As Easy As Riding A Bike)
Posted on July 25, 2018
There’s recently been some silly-season noise about making the use of bells compulsory in our newspaper of record, The Times.
Frothing gibberish on Page 3 of The Times today. Remember when this paper took cycling safety seriously?
— Mark Treasure (@AsEasyAsRiding)
This story seems to have been based entirely on five written questions from the MP Julian Lewis.
Re @thetimes article about bicycle bells, it is based on 5 parliamentary questions posed by Julian Lewis (MP for New Forest, Conservative) to @transportgovuk .
All 5 receive 1 answer from Transport Minister @Jesse_Norman https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-questions-answers/?page=1&max=20&questiontype=AllQuestions&house=commons%2clords&member=54&dept=27 …
— always last (@lastnotlost)
The non-committal response from the Minister has been spun into a story; the Minister in turn dismissed it.
But let’s (charitably) take this seriously, just for a moment. What does ‘mandatory use of bells’ actually mean? Am I supposed to ding every time a pedestrian hoves into view? In a town or a city, my bell would be ringing relentlessly. Let’s also bear in mind that plenty of people will object, often quite aggressively, to the ringing of a bell, interpreting it as akin to the honking of a car horn. A basic starting principle – before any of this nonsense ever gets anywhere near legislation – would have to involve getting some basic agreement and consensus about what people actually want and expect, when it comes to a form of audible cycling warning (or even whether they want people making a noise at all). It you can’t get the general public to agree, which I would imagine is more than likely, then there’s no point even embarking on legislation in the first place.
In any case, the general issue of bells, warnings and ‘silent rogue cyclists’ is symptomatic of basic design failure. I’ve probably cycled at least 500 miles in the Netherlands over the last five or six years. Not a huge amount, but enough to get a good flavour of the country. In all that distance – in cities, in towns, through villages, across the countryside – I can’t honestly remember ever having to ring my bell to warn someone walking that I was approaching. Not once.
A large part of that is probably down to the fact that people walking in the Netherlands are – understandably – fully aware that they will encounter someone cycling quite frequently. In general, it’s unwise to assume that, just because you can’t hear anything approaching, nothing is approaching – and this is especially true in the Netherlands. Being aware of cycling is just an ordinary part of day-to-day life, because everyone cycles themselves, and because they will also encounter cycling extremely frequently.
However, I suspect my lack of bell use is also due to the fact I rarely ever come into conflict with pedestrians, because of the way cycling is designed for. Unlike in Britain, where walking and cycling are all too frequently bodged together on the same inadequate paths, cycling is treated as a serious mode of transport, with its own space, distinct from walking.
I don’t need to ring my bell to tell someone walking I am coming up behind them because we’re not having to share the same (inadequate) space. There are of course many situations in the Netherlands where walking and cycling are not given separate space – a typical example below.