Cycling on the Pavement

AC_marblesI notice that a four-year-old girl has been cautioned by the police for riding her bicycle on the pavement, even though she is well below the age of criminal responsibility and, well, she is a small child riding a bicycle (with stabilizers, no less).

Still, quite right. I was once fined for cycling on the pavement in Cambridge. I hopped up to cut inside a bus waiting at the lights at the top of Magdalene Street, and was confronted by a police officer with a camera. He had me bang to rights. I attempted to argue my case – that on many Cambridge streets pavements are dual use, and are only signalled as such by a faded painting of a bicycle; that this indicates that cycling on the pavement is not in-and-of-itself ‘dangerous’ (his word); that in many cases it is safer for a cyclist (and other road users, if not, admittedly, pedestrians) to go up on the pavement. And so on. The whole time I was talking the officer was taking down my details, and I had to pay the fine. Thirty quid, if I recall.

The corner where I was caught is a hot spot for pavement hoodlums. The road narrows and there are often buses waiting there, and it is usually safer to be out in front where they can see you, I find. I suppose, however, that I was not only legally in the wrong, but morally.

Did it stop me cycling on the pavement? I confess, no. Cycling on the pavement brings out the centaur in us all.The bicycle is an ambiguous form of transport. In recent years we have started to treat it as a vehicle like any other – car, lorry, bus – but it clearly sits somewhere between childhood and adulthood, between horse and man. It still feels like a small leap for freedom every time I climb on one. Only with difficulty do I suppress the desire to do wheelies down the middle of the road. A cyclist, not to put to fine a point on it, is a hooligan, a centaur from the wild margins of society, gadding about among the sedentary motorists and pedestrians, stinging them as they go. Motorists, dull-witted folk constrained by traffic signals, would see us banned and fined and corralled and disciplined. But it’s not going to happen. I don’t shoot red lights as often as I used to (I am glad of a rest), nor do I mow down pedestrians on the pavement (I usually slow to a walk); so it is nice to see a new generation of hoodlums picking up the cudgels as I gradually lay them down. Just wait till she takes off the stabilizers.

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