I’m going to get a bit ranty, today. Sorry about that. It is also very UK -centric.
I ride a bike. I also walk, and I drive a car. When I can get away with it (when there’s little traffic) I’ll run on roads, too. I used to walk an alsatian on the road (I say “walk”, I mean “get dragged along by”) and I’ve pushed wheelchairs, prams, buggies on roads when pavement space is limited.
What I’m saying here is that it should be understood that roads are for everybody, not just cars and lorries. So when someone pipes up with statements like “if I didn’t pay road tax you wouldn’t have anything to ride on” or “the only good cyclist is a dead cyclist” I get really, really cross. For starters, the road tax statement is factually incorrect (read that, it’s great, but the only people who will read it are cyclists and people who understand that bikes can use the roads too and the sort of people it is aimed at will dismiss it as “lefty-loony nonsense” because these people are incapable of changing their minds even when presented with the facts).
Secondly, over 19,000 cyclist injuries were reported to the police in 2011. Of those 107 were killed. And these are just the ones that were reported, so although deaths will probably be acccurate injuries won’t be even close (I’ll come back to that in a minute). Those are the on the road figures. About 84% of (reported) injuries are caused by collisions with other vehicles. Near-misses are never reported. Ever.
My personal on-road cycling accident and near-miss history includes (but is not limited to):
- I was rear-ended by a car at a roundabout. Came off in the middle of the roundabout amongst traffic. Driver stopped, told me it was my fault, then drove off.
- Different roundabout, sideswiped by a car turning off who clipped my front wheel despite my preventative braking to try & avoid a collision. I came off there, across the roundabout exit amongst traffic. That driver didn’t stop.
- Because of ridiculous cyling lanes I had to cross three lanes of traffic. I waited until it was clear and there was a red light behind me. Car failed to stop at the red light and although it didn’t hit me I lost control of the bike taking avoiding action and hit a kerb, which flung me off.
- A silver Range Rover pulled out of a side junction to my right – ie, they should have been waiting at a “Give Way” – right in front of me, certainly close enough for me to thump the side panel.
- Cycling through stationary traffic on Neville St – this has happened on many, many occasions at this location – drivers and passengers have opened car doors right in my path, and on one occasion did a great open-and-step-out maneuver which would have injured me, them and the car if I’d not seen the car rock a little bit as they were shifting and was able to stop in time. When I say “in time” I mean less than a foot from the passenger.
I have never reported any of these incidents.
I’ve seen many incidents of road rage perpetrated against cyclists. The one that particularly sticks in my mind was on Park Row in Leeds, where a white Audi A3 deliberately ran into a group of cyclists – I heard the driver rev his (I saw the driver clearly) engine and there was wheel spin before the collision – and one of these guys was hit in the rear wheel, knocked off his bike causing a serious but not life-threatening injury, and the driver sped off after the collision. On this occasion there were traffic cameras and a number of witnesses and the police were called. No idea what happened to the driver – or even if he was caught – but in my mind that is assault with a deadly weapon. If he was caught then he probably got fined, if that.
In 2008 the new Transport Secretary, Simon Burns MP, ran over a cyclist in a 4×4, broke the cyclists neck and was fined all of £400 in 2009. This was an accident and not a deliberate attack, but there are proposals in the pipeline that would make cyclists who cause pedestrian injuries penalised just as strongly as drivers who cause pedestrian injuries. Nothing about drivers causing cyclist injuries in there. It is almost as if once you become a road user you’re a fair target, like grouse. What happens if I’m running along the road, ie not on the pavement, highly visible and I get hit by a car? At what point does it become all about what equipment you’re using to transport yourself?
Saying that, though, I have to recount this. I recently saw a cyclist of the sort who wears a tweed suit and brogues (on the bike) even though they’re under 25, riding a fixie with no brakes, run a red light into a crossroads and nearly get hit by a car turning right, as permitted by the lights. Mr Fixie stopped by putting his feet down – seriously, the trend for fixie riders to remove the brakes is completely beyond me because it’s just fucking stupid and an accident waiting to happen – just in time, spent a couple of seconds trying to fit his brogues back into the toeclips, then carried on going, still against the red light and nearly getting sideswiped by a car coming from his left.
This kind of behaviour is irresponsible, dangerous and makes the rest of the cycling community look bad. Nobody remembers acts of good cycling, in the same way that millions of car drivers successfully navigate Britain’s roads without causing an accident without mention. People only remember the accidents, the near-misses, the fucking idiocy on behalf of white van man, or Audi drivers, or fixie riders who argue that stopping and starting takes up too much time and energy despite what the rules of the road you choose to use tell you. I am a good driver, a good cyclist, and yet I get verbally abused by drivers when I’m on my bike just because I happen to be riding a bike and someone four years ago ran a red light in front of them.
It pains me that so many users of our roads are plainly psychotic when they enter that strip of tarmac that they perceive as being “theirs”. It pains me that so many usrs of our roads hold the rules in contempt. It pains me when I see acts of stupidity or criminality go unpenalised. It pains me that we have so little regard for our fellow humans because being on the road makes everybody a target. They’re no longer people, they’re things to get past, to avoid, to yell at or ignore. It pains me that people who are perfectly normal, friendly, approachable folks become total dicks when they get behind the wheel.
It pains me that I don’t feel that I can use my bike on the roads safely anymore.