A day in the life of somebody cycling from Timsbury

We recently highlighted the work that Timsbury Cycling Group are doing and as part of their work Alex Evans reached out to me about what he can do next forwarding the email chain he has had with the council.

Within one of his emails, he describes his daily commute from Timsbury. I tried highlighting particular sentences but it ended up with most of the email being highlighted. Read it. Understand this is a daily occurrence. 

Dear XXXX,

Many thanks for you reply.

Whilst I appreciate that the works are limited to the junction itself, a clear opportunity is being missed here – improving cycle infrastructure and even adding it where it is currently non existent will do several things – encourage people to cycle (attracting new and inexperienced riders), reduce conflict between road users and aid traffic flow, saving the environment and reducing deaths. Maybe the below will shed some light on the experiences of a cyclist that travels along this road daily (if you are not one yourself):

I wake up at 6am, get dressed and get my bike out to cycle to work. I turn on my two rear lights – one flashing, one constant. I turn on my two front lights, again one flashing, one constant. I put on my rucksack with its reflective, high visibility cover and start my journey to work at around 6:15am.

I cycle through Timsbury, turn along Bloodfield road towards Farmborough. At this time, along here, traffic is relatively light. Although some people are inconsiderate and selfish, overtaking around blind bends, blind crests and whilst traffic is coming in the opposite direction, it’s not a consistent issue. Generally speaking as I climb the hill to the A39 turning after Farmborough, cars will overtake as I approach the junction, wishing to turn right. This is dangerous, and although speeds are slow it causes me some issues trying to balance behind a car that has filled my ‘safety gap’ on the approach to the junction.

Along the A39, things get interesting. Although the speed limit for the first 200 – 300 meters is 30mph, cars generally drive along at 40 – 50 mph and come up behind me without a single thought for my safety and consequences of colliding with me if they have to abort an ill-planned overtake around the blind left hand bend. After the short climb around the left hand bend past the New Inn, I will have gathered enough momentum to cycle at 20 – 22mph. The road here is relatively straight and visibility is good, although cars do squeeze past at highly inappropriate moments in a display of self-righteous road-ownership and I have been forced to take evasive manoeuvres on multiple occasions, ending up on the verge and in the hedge row wondering how I managed to not crash.

Coming into Marksbury, the road widens again. There is a pavement and a central reservation with pinch points (traffic islands) throughout the village. If a car hasn’t managed to overtake me whilst approaching the traffic lights or whilst accelerating through a quickly closing gap, turning right into Marksbury, vehicles will be forced to wait behind me. Between each dangerous (and newly installed) traffic island, cars will attempt to overtake me – some successfully, some unsuccessfully, backing down when they realise they have a choice between colliding with me or a traffic island. The ones that successfully make it past do so dangerously and with complete contempt for my life. The road here is busy, people are in a rush to get to work and I am an obstacle in their way – the road is a place for a cars (or so it feels).

After navigating through the perils of Marksbury, the road’s width remains the same, except there are no traffic islands or central hatched markings. Cars can overtake here with relative ease and whilst some do leave plenty of space a vast majority will choose to not even depart from the lane I am sharing with them and perform a safe overtake, instead, choosing to pass as closely as possible, for a reason I am yet to understand. Cycling down the hill towards the dual carriageway I am now comfortably approaching 25 – 30mph as the road once again widens before opening out into the most dangerous part of the ride.

Because our society has produced people that are only capable of thinking selfishly, motorists (lorries, buses, vans and cars all included) need to be in front of the person in front of them. The dual carriageway (with massive central reservation and verges at the sides) means cars can, and do, speed up to 70mph between the 40 and 60mph limits either side. I am an obstacle in their way on my bicycle. People have had to perform emergency manoeuvres behind me because they are being overtaken by other vehicles whilst I am occupying lane 1, showing a total unawareness of my presence. Other people chose to barely move out of lane 1 into the clear lane 2 to overtake me, brushing past my elbow and handlebars, all whilst travelling in excess of 60mph – a speed differential of around 40mph.

Towards the end of the dual carriageway, the central reservation turns into hatched markings, and from just before the 40mph limit sign a pavement appears at the side of the carriageway. As the road narrows, and the dual carriageway ends, motorists will attempt to squeeze past as my speed slows up the hill towards to the Two Headed Man junction. Regardless of oncoming traffic, traffic light colour or my desired intentions at the junction cars will overtake. They will overtake even if I am at the front of a queue approaching a red light and they’ll overtake even if they’re going to turn left across my path. The majority of people turn left towards to Keynsham at this time of day at this junction. I wish to turn right (or go ‘straight on’) along the A39. The pavement is still present at this point and continues across the junction along the A39. Now at the front of the queue I accelerate away from the lights and if I am lucky motorists wont cut directly in front of me as they turn towards Keynsham – this type of idiocy has happened multiple times.

After this junction, traffic calms and the road is wide and straight – cars do overtake in a safer fashion, unless they are held up by oncoming vehicles or have taken a dislike to me cycling along the road. My journey along the A39 ends at the Wheatsheaf pub where I turn into the lanes to join the cycle route and eventually the Bristol to Bath cycle path.

It is now between 6:25 and 6:35am and I have been subjected to severe (unnecessary) danger for a prolonged period of time. This part of my journey takes between 8 and 15 minutes (depending on weather, tiredness, traffic lights and if I have my partner with me). As a rough estimation, my life is in danger between 2 and 7 times because of irresponsible drivers. I don’t choose to wake up at 6am and travel to work so early – I don’t need to be in my office by 7:30am (in fact, my job dictates that I arrive at 9:30), but I leave this early because it is the safest time to do so. Any later and the traffic is worse – motorists drive more frantically, with less consideration not more.

The dangers to cyclists on this stretch of road are presented by:

  1. Poorly designed roads – pinch points, traffic encouraged to drive too fast, poor use of space, unclear rights of way
  2. A self-entitled right ‘to be the first at all costs’, ratified by the above (driving too fast being the main reason – read; ‘fluidity of traffic’).
  3. Lack of segregation between vulnerable road users and motorists

Looking into the causes and potential remedies of these dangers I suggest the council considers:

  1. Putting the main carriageway on a ‘diet’ in Marksbury – recuperating the central hatched reservation space for use as a dedicated cycle lane for the length of Marksbury. This will require repainting of white lines and removal of the newly added traffic islands (why were they put there? They are hideously dangerous for cyclists!)
  2. Continuation of ‘road diet’ after Marksbury towards the Two Headed man junction in both directions giving cyclists a dedicated, segregated space to cycle until the dual carriageway. This will require painting of white lines.
  3. Recuperation of one lane of the dual carriage way or verge or reduction of central reservation to provide a dedicated space for cyclists on the approach and away from the Two Headed Man junction. This will require painting of white lines or more work should alternative plans be pursued.
  4. Recuperation of the footway (that I have never seen a single pedestrian use) to give cyclists a dedicated cycle lane up to and after the Two Headed Man junction along the A39. This will require painting of white lines and removal of footway.

In reply to some of your other points – improving traffic flow through junctions and other intersections simply gives the driver an alternative problem to focus on. If they are stuck in traffic and a cyclist passes them, the cyclist isn’t in danger. If the cyclist is causing the delay because traffic is moving freely then they are the ones that are going to ‘bear the brunt’ of the aggression – this is something I have experienced first hand. ‘Improving traffic flow’ is only going to accentuate this issue, particularly in this area.

How are cyclists going to travel along the A39 in the Bath direction where the junction splits? Are they going to have to remain in the left hand lane or travel across a lane of traffic wishing to turn left to be in the right hand lane to carry straight on? Or is there a better plan in place? How are you going to deal with cyclists sitting in the ‘middle’ of two lanes of fast moving traffic?

As you note, neither the A39 or the B3116 form part of the ‘strategic cycle network’. What, therefore, is your suggestion for a route to travel to either Bristol or Bath from Timsbury and surrounding areas? Considering people use this route as a commuting network to their places of work, not a leisure ride at the weekend. It takes me roughly an hour to travel to Bristol from Timsbury. Who decides what and where constitutes a part of the strategic cycle network?

Whilst I appreciate that benefit is measured in different ways – and money is limited – why would cycling not be considered when plans are being discussed and made to modify a highly dangerous section of road? It seems totally counterintuitive to ignore cycling as a legitimate, alternative form of transport to the motorcar. To say that I am highly disappointed Bath and North East Somerset council take this stance is an understatement.

If the works are only limited to the junction itself, cyclists’ needs should be considered at this stage so that bigger, better plans can be incorporated at a later date. There is adequate space in and around the junction (what is happening to the unused footway, by the way?) to cater for cyclists’ needs– what about a ‘junction bypass’? The motorists’ needs are pandered to, but those who suffer in car-bicycle accidents are totally ignored.

And, whilst is I hate to end on a morbid and passive-aggressive note, how many incidents and deaths is it going to take for this to become an issue? I sincerely hope I never get hit by a car, but as the road layout currently stands the likelihood is high. At what point does cost, inconvenience and ‘levels of scope’ outweigh saving lives?

I also offer an open invitation to all councillors (and anyone, for that matter!) to come along with me on my commute to and from work so that they can experience the risks first hand. My phone number is in my signature, please do ring any time to arrange this. I think most non-cyclists would find the dangers truly eye opening and quite terrifying.

I look forward to your thoughts,

Mr. Evans.

I am amazed at his perseverance and the way Alex casually excuses dangerous driving but I guess you do get used to it but he also shared some of the stills from his camera.

This stuff happens DAILY!

Call the police!

And before you ask, yes he has approached the police with some of these. Particularly one driver who was close passing him daily for 5 weeks. The police, at the time, felt there was no further action that could be taken despite video evidence. I’m hoping the introduction of Operation Close Pass and the better acceptance of 3rd party video might help Alex in the future.

Now what?

Given the responses to Alex, I do think there is little that will happen now to change the Two Headed Man scheme:
Note complete lack of any consideration for people cycling this junction.

When should we have been consulted?

I think that any chance ‘we’ had of getting this right was probably months ago when the council initially put together the proposal and presented it to the LEP. Not after the Metro-Mayor approved the scheme.  I’d almost suggest that going back to the Metro-Mayor and asking for more money because ‘we forgot about people cycling’ might be a bit embarrassing.
I’d like to think there is some way to redress the balance and maybe the newly appointed Cabinet Member for Transport Cllr Mark Shelford might be able to achieve something. I would happily point him towards Public Highways IAN 195 and the spatial requirements for the speed profile of the road:
So that would be a segregated cycle track please.
Thus we are between a rock and a hard place created by an initial proposal being considered a ‘car only’ scheme and the finances only being put in place to deliver that ‘car only’ scheme.

The bigger picture…

I recognise that this is not just about the Two Headed Man junction but about creating comprehensive end to end good cycle networks BUT we need to start somewhere, and if we are going to improve one piece of the puzzle then we should damn well think about a future where all the pieces fit together and provide us with an end-to-end good cycle network.
Brian Deegan (ex TfL) wrote in this article “What makes designing for cycling so hard?”

There is no such thing as a cycling scheme and there is no such thing as a scheme that isn’t a cycling scheme.

This should be on a poster on the wall of every Council department in the West of England that deals with transport.


A comment from Roger Symmonds, ex Cllr on Cycle Bath FB post

There will be no change until officers of the council change their raisin d’etre, which is improving traffic flow. This is their mantra and cyclists of course hamper traffic flow. This letter fits well with any commuter route that follows a main road into Bath. £500k for 2 headed man junction has been an officer favourite for years. In my time I stopped it every time they tried to do it. It’s just to improve traffic flow.

For me this demonstrates a similar approach that officers used to push the Park and Ride. They’ve wanted this for years, but needed a council that was friendly to their wishes. The problem is, things move on. Yes get your scheme approved, but damn well make sure it is using modern approaches and provides for all road users. We’re not living in the 2000s. Welcome to 2017.


    • The problem with this argument within a rural context, and we are talking riding 7.5 miles on mostly 60mph ‘modern’ A roads with no pavement let alone space for cycling, is that for you to achieve that you need to provide travel choice. It isn’t that you can suddenly give up your car and choose another form of transport, but that you cannot simply survive without a car.

      I think we have decades of investment in cycling before we start looking toward ‘fixing’ the routes into our rural areas. This is something that the government of the 1930’s understood and is why they insisted that any council wanting money for roads, had to build segregated cycle infrastructure with it. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/bike-blog/2017/may/09/how-80-forgotten-1930s-cycleways-could-transform-uk-cycling

      Where we are now is trying to investing in our Urban environments and doing the easy rural ‘leisure’ routes using old railway lines. I do hope one day we achieve a national cycle highway network connecting many towns and villages to our cities but I think we are some ways off that unfortunately.

  1. People who choose to drive also experience terrible cyclist who can cause accidents. The same rules should apply to both cyclist and driver, we allow space for cyclist but whilst we await in traffic and a cyclist clips several wing mirrors squeezing past the traffic, I witness this first hand yesterday. I’m all for cycling but again a small minority of terrible cyclist lead people to put everyone all in the same category. Cyclist need more cycle paths. Dash cams do not pick up cyclist hitting the side of your car, how do drivers report cyclist? who pays for the damage?

    • Part of me wants to point out to you that clipping a wing mirror and 2-7 dangerous passes on a daily basis really are not very equivalent. Normal criminal damage laws do apply, in a similar way to somebody walking along and clipping a wing mirror.

      I do think the big issue here is that we are sharing the same space. We should not have people walking at 3mph sharing space with people cycling at 12-20mph and neither should we have people cycling sharing the same space as people driving at 20-70mph. It is precisely because we have designed our roads in the way we have the situation you described.

      The other problem is that we just simply have bad road users, whatever their mode of transport.

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