Monday, 18 November 2013

Six Cyclists in Two Weeks

A few days ago, it was announced that a fourth cyclist had been killed in London. That same day I was cycling into my nearest town.I was approaching a mini roundabout and needed to take my last exit. I looked behind me and saw a white van quite a distance away. I gave a clear hand signal to show that I was about to pull right and take up my position at the roundabout to complete my exit. The van driver sped up, overtook me in the oncoming lane, and nearly hit a car that was coming round the roundabout towards him. Why? I have no idea. Unless he simply wanted to make a point that cyclists were not welcome on his road.

Coming back, I was approaching a T junction. Again, I wanted to turn right. Again, I looked over my shoulder and again I signaled my intention. The car behind me kept a safe distance as I turned. It overtook me in due course and carried on. The car behind that tried to push me off into the kerb before I got to the traffic island. Why? Because this second car would have had to slow down in order to let me carry on. We couldn't both squeeze through simultaneously.

Was I surprised to hear about the fourth cyclist? No. But I was enormously saddened.

Today, that figure has reached six cyclists in just two weeks. Yet another roadside shrine tonight. Yet another ghost bike pinned to the railings.

Those of you who know me know that I have been a keen cyclist all my life. I was a cyclist long before I became a driver. I didn't take driving lessons till my 44th birthday. I passed first time. That's not a brag, by the way. It's just that I took my responsibility seriously enough to learn from my instructor and pay attention to the road. After all, I'd already been run over by a bus and thrown off my bike by a man turning across me into a garage, not to mention deliberately bumped whilst stationary at some red lights in London.

Deliberately? Yes. When I got up off the ground I looked at the driver he was actually laughing. He thought it was very funny. And let me tell you about that man who turned left across me from an outside lane to get into the garage. He knocked me off as well. I followed him into the garage. When I told him he'd just knocked me off he said - and I quote - 'You shouldn't be cycling. It's safer in a car. Get a car.' When I asked him how he thought a judge might view that in a court of law, he replied that he would deny he'd said it.

As for the bus driver, he was, by his own admission, turning round to check that his jacket was still on the hook behind his head because the ends kept flying out of the window. He was driving forward at the same time he was looking behind him. He was carrying who knows how many passengers. When he he hit me, I ended up under the bus with my head sticking out looking up the front of it. The wheels had just missed me. I sued and won, but no amount of compensation will give me my knee back.

Does this sound like an anti-motorist blather? It isn't. I'm a motorist, don't forget. But I'm a motorist with a different view. I use wing mirrors. That helps. So does the rear-view mirror. I also find that looking behind me before I pull out helps and certainly it helps to look before you open the car door. Yes, I've had that happen to me on a bike.

Basically, several decades of cycling means I am aware of other road users. I understand other road users. It follows then, doesn't it, that there is a vital component missing from a course of driving lessons. I would like to see cycling and walking incorporated into the the course. I would like all would-be motorists to experience cycling and walking and, more crucially perhaps, to reflect on that experience.

But let's get rid of 'them' and 'us'. If we look at the Netherlands as a model, that separation doesn't exist. Most motorists are cyclists. They have a profound awareness of cyclists. No doubt, being motorists will make them better cyclists, too. Good.

I do not deny that there are some very foolhardy people who don't think about the average motorist. I've seen cyclists and pedestrians take terrifying risks sometimes. There's a major difference though: buses, lorries and cars have shields of metal all around them. Cyclists and pedestrians have...air.

Nothing justifies idiotic and dangerous behavior from anybody. Aggression and disrespect will only inflame tempers and create more tension on the roads. But, please, let's have a sense of proportion. If you get in a vehicle that is capable of doing 70 mph or more and it weighs several tons, then you have an extra responsibility. The two people who killed my sister know that. The bus driver who nearly killed me knows that. I know that. I believe you do too.

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