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Drivers who hate cyclists are irrational

April 21, 2012

I am a qualified National Standards cycling instructor and a have been a cycle commuter for the past four years.  I have also been driving regularly for the past eight years. I have travelled many thousands of miles between the two disciplines without incident. I have sadly witnessed a few.

I don’t wish to be one of the ‘outraged’ cyclists that want to see John Griffin’s head on a stick. To want his head on a stick would be to want the heads of so many; his thoughts are reflected in the behaviours I have seen and opinions I have heard from people on many occasions. These ideas are not isolated to the Driver vs. Cyclist debate; they are inextricably linked to wider feelings of entitlement, stubbornness and feigned outrage that Britain has become shamefully good at exhibiting. Here are my thoughts on the thoughtlessness about cycling that surrounds us:

All road users have the propensity to cause damage or delay to other road users and anti-cycling views are unwarranted.

Ever seen a traffic signal bent in two? Or bollards uprooted? Chances are, it wasn’t a Chopper that caused those things to happen. Ever been stuck on the M1 because a Boardman Hybrid jack-knifed over the central reservation? Of course not! Only big lorries jack-knife, causing misery for all behind them.

I’ve seen cars smash into each other at junctions. I’ve seen motorcyclists slip, fall and remain on the ground whilst their sideways travelling machine wipes out all in its path.

I’ve seen the aftermath of a shopper vs. bus on Oxford Street. Who hasn’t?

Cyclists are no more and no less likely pose a risk on the road. People pose risks, however they chose to move. Campaign for road safety, and road safety alone. Do not campaign only for your mode of transport, because when you really think about it, it makes absolutely no sense to do so.

This kind of blinkered analysis is identical to the thought process that blames immigrants for taking all the jobs and the unemployed for bleeding the state dry. Yes, cyclists are vulnerable road users but so are milk floats, articulated lorries and horse riders so let’s make the conversation a bit more rounded please. Brits are so self-interested and it gets on my nerves, which brings me onto my next point…

Road users are self-interested and find great ways to absolve themselves of responsibility to keep road safe.

I will give you an example. In conversation with people I meet, the fact I ride my bike tends to come up in conversation. “Where do you live and how do you get to work?” is a common way for my preferred mode to be introduced. All too commonly, it is deemed acceptable to respond to this revelation with a declaration: “I can’t stand cyclists.”

Reasons often given for this:

“Cyclists jump red lights”

“Cyclists sneak up on me when I’m driving”

“I’m afraid I’m going to hit one”

“They should stay on their side of the road”

My responses:

Yes. Cyclists jump red lights. This is wrong. Drivers pull in without signalling. This is wrong. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

If drivers haven’t seen me, then it is possibly their fault. I am not a vampire. I can be seen in mirrors. And if I am overtaking, then yes, I will do so from behind. I have no telepathic way of contacting drivers to give prior warning.

If drivers do not know how to accommodate other road users, or do not have the spatial perception to be confident about the width of their vehicle, they should not be on the road.

There is no such thing as a ‘cyclists’ side of the road’. A cyclist will be in the place that is safest for him/her at any given time. Often, this will be to the left of traffic, about 60cms from the curb. Sometimes, it will be centrally in the lane, to the right of traffic, or in front of a traffic queue. Drivers are more likely to run a cyclist over if he/she is forced to cycle close to the side of the road. Trust me.

Please stop making excuses about what cyclists do or do not to. Use your mirrors, signal and give cyclists the space that they are entitled to.  We all contribute to make safe roads.

The same goes for cyclists. Jumping a red light IS an act of self-interest. I have no problem with a cyclist, if spotted, being fined for doing so. Riding on the road with no awareness of the Highway Code is an act of self-interest too. I’ve seen cyclists on brand new bikes incompetently using SPDs fall over because they have not taken the time to practice and become acquainted with their new toy. Again, an act of self-interest. These people need to become more interested in staying in once piece.

Everyone wants to make uninterrupted road journeys. It ain’t gonna happen.

I love it when I am cycling and I can hear a vehicle behind me desperately trying to overtake me. I can hear the acceleration and the movement of the car to my right, and then hear the deceleration when the driver has aborted the manoeuvre. This can happen several times. I love it because it means I have chosen a good road position that discourages dangerous overtaking and means I can be seen.

It is perfectly acceptable to overtake cyclists, but only when it is safe to do so. In the meantime, relax and wait. You will rarely be held up by a cyclist for more than 60 seconds before a safe overtaking opportunity arises. Trust me.

Cycling is the solution to a lot of problems. Don’t hate, appreciate!

The number of cyclists in London has increased by a huge 83% in the last 7 years according to one BBC article. Would you rather there was an 83% increase in BMW X4s? Or buses?

Cyclists take bodies off crowded public transport systems and cars off the roads. This is a good thing. If you don’t like the idea of cycling, have respect for the tens of thousands of Londoners who do, because if they didn’t, your drive or commute would be even worse than it is.

Cycling is a solution to the obesity crisis. It’s the solution to increasing road congestion. It’s a solution to high fuel demand. It’s a solution to poor air quality. It’s even a solution to the economy – the industry is officially ‘recession proof’.

I don’t know why the mood in Britain is still decidedly anti-cyclist. Many cyclists drive and many drivers have some experience on a bike. It is contempt we need to belittle, not cycling.

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