A white “ghost cycle” memorial was recently set up near the scene of a collision that killed a cyclist in downtown Oslo last month. As city officials promote cycling ahead of driving, and invest billions in cycling lanes, cyclists themselves are also being accused of recklessness and what one police officer calls an “egoistic” attitude.
Police Sgt Finn Erik Grønli referred in newspaper Aftenposten on Monday to a case last week involving a Norwegian man in his 50s who opted to cycle in a lane reserved for buses and electric cars instead of in the lane reserved for cyclists and pedestrians. That’s not illegal according to current traffic law, but the speed limit in the bus lane is 60kmph (nearly 40mph), and the cyclist thus held up all the traffic behind him, since there was no room for packed commuter buses to pass him.
“We believe the cyclist should have used the cycling and pedestrian lane that runs parallel on Mosseveien,” Grønli told Aftenposten. He and his colleagues were out patrolling Mosseveien, which serves as a main artery in and out of Oslo from the south, last Monday afternoon. They expected to catch drivers of fossil-fueled vehicles that are not allowed in the special lane, but instead cited the cyclist for holding up traffic: “We believe he was an unnecessary hindrance for other traffic. He could also have quickly landed in the blind zone for a bus or truck on a dangerous stretch of road. Therefore we want cyclists to use the pedestrian and cycling lane.”
Cyclist rejects cycling lanes
The male cyclist, who didn’t want to be identified publicly, clearly doesn’t care what the police want. He refuses to use the cycling lane and is protesting his traffic citation, claiming he’s not guilty of an illegal offense. “The police have been in contact with me several times regarding cycling on Mosseveien, but I want to keep cycling there,” he told Aftenposten.
Asked why he wouldn’t use one of the many bike lanes in which the city is investing an estimated NOK 13.5 billion of taxpayers’ and motorists’ money, he claimed he usually cycles at an average speed of 40kph, and could thus frighten school children or other pedestrians using the same lane. He downplayed the hindrance police claim he posed to bus traffic, adding that “as a rule, I’m the one hindered by cars on Mosseveien.”
Police who pulled him over last week contend he did not have an adequate excuse for not using the cycling lane. “Everyone must adapt their speed to the conditions,” Grønli said. “It’s egoistic when a cyclist claims he can delay traffic on Mosseveien instead of reducing his own speed on the pedestrian and bike lane.”
The cyclist has won support from the national cycling association (Syklistenes Landsforening), which claims that cyclists shouldn’t have to use bike lanes if they’re shared with pedestrians and they thus can’t cycle as fast as they’d like. Morgan Anderson, secretary general of the association, also downplayed last week’s alleged traffic hindrance, saying it was the first time a cyclist has been cited for cycling in the bus lane. He thinks the police should have simply “established a dialogue” with the man, instead of fining him.
Long-simmering battle for turf
Not everyone agrees, as the long-simmering battle for turf among pedestrians, cyclists and motorists gathers more steam. Aftenposten also reported recently on a new study that showed how fully two-thirds of cyclists questioned think it’s dangerous to cycle in Oslo. Women are the most fearful, according to the study conducted by the state Transport Economic Institute that also surveyed cyclists in Trondheim, Stavanger and Bergen.
Both pedestrians and motorists, however, also fear the cyclists who often prove themselves to be unpredictable. While the driver of a car must always yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk, cyclists don’t always yield to pedestrians, and even yell at them on occasion for getting in their way.
“Cyclists now seem to have free access to cycle where they want, and how they want,” Oslo resident Ingunn Sakshaug recently told newspaper Morgenbladet. She has written commentaries in both Aftenposten and Vårt Oslo, complaining about reckless cyclists.
“When I walk to work, I feel it’s become more challenging to be a pedestrian,” Sakshaug said. “There are now many cyclists, and many who don’t follow traffic rules.” She said it’s a big topic of lunchtime conversation where she works, and she thinks it’s never been so risky to walk in Oslo as now: “Motorists drive in accordance with signs and traffic lights, but cyclists choose to be a combination of motorist, cyclist and pedestrian in accordance with what suits them best. That makes them unpredictable for us adults and especially children, who grow up learning to wait for the green light to cross a street. Cyclists often cycle against a red light.”
Call for responsibility
She thinks cyclists need to become more responsible and behave better in the city, where they also need to share the road: “I have nothing against cyclists, I just want them to think about how they’re behaving.”
City officials, meanwhile, are moving forward with Oslo’s ambitious plans to make the city more cycling-friendly. The city’s Labour Party-led government, with a transport chief from the Greens Party, plans to create 60 kilometers of cycling lanes by next year and another 350 kilometers by 2030, often at the expense of car owners who continue to lose street parking. Funding for much of it (NOK 5.5 billion) is coming from the controversial road tolls being charged motorists.
“We have boosted bike lane creation greatly, year by year,” the city’s equally controversial transport chief, Lan Nguyen Berg, told Aftenposten last week. She claims it was simply a matter of making cyclists “a priority on city streets.” Many question whether that’s now backfiring, given all the complaints about cyclists, also now from police.
“What we really need as we move forward,” Berg conceded, “is to get more separate bike lanes.” That takes more time, though, and often demands a rezoning process, she said, while she and her political colleagues in Oslo want to get as many bike lanes in place as possible before the next municipal election next year.