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Saddled with traffic - or dodging the pedestrians
12:14pm Saturday 10th February 2007 in News
THE bike slowly wobbles along St Cuthbert's Way, past the magistrates' court and police station.
It clings nervously to the kerb as huge buses, lorries, and vans zoom past it.
The bike reaches Victoria Road roundabout, near Feethams, and comes to an uncertain stop.
As the cyclist waits to turn right, the truck in front spits fumes over him. The cars behind rev menacingly.
This is cycling on Darlington's ring road - intimidating and unpleasant.
And I should know - I was the cyclist.
But the Darlington Cycling Campaign, which asked me to ride round the town, insist things can change.
The campaign, founded in 2005, has recently called for a 20mph speed limit around Darlington.
It approves of cycling in the Pedestrian Heart, and wants more cycle paths built. In the meantime, it says, pedestrians should share pavements with cyclists.
Richard Grassick, campaign chairman, says biking in Darlington involves "fighting with cars".
"We have got to think about who is not cycling in Darlington, but would like to - especially women," he says. "What we have at the moment is macho cycling.
"You have to be confident and assertive. You are fighting with the cars, and that's not what I want."
Mr Grassick's wife is from Bremen, Germany. There, he says, cyclists are not an afterthought.
"In Germany, the hierarchy is public transport, pedestrians, cyclists, and then, lastly, cars. I think here it is the other way round."
Back in Darlington, a six-month trial allows cyclists to ride through the Pedestrian Heart. When I tried it, an old woman hissed at me outside Thornton's.
"This is for pedestrians," she said. She was wrong, but I knew what she meant.
When dodging the shoppers, I felt like an unwanted intruder. I was bigger, quicker, and in the way - like a lumbering grown-up in a children's kickaround.
But Tim Stahl, from the Darlington Cycling Campaign, believes considerate cyclists pose no threat.
"I have a great deal of sympathy for the pedestrian view," he says. "But it's a perception of danger - it's not dangerous in reality.
"On the very rare occasion a cyclist does bump into a pedestrian, it's usually the cyclist who comes off worse. No cyclist rides into a pedestrian deliberately.
"You always have your hands on the brakes when you ride in town. You're ready to stop at any instance.
"What pedestrians will often say is 'Cyclists ride round at dangerous speeds'. But they are not our sort, and we are totally against them."
The alternative - being made to cycle on the ring road - is an "aggressive act", according to Mr Grassick.
"I think it's violent that we are forced out into a dangerous area like the ring road," he says. "It's an aggressive act."
Darlington Borough Council is not sitting idly: there are 20 kilometres of cycle paths in the town centre and new ones are being built up to the rail station, Haughton Road, and McMullen Road.
But, as yet, there are no cycle paths on Priestgate. As I cycled back to work, the buses snarling in front and behind, I wished there were.
The Darlington Cycling Campaign is holding an event to discuss the future of cycling in town. The Darlington Cycling Symposium will take place at Bondgate Methodist Church, Bondgate, on March 17, from 1pm to 5.30pm.
The bike and helmet were provided by Bikesport, Bondgate