Bicycle plan will work if people act responsibly

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Yet another front has opened up in Portsmouth in the ongoing war of words between cyclists and those who see people on two-wheels as a dangerous pest.

The city has seen several areas hit a nerve with both or either party – recent flashpoints have been operations to stop and fine pavement cyclists, and the cycle lane that was constructed at no little expense along the seafront.

Each time the same arguments are rehearsed – cyclists point out (quite rightly) that Portsmouth is a small, congested island and therefore the fewer cars on the road, the better it is for everyone.

On the other hand, the more anti-lobby say (quite rightly) that some cyclists are inconsiderate and can prove a danger.

The same thoughts resurface today, as we report on putative plans to allow cyclists to use Commercial Road in the city centre outside shopping hours.

What is less often remarked upon is that the pro and anti cycling lobby are actually arguing about different points, and that there is a lot of shared ground.

Someone once described the bicycle as ‘technology without drawback’, and it is true that a small, swift, healthy, non-polluting means of transport is ideal in a flat city such as Portsmouth. Even those most distrustful of cyclists must admit that, and must concede that our roads would be improved if more people took to bikes.

On the other hand, all cyclists will have seen behaviour by fellow two-wheelers that will have made them wince with embarrassment or shudder with fear as someone on a bike whizzes on a pavement jumps a set of traffic lights. Everyone can agree with this, too.

What we need to do is recognise common ground. We would all be better off if the city was cycle-friendly, but in return cyclists have to be pedestrian-friendly.

Portsmouth has the geography to be a nationally-regarded centre of cycling. We need more plans such as the city centre change, but we also need to have occasional enforcement so it is not abused by an irresponsible minority. We can make this work, if we all pull together, rather than just taking sides. It works on the continent, and it could work here.