By Anne Southern
THOUGH August is here, there is still plenty going on in the world of politics – our new government are putting together their 100-day plan and the scrutineers are busy checking it out. The majority of the constables have retreated into parish affairs. In the UK, two candidates are slugging it out to come up with ever-more policies designed to appeal to the swivel-eyed minority who will choose the next prime minister of the UK.
But though the world of politics has not gone into holiday mode, I’m afraid I have. A lifetime of working to the school year means that, when the end of July comes, I give my brain a rest.
When I hear someone defend Margaret Thatcher or want to curb the much-diminished power of the trade unions, blame the poor for their poverty or justify the dual role of constables, I can’t react and summon my arguments as I would at any other time of year; I’m taking a break.
So, on a lighter note, I’d like to express my frustration at the plight of electric-bike riders, many of us of a certain age, as we try to negotiate the highways and byways of the Island.
This should not be a competition. All of us are also pedestrians and most of us are motorists, but in shared spaces it often feels as if we are engaged in battle.
Though traffic is scary and I try to avoid busy roads, at least you know where you are with four-wheeled vehicles. Hopefully they try to avoid you, wait patiently behind until they can overtake, and do so on the right. The rules are clear.
Cycle paths and tracks are another matter. Many thanks to whoever decided to mark the esplanade and Victoria Avenue tracks with a pedestrian lane, separate from a clearly marked two-way cycle track. Would that it always worked.
Pedestrians tend to dither in the cycle track in spite of instructions to take care when crossing, and the last time I tried to overtake a slow-moving bike on the right, it unaccountably veered into my lane. And this is all before we encounter Terry the Train…
But this is a picnic compared to the shared space around the harbour in town or when approaching St Aubin. At least the rather terrifyingly fast Lycra brigade take to the road at this point – probably to the chagrin of motorists, who yell at them to get on the cycle track.
The signage tells cyclists to give way to pedestrians – but short of not riding into them I’m not sure what this means. The rules for avoiding each other are far from clear.
Obviously I stop when encountering an oncoming parent with a buggy, so that I can carefully make my way around them, but I do expect pedestrians to get out of my way if I ring my bell.
The trouble is, they don’t always know how to do this. Some veer to the right, some go left, while others dither in the middle until grabbed by their friends and pulled out of the way. Some simply don’t move at all, requiring sudden braking which painfully jars my knees.
These spaces are very narrow, with the added hazard of benches to be negotiated too.
In theory, a two-wheeled journey should be much easier on the Railway Walk. Not so. The wider spaces encourage pedestrians, often with buggies, to spread right across the path, scattering in multiple directions when approached. And dogs are often on longer leads, increasing the chances of cycling into a tripwire.
All credit to most dog owners – they are careful and conscious of their unpredictable pooches and pull them aside when they hear me coming. Then there are those owners who let their dogs run free: one little creature scared me to death when it chased me for at least a mile, snapping at my heels.
I always ring my bell, or shout if that doesn’t have any response, and thank people when they let me pass. But courtesy aside, we need a few rules to make cycle tracks safer.
Cyclists should adjust their speed to the conditions and ring their bells or shout, ‘Passing on the right’ while approaching from behind.
Pedestrians should keep to their own track or keep left in a shared space.
It was heartening to see that the many teenagers on a school walk recently had been told to move to the left.
Though there was one unfortunate girl, well out of the way on the right, who suddenly remembered the instructions and nearly got run over while trying to obey them.
They weren’t blocking out all sound with their music and shouted ‘Have a nice day’ as I whizzed past. Maybe the older generation could learn from them.
I love my e-bike, which gets me where I want to go quickly and without harming the planet. But I do wish riding it was a less nerve-racking experience.