldn't say that shared use paths are an unqualified failure. In areas of low pedestrian and cyclist traffic, they tend to work - provided they are open and straight and users can see each other.
In more heavily used areas, the approach used in parts of Melbourne of having both a shared use path and a bike lane on the road works. - The roadies stick to the bike lane on the road, and slower cyclists mingle with the pedestrians. - Most cyclists seem to be smart enough to self-select and work out where they belong.

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sam_smith [71 posts] 3 years ago
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All I think Jon is guilty of is being Bristol-centric, it is not acceptable to steam down the Bristol-Bath cycle path within Bristol as many pedestrians use it. Reduction of speed in built-up areas is expected of motor vehicles on the roads and I think us cyclists should do the same on mixed use paths too. It is why I prefer to avoid the paths and use the roads where possible and ride with the other traffic.

I think Dave Atkinson's comments about the choice of either using the A4 or the path is slightly ridiculous. On the quieter parts of the path it is ok to ride at speed to cover the distance but due consideration and a reduction of speed should be applied when you come across walkers, etc on these sections. If no consideration is shown, we as cyclists, are being just as bad as the idiotic and arrogant motorists that we on this site rightly criticise.

The article criticises Jon for having no real evidence of a problem but I suspect if he offered to have you man the phones at Sustrans HQ you'd probably get at least one grumpy complaint about a near miss on the path that morning or even worse a collision like this...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NGO3bt6YPKo

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antigee [349 posts] 3 years ago
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the guy has a point but it is a can of worms

there are inconsiderate cyclists, inconsiderate drivers, inconsiderate dog walkers, inconsiderate joggers, inconsiderate families, inconsiderate dog walkers etc

why cyclists need to be saintly is beyond me - other than that shared facilities don't really work that well for commuting

from above

Quote:

if bristol and bath were joined by a direct route (it's only 11 miles in a straight line), say segregated infrastructure along the A4 designed for commuting cyclists, then most of those cyclists would use that instead. but instead we have to share. don't expect a better path that's more fit for that purpose to built any time soon. after all, we 'already have a cycle path'

exactly - I'm fully supportive of Sustrans but how well does leisure use, commuting and sport use mix (add in the horseriders) - not that well - Sustrans has done a fantastic job of getting some good facilities with limited funding but they are nearly all a compromise - and sustainable transport by bike requires quality routes that go efficiently where people want to go to - this means taking space from vehicles on roads and not forcing pedestrians and cyclists to mix

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antigee [349 posts] 3 years ago
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on a more positive note - here is how to do it

if I get pic to resize!

This is a busy location in Melbourne, Aus used by a high volume mix of Leisure, Sport and Commuters - the left hand path is for walkers/joggers etc - currently living in Melbourne and same issues exist on shared paths as the UK though some busy locations are getting this sort of treatment - though local to me there is a lot of anti-cycling sentiment from the users of parks based on the popularity of the linked routes that have been created and the volume of cyclists that they attract - good quality facilities can fix this

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CarlosFerreiro [111 posts] 3 years ago
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Cyclists should go the right speed for the conditions.
There are 2 ways to do that, cyclists slow down on lower quality paths, or cyclists go the speed they would like to go on paths that are designed correctly.
Obviously the 2nd option is both preferable and more difficult to achieve, but surely it should be the end goal for Sustrans?
Where is the comment that the facility has been such a success that now it is over capacity and they will campaign for an upgrade ASAP?

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IanW1968 [276 posts] 3 years ago
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Cyclist, motorists, pedestrians = people, some of which will be c**ks.

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Jon Burrage [998 posts] 3 years ago
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I ride daily on the bristol-bath cyclepath and the vast majority knock along at circa 30kph (me included). This isnt high heart rate stuff, it isnt racing, it is simply getting to work in a comfortable but non-dawdling fashion. The issue on this path, with it being shared, is that some cyclists dont look for other cyclists, some pedestrians dont look for anyone else and you get the regular issue kids from the local academy in Lawrence Hill walking 5 abreast at what is essentially rush hour.

Everyone needs to be aware but to lay the blame at the tyres of a shiny drop bar road bike makes sustrans look even more out of touch than we thought.

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JeevesBath [177 posts] 3 years ago
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John Stevenson wrote:

Sustrans' job as a designer and builder of shared-use facilities, is to understand people and engineer accordingly, not rail at us for not behaving the way they'd like.

By that argument, motorists could complain that the current road network is not engineered to accomodate their wish to drive at maximum speed, and therefore should be redesigned to allow people to drive at 100mph+ everywhere....
Roads have speed limits to reflect the conditions, eg urban built up areas, likelihood of pedestrians, number of side entrances/junctions etc. Why is it so wrong for Sustrans to suggest that appropriate moderation of speed on shared use paths? Surely cyclists have an obligation to cycle according to the conditions and environment, just as much as motorists are expected to.
Saying "get pedestrians off our paths" sounds rather too much like "cyclists shouldn't be on the roads".

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John_the_Monkey [437 posts] 3 years ago
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Bristolbybike wrote:

"We need to take a leaf out of Amsterdam’s book,”
... and build proper cycle paths on busy routes and not crappy shared paths.

From what I've seen in the Netherlands, It's a big myth that everyone cycles slowly. And shared paths are a rarity.

'Zactly. But while we have these leisure paths being pressed into service as commuter routes, a bit of care needs to be taken by us as the faster, heavier party in the interaction, imo.

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John Stevenson [251 posts] 3 years ago
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JeevesBath - you have it the wrong way round. If you want user groups to co-exist, engineer a facility in which they can.

That's why traffic engineers implement traffic calming in places where it's vital that drivers do the speed limit, and high speeds are only allowed on roads designed for it: dual carriageways and motorways.

This is basic human factors stuff.

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JeevesBath [177 posts] 3 years ago
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John Stevenson wrote:

JeevesBath - you have it the wrong way round. If you want user groups to co-exist, engineer a facility in which they can.

That's why traffic engineers implement traffic calming in places where it's vital that drivers do the speed limit, and high speeds are only allowed on roads designed for it: dual carriageways and motorways.

This is basic human factors stuff.

Creating separate facilities is not co-existing, it's segregating. If cyclists can't voluntarily control their speed around other path users, should Sustrans introduce 'bike calming' measures?

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Andrewwd [40 posts] 3 years ago
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Is this really the best rhetoric Sustrans can come up with? In a country with rising cyclist deaths, where our transport infrastructure is decades behind our European neighbours, where we can't hit our NO2 targets in cities, where our kids are battling obesity, the best our leading active travel charity can manage is a whiny attack on road bike users. Pathetic.

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bambergbike [89 posts] 3 years ago
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Usher says he is "in the minority" as "someone that is able to make the important distinction between cycling as a sporting activity, and cycling as an attractive, clean, efficient urban mobility solution."

I can only hope he remains in a minority. Where does his dichotomy leave cycling as an inter-urban mobility solution? Or even cycling as a form of transport that goes to rural destinations inaccessible by public transport? Should utility cycling that replaces car journeys only take place in urban areas?

It is ridiculous to try and establish a rigid dividing line between cycling as a sport (fast bikes) and cycling as transport/mobility (slow bikes).

When I cycle 100 miles to visit family, to use a library for work, or to reach a popular tourist destination I am cycling for (inter-urban) mobility, but I am also "training" and getting fit. Straight bars, mudguards, and heavy panniers (slow bike/cycling for mobility) are perfectly compatible with lycra, sweat and clipless pedals (fast bike/cycling for speed).

Whether I am cycling 100 miles for fun/sport or 100 miles to get somewhere I want to go/mobility makes no difference whatsoever to any pedestrians I encounter along the way. I am careful and considerate around pedestrians, and I plan my routes to avoid them (no shared use paths on summer Sundays!)but I would have to give up these 100 mile "utility" journeys by bike in favour of another mode if they started to take longer than about nine hours. Cycling as transport can only compete with other modes if the infrastructure doesn't force cyclists to slash their speed to levels far below what they and their vehicles are capable of.

If Usher was calling for cyclists to travel VERY slowly on croweded seaside promenades or in crowded city centres, I would have no issues with that. But problems with fast cyclists in suburban and rural areas are different. It is very unfair to facilitate efficient journeys for cars and not for bikes and then to blame individual cyclists for "speeding" when they choose to travel at 20 mph by bike instead of making the same journey to work in a car at 40 mph.

Usher's fuzzy separation of sport and mobility/transport becomes completely meaningless once one factors in electric bikes. These make it possible for cyclists to make "utility" trips without breaking a sweat (hence no lycra) at speeds fast enough to terrorize pedestrians on badly constructed shared-use paths with poor sightlines. Are we to expect that the pedestrians won't be terrorized simply because the cyclists aren't sweating?

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mrmo [2088 posts] 3 years ago
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As i see it, i commute 16-17 miles each way, about 3 miles is on shared use paths, at one end busy with dogs, so i slow down, the alternative would be negotiating the streets of Cheltenham so even taking it slowly, by which i mean c15mph no issue. If i had to travel at walking pace i would just stick to the roads. I have to get to work.

The commparison with cars above fails when one thinks that in a car if you have the choice of a road that is limited to 20mph and a motorway next to it, your going to take the motorway if your actually trying to get somewhere.

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