Mr Invisible

The Invisible ManI think I must have put my invisible cloak on this morning.

A car passed so close that the air buffeted me towards the pavement. It was an urban road, but had two lanes. There was someone on the outside lane and clearly they couldn’t be bothered to wait a few seconds until there was room to pass and so just thought they’d squeeze through anyway. Cheers.

I thought I’d catch up with them at the next lights and give them an evil stare. And surprise, surprise, the driver had a mobile phone glued to his ear. He couldn’t have changed down a gear earlier as he needed his one remaining hand to steer.

I’m not sure why this annoyed me more than normal. Last night someone drove straight at me, trying to turn into a road that I was passing. Even a group of pedestrians were audibly shocked at the lack of care (and attention), but I was ale to deftly swerve the car and continue on my way. I was a little shook up for a minute, but not that bothered: it happens every day. But this one this morning was worse. I think that they could have killed or seriously hurt me and only because they couldn’t be bothered to pause for a second. The arrogance only compounded by the fact that they were on their fucking phone.

Seriously, people moaning about red-light jumping… it’s NOTHING in comparison to dumb-ass self-centered SOBs who would rather risk someone’s life than put their phone down and change gears.

There is a guy who straps a camera to his helmet every day and records these incidents and posts them on YouTube. I can see where he is coming from, although I’ve always thought it probably winds people up more than educates them. But sometimes, just sometimes, I wish I’d recorded what happened today, or last night.

Two observations

Two things I noticed on my cycle to work today:

1. A jogger waiting for the traffic lights to go green, “running on the spot”. Just take a break, maybe do some stretches. It doesn’t really help running on the spot and it just makes it look like you really need the loo.

2. It’s still August, but some of the leaves are turning brown. Is that normal?

HGV kills cyclist AGAIN

So, 4 months into 2009 and 4 cyclists have been killed by HGVs. This story on Moving Target gives more details.

I wrote about the heart-breaking incident when a child, Sajjad Bilgrami, was killed by an HGV at the end of last year. The boy’s father actually commented on my entry. At the time I had written to my MP, my local authority and Transport for London asking that they consider whether allowing a person balancing on a piece of steel to share the same space as a multi-tonne steel killing machine was sensible. Wandsworth Council’s response was that they were “not convinced of the logic” of banning HGVs during times of the day when people were most likely to be cycling between home and school.

Think about it…. how much time, money and hassle do we spend on protecting us from the threat of terrorism in London? Anyone care to make a guess? I have no idea, but I’m guessing it’s a lot. How many people have actually been killed by terrorists in the last year in London? I’m not sure, but my guess is none. Just goes to show how effective they are being at preventing it doesn’t it? But whilst we are happy giving away our civil liberties in the name of preventing terrorism, why is there “no logic” in doing something about people actually properly getting killed by HGVs as they cycle to work? It’s not just the threat of HGV death we’re talking about, here.

Maybe I’m being trite to equate terrorism with cycle deaths – but it has to be within our collective wit to prevent this from happening. It’s not acceptable to shrug shoulders and say “we can’t see the logic” in something when people continue to die at a rate of about 1 a month. Wake up London!!

Really odd

I was at the receiving end of another bit of aggression/hatred call it what you will towards me as a cyclist the other day.

Just cycling along and came to a pedestrian crossing. Stopped to allow pedestrians to cross, then started up again. A few metres (like 10 metres) beyond the pedestrian crossing a man stepped off the pavement. I thought he was doing that thing where you see a vehicle moving towards you and you predict its path and walk up towards it so you can quickly nip across when it’s gone past you.

But no, not in this case. He either thought that the pedestrian crossing pretty much takes up the whole street and so he had right of way, or just couldn’t give a fuck one way or the other. As I got closer I thought he was cutting it a bit fine but still assumed he would pause to let me past, but he just kept on walking so that in the end my shoulder smacked into the side of his. What a moron. He was trying to prove some point but I couldn’t work out what it was or really be bothered to find out. I didn’t even look back and just carried on.He definitely saw me though. He had headphones on and was looking directly at me. I was pondering it afterwards though – I mean even if we were both walking you wouldn’t just walk into someone, would you? Even if you thought that someone had walked in front of you, you wouldn’t just collide with them. And it’s a lot easier to stop when you are walking at 2mph than when you are cycling at 10mph.

What an idiot, though. Really dangerous to walk into a moving vehicle no matter how justified you feel your cause is.

Convert drivers to cyclists and save the country £400 per person

Yes – when I read that, I thought what?  But it is as you read it – for every time a driver becomes a cyclist, the country becomes £400 better off. Apparently there are approximately 26 million cars on the road. Let’s say generously that there are 6 million cyclists who also own cars, that leaves 20 million. A quick calculation makes that £8,000,000,000 – I dunno what that number is called – is it £8 billion?

Anyway – whatever it is, it shows that there is a real need and benefit for everyone in getting more people to cycle.

The report I have been reading came from the Local Government Information Unit http://www.lgiu.gov.uk/. It really is quite interesting – the figure above is calculated on the savings drawn from reduced medical bills, congestion and pollution. I’ve no idea how this is even calculable, but I’m prepared to believe it.

It goes on to debunk a few myths about cycling, too, one point is about the perceived risk of cycling:

“The evidence shows that an increase in cycling can increase road safety, with a doubling of cycle rates leading to a 34 per cent reduction in the risk of injury faced by each cyclist2. A theory supported by evidence across Europe. Despite these figures, there is a disproportionate perception that cycling is too dangerous. This is stopping people getting on their bikes and encouraging their family and friends to do the same. They need to believe that they are going to be safe on a bike.”

The point I have made a few times now is that there is a kind of tipping point where enough people cycling essentially makes it safer for everyone as bikes are perceived as a constant rather than an individual obstacle. The more it is perceived to be safe, the more people will cycle. If there were no cars on the road who wouldn’t want to cycle? It’s much more pleasant plus you get a workout. But right now, you feel like you take your life in your hands each time you go out.

Anyway check the site out and download the pdf and have a read.

Yummy Mummys in Volvo Estates

yummymummy

I didn’t want to start 2009 with a rant, but you really notice it when the schools go back! The last few weeks have been a joy for me as a cyclist and for the wider road using community I would imagine as the streets are much more free-moving first thing in the morning.

I live in a road that has a primary school at the end of it and if I leave at a certain time it’s anarchy out there. Cars not only double-parked but actually blocking the end of the junction. If you’re going in the other direction to a mummy hell-bent on getting her little darling to school then you’d better get out of the way, cos she’s not moving over for anyone.

And therein, I think, lies the problem: it’s like having small kids gives you some sort of licence to be incredibly selfish. Yes, your kids are your priority, but don’t expect them to be everyone else’s too.

So this morning I was cycling up a hill with a dedicated cycle path. Got to the top and there was a junction to my left and a woman in a massive Volvo waiting for a gap to pull out. Realising that little Fenella is going to be late for her hand painting class, she decides to stick her nose into the oncoming traffic and RIGHT across the bike lane. This forced me to brake hard (just as I was picking up some momentum on the flat) then swerve in front of her.

I didn’t lose my temper… just pulled a “great, thanks very much” expression. She just stared at me – no change of expression on her face, no acknowledgment…. she either didn’t notice me, or felt that I was so insignificant that me nearly riding into her side was no concern of hers (given the fortess-like protection she had invested in for her brood).

On a positive note…. I bought a Bern helmet for my wife from the very nice people at  www.cyclechic.co.uk which was the wrong size. They’ve been nothing but helpful in changing it and not charging me any extra for postage. They also have some quite cool stuff there (not really for boys), but I like their style.

Why do so many people hate cyclists?

We have to ask ourselves that question, don’t we? I think it is to do with five key things (in no particular order):

1. Poor behaviour of some cyclists

2. Anger about the fact that cyclists appear unaccountable, don’t have number plates, don’t have insurance, don’t pay Vehicle Excise Duty etc

3. When drivers are able to move faster than cyclists: frustration that they are being held up

4. When drivers are stuck in slow-moving traffic: jealousy that cyclists leave them standing

5. Perception of cyclists being an “other” group

Poor cyclist behaviour

I’d say the most commonly-used reason for antipathy towards cyclists falls in 1 and 2 – but 3 to 5 are probably more likley to be the real reasons why they get so angry. Why do I think that? Well numbers 1 and 2 don’t really impact on drivers. I mean, if a cyclist jumps a red light then that’s just stupid. But no car-driver has been killed by a cyclist jumping a red light that I am aware of. Granted, for the pedestrian, red-light jumping is a menace – and to be honest as a cyclist it pisses me off when cyclists jump red lights. Firstly because I can almost feel the resentment around me from all the other road users and feel that some of that is directed my way, but secondly I get that sense of injustice that I have stopped and will need to push off again from a standing start, so why the hell shouldn’t everyone else? It feels a bit like someone pushing in front of you in a queue – it’s not REALLY going to effect me, but it gets to me nevertheless.

Cyclists being rude and aggressive: well yes, nobody would like to be on the receiving end of any rudeness or aggression. But I don’t think you can reasonably argue that the only rude and aggressive people on the roads are cyclists. If you claim to hate cyclists for that reason you may as well hate them for having two legs or being called Nigel. (“The thing about cyclists that really makes me mad is that there is a minority of them that are rude, arrogant, bi-peds called Nigel”). It’s a non-sequitor because all of those characteristics are likely to be shared amongst every group of road users.

What no road tax?

The no number plates, no insurance no tax argument again is a bit nonsensical. I mean it is and isn’t – because it doesn’t have an impact on people’s lives on a daily basis and in fact is it a flawed argument anyway. The number plates thing is so people can get caught for jumping red lights or riding on pavements or riding the wrong way down a one-way street (seriously, I see these accusations rolled out every time cycling and road safety is mentioned – I NEVER do these things. I genuinely never ever do. I know some people do, but I just do not and would not). Insurance I think isn’t a bad thing in theory – but again, on a daily basis you are far more likely to get shafted by another motorist without insurance, than by a cyclist. In any case, as a motorist if you have a an accident involving a cyclist, the blame is more than three times likely to lie with you than with the cyclist. So in reality any anger about insurance is disproportional: we should all be angry with drivers without insurance – not only are they more likely to be at fault for any accident, but they are likely to cause much more damage than insurance-less cyclists.

The tax argument is often banded about. Unfortunately this one IS nonsense on so many levels:

1. Roads are funded by central taxation and local authorities. This in turn is paid for by all of us via council tax and the other taxes we are subject to every day. In other words, when you buy your tax disc, that money isn’t somehow ploughed directly into road building or maintenance.

2. The “road tax” one pays is in actual fact a Vehicle Excise Duty where vehicles are taxed based on their environmental impact. Cars that output less than 100g/km of CO2 are classed as being in Band A and are exempt from the tax. As a bicycle emits 0g/km of CO2, they too would surely be exempt from the tax were they to be included in the scheme.

3. I own a car so I actually do pay the VED – I just choose to leave it in my driveway when I take my bike out, so it’s causing less damage to the roads and environment and reducing congestion to the tune of one vehicle.


Get out of my way!

Cyclists holding people up is almost certainly a frustration but there is no justification in the Highway Code for this causing people to be angry – so as an “argument” against cyclists it’s a bit of a lame one because it’s just demonstrating that you are an impatient and arrogant road hog who believes that they have more of a right to be there than any other vehicle. As anyone with a brain knows, there isn’t supposed to be any hierarchy of “rights” to use the road. Although I think I read somewhere that we should all give way to pedestrians.


Who the hell do they think they are?

I also think that cyclists piss motorists off because it’s a natural side-effect of being stuck in traffic jams. I know what it’s like.. you’re sat in slow-moving traffic and some selfish bastard pushes in or nips down the bus lane or hard shoulder, you hope they get caught or stuck and have to wait their turn. Cyclists weaving in and out of the traffic is probably infuriating if you see it all the time. I don’t drive that much and as a cyclist am empathetic to other cyclists, but if I weren’t I think this might get my goat. At that point all you need is one small excuse: stupid clothes, dangerous manoeuvre, knocking a wing mirror, undertaking, red-light-jumping: and your irrational fury at being left standing by a cyclist is suddenly given validity.

This also gives rise to the whole “they” when referring to cyclists – as if we are an organised group who all behave in a certain way rather than people who behave in a variety of ways depending on our own personalities. It’s always easy to dislike a group that you don’t belong to: it’s how wars are started or racial hatred develops.

So in conclusion, I think the crap that people usually bang on about when justifying their hatred towards cyclists is actually based on the things that don’t really impact on them (red light jumping, not paying tax) – but they instead serve to justify a less rational set of frustrations (holding me up or moving quicker than me through the traffic).

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