Get off and push!

... was how most posters greeted Erin Gill's confession in the Guardian that she recently received a £30 fine for cycling on the pavement. She had opted to cycle the 100-yard stretch to avoid an 'almost one-mile diversion' through a one-way system. Pretty dopey of her (even more so to moan about it afterwards - unless of course attracting comments was the real reason for her story, in which case well done because the story received about a billion).

But there's a genuine issue here: the question of dual-use. I've always been a fan of pavements where the space is cut in half; with one side for pedestrians, the other for cyclists. This policy only works, of course, when there aren't too many pedestrians. A good example is on the Lea Bridge Road, where you can cycle most of its southern half on a track that runs along the actual pavement. Because very few people want to walk the length of Lea Bridge Road (apparently it's quicker to undertake the 5-hour bus journey), there's plenty of scope for carving up the useful space beside the road for both pedestrians and cyclists.

I once raised the question of creating more dual-use pavements in a planning meeting. The gathered officers would probably have been more receptive if I'd suggested letting pogo sticks use cycle lanes. I got the feeling that it was considered somehow a capitulation to 'force' cyclists onto pavements, and away from the road where they have 'every right to be'. They do indeed have the right (most of the time, anyway). But that doesn't mean dual-use pavements aren't still really useful.

This is a classic example of partisanship (which is necessary if you want to promote cycling in London) sliding into entrenchment and hostility (which just makes things worse for everyone including cyclists). What we really need from cycling campaigners is more bi-partisanship: so that cyclists work with the authorities and other road users to maximise the shared resource we all have (i.e. public spaces in London) to the best of our abilities. Alas, articles like the one in the Guardian risk creating more polarisation, especially since people often lose their social graces on the internet and just pipe up with whatever comes into their heads (all the more reason not to conduct public debates on forums, but that's another story).

Even the tone of condemnation for Erin Gill had a kind of tribal righteousness to it: "they've got their designated areas, we've got ours, and ne'er the twain shall meet" seems to be the attitude of most cyclists to pedestrian spaces. Which of course is true legally (and much of the time morally, too). But the great thing about living in a democracy is that better outcomes - and better laws - can be achieved when people talk to each other and find common ground. That means common ground in the sense of engaging constructively, not just having the same enemies. It's no good if cyclists and pedestrians are united in a shared opposition to unnecessary car-usage but unable to countenance positive ways of getting more people cycling and walking. One such positive way, I'd suggest, is for more pavements to be legally designated as dual-use. Common ground, indeed.

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