Using your own steam is beneficial

Cyclists from Cumbria leaving Northumberland on their way to St Abbs.  They will cross from England to Scotland over the Union Chain Bridge linking Northumberland and Berwickshire behind the photographer.

Cyclists from Cumbria leaving Northumberland on their way to St Abbs. They will cross from England to Scotland over the Union Chain Bridge linking Northumberland and Berwickshire behind the photographer.

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Despite what we usually think of as transport, the principal form is actually walking.

As well as a means of locomotion, walking is the best form of exercise, and its neglect by people who have a car at their door and use it wherever they are going, parking as close as possible to their destination, results in all sorts of physical difficulties.

The network is still not quite complete, but it is encouraging cyclists to use it for shorter and longer excursions.

The use of buses for local journeys is beneficial because of the need to walk to and from the bus stop. Trains are even better because even if a car is used to reach the station, a walk from the car park to the platform is required, and if it is necessary to cross a bridge, involving steps up and down, that is even better.

Enormous amounts of money have been spent installing lifts at stations so that those who need to use wheelchairs are not disadvantaged, and these are useful also for people carrying heavy bags.

In the first half of the last century the railways were party to those seeking physical exercise. They issued Ramblers’ Return tickets for people to travel to one station and return from another, and they published guide books for ramblers, describing walks utilising footpaths easily accessible from stations. They even adapted trains to carry parties of cyclists at special excursion fares into the countryside.

Latterly, cyclists are being catered for by the establishment of a national cycle route network. These are numbered, like the road network, with main routes and branches. Route 1 covers the east side of the country, from the Shetlands to Dover. Route 6 links London with the Lake District, and its branch Route 68, from Derby to Berwick-upon-Tweed, is the Pennine Cycleway. The network is still not quite complete, but it is encouraging cyclists to use it for shorter and longer excursions.

Something that happens more quickly than the action to remedy it is the creation of potholes in the roads. The increase in the size of farm vehicles has wreaked havoc with the edges of lanes, and the adoption of European standards for large goods vehicles results in increased weight, as well as size, so that roads that were not built for such vehicles crumble and disintegrate faster than the highway authorities can mend them.

Potholes can be bad for motorists, but lethal for cyclists. Being injured because your front wheel has dropped into a pothole and thrown you off is serious. We should import advisers from the Netherlands to tell us how to maintain cycle lanes on main roads. Often where such lanes are provided in this country they are full of muck and obstructions, and they come to an abrupt halt at the very points where they are most needed.

Some of the design features which have bedevilled passenger trains since the privatisation of the railways, such as the reduction of legroom, positioning seats by pillars and the inadequacy of luggage accommodation, are now beginning to be addressed.

Scotrail is designing its new trains with more legroom and seats from which you can see out of the windows. The writer’s worst fears, that the new inter-city trains would be more cramped than those they will replace, are hopefully not to be realised. Reports suggest that these seats, too, are to have more legroom and be better placed in relation to windows.

The demand for car parking at railway stations continues to grow more quickly than provision. The withdrawal of bus services because of the reduction of funding by the Government does not help. Most cars needing to be parked at railway stations have only the driver so half a busload of passengers having to arrive by car instead of by bus means 20 or 30 extra parking spaces are required.

Sadly, initiatives to use trains for a variety of ancillary services, such as Red Star Parcels, which were really useful, have disappeared. Even restaurant car and sleeping car services have only just hung on, but the fact that they have survived is really good news.

John Wylde is the author of Integrated Transport – a Will-o’-the-wisp? This book is priced at £14.95, post paid and signed by the author, also Experiments in Public Transport Operation, at £11.95. Order at www.john-wylde.co.uk