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« Cyclo-Cross | Main | It’ll be a Sad, Sad Day »

Let’s opt out of the culture of speed

All over the United States and indeed the world, people are riding bicycles. Forget about saving the planet, that is not the reason, it is a satisfying and civilized way to travel. Faster and more efficient than walking, and for not much more energy input. Compared to driving a person is burning calories rather than gasoline.

Many more people would ride bicycles but they are afraid of being hit by cars. There are still those who will try to intimidate and bully anyone in their way. The whole “Share the Road” concept is flawed in that it implies that the roads are for cars and cyclists are asking drivers to share space with them.

This is not the case, public roads are just that, “Public.” They are there for people to travel from their home to where ever they need to be. A person has the right to travel, it is not according to that persons’ mode of transport.

There is no pleasure in driving anymore, it is the myth and a lie being sold to the public by the auto-makers.

Look at any car ad on TV and what do you see? The obligatory slow motion shot of a car sliding sideways in a controlled skid, cars driving at break neck speed on deserted city streets.

Ads for alcohol show people having a good time, they don’t show people getting shit-faced. Car ads should show people driving responsibly too. It is false advertising, and it perpetuates the myth that it is okay to drive like the public streets and highways are your own personal race track.

This is not reality on today’s congested roadways, not only is driving fast impractical, it is downright dangerous. And what useful purpose does it serve? There is a legitimate argument for being allowed to maintain high speeds for long journeys on freeways that traverse miles of open countryside.

However, when freeways approach cities and become congested, there is a definite need to slow to the same speed as everyone else. It is the driver trying to maintain his high rate of speed under these conditions that not only cause accidents, but cause people to brake and in turn leads to the stop and go traffic conditions that are all too familiar.

The best thing a person can do is to realize that getting from A to B is a necessity, so if you can’t make it a pleasure then at least make it stress free. Opt out of the culture of speed, slow down and relax.

Speed limits need to be lowered to 20mph in crowded city centers where there are many pedestrians and cyclists. Would such a speed limit have a great impact on peoples’ over all drive time?

In most cases drivers simply accelerate to race from one red traffic light to the next. On long stretches of highway, traffic lights can be timed so someone driving the speed limit can have green lights all the way through a town.

The faster cars go the more space is needed between each car. Therefore, people moving slower but continuously in a procession can travel closer to each other.

This means when traffic is moving slower on any given stretch of highway, it is carrying a larger volume of vehicles. Is the overall flow of vehicles per hour that much less? Bottom line is, people still get to where they need to be. Stop and go, or a steady, continuous slower stream of traffic. which is better? I know which is safer and less stressful.

Driving fast only gives the illusion of getting there faster. How often do we see someone race past us, then a couple of miles down the road they are only one car ahead. Driving fast is nothing more than a habit, and like all habits can be broken with a little effort. And is a habit ever missed once it is broken?

The world is becoming more and more crowded, populations are exploding everywhere including the US. Every person who rides a bicycle is taking one more car off the road, making more room for those who choose to drive. We think traffic is bad now, what will it be like in ten years? Something has to change.

Wouldn’t life be a little more pleasant if everyone slowed down a notch? So what if it took you five or ten minutes longer to get to work, at the end of each day would that make a huge difference? Of course wishing for this is wishing for Utopia, but who would argue that it would be better if less people had to die on our roads.

Building more highways is not the answer, it only encourages people to drive faster, and there will always be a point where there is congestion, and people get angry and impatient when they have to slow down.

Only when the majority of people view driving fast as anti-social behavior, will this culture of speed end. It was only when public opinion turned against drunk driving, did the police start enforcing laws that were already in place.

It will be the same with speed limits. As it stands now, no one drives the limit, but pushes it to a point where they can expect to get away with it.

Speed kills, pure and simple. Less time to react, more road space needed to stop, greater impact when you hit something. And the crazy thing is, it doesn’t always get you from A to B any faster.


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Reader Comments (10)

Couldn't agree more Dave. Some cities here in the UK are looking at introducing blanket 20mph limits. (I think Edinburgh is going to do it soon.) There's an excellent charity called Brake! here too which lobbies for road safety with an emphasis on speed.

Traffic on the country roads round here is too fast for me to feel safe cycling, so when my new Brompton arrives in a few weeks, I'll just be putting it in the boot of the car and taking it to the park or segregated cycle paths....

October 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterStephen

Agreed. And do the same for cycling infrastructure dominated by people commuting for exercise and racing against Strava at speeds which make them feel unsafe for families and new cyclists. Set max cycling speeds to 6 mph with draconian penalties for infractions and you'll see the modal change as families will venture onto infrastructure currently dominated by cyclists in Lycra riding the equivalent of Porches and BMW M5s at speeds perceived by other road users as intimidating and dangerous.

From a Guardian article about experts from Copenhagen looking at improving London's cycling infrastructure:

"Working recently with the London Borough of Southwark, it was interesting to hear how they saw road-warrior cyclists roaring through the area as a hindrance to their plans for developing a bicycle-friendly corner of the city. ".


October 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

I was thinking back to when I started cycling in the 1950s. In the UK all working class people rode bikes to work. There were probably more bikes on the road than cars during rush hour. Those of us that raced rode faster than anyone else, but I don't remember any conflict, with car drivers or other cyclists.
Of course we trained and commuted on much lower gears, often 46 x 18 (69 in.) fixed. Low enough to get up hills, but fast enough pedaling at 100 rpm. We had to learn to pedal fast as a 14 tooth sprocket was the highest gear available to race on. Around 96 in.
Probably people are commuting today on similar gears that we raced with, so yes they are probably riding at a pretty good pace. Not for the faint hearted that's for sure. And with e-bikes coming into the mix it will bring in people going faster than their bike handling skills can safely allow.

October 31, 2016 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

Hi Dave.

I understand, but the push to segregate bikes from motor traffic is gaining ground over here. The Victoria Embankment in London has lost 2 lanes of road to segregated cycle lanes - and there are plans all over London to repeat this. It's a great idea if you want more cyclists but there are already conflicts between motorists and those faster cyclists who don't want to use the cycle lanes because they don't want to be held up by slow cyclists (there isn't enough space for safe passing at speed). There are a couple of horrendous looking crashes between cyclists on the web due to overtaking, but no serious injuries, luckily, - but it's only a matter of time.

Today there is no compulsion to use these cycle lanes, but it isn't unrealistic to foresee the day when cycles will be compelled to use the infrastructure because of lobbying from transport sectors - "you got what you wanted so now use it" doesn't sound unreasonable to a cabbie or a bus driver. When this happens there will not be space on the cycle tracks to mix families with young kids cycling to school and arse-up 110 spinners attempting to improve their average PB on their daily commute. The only way to police it will be speed bumps, constrictions, speed limits and hard enforcement until the lesson is learned - just like cars on the roads over the last 20 years.

Have a look on youtube at Copenhagen and Amsterdam - exemplars of great infrastructure which gets "normal" people out cycling. During the rush hour there are queues of cyclists at traffic lights and crossings and there are no Lycra-clad spinners in sight. Great modal use - school runs, shopping, commuting, bikes with trailers for toddlers, etc., but pretty crap if you treat your daily commute as a training run.

City bike journeys are going to get slower (and safer), not faster.

Just my tuppence - other opinions are available, of course. I don't commute - I hit the roads between rush hours a couple of days a week and bumble along for a few miles with the occasional pub stop for a bacon butty and half a shandy.

October 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

I live in the Philippines. We are so behind the trends that if one were to suggest a speed limit of 30kph within city limits, everyone would ask but why, including those who do not own cars.

October 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterResty

I drive a lot for my job and find the kind of driving Dave describes more and more common, and more and more frustrating.
I think the introduction of autonomous/self-driving cars will improve traffic flow and road safety, but I'm sure there will be unintended consequences with those.

October 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMartin

You are so right! I've already turned into an 'old man' behind the wheel, my wife not so much. I always laugh though at people that angrily pass me so they can burn extra gas to get to the red light so much quicker.

October 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRubeRad

Agree but attitudes of motorized vehicles matter too:

As shared before, Walt understood how autos change behavior in "Motor Mania": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZAZ_xu0DCg

Disney recognized how power corrupts mankind. "I own the road, my taxes paid for them". Drivers get to hide behind tinted windows and escape accountablity with speed.

November 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJack

I commute by bicycle, so I spend most of my time riding, not driving.

This has given me a different sense of speed. I like that when I ride to work, I check out of the competition that compels drivers to race to the (red) light, switch lanes to gain a space or two, all that nonsense.

Now, when I do drive, I always stay within the speed limit — checking out, just like on my bike. Far less stressful! Every other driver is racing around, but I'm just taking my time and relaxing (as much as one can behind the wheel). I rarely feel that I'm taking anymore time to get where I'm going.

November 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTBR

We've had some bike fatalities in Orlando, which is not a particularly bike-friendly city. But cars and roads are not the only problem, it's the cyclists themselves. After having some close calls at a nominal 13-15 mph on a '90's cross bike, I can see how speedsters on thin tires can quickly close the gap between life and death as they barrel through a city strewn with congestion and road hazards.

December 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGregg

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