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Poor roads, bad driving & theft deter Reading cyclists, council admits before rolling out excuses for inaction

Streets too narrow, buses too important, to allocate road space to cyclists, say councillors

A survey of Reading residents ahead of the release of town’s 2014 cycling strategy has revealed that badly-maintained roads, lack of cycling infrastructure, poor driving and theft deter people from riding bikes in the town.

But councillors say that Reading’s narrow streets and the popularity of buses as mode of transport mean there is little they can do to encourage cycling.

The council received 349 responses to its online consultation, and another 19 detailed responses.

According to GetReading’s David Millward, regular cyclists called for better road maintenance, better lighting and more separated cycle routes. Non-cyclists raised concerns about cyclists ignoring red lights, cycling on pavements and inconsiderate behaviour.

High-quality cycling infrastructure would of course deal with all these problems, but Reading council doesn’t see it that way.

At a meeting of the council’s strategic environment, planning and transport committee, councillor Tony Page said  the council was restricted with what it could do because of the town’s narrow roads.

He said: “We have to balance the interests of all road users and I particularly draw colleagues’ attention to figures which indicate the huge reliance on buses for journeys into the town centre.

“At the moment, cyclists only constitute three per cent and even if you double that it’s still only six per cent. The dominant and most popular mode of transport is our public transport.”

Reading’s cycling strategy aims for 2,300 additional cycle trips every day by April 2015, and doubling the percentage of people cycling to work in the next five years.

The plans also include an increase in cycle parking spaces, with a  doubling of cycle parking at Reading Station by opening a new Cycle Parking Hub by Autumn 2014 and a review of existing and potential new cycle routes - including signage - to make travelling between routes easier for cyclists.

A Boris Bike-style cycle hire scheme, ReadyBike, was launched at the end January. In UK towns and cities smaller than London, lack of cycling infrastructure and small populations mean these systems have almost universally failed to attract enough users to be viable.

But there’s no hint of allocating road space to cyclists if it inconveniences other road users. For example, the strategy includes “investigating opportunities to improve road lay outs - including advanced stop lines” but there’s a big caveat: “where there is sufficient width and lane capacity is not reduced.”

Liberal Democrat councillor Ricky Duveen said: “I would like to draw attention to the accident figures in the report.

“Cycling accounts for three per cent of journeys, but we can see from the chart they account for 25 per cent of the accidents.

“One of the main barriers to stop people cycling is people don’t feel safe because of the layout of the roads we have inherited, where it’s not always possible to separate cyclists from traffic or from pedestrians.

“We don’t necessarily want to promote one form of transport over the other, but at the moment we give priority to cars and I think we could do ourselves a huge favour at a stroke by reducing the allowable speed from 30mph to 20mph on our roads.”

John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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