Should Contraflow Cycling be Allowed?

Should we allow cyclists to cycle the wrong way up a one-way street?

Featured March 10 Words by Ian Wylie And Rosie Carr
Should Contraflow Cycling be Allowed?


Remember playing Top Trumps as a child? To my mind, bicycles would be the card you'd kill to have in your hand if playing a game of "Urban Transport Top Trumps". On our city streets, cyclists should trump everything else: cars, trucks, taxis, buses, trams, motorcycles, mopeds.

If cyclists want to ride "contraflow" along a one-way street, so be it. If they occasionally mount a pavement, fine by me. If they take a shortcut across a pedestrian crossing on the green man, I'm cool with that too.

All European transport laws should be harmonised with those in the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany, which are heavily skewed in favour of cyclists and where a cyclist always has right of way. If a car collides with a cyclist, the law should automatically find the driver at fault - after all, it's the cyclist who will suffer the greater injuries.

I'm not a lycra-wearing, two-wheeled tyrant. I cycle infrequently. I say these things for the good of our great European cities. I'm a motorist, but cycle into the city rather than drive - driving in cities isn't fun (unless you're playing chicken on the Place de la Concorde). From Berlin to Barcelona, urban cycling is ascendant.

Hungary is the latest country to see sense. From the start of this year, Budapest bike riders can now cycle in either direction along one-way streets, ignore red lights, take a free right turn and ride in the middle of the road. Think of cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam, enhanced by the sound of tinkling bicycle bells or the rumble of a laden cargo bike on cobbles.

There is a spirit of community among cyclists that doesn't exist among motorists, isolated in their aluminium boxes. In the bike-loving capitals of Europe, with their dedicated lanes, cycle highways and considerate motorists, there is no need for cyclists to seek refuge on pavements. French cyclists are respected and given a wide berth, even on narrow roads.

Statistically, cyclists pose little threat to pedestrians. In a country like the UK, one person is killed every two years by a cyclist on a pavement. Tragic when it happens, but 40 pedestrians a year are killed on British pavements by motorists. Of course cyclists must abide by some rules. This is not a manifesto for lawless, two-wheeled anarchy. They must ride respectfully not compromise the safety of other road (or pavement) users. They must be visible and fully alert (unplug the iPod, you muppet!). They mustn't mow down old ladies or toddlers - and the penalties for breaking these rules must be stiff.

But for too long, motorists have considered themselves the trump card in the pack. And look where that got us. Urban jungles of concrete flyovers, and pedestrians and cyclists treated like second-class citizens. Enough! Urban planners - get on your bike!

Ian Wylie writes for The Financial Times and the Guardian


I WAS ONCE knocked down by a speeding cyclist - the rotter simply didn't want to slow down for a red light. He's a good example of why exempting cyclists from the rules that govern everyone else is madness. For every cyclist raging about aggressive drivers, there's a pedestrian complaining about aggressive cyclists. It's a particular problem in Berlin, where the two groups often have to share the same pavement.

But Europe loves its cyclists and it's determined to treat them as a special group with special rights in an effort to convert more of us to the cause. In the cycling-is-good frenzy, some basic principles of what is fair and right are being sacrificed. Part of the plan to get us all pulling on our Lycra shorts involves changing the laws of the road so that cyclists can break the rules, even if others are put in danger as a result. It's a bit like spoiling a horrible brat because he's the son and heir, while a well-behaved older sister is neglected.

One prong of the two-wheels-good campaign involves allowing cyclists to ride the wrong way up a one way street. The logic is that if cyclists can ignore no-entry signs, they won't be held up on their journeys and more people will therefore cycle. A linked idea is that cyclists should never be blamed for any accident, even if their stupidity, speed, lack of lighting or defective brakes caused it. Instead, motorists will have to pay for damages and compensation in all accidents with cyclists, even if it's not their fault. This is already the law in several EU countries.

The idea, in a nutshell, is to give cyclists freedom from all the normal rules of the road (and the footpath) so that they are never inconvenienced and will therefore never be tempted to abandon this form of transport in favour of a polluting one. It won't matter if their road skills are poor, or that they might be reckless riders.

It's true that encouraging cyclists by offering incentives and making life easier does work. In Copenhagen and Amsterdam, thousands of journeys every day are completed by bicycles as a result of such incentives. But we don't have to tear up the rule books to wean us off our dependence on motorcars and buses. We can encourage a change in behaviour through financial incentives and penalties - it might anger some groups, but it will be an awful lot safer for anyone using the roads. Car users, for example, could be asked to pay additional tax while bike owners get a rebate.

Bending over backwards to treat cyclists as a special group not only creates danger for all road users, but it sets an alarming precedent. Who knows who's to be the next favoured group, allowed to behave as they like and get away with it scot-free? Two wheels might be better than four, but that's not a reason to make cycling a consequence-free activity.

Rosie Carr is deputy editor of Investors Chronicle magazine

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