Why should we be so opposed to cycling in Norwich?
PUBLISHED: 13:48 10 November 2016 | UPDATED: 13:48 10 November 2016
Once in a while, the Norwich Evening News publishes a wonderful old picture of a Norwich scene, taken in the 1950s I believe, of dozens of cyclists queueing at the lights on Prince of Wales Road, on their way home after day's work. This picture is sometimes used as an example of 'the good old days', bygone times when adults cycled to work and children rode their bikes to school.
Why then is there so much resistance to the idea of Norwich becoming a city for cyclists, and a return to the practice of commuting, when possible, by bicycle? It’s not as if the bicycle has disappeared; like electricity, it is a ‘craze’ of the late nineteenth century continuing to benefit us today.
A great writer of that time, H G Wells, once said “whenever I see an adult on a bicycle, I have hope for the human race”. Wells devoted two of his lesser known novels, The Wheels of Chance (1895) and The War in the Air (1908), to the benefits of cycling.
I admit, we never reached the stage where field warfare was conducted by specially-trained cycling snipers, as suggested in Wells’ Anticipations (1902), yet we have reached a stage where there is a kind of warfare on the streets, between the cyclist and the motorist, with the pedestrian caught in the crossfire.
We all have horror stories involving cyclists – the letters page of this very newspaper is often full of such stories (though as another writer, George Bernard Shaw once noted, “newspapers are unable, seemingly to discriminate between bicycle accidents and the collapse of civilization”).
Yet, if pushed, I’m sure we could also all come up with incidents where a motorist has behaved in an unpleasant or dangerous way towards us. And in an accident involving a cyclist and a motorist, there’s only going to be one outcome. As recently as last Wednesday (November 2), the Evening News reported a sharp rise in serious injuries and fatalities suffered by cyclists on Norfolk’s roads, with police commissioner Lorne Green suggesting all cyclists under the age of 16 should, by law, wear a protective helmet. I believe every cyclist should wear a helmet, just as each road user should treat each other with respect and consideration – common good manners may be the best protection of all. After all, someone acting like an idiot on a bicycle is just as likely to be someone who’ll act like an idiot behind the wheel of a car, and it’s as wrong to say “all cyclists are dangerous” as it is to say likewise of motorists.
As the old saying goes, there is safety in numbers. The more cyclists we can get onto the road (and not the pavements, take note) and back to those halcyon days so beloved of the likes of Nigel Farage and Richard Littlejohn, and two-wheeled commuting, the better.
As for the excuse given by those reluctant to give up their car that the road is too dangerous due to all the traffic, it is like saying one should not go to see a film at the cinema because it is too popular.
I recently took up a job in the city centre, after many years of working on the outskirts of Norwich. I was soon impressed by how much easier it is now to get around, be it on bike or on foot. The current methods of traffic management have left a positive impression on me – an opinion I realise makes me unique in the whole county – yet streets such as Surrey Street, St Stephens Street, and Castle Meadow, are far easier to navigate than once they were.
Younger people today won’t recall the time when Gentleman’s Walk was open to motorised traffic, but I well recall, as a child of the 1970s, how tightly my grandmother would hold my hand as we made the short yet tricky walk from the Market to Littlewoods.
I’m sure no-one today, with the possible exception of Alan Partridge, would seriously wish for Gentleman’s Walk to be dug up for a new road for cars and lorries to congest and pollute. Why should other parts of the city not be given over to cyclists and pedestrians, and a healthier way of living? And to people who oppose any further new developments in Norwich, they should bear in mind that the Castle and the Cathedral were once new, and most likely actively disliked by our Anglo-Saxon ancestors.
Doubtless there are those who would remove any evidence of foreign-built buildings from our green and pleasant land (let’s not forget the Castle and Cathedral were constructed by the French Normans), and it’s these people who are often found choking on the fumes of a traffic jam, shaking their fists at all the other road users who unlike themselves, have no proper business being on the road. It’s these unfortunates who could most benefit from the exercise and fresh air, and getting out in the open just as they did as children back in, dare I say, the ‘good old days’.
• Tim Cook was born and raised in Norwich, supports Norwich City, worked for 10 years at Norwich Union, and holds BA and MA degrees from the University of East Anglia, in Norwich. Given his Norwich credentials, quite why he’s written about cult movies, obscure TV, art, novels and other nonsense for Infobarrel.com, the Virginia Woolf Bulletin, La La Film.com and The Wellsian, is a mystery.