Cardiff, City of Cycling?

Two recent news items about Cardiff caught my attention so I thought I’d do a quick post. The first piece was about the terrible state of traffic congestion in the city. This doesn’t affect me directly as I normally work to work and back, but it has definitely got much worse in the last few years. The roads are regularly gridlocked, a situation made worse by the interminable and apparently pointless roadworks going on everywhere as well as absurdly slow and dysfunctional traffic lights. There’s a common view around these parts that this is being allowed to happen – or even engineered – so that Cardiff City Council can justify the introduction of congestion charging. This would be an unpopular move among motorists, but I think a congestion charge would not be a bad idea at all, as what the city really needs is to reduce the number of motor vehicles on its streets, to deal with the growing problem of pollution and long journey times.

One day, about six years ago,  I was almost run over three different times by three different vehicles. The first was near the car park in Sophia Gardens, where there are signs and road marking clearly indicating that there is a speed limit of 5 mph but where the normal speed of cars is probably more like 35; the guy who nearly killed me was doing about 60.

Next, in Bute Park, a heavy lorry belonging to the Council, engaged in some sort of “tree-management” business, thundered along the footpath past me. These paths used to be marked 5mph too, but the Council removed all the signs when it decided to build a huge road into the Park and encourage more vehicles to drive around inside. The lorry wasn’t going as fast as the Boy Racer of Sophia Gardens, but the size of the truck made it just as scary.

Finally, using a green light at the pedestrian crossing at Park Place I was narrowly missed by another car who had clearly jumped a red light to get onto the dual carriageway (Dumfries Place) leading to Newport Road.

I have to say things like this aren’t at all unusual, but that is the only time I’ve had three close encounters in one day! Although most car drivers behave responsibly, there seems to be a strong concentration of idiots in Cardiff whose antics are exacerbated by the hare-brained Highways Department of the local council. There are many things to enjoy about living in Cardiff, and the quality of life here is very good for a wide range of reasons, but of all the cities I’ve lived in it is by a long way the least friendly to pedestrians and cyclists.

Which brings me to the second news item, which is about Cardiff City Council’s ambitious new Cycling Strategy, which aims to double the number of trips made using cyclists over the next ten years. That still wouldn’t reach the level of Cambridge, where 30% of all journeys in the city are done by bicycle.

Cardiff has a long way to go to match Cambridge and further still to be like Copenhagen, one of the loveliest and most livable cities I’ve ever experienced, partly because of its traffic policies.

In the interest of balance I should also point out that I was once actually hit on a pedestrian crossing in Cardiff by a bicycle steered by a maniac who went through a red light. In this case, however, I did manage to push him off his bike as he tried to get away, so he ended up more seriously hurt than I was. I was hoping that a friendly car would run over his bike, which was lying in the road, but sadly that didn’t happen.

I hope in their desire to increase the number of cyclists, the town planners don’t forget those of us who travel on foot!

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2 Responses to “Cardiff, City of Cycling?”

  1. Bryn Jones Says:

    I used to cycle, but gave up twenty years ago in Cardiff. I felt car drivers in the city were aggressive towards cyclists. One morning, on my commute to work in Bristol, I got on a bus to take me to the central railway station, and found one of the Cardiff astrophysics PhD students on the bus. He had his leg in a plaster cast after being knocked off his bicycle by a passing vehicle. Hearing about his experience persuaded me to give up cycling.

    Curiously, my worst cycling accident occurred in Cambridge. I ended up lying face down on the bonnet of a car that pulled out in front of me.

    The Cardiff transport system is seriously poor. The city centre is clogged with traffic. Mass public transport mostly means buses, which are slow given the rest of the traffic.

    Cardiff lacks the local rail system it needs. There is a strange lack of local railway stations within the inner parts of the city. There are some railway lines, but insufficient stations to provide a practical alternative to buses over parts of the city. My old house was roughly midway between Queen Street and Heath Low Level stations, which made the railway useless for local travel.

  2. There are lots of cyclists who are idiots. I saw one cycle through the red light I’d stopped at this morning, and almost get squished by a bus. He almost fell off his bike in surprise when the bus honked at him.

    But cyclists are rarely more of a danger to another than they are to themselves. They are the only way I consider getting around Oxford, because the city is crippled by traffic every morning. It’s also much, much cheaper to ride a bike – even one I rarely maintain and that lives outside, slowly deteriorating in bad weather.

    Sadly, the UK government (no matter the party) is terrified of upsetting both motorists and the motor industry. We’re unlikely to get any real non-car infrastructure spending at any meaningful level unless there are significant powers given to devolved administrations (Transport for London is trying, but it’s got a long way to go).

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