Comment: Cyclists and drivers, can’t we all just get along?

From cyclists accused of being Lycra louts, to drivers complaining they can’t overtake. Cycling events, like cycling in general on Britain’s roads, seems to stir up tensions. But separating the real concerns from knee-jerk reactions, is it possible for us all to just get along?

Sportives are on the up, and while some people embrace cycling events, some are less than enthusiastic.

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Surrey, home of Box Hill and favourite of the weekend cyclist, is a fine example of such vocal opposition, beginning with the petition to “Stop Surrey being turned into a cycle track”. A couple of inflammatory articles from the Telegraph followed, “War declared on the Lycra louts on wheels” with a cyclist who apparently spat on an old lady’s window, and yesterday “Take a stand against the false God of cycling” which bemoans the Olympic cycling legacy and incorrectly labels utility cycling a sport, “receiving obscene amounts of Government funding”.

Compared with the overall transport budget cycling gets a pittance; £99m of an expected £12.5bn Department for Transport spend in 2013/14; this for something which offers a solution to economy-sapping congestion, not to mention health-sapping pollution and inactivity, and which is a fun, cheap and healthy mode of transport. The journalist may not like cycling, but given safe roads, people have shown they love it, and want to do it, including the 50,000 that turned up for this summer’s Ride London event.

Articles referring to cyclists as red light jumping Lycra louts creates bad feeling on both sides, among cyclists who, rightfully, do not expect be held accountable for the actions of others, and among those who seem to believe anyone dressed in Lycra will, given half a chance, shout abuse at them and possibly even spit at them. It is too easy to lump cyclists, as a growing minority, in a group, and this can be dangerous.

As the Guardian‘s Peter Walker recently put it: “A driver faced with the challenge of overtaking a cyclist has all sort of options as to how close they pass, whether they slow down to do so, whether they take a (to the driver) slight risk on a blind bend. It’s arguable that their sense of who the cyclist is and their right to be on the road plays a part in such split-second assessments.”

Clearly we aren’t accountable for the actions of bad-mannered cyclists any more than motorists should be held responsible for the dangerous drivers of this world who maim and kill. The fact that often cyclists are car owners and vice versa is, more often than not, ignored.

Meanwhile, Surrey Council is, sensibly, instead focussing on the facts, with the Surrey Cycling Strategy, with a consultation. The council says as well as welcoming the weekend rider “a true Olympic legacy would see every child in Surrey learning to ride a bike, and being able to cycle safely to school.” The consultation preamble also points out more cyclists – leisure and transport – means less congestion and better health, pointing out better cycling facilities mean people without cars can travel more easily, too.

Among proposals are improving cycle routes, with new maps and information, improving road safety through measures like Surrey’s Drive SMART partnership, as well as managing the impacts of cycle events through codes of conduct for cyclists and event organisers.

Meanwhile, the Department for Transport, thanks to lobbying by British Cycling, is holding a consultation on modernising legislation governing road cycling events.

The New Forest National Park is also, despite what the local paper would lead one to believe with its “crack down on cycle events” article, attempting to bring locals and cycling events together under a code of conduct following a dramatic spate in April when the New Forest Spring Sportive was sabotaged.

Nigel Matthews, New Forest Community and Visitor Services Manager, said: “The lead-up to the event caused so much local concern we felt it would be appropriate to bring organisations together to agree a code of conduct.”

There are still grumbles and concerns from those who believe large-scale events disrupt the tranquillity of the New Forest (I spoke to the local commons defence group who still hold these concerns) but the situation is being treated with the open, mature discussion it deserves, with or without the help of the media.

Matthews said: “We hope that all event organisers will be happy to sign up to the charter when this is completed and that local people and user groups will be pleased with the standards of organisation expected of event organisers so that the New Forest remains a special place for all to enjoy.”

That is the point; our roads should be for everyone, just as cycling should be for everyone. As a cheap means of transport and healthy leisure activity, cycling is having a positive effect on people’s lives at a time when rail and fuel prices are rising, along with health problems relating to inactivity.

If more people are getting out on their bikes on the weekend that is surely a good thing, and some local authorities recognise that, and are trying to help local people to recognise it, too. The more everyone understands cycling is a positive force, and is on our roads to stay, the safer and more accessible our roads will be for everyone.