Over the last few months I've worked out a nice circular route in a local park. Those who follow my runkeeper will have seen occasional comments on the excitement caused by overenthusiastic canines and (perhaps worse?) British Military Fitness groups. These incidents haven't been helped by the cycle lane (part of the National Cycle Network route) through the park being rather dilapidated. In fact, for most of it if you didn't know it was a cycle lane you'd just wonder why there were occasional patches of white paint on the tarmac.
Good news though, some weeks ago the council repainted part of it. Restoring at least, ooh, 1km of lane. However, alongside the bright new cycles was a new addition - the number 5 in a circle. Now, this could be a reference to the cycle route, but I thought I'd better check with the council in case it was supposed to be a speed limit - but surely that would be ridiculous...
"Hi, I'm a regular cyclist in Cannon Hill Park and am pleased to see that part of the cycle lane has been repainted. I have seen a number of incidents in the past with pedestrians and cyclists failing to separate and believe this can only help. However, can I please make two more suggestions:
1. Extend the re-marking further down the Rea Valley cycle route, by the playground. This short section is in disrepair.
2. Reconsider the ridiculous 5mph speed markings. 5mph is a jogging, not a cycling speed and any serious cyclist goes far in excess of this speed - thus making the markings pointless and even more than that ridiculous. I look forward to your comments. "
This morning I had a reply:
"Thank you for your comments around the repainting of the cycle lanes within Cannon Hill Park.
I was fortunate enough to have a small amount of finance left over from a previous scheme allowing me to fund a limited area of remarking . I hope to continue the route as and when more funds become available.
Whilst noting your comments around the use of 5mph as a speed limit, the object of the exercise is to encourage caution by cyclists when using what is still a shared footpath through a public park and serious cyclist will hopefully understand that the park is not for racing.
Thank you for bringing this to my attention."
Surely not? This is nonsense! Are we now, in the age of the Big Society, less red tape and other exciting ways of saving money actually suggesting that park rangers with speed cameras is going to improve the Happiness Index?
Back to the keyboard I go...
"Thanks for the reply - hopefully a little more money will become available for further work.
Please indulge me for a moment on the issue of the speed limit.
Firstly, ignoring for a moment my use of the perhaps contentious phrase 'serious cyclist' I would challenge you to find anyone cycling in the park who cycles at less than 5mph - after all that is just a slow jogging pace. Even the most leisurely of adult cyclists will reach 10mph. Additionally, even putting aside runners, the park is of course also home to various disciplines of roller skaters (blades and quads) who also exceed that speed quite happily. As part of the national cycle network surely this route is about promoting healthy exercise and convenient travel - neither of which happen at 5mph.
The issue then becomes that when a regulation (though of course it's just a suggestion as I don't believe such limits are in anyway enforceable) is so clearly ridiculous it actually encourages people to ignore any others in the same context.
Then considering your comment on 'shared footpath'. Whilst I accept that the tarmac area is shared - surely the point of the separation of the lane is to control the sharing involved… or else why not simply remove a lane or indicate shared use with the appropriate signage.
In the interests of clarity I do absolutely support the need for common sense, from both cyclists and pedestrians, to allow co-existence in public spaces. However I also believe that an arbitrary speed limit that is both unrealistic and unenforceable does nothing to support that aim. Instead the only outcome is that the council appears out of touch with reality.
Perhaps you could enlighten me as to where the 5mph figure came from? I can't see any reference to best practice online, for example via cycle pressure groups such as Sustrans. In fact, practice abroad seems to favour around 15mph (Central Park, New York).
You might also be interested in an ongoing debate about the role and application of traffic legislation and speed limits. Architects such as Ben Hamilton-Baile, who has been working on Exhibition Road in London - a shared space for pedestrians, traffic and cyclists - promote reduce the use of regulation and street signage. This movement argues that with fewer signs individuals take more responsibility for their own action rather than 'trusting' in the law. There's a very watchable video covering this topic at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIm1JxRotv8
Finally, spinning this issue on its head, there is a general move in the public sector in the UK to use behavioural rather than regulatory techniques to encourage positive behaviours. In this context, if your desired outcome is 'shared use of space' then this would suggest a better approach would be to provide positive messages about sharing - perhaps by highlighting at the park gates or in facilities like the mac, cyclists and pedestrians respecting each other. This is certainly something which the British Military Fitness classes seem to be slowly learning - as over the last year I've seen them change from being a constant obstacle to cycling through the park to a much more respectful and aware group.
Apologies for the length of this message, but I am passionate about sending the right rather than wrong messages, and do at the moment think you have it very clearly wrong. I look forward to your response."
Forget all the problems with education, rubbish, adult social care and other council spending... I demand answers...