Commute or Not to Commute?!
We can all see it, there is this underlying tension for road space and human courtesy between motorists and cyclists. Thanks to avenues such as social media and attention seeking media outlets, examples of road rage, hit and runs, poor driving and cycling decisions are now caught on camera daily and shared with the rest of the world. When ever someone gives their opinion on the matter, an army from both sides of the trench jump up with guns blazing and shoots them down without hesitation no matter how agreeable or idiotic their opinion is. I refuse now to read the arguments and comments on these cases, it just doubts my choice of commuting to work by bike. Why do I want to be on the same road as someone who publicly states 'the next time I see a cyclist, I'm running them down'?!
I like to be empthatic and see how someone has come to the situation they have found themselves in. When I read an anti-cycling statment, I think is it because you weren't into bikes when you were young? Did you fall off and cut your knee? Was you cut up and given a finger by someone who just happens to ride a bike so I must paint you all with the same brush?! And it works the other way as well although the movement for cleaner air, less pollution and general road safety kinda trumps most cars v bikes arguments. But we all forget do these people who troll on social media networks, comment on news articles with their rod hanging out (no innuendo here! pervert!) fishing for someone to bite and take the bait so they can have a good row whilst sitting on their couch watching Road Wars, represent all motorists?! No, they don't. Does the city boy who weaves dangerously through traffic, rides straight across red lights, nearly knocks over a pedestrian and gives everyone else a look as if they've just thrown a 'Your Mumma' joke at them, represent the rest of the cycling community?! No, they don't. This is easily forgotten and a reason why I don't jump into arguments on social networks because its someone typing on their phone pretending to be the big man/woman they've always wanted to be and the chances of you meeting them in public and really having out with them is extremely small.
If I meet someone anti-cycling face to face, I question them but don't throw it in their face. For the sole reason, I wouldn't want them to throw it in mine about driving. Like most cyclists (no I don't have a source, its a general observation of people you are aware of, we make them everyday so if you're asking for a factual source, I say, do you use Wikipedia?! Same thing!) they also hold driving licenses which means they have experience of being behind a wheel as well as a handlebar. @test_richie summed it up nicely, the best drivers are the ones who also cycle, the best cyclists are the ones who also drive (I can just picture some people reading now getting a bit irrate because they are the minority, they do one or the other not both, its ok, its another general observation! Example, I wouldn't expect Lewis Hamilton to be great climbing Mount Ventoux or Chris Froome smashing the lap time on the Top Gear Test Track!). But you do get a greater sense of people's attitudes on the roads and with that valuable perception, you can make a more calculated decision of what that motorist or cyclist might or might not do. Key word: calculated, meaning you can only be as safe as you can be, there will always be that one d*** who will throw this whole blog out the window and cause World War III on your way home thanks to their actions and pure ignorant attitude to life!
My attitude on the road is to expect every road user to be the worst you have ever come across, literally learner level! It has helped because I question every decision they make and with that in mind, I can try to prevent an incident which I might be part of or just keep myself back from someone who's not sure whether to turn left with out indicating or not stop in the cycle lane thus preventing cycle lane users from flowing through. I have had very near misses on my commutes. It's relatively a short ride to work hence why I ride, its cheaper and by bus, it would take me near an hour, I am usually at work in 15 minutes (some of my colleagues hate it that I am home from work and they are still stuck in traffic, I put it down to my super thighs!). There are a few pinch points due to island crossings for pedestrians where drivers like to get ahead of me even though in 100m time, I'll catch up because of traffic they will inevitably find themselves in due to the nature of that specific road. The road furniture I have beef with is mini roundabouts. There is something about them that no matter how bright your lights are, how luminous your jacket is, how slow you go so you are sure to be seen, there is always (not a general observation here, quite close to a fact just by sheer number of times I have had to bark at these people!) a driver who doesn't spot you and pulls out cutting you up and very close to making you part of the tarmac permanently. I avoid these accident hot spots like the plague where I can or always turn left at them (makes routing a mentally frustrating task!) but its the only way I can make sure I am not going to get knocked off on a mini roundabout.
Why should you adapt your ride for others who can't be bothered to look our for you I hear you say? Completely agree with you there but I'd rather take that extra half a mile home then take that chance. It is similar to the argument of the strength of your lights and how bright your clothing is. No you shouldn't be worried of being seen by other road users because if we all did look out for each other, be more patient on the road, then there would be no need for any safety campaigns. But thats naive. I read a blog this year where this debate was compared to asking pedestrians to wear high-vis jackets so we can see them. Great point and I agree (with the comparison, not that all pavement users should look like the aliens out of Toy Story!) but as a cyclist, I would rather give myself that extra chance of being seen through some high-vis clothing than giving a driver an 'excuse' that I did not see you! I am aware that yes, this is not full proof, there are many incidents that where drivers have knocked cyclists over even when they are brighter than the sun! For every bad driver you come across, you are passed by a lot more good ones and it's those we have to keep reminding of their good intentions on the road.
Example, where I can, I give a little thanks or thumbs up because that action that I hopefully we are all brought up to know as manners will go a mighty long way to reinforcing someone's belief about cyclists. They might have a conversation with a friend or colleague who feels cyclists are a menace to the roads. This person might stick up for the majority of us pedal pushers who work hard to give cyclists a respectable image and change that person's attitude. You can apply this to all walks of life. By changing one thing, you could change everything (I might copyright that!). Don't get me wrong, there has been times (not often!) that I have lost my rag but felt it was right. Call it red mist but when your life is put at risk because someone wants to squeeze by you rather than wait literally 3 seconds then safely pass, I think you have the right to stand your ground. The only thought I would have at this point if that if they are an idiot on the road, what will they be like in person?! I had an incident recently and I rarely do this but tapped on the driver's passenger window to let him know he was a bit too close for my liking when he passed me at a pinch point. His reply was he gave me enough room and that he cycles too. So there's me caked up in lycra, lights flashing, going as fast as most cars down this stretch of road, do I come across someone who has just found out what the wheel does?!! His young son in the passenger seat then looks up at me gives me the finger, winds the window up and drives off (the guy drives off, not the son, that would just make this story even more bizarre!).
What ever we do as campaigners, activists, social networkers, we are not going to change everyone's perception of what we would like them to believe in. When it comes to road sharing, its a culture and attitude thing. We are often given examples of cities who make it happen such as Amsterdam where the bike is a national icon like its certain flavoured brownies and red decorated shops! I can only assume that the people there buy into cycling and its benefits and it spreads. It spreads into their children, their workplace and their social lives. The thing is you can't sell something if that person doesn't want to buy it. So it's education. Educate the next batch of drivers, educate the next generation about cycling, educate them what its like to be a road user. Don't molly cuddle it, shock them if you need to. Things only hit home when they physically hit home. Weak example but in primary, we took part in citizenship day where we shown dangers from the police and fire brigade. One workshop, we were led by a supposed instructor to the next activity only for him to grab one of the girls and begin to run off. Yes I screamed louder than the victims of Freddie Kruger but it was all an act so there was no horrific ending and yet it stuck with me and thats the message, to educate road users so it sticks.
The message I would send to the drivers who are throttle heavy because they are impatient and wrongly judge the amount of space they have to overtake no matter how fast or slow the cyclist is going, its bottom line bold underlined flashing on screen not worth to risk someone's life because you can't wait 3 seconds to safely overtake. That person is someone's wife, husband, mum, dad, sister, brother, friend or colleague. They could be someone who you know through a friend's friend. No matter what you say, their life is more important than where you need to get to (unless it is an emergency which god forbid resemblements this rant). Flip the coin over and there's a message to the cyclists who give people like me and others a bad name. Your actions on the road like speeding through red lights, weaving in between pedestrians, causing motorists to hate us, are ignorant. If you have a don't care attitude on your bike, then expect backlash from motorists and cyclists who are fed up being classified in the same group as you. For both sides, its not the majority who reinforces these stereotypes, its the minority. So just keep that in mind when you're using the road, one person's actions does not reflect the actions and attitudes of everyone else. Rant over! Cue the backlash!!!
'Think of bicycles as ridable art that can just about save the world'