Cycling in Oxford better than in Bath

For me when I was a lad at school riding a “racing bike” with dropped handlebars was the ultimate thrill and with three speed gearing I could tackle steep hills. Now I can still just about ride hills, but with Mountain bike gears – 27 of them. During a period of about 25 years I was seduced by driving cars, mostly minis. I came back to cycling in the 1980s, no longer able to run, because of an arthritic knee joint and able to use cycling as part of a fitness regime by  commuting by bike.

My Partner and I have only been in Oxford for 2+ years, having previously been long term residents in Bath. Amongst the reasons for moving to Oxford was that there is some infrastructure for cycling here and the city is mostly on the flat. When in Bath, living at the top of a hill, meant a ride of 1.25km with a rise of 200m when going home, became increasingly more difficult. Here in Oxford bikes are now our main method of transport.(see left)

One of the main differences between Oxford and Bath, is the Oxford cycling infrastructure and as a result there are many more bikes on the roads. Drivers are used to having people riding bikes and appear to be much more patient than their counterparts in Bath, where there are fewer cyclists. It  is also comforting to see the high number of people riding bikes here. We no longer feel like aliens on the roads. 

In Bath I was once knocked off my bike by an elderly lady driver, who when she got out of her car needed crutches to walk. Thankfully I was unhurt.  I was not so lucky when I came off, breaking my femur, after turning left and sliding along a “dropped” kerb. I was unable to move out and do a proper left turn owing to heavy motor traffic. 

There are a some drivers who are hostile to cyclists. It is difficult to tell whether this antipathy is because riders are seen as delaying drivers or whether it is because drivers dislike the fact that bike riders are able to go past when vehicles are stuck in traffic, or is it a deeper psychological factor of resentment that many drivers are not able to enjoy the fitness levels and well being that riding a bike provides?

My own experience of riding and being overtaken at speed by cars, particularly on hills, is frightening and dangerous, leading to riding on pavements in Bath, when going uphill. People riding bikes will feel safer once the the proposed “Quickways” project, with parking spaces removed from main roads, allowing space for protected cycle lanes, is implemented. The photo on the left above, demonstrates how the Iffley Road could look. “Quickways” should make using a direct route to school or work safer and more direct.

Even reducing through traffic in residential areas is proving controversial in some places, but in Oxford these Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) are going ahead. In East Oxford some are already completed. In these LTNs one end of a road is blocked off only allowing local traffic, people in wheelchairs, walkers and bike riders. There is nothing new about these, as there are long standing examples already in place. For instance locally in Fairacres Road and Tree Lane.

With growing concerns about climate change, more sedentary lifestyles and increasing pollution in our cities, most local and national decision makers are looking to fund more cycle infrastructure, even though there is a little noisy opposition. The newly elected County Council must hold their nerve.

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