I used to cycle to work sometimes. Not all the way to work, but to a bus stop 2-3 miles away. It's very good exercise but I stopped doing it after Alexander was born for several reasons:
- The commute was 40 minutes to an hour that way at best, by car it was 20 minutes at best.
- I always ended up very sweaty on the bus - not very pleasant for my fellow passengers.
- Sometimes the bus was standing room only, meaning the time I spent on the bus had to be wasted.
- The only (not too hilly) route between my house and the bus stop is along a fairly busy but rather narrow road. The speed limit is 25 mph there but cars expect to be able to go at speeds of up to about 45 mph. They get frustrated when they are stuck behind a cyclist who is going at less than 25mph and there isn't room to safely overtake. Sometimes they will overtake when there isn't enough room, putting the cyclist in danger.
- In Seattle, cyclists are technically supposed to stay as far right in the lane as possible to allow cars to overtake. However, in order to minimize the danger to myself from overtaking cars, I would often ride in the middle of the lane when it wasn't safe to overtake. This was both a clear signal to the cars that they should not attempt to overtake, and to give me a space to dive into on the right in case they tried anyway. One time, a driver got very angry at me for doing this and started shouting at me. I couldn't hear exactly what he said over the sound of his engine but he gave me the impression that he thought roads were for cars and that cyclists need to stay off of them. He eventually overtook me (unsafely) but then I overtook him again while he was waiting at the traffic light (so I hadn't actually delayed him at all). This seemed to make him even madder and he shouted at me even more (but I still couldn't hear him, and was too out of breath to say anything myself). I switched to the sidewalk as the traffic was too close to the curb for me to get past, which made him even madder still. The whole incident put a very bad taste in my mouth and put me off cycling altogether for a while. I never quite felt safe cycling along that road after that - perhaps the same guy would see me late one night and decide to run me off the road. The irony is that because of that I drove more, which caused more traffic and probably made him even later (if he was a regular user of that road).
Cycling has a problem in Seattle (and in many other cities as well, especially in the US) in that it lacks critical mass (hence Critical Mass). Cycling is great - it's good exercise, good for the environment and reduces traffic. But there are so many cars on the road, going so fast and paying so little attention that in many places cycling is very dangerous. With enough cyclists or few enough cars using that road, it would be safe for cyclists but the danger keeps the number of cyclists down and the number of cars up, as my story above illustrates.
In order to promote cycling, we need to make sure the road rules favor cyclists. For example:
- Cyclists should be able to go to the front of the line at red lights (and stop signs if there is a long queue). In many places this is legal but there is not always room in front of the traffic, and sometimes no room to undertake at the approach to the light. Improved road markings would help here. These exist in some places (not in Seattle, though).
- Cyclists should not have to come to a complete stop at stop signs. Currently they are supposed to (at least in Seattle) but rarely do. For a cyclist, coming to a complete stop is much more of a problem than it is for a car - not only do you have to build up your momentum again but you can't balance when stopped. Cyclists should just need to slow down enough to ensure that they don't ride out in front of a car or another cyclist coming from a different direction, or a pedestrian trying to cross the street, and only stop if they need to wait for other traffic. Pedestrians do not have to stop at stop signs if there is no traffic - I think cyclists should have that advantage too.
- Cyclists should be able to ride in the middle of the lane when it is not safe for them to be overtaken, as I used to do.
One of the complaints car drivers seem to have about cyclists is that sometimes they follow pedestrian road rules and sometimes car road rules. This seems to me to be an advantage of the bicycle as a form of transportation - in some ways it is like being in a car and in some ways it is like walking. Cyclists take up much less space than cars and are much less dangerous to pedestrians, so it makes sense that they should be allowed to ride on the sidewalk (pavement) when it is wide enough and when they are going at walking speed (though of course they should give way to pedestrians when doing so). On level ground and downhill they can go fast enough that it makes more sense to use space shared with cars than space shared with pedestrians.
I recently started cycling again on a regular basis - now that I don't have to commute I can do so for exercise, and choose non-dangerous routes. I found it to be a much more pleasant experience without cars honking behind me - there are lots of other cyclists on this route and they often say hello as they whizz past me.