Cycle ways to heaven – and hell

Is this a sign of the future? Welcome to Cambridge and its new cycling-friendly roundabout, inspired by the Netherlands’ superb provision for people-powered transport.

Photo: Terry Harris at via BBC

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Britain had a network of proper cycling routes in our towns and cities?

Sadly, the reality today is far worse. I’m a confident cyclist but many are intimidated by heavy traffic and put off by badly designed cycle routes built on the cheap. It’s infuriating when ill-infomed people question a cyclist’s right to use the road rather than one of these monstrosities.

Take my closest cycle route, opened 10 years ago to provide a route from the outskirts of Chalfont St Giles to Chalfonts Community College on the edge of Chalfont St Peter – so barely a mile. I gave it 6 out of 10 when it opened in a blogpost. We call it the expressway – somewhat ironically.

This is an early section of the route, barely wider than my handlebars. Yet you could encounter walkers, people with prams and joggers here.

Even worse, there is a sharp slope down onto the road so if you misjudge things while avoiding a walker, you could fall onto the road. (There was once a ford here, and the road often floods as a result. The footpath is raised to keep it dry.)

Later, things get better. Briefly.

Don’t bother building up too much speed though. You’ll see a sharp bend ahead:

And here comes the sharp turn. Keep your speed down, and watch out for anyone coming the same way:

Hold on tight…

This is where my then nine year old son came a cropper a few years ago. He was out for the first time on his new wonderful Islabikes Beinn. He had no idea how tight the bend was, and fell off by the tree in the centre of the photo. There were tears and a broken reflector.

If you have negotiated that hazard, you now need to cross the road as the council didn’t attempt to build a path from here. After all, why can’t cyclists just use the pavement?

This is why they shouldn’t have to. A very narrow pavement, shared with walkers, dogs and a lot of overgrown vegetation. This is an obstacle course, not a transport route.

One final example of this:

Can you imagine a road that requires car drivers to get out and push their vehicle? That’s what this so-called route is telling cyclists to do. Just to negotiate a junction. Yet a cyclist on the road would race past without a thought. A cycling route that is worse than the road makes no sense. (A path between nearby Amersham on the Hill and Little Chalfont is even worse – you have to give way at lots of side roads and driveways.)

I hope the tide is turning, and governments and councils realise the benefits of proper provision for cyclists. We’re spending well over £100 billion on HS2. A fraction of that money would transform cycling in Britain, with enormous health and environmental benefits. Let’s make it happen.

3 thoughts on “Cycle ways to heaven – and hell

  1. One of the problems with the St Giles | St Peter Cycle Expressway is that over the years the width has decreased owing to : a) The growth of the hedgerows along much of the route b) the muck and dirt at the bottom of the hedges not being cleared away as part of a regular street and path cleaning excerise.

    The cycleway was built to a standard width along almost all of its length of around two+ meters, I believe. No longer the case as evidenced by pictures 1 & 2.

    Cut back the hedge, clear the dirt and the width will be restored. It was always a dual purpose – pedestrians / cyclists – initiative.

    “The Blob” is still alive in Bucks Highways as recently evidenced by the disastrous road surfacing of Narcot Lane last year, resolved by it being done again this year.


    • Thanks, Trevor.

      It may be more like 1.5 metres, which is fine for a lot of the length – yesterday I moved onto the verge to overtake a jogger. I’d be surprised if it was as much as a metre at that dog-leg by the traffic lights.

      You are certainly right about the blob. Transport for Bucks mismanaged our roads for years, and are only slowly playing catch up. Narcot Lane has been patched up continually but ineffectively. And I reported the dangerous state of Ledborough Lane, Beaconsfield to them only for them to be told they are still investigating after multiple complaints. Neighbouring counties such as Bucks and Herts have done things so much better.

      • PS: I see I complained about the Narcot Lane potholes in a blogpost about the expressway in 2010 after it opened! Have added the link to that post.

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