Crossed paths | Making the "shared-use footway" safe for all

Of all the controversial things to happen in Harston over the past few years - the closure of its pubs, rural raves and the prospect of a Tesco among them - nothing has divided opinion like the new A10 cycle path.  Formerly a rough-and-narrow pavement, barely wide enough to allow two pedestrians to pass, some think that it's a vital amenity, enabling people to cycle safely through the village and encouraging more onto their bikes; others think it's a huge waste of money, citing the cyclists who still choose the road over the path, holding up traffic and putting themselves in danger.  And then there's the undeniable safety issues from having to narrow a major road carrying more then 16,000 vehicles on an average weekday - many hundreds of which are huge HGVs, and some of whose drivers have scant regard for the speed limit.  

Love it or hate it, the cycle path - or "shared-use footway" as it is officially called - is here to stay.  It's a community amenity and we have to share it as such, taking everyone's needs and ability into consideration.  That's why it's upsetting to hear reports of not only thoughtless, but downright dangerous behaviour on the path, both from cyclists and drivers:

I was walking arm in arm with my daughter on the part of the cycle path nearest the hedges along the route. I was suddenly knocked to the ground from - what I believe to be - a push from behind. I fell heavily and was in shock. My daughter was shocked also and picked me up. We looked up and saw a cyclist travelling at great speed away from us in the direction towards Royston.
— SC
I witnessed another near accident on the cycle path this morning where two adults cycling very fast towards Cambridge almost collided with each other at speed to avoid a small child going the other way. One of the adults was then quite hostile to the mother of the child.
— TC
I have twice narrowly avoided being knocked off my bike by a car and a van coming out of their driveways at speed without stopping to see if the path is clear. If I’d been a child on a scooter I doubt the van driver would have seen me.
— TA
While cycling along the cycle path in Harston on Thursday afternoon I was involved in an accident with a vehicle coming out of the driveway of a house. Although I was not seriously hurt (bashed, bruised and shaken) it could have been far worse. I would like to urge all cyclists and car drivers to be extra vigilant while cycling or driving and to appeal to all homeowners along this pathway to cut back garden hedges in such a way that they can see approaching cyclists.
— DL

It may be that we need more clarity on the rights-of-way for users of the path, which includes the owners of homes and businesses who need to cross it:

Whose right of way is it when it comes to the cycle path?? It’s difficult enough trying to get out with all the traffic, let alone having to deal with cyclists (even when my nose is stuck out into the road) going around the front of me and not being patient and waiting. I wait for a cycle to pass before I pull in; surely it’s only fair if cyclists wait while we try and pull out?!

In response to questions of its suitability as a shared path, Stuart Rushby, who managed the implementation of the path for Cambridgeshire County Council, said the following:

We would not look to segregate the footway.  It is 3m wide and once you segregate it would mean a 1.5m provision for both pedestrians and cyclists.  This is very much at minimum standard for pedestrians and below standard for two-way cycling.  Segregation can also increase cycling speed as the user has the feeling of a separate provision that they can exploit.  It can increase conflict if pedestrians enter the cycle lane and vice versa.  If segregation was introduced there would still need to be shared areas at pedestrian crossings and bus stops.

There is no procedure for implementing or enforcing a speed limit for cyclists. As stated above, through signage, road markings and education we can hopefully get users to slow down and respect each other.

We are looking to provide a sign to inform cyclists that they are entering a village environment and they should slow down.  This could include the requirement to signal their presence to pedestrians.  These signs would be provided alongside the shared use signs that will be provided as standard.
— Stuart Rushby, Cambs CC

Some painted markings encouraging cyclists to slow down have appeared over recent weeks, but it's clear that more needs to be done to highlight the issues.  We will apply pressure to local Councillors to improve signage and seek guidance - if it exists - on who has priority when vehicles need to cross the path.

Above all, simple common sense and decency will go a long way to sorting these problems out.  If it's busy on the path - especially with children, or anyone whose movements may be erratic - be patient and slow down.  If you want to pass someone, alert them first - either with a bell or a friendly word.  But if you see poor cycling, or driving, please gently challenge it and point out why it is problematic; or report really serious incidents to the police.