IN September, The Gazette put the spotlight on cyclists riding illegally at Top of The Town following concerns from readers that it was a problem area.
The issue resulted in much debate, with some suggesting that the area should never have been made into a pedestrian zone in the first place.
One of these was Mayor of Basingstoke and Deane Councillor Martin Biermann, who regularly uses his bike to attend engagements.
He believes much of Basingstoke is not cycle-friendly, and to prove a point, he took me on a tour of the town to highlight some of the problem areas, and to explain how he feels the borough is not doing enough to encourage people to get on their bikes.
We headed to Top of The Town, where Cllr Biermann believes the ‘no cycling’ signs are “inadequate” because of their size and position.
Although there are signs in the area, some of the entrances do not have them, and therefore a cyclist could break the law before even realising they are doing so.
Although I agreed the signs are quite small, and accepted the fact they are not prominent, I had to point out that because the area is clearly not for cars, surely a cyclist should automatically question whether they are allowed to cycle there before doing so?
Cllr Biermann mentioned that when the area was pedestrianised, the council had a responsibility to provide alternative provision for cyclists.
He said: “I suspect the signs don’t conform with the statutory guidance and that blocking off that route for cycling doesn’t conform with the (Department for Transport) guidelines which suggest there should be alternative provision if imposing cycling restrictions.
“My argument is that it would be perfectly manageable to set up shared use of Top of The Town. But I’m the first to accept that’s an opinion.”
We then headed to Eastrop Roundabout, where the mayor presented the option of going through the underpass or around the roundabout.
“Sometimes pedestrians aren’t happy if you cycle through underpasses,” he said. “And sometimes I’m not happy because if you have a crowd of kids in there, you are meant to use your bell but that seems rude.”
Once through the underpass there is a fairly steep hill the other side, which I managed without getting off my bike.
The alternative route would be to join the cars on the roundabout. Unless you are a competent cyclist, which I am not, then this is a crazy idea, and totally unnecessary when there is another way.
My fears were sadly proved right when, riding alongside the cars on the approach to the traffic lights from Basing View, I smacked into a wing-mirror before falling in a bush. The approach is too narrow to queue alongside the cars and there are nettles in the way.
Another area of the town which poses problems for cyclists is a newly-dedicated cycle and pedestrian path along Popley Way and Carpenters Down.
Cllr Biermann said many cyclists opt to use the road instead, where they have right of way, rather than give way to cars coming out of side roads if they are on the cycle path.
At the Reading Road Roundabout, the mayor said cyclists either have to get off their bike on a section of pavement, or join the cars on the Ring Road.
And in Popley, the route from Sherborne St John was completely blocked off when Everest Community Academy was built.
Although he admits these problems individually are a minor nuisance, he believes the inconvenience of having to constantly dismount could discourage people from using their bike to get somewhere.
“They are only little things,” he said. “But if you are talking about lots of little things, then it becomes a nuisance.”
I don’t cycle regularly, so perhaps it is more difficult for me to understand the mayor’s point of view, and those of other cyclists.
I do agree that certain routes perhaps could be made more cycle-friendly, but to suggest that cyclists should be able to make every journey without getting off their bikes or stopping is, in my opinion, unrealistic. Even if there were dedicated paths along every road, cyclists still have to observe traffic lights, give way signs, and other obstructions.
But what do you think?