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Sustrans: Cyclists should slow down

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.”

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 Farrelly, 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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66 comments

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Mr Agreeable | 11 years ago
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Sustrans are a charity, so massively dependent on their supporters, funding bodies and volunteers to do what they do. They have to operate within the constraints set by local authorities, planning committees and regulators.

If they're pissing off the public, they lose supporters, money and staff. If they try and overrule local authorities and planners, they don't get stuff done.

You may not agree with them on this occasion, but the idea that they're some sort of unaccountable politburo of cycling is utter bobbins.

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a.jumper | 11 years ago
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Right, so they're not directly accountable. The only tool we former supporters can use to express our displeasure with this sort of collective responsibility nonsense and other outrages they commit is to transfer our support to other groups and oppose Sustrans. It's with a bit of reluctance as the National Cycle Network isn't bad, but burtthebike was basically right, despite your complaint it was a bit harsh!

And still nothing on the oligarchy bit.

Was the attack on road bike riders meant to please supporters or local authorities and planners?

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Saturdayboy | 11 years ago
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To me Sustrans is becoming more and more like a relic of some bygone age. I was a supporter way back when, as any cyclist was, it felt like progress, but I don't feel like they've moved on. Their public statements now leave me with the impression that they don't really like the fact that cycling is growing in popularity so quickly, they liked it better when we were looked upon as lentil knitting eccentrics. Their dreams are coming true but not in the way they thought so they don't really like it.

Like many others leaving comments here I have seen great examples of cycling infrastructure, often in Europe, which leaves me wondering just why we have so few examples of excellence in the UK given the millions of pounds that have been flung in the direction of this organisation.

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didds | 11 years ago
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well, this just underlines the myth that shred use paths are a solution to transport concerns. It took a special type of idiot to think that people on bikes sharing the same space as pedestrians and pets was ever a good idea. In that regard the guy is right - but what on earth does he think commuters are going to do on the bristol bath path? Tootle along at 5 mph on the way to work? - and road bikes are an irrelevancy... MTBs and sit up and begs are all capable of speeds that are dangerous for a pedestrian. Its not all mum+dad+little benny on his first bike on a sunny Sunday afternoon (which of course is perfectly valid). Sustrans seem to have this rose tinted view of cyclists all wanting to spend leisure time on bikes and ignoring the bigger impact on transport, the commute. The saving grace of any sustrans routes is that they are so ludicrously designed for the leisure rider, no body would actually use them on the whole to commute. the bristol-bath path being an exception to prove the rule because it is actually a decent route to take - direct and paved, and not requiring a 5 mile detour to avoid 300m of dual carriageway, which also gives you a glimpse of a 17th century water mill (non working) somewhere through those trees over yonder.

The whole concept of cycle lanes is also flawed - we all see what happens when they are made. far better wold be proper cyclist and driver education about mutual road respect, and a 20 mph speed limit through towns and villages... a speed that a reasonable cyclist can acheive and thus just blend in with the traffic flow.

didds

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wyadvd | 11 years ago
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Personally I avoid shared use 'facilities' like the plague. Even if they are right next to a dual carriage way. These ones are especially dangerous for cyclist IMO. See so many peds and cyclists wobbling around each other on the edge of the curb, and nearly being sideswiped by lorries entering the junctions along the way. Just use the roads. No one can accuse you of riding over the speed limits can they?

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shockleader | 11 years ago
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I live 300 yards from NCN 4 where it becomes the Millennium Coastal Path. Sustrans have recently diverted part of it away from the coast west of Burry Port. Now there is a 100 meter stretch with blind bends about one meter wide along a tow path. This of course totally inadequate and I predict carnage one Sunday morning as the main path is frequently used for training. As both a dog walker and a cyclist busy shared use paths freak me out.

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Aileen | 11 years ago
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I agree that in the ideal world, we would all be fully informed road users who understand everyone else's perspective but there are precious few who have experience as cyclists, lorry, bus & car drivers, horse riders & parents trying to find a safe place to teach children to ride. If we applied a flawed logic on a shared cycle path that being faster gave us priority, where would we be when sharing the roads? We cyclists should understand both sides as we know what it feels like to be vulnerable on the roads. I'd rather have a rule like on Ski slopes where the faster more experiences people are responsible for avoiding the less experiences people on the piste.

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Municipal Waste | 11 years ago
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If I have to slow down on my bike, I'll have to start taking my car or otherwise it's just going to take forever to get anywhere.  26

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Matt eaton | 10 years ago
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I think a little re-branding of shared use paths would go a long way to making them safer places for all users. How about, instead of calling them 'paths' we called them 'roads'. They would still be open to all of the same users as they are now but would suggest that they are a place where vehicular traffic exists and that we should all act accordingly, ie as we all would on any rural A or B road. For walkers/runners/dog walkers this would mean staying close to the edge of the road and being aware of vehicles passing (potentially at speed) and for cyclists it would mean piloting their vehicle responsibly, including reducing speed where appropriote.

I'm not simply saying that non-cyclists need to keep out of the way, we all have to modify our behaviour.

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Pipsicle | 10 years ago
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We ring our bell on shared footpaths and slope up behind peds...crawl behind for a few moments (or more) until they see us...or call out ever so politely asking if we may pass... they usually are happy to move...but with a pointed comment that we should have rung our bell! They just don't register them... having said that we find children do recognise the bell almost straight away and shift accordingly.
I also feel for pedestrians on shared pavements in my town cos they are just not used to them and can not understand why we are tootling on the pavement. I don't really like them as a cyclist (a slow cyclist) either and would rather be on the road in a cycling lane or on a dedicated cycleway.
I can't imagine riding the busy routes in London but did have a couple of safe/quiet spins on a Boris bike a couple of years ago

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Goldfever4 | 10 years ago
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I'm just fed up with peds treating shared-use paths like a park - Wandering around with your dog on an extendable lead (or no lead at all, just as often!) is just irresponsible.

No issue with peds walking on a shared-use path (prior comment about it being for 'traffic' in the sense of cyclists and peds makes sense to me) but it's not a park, it's a route for people to get places whether on a bike or on their feet.

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IanW1968 | 10 years ago
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This thread serves to prove(as if it were needed) that its not the car that makes the cock.

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Bagpuss | 10 years ago
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The fluffy one has a point.

Stopped using a bell years, maybe decades ago after scaring an old man out of his skin on a bridleway on Dartmoor. Slowed right down, 'ding ding' and he visibly leapt. Something to do with his hearing aid. We both chuckled when we figured it out.

Now stick with 'excuse me' / 'thank you' and when met with the snarling peds (good description) who refuse to part / move over then try to think of some witty repast. I usually fail and squeeze past them.

And don't start me on headphones or dog leads.  14

Shared paths, best avoided during periods of heavy use.

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tarquin_foxglove | 10 years ago
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FluffyKittenofTindalos wrote:

I used to find pedestrians walking (several abreast) on shared use paths would more often-than-not just stop dead and turn round and snarl at you for being so rude as to ring your bell.

A bell, like a car horn, has no context and people can assume they are being told to get out of the way and react accordingly. It took me a while after moving from a megacity to a village to realise the cars sounding their horns were more likely to be driven by people that knew me & were saying hello.

FluffyKittenofTindalos wrote:

I used to just try saying 'excuse me' instead, because bells are perceived as aggressive, but I find a better solution is to ...

... give a hearty "Good morning" and then make eye contact & smile.

You'll still get the same vacant bovine stare from a load of mouth breathers but you'll feel better.

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Joeinpoole | 10 years ago
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On shared-use paths it is generally the case that pedestrians have priority.

It IS the cyclist's responsibility to slow down to accommodate pedestrians. It is NOT the pedestrian's responsibility to be aware of and to make way for cycles.

A gentle ding on a bell from as far away as might be heard will have most walkers shuffling to one side. The cyclist should be passing at no more than about 10 mph with brake levers covered to enable an immediate stop should it be required. A 'Thanks' or other greeting is usually appreciated. That's just common sense and courtesy.

Imagine that your elderly, half-deaf parents happened to be pedestrians on a shared-use path and then imagine how you would like them to be treated by cyclists. Well, that's how you should act too.

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Neil753 | 10 years ago
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The answer to shared paths and roads in town is simple, in my opinion.

A blanket 20mph for urban streets and a lifting of the max speed for electric bikes (from the current 15mph) to 20 mph. That means that fit cyclists on road bikes, and not so fit riders on electrically assisted bikes, will have substantially reduced conflict with other vehicles. If it was safer on the roads, then commuters on bikes wouldn't feel the need to mix it with pedestrians.

But whilst we're waiting for the planners get up to speed, we should all be much more cautious when cycling on shared paths.

My tip, to resolve the "bell" dilema, is to just have a trouser clip (one of those old fashioned ones made of spring steel) jangling away on the handlebars. It's non confrontational, and a cheery wave and a word of thanks as you pass all contributes to social harmony.

When I'm on the tow path I feel like Moses crossing the Red Sea, such is the effectiveness of my cunning ruse.

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bikecellar | 10 years ago
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I am thinking of getting some seasonal xmas jingle bells sewed onto a strip of velcro material to dangle from bars, (then I can transfer arrangement from x bike to mountain bike) and give a cheery HO! HO! HO! as I pass by all those scowling platoons of ramblers and dog walkers.  21

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a.jumper replied to didds | 11 years ago
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didds wrote:

The whole concept of cycle lanes is also flawed - we all see what happens when they are made. far better wold be proper cyclist and driver education about mutual road respect, and a 20 mph speed limit through towns and villages... a speed that a reasonable cyclist can acheive and thus just blend in with the traffic flow.

I used to think that and then I saw some lanes done properly. They're vanishingly rare in the UK, but proper cycle lanes are well worth having where road width permits (even if we have to remove a car lane) and the powers that be won't make 20mph zones. One problem is that cycle lane width always seems to be the first thing to get cut in the UK if there's any problem: then they are flawed, I agree.

The problem isn't a lack of respect. The problem is that it's a massively unequal situation at the moment, with light soft fleshy road users told to mix with fast-moving heavy motorised traffic. At least, we need more 20 and 30 limits on roads that are also key walking/cycling/riding routes. If that can't be done, close them to through motors.

I can't quite do 20mph, but I can get close enough not to be much of a hold-up, so a mix of 20 zones, cycle lanes and rural routes would be a winner to me.

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a.jumper replied to Aileen | 11 years ago
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Aileen wrote:

If we applied a flawed logic on a shared cycle path that being faster gave us priority, where would we be when sharing the roads?

I think you're the first person to suggest that priority should go to the fastest. Don't be surprised if no-one agrees with you, but I hope you have fun bashing that strawman.

Personally, I think part of the problem is that roads have a theoretical priority of walkers > riders > slow vehicles > other motor vehicles but in design and in practice it's motor vehicles > slows > riders > walkers. We're building huge new roads... trying to tackle obesity by loosening the belt. The fastest are taking priority on the roads  2

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LondonCalling | 11 years ago
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And he works for Sustrans, ffs!! He should be fired for writing this! And if you think the media won't pick it up, well, wishfull thinking. Now that it has been published in road.cc,... just check out the DM tomorrow! Unbelievable!

Besides, anyone with a decent road bike won't be cycling on a canal path!! It would be like driving a Ferrari in a 20mph zone...  16

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Mr Agreeable | 11 years ago
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Burtthebike, as one of the organisers of Bristol Cycle Festival I can safely say that Jon's article has not affected us one jot.

In fact he spoke at the Festival earlier this week (his main topic was the much-loved Two Tunnels project, which would not have happened without Sustrans) and also asked for his appearance fee to be put towards next year's costs of running the event.

I disagree with Jon's stance on this occasion, but your comments just sound like more stupid in-fighting between campaign groups. I don't care whether they are wobbling gently along shared use paths, or taking to the A-road with helmet mirrors affixed, I just want to see more people cycling, and I hope you feel the same.

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burtthebike | 11 years ago
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There's one thing that everyone here seems to have missed: John Usher's long-winded diatribe was issued in the middle of Bristol's Cycling Festival, and when there are so many positive stories about cycling, it has seriously sabotaged the festival. Instead of talking about how brilliant cycling is for the city and the individual, people are wasting time and energy defending cyclists. This article was a completely un-necessary distraction from the festival, it could have been published before or after, and to do so during the festival is either incredibly niave or stupid.

The only good thing about it is that it is so badly written, so long and so verbose, that most media wouldn't use it. If it is just his opinion and this wasn't approved by Sustrans' publicity person, why does it mention that he works for them? Original article here, try not to fall asleep half way through http://www.bristol247.com/2013/07/17/all-cyclists-have-a-collective-resp...

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james-o | 11 years ago
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Quote:

And Sustrans and others spend so much time talking up the dangers of the road and how we all need separate facilities that they're creating the situation where many cyclists are afraid to go on the road and many car drivers believe that we should not be on the road. Thanks.

You can't seriously blame them for that. How many new or 'for transport only' riders have actually heard of Sustrans? A very low percentage. The dangers of the roads are quite real, particularly for less experienced riders.

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james-o | 11 years ago
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Shared-use paths in Germany, Denmark or Holland - pedestrians walk to one side and expect bikes to pass at 8-20mph. Riders use bells politely and no-one seems to worry about much. (ime)

Shared-use paths in the UK - pedestrians amble all over the place, dogs on extendable trip-wires take up the rest of the space and riders weave about between them at 8-20mph. Bells cause panic and jumpy people scatter in all directions at the sound, or jump and 'tut' when passed by a silent rider.

Shared-use paths aren't the issue, it's the users. A bit of familiarity with other users and a bit less of the oddly British sense of entitlement and right to whatever the user sees as their right (ie sod everyone else, just you look out for me) and all would be ok..

edit to add, I fully support Sustrans. We need traffic-free routes for walkers and cyclists, children riding to school or friend's houses etc. It's possible to ride a bike for transport without being at LTHR half the time and for people on bikes that can handle going at a less frantic pace, Sustrans routes are great.

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a.jumper replied to james-o | 11 years ago
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james-o wrote:

Shared-use paths in Germany, Denmark or Holland - pedestrians walk to one side and expect bikes to pass at 8-20mph. Riders use bells politely and no-one seems to worry about much. (ime)

Shared-use paths in the UK - pedestrians amble all over the place, dogs on extendable trip-wires take up the rest of the space and riders weave about between them at 8-20mph. Bells cause panic and jumpy people scatter in all directions at the sound, or jump and 'tut' when passed by a silent rider.

Yeah, I almost got a nervous twitch while living in a German city, checking over my shoulder for a bike whenever I was in the "wrong" position on the path and thought I heard a bell. It's not difficult to walk on one side of the path when necessary and more cyclists means fewer cars, so it's worthwhile. I don't understand why it doesn't often work over here. Out of practice?

I feel that cyclist numbers are getting high enough in many places now that if we make sure we ring our bells consistently then the bell-bike link will get embedded in people's brains once more. Personally, I think it's good to get an old-ladies-riding-to-church rotary hammer bell instead of a modern pinger if you can, as then older people may remember something of it! I also like the incongruity of modern bikes with antiquated bells.

If you've not got one, why not ring in the changes with a bell on your bike?

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PJ McNally replied to a.jumper | 11 years ago
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a.jumper wrote:

I also like the incongruity of modern bikes with antiquated bells.

Me too! there's nothing like a cheery "ding ding", from a bike with a threadless headset, for example.

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Ush | 11 years ago
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I suspect Sustrans man is suffering from cognitive dissonance. The underlying problem (as most above have mentioned) is the _shared path_. These suck for cyclists. And Sustrans and others spend so much time talking up the dangers of the road and how we all need separate facilities that they're creating the situation where many cyclists are afraid to go on the road and many car drivers believe that we should not be on the road. Thanks.

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Shades | 11 years ago
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I've been a Bristol/Bath cycle path 'regular' for 4 years and not seen any evidence of problems between cyclists and pedestrians. I need to travel fast(ish), otherwise it would just take too long to get to work. I've got a road bike, but have a bell and slow down for other users as necessary; I only saw 4 pedestrians this morning. Perhaps in some 'utopian' world we could have cyclists serenely bumbling along with no one getting killed by motorists. Given this article isn't based on evidence I think he's 'pandering' to a very small minority of 'vocal' pedestrians (as someone else pointed out you get bad motorists, pedestrians and cyclists). Perhaps this all stems from weekends when it's pretty busy and you're better off on the road if you want to 'burn up some miles'. The majority are quite happy so 'lay off'. I just set up a monthly donation to Sustrans as I was using their network so much!

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antigee | 11 years ago
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Quote:

and [shudder] dog live on the Taff Trail...

missed that out - inconsiderate doggers are a problem on one of my regular routes  4

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ct | 11 years ago
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He is right about shared paths, it cannot be denied, totally, all users need to be aware of the environs, chill a bit, give space...ring your bell in plenty of time...it really can be a 'battle ground' in terms of attitude.

I have the fortune to walk, play, cycle and [shudder] dog live on the Taff Trail...cyclists have a rubbish reputation but this is built on a very small majority of the faster less careful riders...oh and not fit for purpose paths [mainly not wide enough]...this being exacerbated by the local council introducing more SUP that is barely 6 foot wide and with designed in poor site lines and 'slaloms' that stop bikes with trailers and recumbents from using the new path extension.

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