Yesterday, I read the sad news that two people riding from Land's End to John o'Groats had been killed by a truck on the A30 in Cornwall. I knew instantly the conditions under which this tragedy had occured because I rode there with a friend exactly seven years ago. In our write up of our ride we described this road as "lethal". We didn't mean this as a prediction.
The A30 near where the deaths occurred. I cycled here in 2007. Click for a larger image
A road like this with a 70 mph ( 113 km/h ) speed limit and no-where to go to get out of the way because the road has no hard-shoulder is hardly ideal for cycling. There is no good way to get out of the way of motor vehicles which present a danger. Where it is possible to pull off the asphalt surface your wheels drop from the hard edge of the asphalt an uncertain distance onto an unknown soft surface which will almost certainly cause a crash. However, in many places even this isn't possible because the safety barrier prevents cyclists from being able to get out of the way.
Why did we ride on the A30 ?
In our case we didn't actually set out to ride on busy roads like this because we knew they could be both dangerous and unpleasant. That's why we planned a route of about 1000 miles which would avoid the worst of the roads rather than taking the shortest possible route of about 870 miles which is largely in conditions like this. However progress is very slow if you try to follow small lanes, and it's not necessarily any safer because these also are not designed to make cycling either pleasant or safe. There are many blind corners from around which cars can suddenly appear and rough surfaces which can cause problems for cyclists are also common. That's why, even though our intention had been to find a more pleasant route, we ended up on the A30, as do so many LEJOG cyclists even if they had no desire to ride in such conditions as this.
We cut short our time on the A30 after being repeatedly passed too close by too many vehicles. The final straw was an incident in which two large articulated lorries, side by side with one slowly overtaking the other, passed us with just a few cm to spare and their horns blasting. We were definitely not having fun at this point so at the next junction we returned to the lanes.
A few days later
I returned home from this tour on a high. Several dangerous things had happened, but I'd survived them all. The experience is wonderful, but afterwards you have time to reflect on what could have happened.
In my case this reflection was partly prompted by one of my daughters, aged 13, saying to me that she thought she'd like to ride LEJOG when she was a little older. While overall I'd enjoyed the experience a lot, I didn't want her to put herself in this position. We already planned to emigrate to the Netherlands and thinking about the future safety of our children only made that idea more appealing (note: the idea stuck with my daughter and in 2016 she rode a similar distance in safety in the Netherlands)
Riding from Land's End to John o'Groats is enough to be a challenge, but this challenge should be against yourself, not against the danger from motor vehicles and dreadful conditions provided for cyclists on the roads of Britain.
The A30 is far from unique
The A30 is really a motorway in all but name. However, because no other road has been provided which offers anything like a direct route through the countryside in this part of the UK it is used by many cyclists making their LEJOG journey. Cycling conditions like this are far from unique.
There are many roads all across the UK which offer frightening and dangerous cycling conditions comparable with the A30. Many of them are in places where there is no good alternative route and so they serve as very effective deterrents against cycling even amongst people who like to cycle. Another example covered in a recent blog post from Cambridge was about the abuse meted out to a disabled person who dared to use the only route provided for him to travel a short distance from his village into the city.
A comparison with the Netherlands
While this unpleasant drama on the A30 was being written about in the UK, we were blissfully unaware of it here in the Netherlands:
|This rather nice place for cycling is not a road. It's also not called a "super-wotsit" or a "mega-thingy". It's merely one of many very ordinary and mundanely "cycle-paths" in the Netherlands. My Mum's in the middle. Note that all types of cyclists benefit from cycle-paths like this and they use them for all types of journeys.|
|Cycle-path that we rode on between|
a small town and village 20 km away
While my mother is fit and enjoys cycling, she has never considered riding her bike the much shorter journey between her home and my sister's home in the UK. The distance is just 10 miles but conditions on the roads she would have to cycle on mean that it might as well be a thousand miles by bicycle.
In the UK and other similar countries, many short distances like this can be cycled only by those people who might set off to ride a thousand miles, such as myself or the unfortunate victims of yesterday's crash.
Cycling campaigners place too much emphasis on cities
While the most obvious place to start is with emphasizing infrastructure within cities, it is not only within cities that we need to provide better conditions for cyclists - cycling should be viable as a safe option for all journeys including shorter and longer distances to and between villages, for holiday trips and for people making long tours.
|Judy riding home from holiday last|
year. Judy never rode so far as 130
km a day in the UK but cycle-paths
like this make such longer touring
distances accessible to more people.
The challenge is against yourself,
not against the danger of traffic.
The same comprehensive network of high quality cycle-routes which best serves local cycling and children going to school is also the best infrastructure to serve fast cyclists and longer distance tourers. All cycling in the Netherlands is safe.
My thoughts are with the families of those killed yesterday, and indeed with the families and victims of all road crashes, whether cyclists, pedestrians, equestrians, motor cyclists or drivers. The greatest danger to all these groups comes from motor vehicles, primarily the vast number of private cars. Especially where they mix with more vulnerable road users, the result is all too often lethal. Back in 1896, the coroner who investigated the very first death due to a car said "This must never happen again". How did we become so passive about something which was is no longer an exceptional cause of death but which now kills 1.2 million people every year ?
I also covered the danger of British dual carriageway A-roads back in 2010.
The cyclists killed yesterday have been named as Andrew McMenigall and Toby Wallace. They were riding to raise money for the very worthwhile Kirsten Scott Memorial Trust.
Problems like those which occur on Britain's roads are not limited to that country. On Monday night, cyclists all the way around on the opposite side of the world in New Zealand were killed and injured when riding on a similarly unsuitable road despite taking the precautions of riding single-file and having lights on during the daytime. Road design which causes this degree of conflict is lethal for cyclists everywhere that it exists.