Thursday, July 06, 2006

Can't Win for Losing

I have just recently become aware of the national bike route system here in the UK.

Okay, I had heard of it, but was not aware that it was as extensive as it is. It's pretty cool, certain trails and footpaths all over the country are designated as bicycle paths and the use of them by cyclists is encouraged. This combined with designated bicycle lanes gives the cyclist a safe and convenient place to ride without fear of injury due to collision with motorists.

The only problem is that the general public over here seems to be unaware of the presence of the cycle routes. Granted, my friends Terry and Angie pointed out the markings to me. They are a bit obscure and hard to discern; being that they are only a highly reflective circular sign posted along the path depicting a bicycle, a painting of a bicycle along the route, or other similar arcane markings. From the picture of the bicycle on the path and the sign reading "Bike Route 4" accompanied by directional signs telling the rider where to turn, I have no idea how anyone can be expected to suss-out that they are on a bike path.

I bring this up because the Hampton Court Flower Show is on this week. Bicycle Route four runs along the southern (and eastern and western) edges of the Hampton Court estate. Terry and Angie have complained to me in the past about how intolerably dim some of the people who go to the flower show can be, but until I experienced it for myself, I really hadn't appreciated it.

The first problem is that to facilitate entry and egress from the festival, they build a ramp over the wall of the gardens that dumps people onto the bicycle route. Once on the route, they mill about aimlessly waiting for the boat that takes them to where they parked their cars. Or perhaps they are waiting for their friends that they were supposed to meet. Or for hell to freeze over. Who knows!

The point is that they are milling about aimlessly on an active cycle path. Calling out "Please clear the cycle path" as you approach the milling hoards seems to have no effect. Those who do not ignore you outright, stare at you blankly as if they were trying to work out why you are speaking a foreign language at them.

Yesterday, as I rode, this one lady stood and stared at me as I approached. She and her group were spread across the entire path edge-to-edge. "I need to get by on the cycle path." I called. It wasn't so much the deer in the headlights look they gave me as it was a look of brain-dead disinterest. She could see me, she just didn't seem to comprehend that I could actually have places to be and that she was obstructing the bike route.

Finally the group started to move. Unfortunately, the group decided to move up the path towards me. I brought my bike to a halt blocking their way. I slewed my bike sideways to obstruct as much of the path as I could. "You're obstructing the bicycle path." I said. The group parted with a look of indignation as if being asked to actually take three steps south onto the footpath was too much to ask, and as if I were merely some amorphous obstruction in their way, they flowed around me and meandered off to the east, continuing to take-up as much of the path as was humanly possible.

In America, this sort of behavior would be rewarded by a collision. The cyclist would simply mow down the prig who refuses to get onto the footpath and off the cycle path. What are they thinking? Would they so blithely walk down the center of the interstate at rush hour? Yes, I think maybe they would.

The good news is that the flower show ends Sunday. For once, I am looking for the weekend to end!

I hope that wherever you are today, it is pleasant and bereft of things to irritate you!

Don Bergquist - 06th July 2006 - Thames Ditton, Surrey, UK

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