THE car is king in Newcastle.
Challenging that by any other form of locomotion, even walking, can attract gratuitous abuse (get a car mate!) and, at worse, bizarre aggression.
Cycle long enough and the risk of being injured becomes very real.
In my own experience, I’ve had bottles thrown at me, a cap pistol fired from close range, a favourite is the huge shout delivered in passing, shunted off the road, and injured on a dark winter’s night by a passing motorist.
And yet, despite the odds, the number of people opting to leave the petrol guzzler at home is increasing and a cycling presence is emerging.
Newcastle, like many European cities that have held the one-person vehicle at bay, is largely flat and ideally suited to the bike.
The health benefits of cycling are well-known, and championed as a way of fighting the obesity epidemic with exercise that doesn’t strain old joggers’ knees and brings a sense of wellbeing rather than the anger of traffic snarls.
Civic authorities facing pressures to go greener in a culture geared to the car face a challenge.
The city’s roads are often in a terrible condition and spending money on safe cycle paths comes at a high cost.
Aggression towards cyclists is often rooted in a belief that ‘you shouldn’t be on the road cause you don’t pay rego’, although most cyclists also own cars.
Ironically, Newcastle used to be accustomed to a cycling culture in which thousands of steel workers rode to and from work and drivers politely negotiated their way around them.
In many ways the clock has gone full circle and the city must confront the need to provide for alternative transport, particularly in the light of the growing costs of running a car.