Walking in the countryside doesn’t have too many problems. If you are on a road just face the oncoming traffic and take care on corners. Off road don’t trespass and avoid irate farm animals. In the city it is not so easy. You have traffic and badly designed footpaths to contend with, maybe nowhere to rest. If you cycle it can also be difficult getting around.
I was interested to read recently that the people of Albert Lea, Minnesota are looking at the problems for senior walkers and cyclists in their town Proposals include filling sidewalk gaps, providing new sidewalks, using traffic calming methods, installing bike racks and providing benches for walkers to rest, Children will have a walking school bus - groups of children assembled and walked to school, led by community members. These few measures can result in a 35% increase in physical activity. People will walk and cycle if they have the opportunity.
These things are admirable, but sadly do not always work as intended. In the UK traffic calming is an obsession, as are the other measures proposed by Alberta Lea. I know of half a mile of road through a village, not on a main traffic artery, which has thirty five chicanes and mini roundabouts. This, of course, is completely counter productive. The frustration causes drivers to drive at a normal speed. Being in a country area many people drive 4×4 vehicles which do not mind taking bumps at speed. So we have no traffic calming and more possibility of a driver losing control. This is an extreme example, but it happens. More usual is for drivers of vans not to slow down at all. They do not own their vehicles, so any damage is paid for by somebody else. Why should they bother?
I live near a city famous for its cycles and cycle ways. The riding of cyclists is erratic at best and suicidal at worst. Jumping red traffic lights is normal, riding at speed on footpaths happens all the time, very few show lights at night. I have seen a cyclist towed by a friend’s car at forty miles an hour holding onto the passenger’s door handle with one hand. A community project to provide free bikes at drop off places so that people could pick up a bike and leave it at the end of a journey didn’t work. All the cycles were stolen within two days. So there are problems, not least friction between cyclists and motorists.
What is needed is training for motorists, cyclists and walkers. But what is also required is enforcement of the rules. In the UK people know the rules but choose to ignore them. Cyclist are seldom, if ever, prosecuted for dangerous cycling, motorists are seldom prosecuted for driving fast over speed bumps. There is the offence of jaywalking, but it has not been enforced within living memory.
So I wish Albert Lea, its walkers, motorists and cyclists well. There will be big changes as a result of their measures. They will work, but only if rules are obeyed.
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