Picture the scene…
I’m sitting at a street café gently sipping on a caramel latte (from a real mug, no less) and lazily watching the passing scene, the hazy sun warm on my face and the contents of my syrup waffle slowly melting to a deliciously gooey texture, my mouth salivating at the thought of the first bite of this one way ticket to diabetic coma. Life is good. Nothing can interrupt my Zen like state of calmness. I am a leaf floating on the wind… right up to the point I see a cyclist run a red light when the pedestrian crossing is at green and narrowly avoiding a young child and an elderly woman who only just jumped out of the way on time. Neither an excuse me nor an apology to be heard. My inner Daily Mail rage monkey was rudely awoken.
Even though I wasn’t directly involved, I could feel myself getting angry on their behalf. Not simply because of what I had witnessed but the incident did nothing to dispel my deep held belief that for some cyclists, there is an undeserved sense of entitlement and primacy of self that allows them to justify putting themselves above everyone else in the pecking order. Immediately, my head was filled with the kind of anti-56t£±R@cycling rhetoric that is trundled out with tedious regularity by daytime phone in listeners on Radio 2 and Five Live whenever cycling is mentioned.
Putting my coffee down, I started to reflect on some of the arguments that are put forward in order to justify cyclists being regarded as second class road users. “They don’t pay road tax! They’re not insured! They jump red lights! They ride on pavements! They don’t use lights at night…….. (insert any other anti-cycling diatribe you may care to think of here). Putting aside my pro-cycling bias, I pondered on just how the incident would be seen by others, both the pedestrians crossing the road and by other road users who witnessed it. For the pedestrians, it was an unwelcome and unexpected intrusion into their personal space. With the lights at green, they are entitled to feel a degree of safety when crossing the road. I have to question whether it is reasonable for them to be on alert to side step an errant cyclist for whom common sense and the Highway Code don’t seem to apply. For drivers, it is merely confirmation that the tedious stereotypical prejudices of cyclists not abiding by the law and jumping red lights are the norm. When it comes to building mutual respect on the roads, it isn’t exactly a route to making friends and influencing people. I took a bite of my waffle and after having cleaned up the crumbs that I spilled all down my t shirt, I decided to do a small, unscientific experiment by observing the crossroads over the next wee while. The results were not what I had expected.
All Cyclists are assholes
Over a number of minutes, I observed one cyclist jumping a red light when traffic was flowing to turn left, two to turn right and one to go straight on. When the lights changed to green for pedestrians to cross, I saw another two use the opportunity to cross with the pedestrians before riding up the street. There was no real pattern to the type of cyclist involved. One was your classic fixie riding hipster, another looked like a student while at least one was on an expensive carbon fibre road bike and had clearly been spending his birthday money at the Rapha store. All were regular joe’s and Josephine’s who appear to have decided that they are exempt from minor inconveniences such as the Highway Code and the Road Traffic Act. Frankly, I found it somewhat depressing. If I was of an anti-cycling bent, I wouldn’t have to look far to find evidence to confirm my deep held prejudices. It would be a field day for a lazy hack to craft a story about this “Cycling Menace sweeping Britain! No one is safe!” I took a deep, long drink of my latte and was about to leave when I thought it might be fun to do another experiment, this time involving vehicles. This is when things got really interesting.
All drivers are assholes
In the space of a few minutes, I witnessed seven cars driving through a light that had gone to red in what must have been a neuro-surgical emergency or some such in order to justify their need to get to where they were going just that little bit sooner. A double decker soon joined the party, driving through a red light even after the pedestrian man had changed to green. However, the worst offended was tipper truck that accelerated through a red light and must have been driving at well in excess of 40 mph. I have to admit that I was more than a little disappointed and shocked by what I saw. The whole episode left me with a feeling that an awful lot of road users, whether cyclists, motorcyclists, cars, vans, taxis and lorry drivers seem to live in their own little me first bubble where the potential consequences of their selfish actions don’t appear to register.
Forget lobbying for segregated bike lanes, start lobbying for safer roads
So what does all this really mean? Other than be bloody careful next time you try to cross the corner of University Avenue and Byres Road in Glasgow, it’s fair to say that if we go looking for examples of bad driving and cycling, we don’t have to go far to find it. But how do we go about changing things so that there is a genuine appreciation and understanding of all other road users, pedestrians included? It’s not going to be easy but it’s doable if we all make an effort.
Forget lobbying for segregated bike lanes, start lobbying for safer roads. In the UK, we tend to have an unrealistic focus on segregated bike lanes being the answer to our commuting woes. While I welcome much of the infrastructure that we already have in place, I can’t help but feel that a better solution would be to recognise that roads weren’t built for cars. Rather, they are there for all users to use. Education coupled with reduced speed limits in built up areas are one avenue we need to explore.
Change the process for obtaining a driving licence such that all applicants are required to undergo both theoretical and practical tests where they have to ride both a bicycle and a moped in traffic. I sometimes wonder whether it is ignorance rather than a wilful disregard for the wellbeing of others that leads to drivers leaving precious little space where they overtake a cyclist or cut across them at a left hand turn? First-hand experience of riding in busy traffic may be just the ticket to change attitudes.
While the inherent danger posed by vehicles is far greater than that by bicycles, this does not mean the perceived danger is less in the eyes of the pedestrian
Enforcement of the legislation that already exists. Instead of having a crackdown on cyclists jumping red lights, would it not be more sensible to have a crackdown on all road users who do it? While the inherent danger posed by vehicles is far greater than that by bicycles, this does not mean the perceived danger is less in the eyes of the pedestrian who narrowly avoids being taken out at a crossing.
Stop being so bloody selfish and think about others for a change. Next time you are tempted to jump a red light, stop and ask yourself why. Are you really in that big a rush to get to your destination? Are you so important that you want to put someone else at risk?
So there you have it. Respect is earned where respect is given. It doesn’t take the intellect of Professor Heinz Wolff to realise that if we want to instigate change, we have to start with ourselves. Until next time.