The way we move from place to place is impersonal and alienating. Even when we sit next to one another on the bus, train or tram, we politely ignore each other. We pass in the street like ghosts. Even our social media is fundamentally asocial.
But I’ve rediscovered a wonderful phenomenon that I observed a few years ago; the socialising effect of the traffic-free path.
My commute takes me along the Liverpool Loopline for much of the journey, a converted railway path, tree-lined and idyllic, cutting an arc through Liverpool’s suburbs.
And moving along the path amid the morning birdsong, I make a point to say good morning, smile or otherwise acknowledge every person I pass. I nod to fellow cyclers, thank dog walkers who control their dogs when I pass. I even say hello to those who don’t. Most nod, smile or say morning back.
I’ve made it my personal challenge to extract a ‘morning’ from the most morose of my regular fellow commuters- an earnest looking young man with glasses who really should be enjoying life’s bounty more than he appears. He rides too fast, too seriously. He hasn’t smiled, nodded or spoke yet but I have faith and pig-headedness on my side.
I’ve pondered many times why the Loopline and places like it have this fascinating socialising effect. Maybe it’s the semi rural environment that brings out the human in humans, takes us back to a time when we acknowledged one another. Maybe it’s the isolation of this ‘urban lane’ that makes people feel reliant on their temporary linear community. Maybe the human scale, human speed mode reconnects us with each other?
I thought it was a ‘cyclist thing’ but pedestrians, dog people and cyclists all exhibit the same elevated sense of social connection. Apart from Mr Surly with the glasses and the Strava obsession. You know who you are.
Has anyone else noticed this effect on their local cycle trail?