Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Dear Jim...

Dear Jim,

Will you fix it for me to know why we have such stupid, restrictive laws in England which prevent cyclists from using the vast majority of the public rights of way network?

Someone pointed out to me that you no longer actually promise to fix it, so I sent a letter to my MP too, some chap called David Cameron:

I was wondering what your position is (if any) on the right of access to the countryside by cyclists and specifically a change in the law allowing cyclists to use footpaths. As it stands, in England cyclists have access to only about 20% of all public rights of way, with the vast majority being footpaths and therefore off-limits no matter that most footpaths are perfectly suitable for cycling along. When compared with the Scottish system (cyclists and walkers sharing all the same routes with no discrimination), the English legislation seems needlessly proscriptive, and given it's an aim to get people more active and to use sustainable transport more, seems positively obstructive for no good reason. Provided that cyclists are required to cycle responsibly (as in Scotland), I don't see any rational argument against allowing them to use footpaths. Bicycles don't cause any more erosion of trails than walkers do, and judging by the Scottish system, even near major cities such as Edinburgh cyclists and pedestrians seem perfectly capable of co-existing on the same paths without trouble - as they already do on bridleways and other byways in England. Just not footpaths, for some arbitrary reason.

I should make it clear I'm talking about right-of-way footpaths only, not pavements next to highways.

Some background information:



Thanks for your time.

Yours sincerely, etc.

Imagine my glee when I got a reply in a fancy Houses of Parliament envelope!

Thank you for your email dated 16 Septmeber 2009 about changing the law to allow cyclists to use right-of-way footpaths.

I can understand why you feel the current system is unfair to cyclists. As you mention, whilst legislation currently allows cyclists to use bridal[sic] paths, they are not permitted to use right-of-way footpaths, which are reserved for pedestrians.

There are problems with changing existing legislation to allow cyclists to use all right-of-way footpaths. Whilst many of these footpaths may be suitable for cyclists, others are not and allowing cyclists to use them could have significant safety implications for both themselves and pedestrians.

I do certainly think that local authorities should encourage landowners to volunteer to allow cyclists to use footpaths that run through their land. Similar initiatives have been used successfully around the country, and I believe this is a more cost-effective, local solution of opening up the countryside to cyclists.

I am a keen cyclist myself and encouraging people to cycle more will be a major priority for a future Conservative Government. My party will reform the much-criticised Transport Innovation Fund, to free local authorities to use £200 million a year to encourage the development of new green transport schemes such as cycle routes and corridors. These measures will help improve road safety and promote cycling as a safe alternative means of travel.

Thank you again for taking the time to write to me.

David Cameron

So, first of all, thanks to David Cameron for taking the time to reply. But I don't really agree with any of the reasons he gives for maintaining the status quo. I'll get my thoughts in order, then post my criticisms in a bit. I may even write back (not that I think it'll do much good), so if you have any evidence/arguments you think I should include then let me know. Or, if you particularly want to, write to your own MP. Yes, even if you're in Scotland, since hilariously your MP in Westminster gets to have a say on English laws even if my MP doesn't get a say on Scottish laws.

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