I walk or cycle almost every day across five or six villages per walk, and more on bikes. During these walks and bike rides I see that there is a chronic lack of safe walking and cycling routes, if you want to go for any distance. Almost every village has five, six or more roads in and out of it, but there are no safe walking or cycling routes
We hear about how people want to make cities more cycle friendly but there is a problem in the countryside. If you want to walk from most villages to most other villages you need to walk along roads where nothing is in place for walkers. You are forced to walk into muddy fields, long wet grass and more.
I frequently have cars at 70-80km/h passing me, more often than not they do not deflect to the opposite lane, to pass safely. They drive at 80km/h half a meter from you. This is deeply unpleasant, and in a time of global warming awareness, and environmental consideration this must change.
Walking between villages, to avoid using the car, and to enjoy what the local landscape has to offer, shouldn’t be an unpleasant and scary experience. I say scary but it’s actually anger. Anger that car drivers show no empathy for cyclists and walkers, that if a person walks along a road they are an idiot for doing so.
Thousands of hours have been spent discussing how to make cities more friendly for pedestrians and cyclists but in my experience that is not where the problem lies. That’s just where it’s most attractive to talk about.
The place where we should resolve the lack of pedestrian and cycling routes is the countryside because that is where it is pleasant and rational to walk. The routes I walk are seven to ten kilometres. If I walk where it is safe for pedestrians I’d be walking two kilometre routes. That’s too short. Every village and town should be connected by safe walking, and cycling paths. If they have the space for four roads then at least one should be for pedestrians and cyclists only.
I often cycle and walk along agricultural roads but in my experience they are more dangerous than roads, because cars overtake unsafely. They squeeze you off the road, they don’t bother to slow down. They just force their way through, and if they hear you yell abuse at you, they threaten to beat you up.
“Oh, but you shouldn’t yell at strangers”. I argue from the other angle. Stop making pedestrians feel unsafe, by the way you drive. The more you walk along roads, and the more you cycle, the more toxic the behaviour of drivers becomes. Scuba diving is considered an extreme sport, and so is climbing. I am beginning to think that walking and cycling between villages and towns is an extreme sport too. If you’re a cyclist you often feel cars pass too close and too fast. Drivers rarely slow down, and despite no traffic coming from the opposite side, they insist on squeezing us.
I do have one trick, when cycling. Turn around regularly and keep fixing cars. I have found that if I behave as if I am a scared, paranoid cyclists cars slow down, and give more space. It’s tiring and boring to do, but it does drastically affect my sense of safety.
What I want is not complicated. I want farm roads to ban cars. I also want paths to be built that connect every single village to every other village, so that pedestrians can walk safely from one to the other, without walking along roads. I want it to be pleasant to walk as pedestrians, or cycle, from every village or town, to every other village or town.
We need to encourage people to feel safe to walk from village A to village B, without being endangered by discourteous drivers. We need to make drivers walk by the road side, to experience what it feels like to have a car coming towards them at 80 km/h. We need car drivers to show empathy towards cyclists, and walkers, hikers and more. We need to change the culture that pedestrians and cyclists have no right to use roads.
I would cycle more, if it wasn’t an extreme sport.