Cycling campaigner James Styring delivers the viewpoint of those on two wheels
It’s peak cycling season again. I know this not because of the balmy, cloudless days and long, bright evenings, but because my arms and legs are a-tingling.
The local off-road trails are normally a mudfest featuring logs half-chewed by fighting dogs, dragged and dropped across the pathway, and plantlife that could survive a nuclear winter. All of a sudden, the tracks are a riot of verdant stems, overrun with brambles and stinging nettles, vicious plants pushing each other out of the way, vying for every ounce of sunlight.
Hence my forearms and legs look like I’ve been wrestling with the neighbour’s cat. My shins feel like they’ve been shallow-fried, and throb for a good 24 hours.
After rides, my toddler treats me like some sort of war-hero. She rushes up with her medical bag and, sitting me down on the bench, uses a plastic hypodermic needle to resuscitate me and a stethoscope to check my toes. She cleans the mud and blood away with wipes, and covers the biggest cuts with Peppa Pig sticking plasters.
Peak cycling season also brings out the novice cyclists in their hundreds. They are instantly recognisable, bless them. They ride gingerly too near the gutter, wearing ‘cycling clothing’ still creased and box-fresh, and shiny helmets like talismans against getting crushed by traffic. But for every newbie who braves the traffic on two wheels, there are dozens in Oxford who refuse to cycle because “it’s too dangerous”.
Everyone feels intimidated by the rush of air and the whoosh of engine when a vehicle rushes past too quickly and too close. That’s one reason why “It’s Twenty for a Reason” in Oxford, and thank goodness the police have finally decided to enforce the 20 limits more proactively. Hit by a car at 40mph, a cyclist has an 85 per cent chance of being killed while at 20mph the risk falls to just five per cent. Children’s deaths and injuries are typically reduced by 67 per cent where 20mph speed limit are enforced.
The real victor in the 20mph debate is everybody who lives in the city. The civilising effect of lower speeds makes streets much pleasanter places for residents, enjoying the warm air through open front windows. There’s also so much less road noise when cars obey the 20 limits.
At 20mph, drivers have eye contact with the people in the street: cyclists and pedestrians know they’ve been seen and drivers are less inclined to muscle their way along “their” road. At speeds over 30mph, drivers see less and care less. Lower city speeds benefit drivers, too. Slow-moving cars require fewer controls and allow a more efficient city, with no accelerating from one queue to the next. Motor vehicles and cycles merge with ease at 20mph, and pedestrians can cross roads, too.
“It’s Twenty for a Reason” – loads of reasons – but still way too many drivers speed. Bring on that enforcement, I say.