Our roads are there for all users – and don’t need to be a battlefield!

Graeme Mateer and Paul West showed off a new cycle route near Suffolk New College - but why are some

Graeme Mateer and Paul West showed off a new cycle route near Suffolk New College - but why are some trying to turn our roads into a battleground between drivers and cyclists? Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND - Credit: Charlotte Bond

It is a feature of the world we live in today that opinions (amplified by social media) have become more entrenched, in many cases more extreme, and that far too often what should be a rational debate can end up as a rather unpleasant name-calling exercise.

One subject that has certainly seen battle-lines drawn recently is the question of road use – and I suspect that could be getting even worse over the next few months.

I am a road-user. As I sit here writing this I am not a motorist, nor a cyclist, or even a pedestrian – although at different times I fit into all those categories – I am, however, someone who has an interest in the way we all use roads.

Over the last few years, I’ve written several times about the benefits of cycling, especially in Ipswich – it is the fastest, most efficient way for most individuals to get around comparatively short distances in the town.

As someone who lives a couple of miles from the town centre, most of my journeys to the heart of Ipswich are on my bike. It’s simply the best way of getting there – and I get a bit of exercise into the bargain. Win-win.

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However there are occasions when taking the car in is the best option. A couple of weeks ago my wife and I wanted to get several things from a number of shops in the town centre. We decided to also get a few special things to eat for the weekend from Marks and Spencer. We wanted to get far more than I could reasonably carry in the backpack I wear when cycling.

I found that the Crown Car Park was closed just before 10am and tweeted my displeasure. I have to say Ipswich Council had already noticed how busy the town was and announced early last week that car park opening times were being extended.

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What irritated me, though, was that my tweet – which I felt was perfectly reasonable – prompted such a sharp backlash. Some followers berated me as a hypocrite for driving in when my comments about the benefits of cycling clearly marked me out as an “anti-car” campaigner.

Others criticised me for not buying panniers and a cart to tow behind my bike to carry my purchases (what they thought I should do with my wife wasn’t entirely clear!).

Trying to create a “them and us” culture on an issue like this does no one any good. Those who haven’t cycled much over recent years and may be nervous about venturing on to roads with cars and lorries need to be reassured that it is a normal activity undertaken by normal people – not something for an elite group swathed in Lycra and ready to tackle the Tour de France.

When I’m riding my cycle, the vast majority of drivers I come across are courteous and respectful of my presence.

There are a few who seem incapable of observing basic road courtesy – like deliberately trying to drive down the centre of the road beside parked cars when you are coming in the opposite direction – or blocking an entrance to a cycle route even when there is a box junction telling them to keep clear. But they are a small minority.

And the vast majority of cyclists obey the rules of the highway – but there are some who can be extremely annoying.

Suffolk County Council’s provision of cycle routes is pretty abysmal. When it comes to helping cyclists it’s been incredibly timid when creating special routes for them. So why on earth don’t all cyclists use the small number of routes they have created?

Kesgrave is one area that is reasonably well served with cycle routes – but drive along the A1214 and you’ll often come up behind cyclists on the road while the cycle lane beside them is empty. Why?

Could you blame councillors who think: “Why on earth should we do anything for cyclists if they don’t use the special routes we do provide?”

Suffolk has been too timid on encouraging cycling in the past. I suspect it’s the councillors, rather than the officers, who have been too frightened of the vociferous motoring lobby to make some of the real changes that are needed to encourage more cycling.

I hope that when the new proposals for the next tranche of cycle developments are published in the next few weeks that there are some meaningful changes – not just a few plastic bollards stuck randomly beside some roads that irritate both drivers and cyclists.

And I hope that drivers who might encounter a 30-second delay because their favourite rat-run has been blocked stop and think about how that change could improve the environment of that road and the town in general.

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