The designated bicycle path
When asked to think about the best places in the world to cycle, most people would point to Amsterdam or to Copenhagen (incidentally a city I have just been in this past weekend), with their incredible cycling infrastructures which have led to a cycling culture developing in these cities and countries. No doubt the luxurious paths in these cities have increased safety leading to record numbers of individuals using bicycles not only for leisure but for commuting too. So wouldn't it be great if I didn't live in an intoxicating car filled city like São Paulo and could cycle in these cycle havens? Well, actually, I don't think so because I don't like designated cycling paths.
I can understand why the inexperienced cyclist or casual commuter would want to have the comfort of an individual cycle path to avoid the dangers of big cars, giant lorries and noisy motorbikes. The designated cycle path provides a safe and secure environment in which a cyclist only need worry about themselves and other cyclists without having to worry about the aforementioned dangers. However, the bicycle path is not without its limitations. I believe in the Netherlands the maximum speed allowance on a bicycle route is generally set at 20 km/h; in São Paulo I have seen this to be as low as 10 km/h on the limited paths and no more than 30 km/h (as far as I am aware). This means that I cannot cycle at my normal speeds of 30 – 40 km/h without breaking the law, and thus I need to cycle on the road. Luckily, it is not compulsory to cycle in the bicycle path in most cities and I would always favour the road. However, this has led to numerous altercations with drivers trying to force me off the road because they believe I should be on the bicycle path and not on 'their' road. Therefore, the presence of a cycle path beside the road is actually more of a hindrance to me than a help.
The ciclovia Pinheiros in São Paulo has a low speed limit of only 20 km/h
Further issues I have with cycling paths relate more to specific locations, designs and regulations of the paths themselves that may differ from country to country. In general, it would appear that cycle paths are designed by people who themselves have no experience of cycling. In São Paulo, for instance, they paint cycle paths with red paint that makes the road slippery. [I also had the “pleasure” of cycling through a freshly painted section with no indication that it was wet paint. The natural result was that the road and I collided, swapping red fluid which remain coated to this day.] Furthermore, most of the new cycle paths round São Paulo have simply been painted over existing road by the gutters, meaning cyclists encounter storm drains, rubbish bags and elevated sections for garage entry. Meanwhile, in Belgium, many cycling paths are meant for co-occupancy with pedestrians, making it dangerous for all parties if a bicycle reaches any kind of normal bicycle speed rendering the cycle lane pointless. Additionally, many road side cycle paths end abruptly or require you to mount a curb 20 cm thick that has the ability to turn a wheel into a square, and some cycling paths are just so absurd they are beyond logic (though make for hilarious viewing).
A newly painted cycle lane in São Paulo
Don’t get me wrong, I think the development of new cycle lanes around cities is great to encourage new individuals to take to two wheels and they certainly provide an opportunity for the novice to do so with confidence due to their relative safety. However, I think bicycle paths are made for exactly these people: the novice and casual commuter who struggle to reach 20 km/h. The sheer quality of my bike means it is difficult to cycle anything under 30 km/h. I would personally much prefer cars and bicycles to co-exist on the road, with no designated cycle areas but simply more respect between the two sets of road users. I am also a driver, and I have the restraint to sit patiently behind an individual on a bike until I can safely overtake; safety is key for both me as the driver and the cyclist. This co-existence based on mutual respect is a long way off, but in the meantime I am happy to cruise alongside the four wheeled vehicles on the road at speeds exceeding 35 km/h while the lesser cyclist casually enjoys their specifically designated path with not a care in the world. Watch out for those stairs!