11 July 2005

Bikes and Cycleways

Manly is one of the most bicycle-friendly suburbs in one of the most bicycle-unfriendly cities in the world. In Sydney, Manly is one of the only places with dedicated cycle paths. If you live near one it is possible to go shopping by bike without risking your life under the wheels of one of those large tractors which are so popular in this area. If they can't see their own children under their oversized tyres, they will also have trouble recognising the rights of a cyclist on their road.

Unlike European cities, where bike paths go almost everywhere, cyclists in Manly have to work out a safe strategy combining back-streets and bike paths. This works quite well. The beach has a bike path from north to south and the views are great. The tree cover of Norfolk pines protects you from the sun. The main competition is from pram drivers and pedestrians on weekends who have as little respect for bicycles as the city designers and motorists. Strange they don't push their prams on the roads where the cars go rather than on a bike path.

Recently some forward-looking town planners extended the cycle network by painting paths on existing streets. This is a step forward. In some places you get the impression they were planning especially for mountain bikes. The aim appears to be to challenge the rider. I have never seen a bike going up one steep road despite the white lines on it.

The most suitable candidates for cycle paths are roads which were made when cars had trouble climbing hills. These roads wind gradually up the hill. But you have to be a cyclist to come up with an idea like this, not a town planner.

If there were viable bike paths, people would get on bikes for everyday transport and shopping. It is much easier than other forms of transport. But first, people have to be convinced that you really can go places in safety.

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