Is cycling a realistic alternative to taking the car?

Saddles on bikes Is getting on your bike a realistic alternative to taking the car during the peak of the rush hour?

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Like many people I own a bike. For the past year it has been more of a wall decoration in the garage, rather than a means of transport.

I have only ever been a fair-weather leisure cyclist, but on my way to work I see those on two-wheels for whom it is the daily commute.

For tonight's Inside Out programme I got on my bike to experience rush hour through the eyes of a cyclist.

If the British weather weren't enough of a deterrent, the accident statistics don't make great reading.

One hundred and eleven cyclists have been killed on our roads so far this year.

Needless to say I had no intention of adding to the latest statistics that show an 18% rise in the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured in the North East and Cumbria.

Percentage of trips by bike

Bike wheel
  • Newcastle upon Tyne (UK) 2%
  • Groningen (NL) 60%

The figures for the region comparing 2010 with 2011 are worse than the national average.

I had a high vis jacket, lights, safety helmet and reflective bands on my legs.

Even so, as a two-wheeler you feel very vulnerable when cars are only a matter of inches away in the rush hour.

The route took me along a seven mile journey where there is currently little provision for bikes, so it was me versus the car.

For the most part I was travelling faster than the motorists who were caught up in the usual peak time snarl ups.

I suspect that didn't endear me to some, but I actually found most motorists were courteous at junctions and lights, giving me room and time to cross.

Cycling hazards

I noticed that sometimes it was difficult to stick to the kerb because drain covers were often below the road surface; it wasn't just bumpy but potentially could have thrown me out of the saddle.

On the odd occasion that cycle lanes appear they often take you right over these hazards.

I also rode through the streets of York which claims to be one of the more bike-friendly cities in the UK. But even here the cycle lanes can be so short and random as to be more hindrance then help.

Cyclists and cars Cycle lanes are sometimes short and random even in bike-friendly cities like York

At one point the dedicated lane was interrupted by official parking bays so you end up zigzagging in and out of the path of the other traffic.

In Newcastle city centre the council have installed a cyclists traffic light.

If you are heading from the City Baths towards Northumberland Street the dedicated light turns green while all other car approaches are held at red.

It sounds great, but if you set off on green and go straight over the junction you are led into head-on conflict with pedestrians whose crossing light is also on green.

It seems we need more joined-up thinking.

There are lots of campaigners arguing we need to follow the example of places like Holland where 60% of journeys are made by bike.

There are also many more cycle ways and there is even a heated one to keep the surface clear in winter.

The UK average for cycle trips is only 2%. The difference can't be explained away by the flatness of the Dutch landscape.

'Them and us'

Cyclists and non-cyclists seem to be at loggerheads.

Start Quote

Chris Jackson cycling to work

Maybe if more of us cycled more regularly it wouldn't be such a 'them and us' situation”

End Quote Chris Jackson

When we were filming a woman tapped me on the shoulder to ask whether we were doing something about the menace of bike rider on pavements.

I've heard some motorists say cyclists don't pay road tax so should not be on the highway.

Maybe if more of us cycled more regularly it wouldn't be such a 'them and us' situation.

Motorists might have a bit more sympathy if all cyclists followed the highway code.

We've all seen those on two-wheels go through a red light as if it didn't apply to them.

In fact when I was using that special cycle traffic light, I was crossing over when another cyclist flew across my path having run a red.

Similarly my other nearest collision was when I was turning left at some lights when a pedestrian decided to ignore the little red man and tried to cross in front of me as I turned the corner.

Is getting on your bike a realistic alternative to taking the car?

The experience did open my eyes and as a motorist I will certainly give cyclists more time and space.

Would I be tempted to use my bike instead of the car?

Well, the experiment taught me I could actually do the distance.

However, the unpredictability of the weather forecast and what may lie ahead on the next stretch of road means until it becomes a pleasure, my bike will be reserved for leisure.

Watch Inside Out on BBC One North East and Cumbria at 19:30 GMT on Monday, 3 December 2012

Chris Jackson Article written by Chris Jackson Chris Jackson Presenter, Inside Out, North East & Cumbria

Inside Out returns for a new series in 2015

Inside Out returns for a new series in 2015 but Chris Jackson's blog is coming to an end and he can now be found on social media.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    "...cyclists don't pay road tax so should not be on the highway."

    Neither do electric cars. Or in fact *any* vehicle. Since 1938, I believe, when it was abolished.

    You mean Vehicle Excise Licence, which is related to the environmental damage caused by vehicles. Cycles:No Damage, thus No Tax, just like electric cars.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    The highway code says that drivers should give cyclists a vehicle's width.
    In 4000 miles of cycling the coast of Britain not many did . ..

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    I'm a cyclist and motorist too.

    But when I'm in my car, I try to remember to GET OVER MYSELF!

    Having and expensive metal box doesn't give me extra rights. It makes me a more dangerous person! So I drive with some humility.

    And I do get a momentary, childish peeve when I see someone breaking our societies little rules.

    But again. I GET OVER IT.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Cyclists and drivers do stupid things at times, and make mistakes. The consequences of drivers screwing up are generally worse, but ultimately we're all just trying to get from A to B in once piece. Lack of courtesy on our roads isn't just motorist or cyclist; it's seen in every class of road user. Everyone should chill the smeg out and be excellent to each other. Party on, dudes!

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    I cycle daily in London and find most drivers courteous. Same for most cyclists too. I wave at drivers when they let me turn, and let them in when it's their turn. I love cycling, but I have a drivers license too.
    I see cyclists jump red lights, but far more common - and far more dangerous - is drivers running red lights. I see that at just about every set of lights, every day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    The majority of car/van/lorry/bus drivers break motoring laws every day. Speed, go through red lights, pull out in front of people and worse. Why do people always condemn all cyclists because some/lots of cyclists break the law by going through red lights?

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    @Courier65. I think you'll find that Chris was filtering through traffic - not undertaking.

    I cycle, drive a car, and ride a motorcycle. This practice is absolutely fine, and it takes no effort (and causes motorists no delay/inconvenience) to look out for, and show consideration to filtering cyclists/motorcycles.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Cyclist should not be allowed on the roads of 40mhr or over without a dedicated cycle lane or path.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    The most important thing here is preperation, cycling along unsuitable roads adds to the dangers best to find a safe route using one of the local cycle maps which would make the cycle safer, move one road over onto a minor road and the risks decrease dramatically. cycling through gosforth on the main road is a bad idea there is a cycle route signposted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    I cycle some of the roads in this article on Inside Out. Granted, there are areas with dedicated cycle routes (top of Barrack Rd/Cow Hill) which are great. But there are also areas where you take your life in your own hands (Blue House Roundabout nr Gosforth). I find a safer way to ride in traffic is to pos'n yourself futher out, so that cars are less likely to squeeze/force by you to overtake.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Cycles and cars must not share road space. Their speeds are fundamentally different and it is dangerous and unfair for both. I have been to Vienna where the position is perfect. Cars, cyclists and pedestrians all have their own dedicated space and all are happy!

    In relation to the general issue of congestion in the North East, expansion of Metro could be the answer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    I drive a car, ride a motorcycle and have cycled in the past. We are too cheapskate in this country to build dedicated cycle paths. This, along with all following the Highway Code is what we need.
    By the way Mr. Jackson what makes you think undertaking cars, as you are shown doing on the report, is legal and or safe?
    As a driver I am mow thinking of a camera to record other road users behaviour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Pedestrians are a serious risk, especially those that are wandering along, on or off the road using mobile phones or listening to music, and not evidently even interested in their own safety let alone yours.
    Dog walkers are another major problem, dogs do not perceive a bike as a threat, so are totally unpredictable. The greatest danger is Royal Mail Van drivers, who have no concern for anyone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    I just watched the show I commute North Shields to Newcastle on a trike ( my head height is 27" from the road) there are plenty of cycle routes and paths I find Newcastle to be rather safe to cycle just have common sense when on roads i ride defensive riding what i do I get in to more dangers situation as for defending RLJ bull no need to break highway code

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    I think Cyclists should have compulsary Insurance, just like motorists.

    Most cyclists are fine, but you get some (Just like motorists) that do stupid things and then complain when accidents happen.

    For example; undertaking (as you did on your TV Report), is a stupid thing to do and if something happens you only have yourself to blame. You also filmed a cyclist going through a red light.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Undertaking on a cycle is dangerous. Also in York the roads are very flat. In Newcastle it is very hilly making cycling more difficult.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    It is not road tax. You pay vehicle excise duty, which is calculated on your vehicle's emissions. If you get an economic car your duty is £0.

    The problem is cars and bikes sharing the same travel space. The Dutch model is to try and avoid interaction. THIS more than anything will get more people out of cars and onto bikes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    4 yrs ago we had two cars each costing £70/week. I sold a car and ride a bike 6 mls to work in Bristol. The bike costs £60/year to keep on the road and keeps me fit. I pay road tax on my other car as well. The worst offenders on the road are pedestrians not looking and walking in bike lanes, road works through bike lanes, vehicles squeezing you off the road and car doors opened in front of you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Don't have a car and I don't want one. The bike is almost the same speed on my commute, and if there's any road works it'll beat a car easily. Even good ol' Cumbrian weather is beatable with good clothing and you get no more wet than the trudge to find where you parked the car. Some drivers can be a real danger, but so can some cyclists. Sadly a idiot in charge of any vehicle is still an idiot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    I think it depends greatly on where you live and work. I'm lucky in that my university has great public transport connections (and I live near a railway station) so my commute is actually 10 minutes or so quicker by public transport than it would be by bike. The 'flatness' of the Netherlands is important when comparing: my own journey would involve climbing over 300 feet on the way home - not fun!


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