So I was going to thrill you all with the report of my ride down for the paper today – a whole massive 11 miles, on rather more undulating terrain than the ride back from Bigtown. There were all sorts of adventures including not one but two courier vans who decided I was two dimensional, being on a bike, and could therefore be passed as if I wasn’t there (sadly, just a day too late to be immortalised in the name of science by the Near Miss project), the cheery wave and a thumbs up I got from an elderly couple from the village who were driving back from the shop themselves – even a guest appearance from ASBO buzzard (or at least a buzzard that inhabits the stretch of road where ASBO buzzard’s reign of terror holds sway) which was flying off to watch me from the safety of a nearby tree, rather than dropping down out of the sky onto my head, fortunately enough. But the truth is, I got a bit distracted from all these delights because it was spitting with rain, causing me to resurrect an argument I’ve long been having in my head (and more recently fruitlessly on Twitter) with the idea of building solar powered covered bike paths to keep off the rain.
This superficially attractive idea is the brainchild of Steven Fleming, professional controversialist, architectural theorist and the bike blogger behind Cycle-Space who has been intermittently entertaining me for years, despite the fact that half of his ideas betray the sort of megalomaniac wrong-headedness that only architects and dictators seem able to keep up consistently (and I say this even as a keen supporter of the idea of building cities around bikes). I suspect most of them are floated largely to annoy the Dutch, who he regards as being insufficiently ambitious in their bike infrastructure, and to ensure a steady flow of invitations to various international cycling conferences. So replying to one of his tweets was undoubtedly foolish, especially as I then got snowballed in to one of those twitter debates in which, once you have included the twitter handles of everyone you’re disagreeing with, only leave you enough space to compare someone to a Nazi or, worse, John Forester, the bugbear of the cycle campaigning world.
Now I should say that I don’t object to covered cycle paths because I’ve got some romantic notion that it’s fun to cycle in the rain – I do live in South West Scotland, I know about rain – nor because I think that rain isn’t an obstacle to cycling among the portion of the population that we can loosely describe as ‘almost everyone who isn’t a bit obsessed with bikes’ or ‘everyone’ for short. I just don’t think that covered cycle ways are the answer – in fact it seems so obvious to me that I would have thought anyone but an architect would realise why. So what follows is probably of interest to absolutely nobody except myself, but it will at least hopefully save me from having to try and squeeze it into 150 separate tweets:
1. Unless they go from your door to the door of your destination, you’re still going to get rained on and – unlike with the traffic that segregated cycle tracks, which also don’t go door to door, protect you from – it’s not as if the rain gets less wet or less heavy when you’re on a residential street or a rural area (if anything, it gets worse, especially in the latter).
2. Unless the rain is politely falling down vertically from the sky, you’re still going to get wet because in Scotland at least, rain mostly goes sideways unless there’s a car passing you at speed in which case it goes upwards as well. And yes, you could also build walls, but basically then you’ve built a tunnel which is hardly very inviting for anyone to cycle in, especially women, or people who don’t like being mugged.
3. Even if the roofs did keep the rain off, you’d have to build them over the footpath as well because the instant it started raining, all the pedestrians would head for cover and it would be impossible to cycle anywhere for people. And even if you did cover the footpaths over, you’d still get stuck because every entranceway would be blocked by other cyclists peering out hoping it will stop raining soon.
4. In the unlikely even that it stops raining and the sun comes out, nobody would want to cycle under a roof because, in these northern latitudes anyway, we’re all a bit sun starved.
So yeah, it’s a pretty rubbish idea, and we’re saying so is not because we somehow lack ambition and want people to ‘man up and take the rain’ but because it WOULDN’T WORK. But then again, what do we know, we’re only people, not architects. And besides, shortly after thinking all this – and all but home by now – I realised that, astoundingly enough, there is a form of solar-powered bike lane roof that would keep a fair bit of rain off, not transform your cycle path into a piss-scented graffiti-strewn underpass AND allow the precious sunshine through, at least during the winter months. They’re called trees. But nobody gets invited to an international cycling conference for proposing that.
So I’m sorry to have bored you with all that, but I did have to get it off my chest, and besides, it was so distracting, it quite took my mind off noticing what the ride to the papershop was like so I don’t really have that much else to report. And I wasn’t about to go out again because no sooner did I get home than it started to really rain and I wasn’t going out cycling in THAT.