As I am sure you know we organised a ride on 23rd March in protest at Reading Borough Council’s inaction over the dangers faced by cyclists on the Vastern Road Roundabout.
The background to this is the roundabout at the end of Reading Bridge has always been nerve wracking and hazardous for cyclists.
Ever since I have known it, I have found it challenging to cycle over for a few reasons, almost all of it driver behaviour. The approaches allow drivers to go quite fast, so they often fail to slow down, and the amount of space on the roundabout enables them to hold quite high speeds.
Drivers at high speeds have less time to react and less time to look out for things like cyclists (and to some extent motorcyclists too).
Almost 10 years ago the Campaign was consulted over a redesign proposal, but to our dismay it looked like none of these issues was being addressed.
In fact due to the larger radiuses on the roundabout, and the arrangement of the bus lanes on Vastern Road itself, it had the potential to make matters even more hazardous.
And so it proved; despite vast sums of money being spent, it simply increased accidents involving cyclists.
You might wonder why cyclists continue to use it. We have after all got two crossings of Vastern Road and a new bridge, but crucially these are really not well designed for cyclists.
Crossing Vastern Road on the dedicated crossings means waiting for two signal phases, and when it’s busy the areas for cyclists and pedestrians to wait are very confined and awkward.
Crossing the new bridge in the rush hour is also awkward, mixing with lots of pedestrians. Confident and experienced cyclists naturally prefer the speed and convenience afforded by the road.
Every once in a while one is involved in a collision, approaching 10 a year in some years. Collisions with cyclists and fast moving vehicles are horrific, but despite this Reading Borough Council have done absolutely nothing to tackle it, not even responding to our enquiries and suggestions.
So after one of our member’s son was involved in a collision we decided to act.
Planning a mass bike ride is fraught. What if only a handful of people turn up? What if it’s raining? What if someone on the ride gets hurt? What about the route to take? How do we make sure we get good coverage in the news?
We arrived in Christchurch Meadows nervously and very early. Over the next 45 minutes people on bikes started to arrive, more and more, on tandems, on bikes bedecked with flowers, on recumbents, on shoppers, folders and racers. This was going to be way bigger than we dared hope for.
Our marshalling plans were a bit awry, mostly due to the sheer numbers, but also due to the people we had hoped to help not turning up, but I figured with so many people we would easily dominate the road space and marshalling wouldn’t be so vital.
So we made our way out of the park, over Reading Bridge and onto the roundabout. We circled it until everyone was on the roundabout, 85 people using it, way way more than you could ever get in cars!
It was silent (apart from some bells!) and the drivers had to wait, including one irate driver who was on her phone!
We then regrouped at the underpass and either rode or walked through carefully and without incident. The reason we went through the underpass was because we should be able to cycle there.
It is bigger than almost every underpass cyclists use now; the excuse RBC gave for excluding us is pathetic, it is very similar dimensions to the bridge which is the Council’s flagship cycling facility apparently, so if it is OK on the bridge why is it not OK under the railway?
And because we are banned from riding through many people choose the road, and hence the collisions.
We then rode around town, but sadly we kept getting split up by the traffic lights and had to keep waiting to regroup, which made for a tedious ride, but we managed three circuits of the town and several circuits of the round-about, although we encountered a bit of ferocious driving, and people trying to bully some of us off the road with their cars.
Overall though it was really lovely for several reasons. Cycling in a big group is a novelty, and a lot of fun. I met loads of people, some of whom I hadn’t seen for years, some I had never met before.
The weather was amazing. We had lots of media out to film and interview us. We got some great post ride coverage on TV and in the local media.
The general consensus was for us to do this again. And we will. But before we do though, we need to sort one or two things out, one of which is to keep everyone together.
And I have a plan for this, so hopefully we’ll be having regular mass rides around Reading before too long, I really hope to see some of you out on them!