Friday, 6 January 2012

Who are our roads intended to be used by?

We have a lot of expectations of our streets.

We want them to be pleasant to live alongside and to cross, but we also want them to be a quick and efficient way for us, and an ever increasing population, to get from A to B.

As a society we are made to be very appreciative of urgency; our ability to get the DVD we want couriered to us at once. News reports continually remind us of the cost to the economy of congestion and delay. Speed  is king.

To accommodate this we have huge numbers of professional drivers, and professionalism in turn is increasingly expected of our road users. We have deadlines, no room for downtime, important stuff to deliver.

Speed and efficiency can be enhanced by training and testing. The driving test is intended to demonstrate that drivers are sufficiently skilled and trained to control their heavy and potentially fast vehicles - vehicles that are easily capable of wiping out a life with a casual swipe. Unfortunately it seems to be viewed as the key to being allowed to use the road at all - everyone should be professional and speedy.

Want to dawdle? Not too good at judging distance and speed? A bit prone to absent-minded action? Then the pavement is the safe place for you.

But where does that put the child cyclist?

It's illegal to cycle on the pavement but it seems to me that that a lot of drivers consider that other road users, including children, should only be permitted to use the roads if they have same level of training, skill, predictability and understanding as a grown-up and qualified driver (who always has an urgent and important reason to use the road).

Do you really want your child to share the road with the owner of the ANGER ROVER above?

In our society vehicles are often designed, promoted and driven with a view to intimidating other road users, particularly the slower and less skilled. Just look at the Mitsubishi Barbarian or the Range Rover Evoque, the website for which said:

""Its dynamic profile, with a dramatic rising beltline, muscular shoulders and a distinctive taper of the floating roofline, seems to draw the eye towards it, giving Range Rover Evoque a natural authority and magnetism."

I am not convinced drivers in the UK (and by extension Driving Instructors and the Police) believe that real kids (the soft, squidgy, unpredictable, immature ones) should be capriciously cycling around on our roads in their millions, with motorists gently working around them.

At the root of debates about Shared Space, segregated cycle routes and speed limits is the question of whether as a society we wish to make the motor vehicle a benign part of our public space or the domineering and aggressive one.

Until we decide to make the motor vehicle benign, parents will be reluctant to permit their children to roam freely by foot or by cycle. Let's work towards enabling free range kids earlier rather than later..