Uneasy Rider

I’m not the most relaxed person at the best of times as you have probably worked out by now. Anxiety is my enemy. And recently I have become overly anxious when out on the bike. So much so that it is now holding me back, taking away the enjoyment I once had. And why this anxiety? The actions of (an increasing) minority of drivers who seemingly feel the road is theirs.

When I was growing up and started cycling my parents told me to stick to the lanes. Keep off the main roads, they said, the lanes will be safer. So I’ve continued cycling with this in mind, trying to keep my routes to lesser used roads. But the problem is these roads are not so lesser used now. They have become short cuts, rat runs. And a growing number of drivers, often in expensive, powerful cars drive in a way which shows little consideration for other road users. They seem in a rush, unwilling to accept a cyclists right to space on the road, unable to wait to pass when it is safe to do so or in providing a safe space between them and me. Too often on some routes it feels like a battle.

So if you are reading this as a non-cyclist wondering what the issue is, take a look at the highway code. When passing, a motorist should:

162 Before overtaking you should make sure

  • the road is sufficiently clear ahead

  • road users are not beginning to overtake you

  • there is a suitable gap in front of the road user you plan to overtake

163 Overtake only when it is safe and legal to do so. You should

  • not get too close to the vehicle you intend to overtake
  • use your mirrors, signal when it is safe to do so, take a quick sideways glance if necessary into the blind spot area and then start to move out
  • not assume that you can simply follow a vehicle ahead which is overtaking; there may only be enough room for one vehicle
  • move quickly past the vehicle you are overtaking, once you have started to overtake. Allow plenty of room. Move back to the left as soon as you can but do not cut in
  • take extra care at night and in poor visibility when it is harder to judge speed and distance
  • give way to oncoming vehicles before passing parked vehicles or other obstructions on your side of the road
  • give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you  would when overtaking a car (see Rules 211-215)

The Freight Transport Association in association with the Institute for Advanced Motoring and London Cycling Campaign published a cycling code which states that cyclists:

“Your road position should not be less than one metre from the kerb and should be further out if it is not safe for a vehicle to pass. If someone does pass you inconsiderately then you have more room to get out of harm’s way. Keeping away from the gutter will enable drivers to see you and also help you miss the drain covers and debris on the side of the road too”

Together, these should provide a safe environment for us to share the roads. But unfortunately it doens’t. In the last week I have had 2 incidents which highlight this. They didn’t happen in London, they didn’t involve HGVs and they certainly didn’t involve advanced motorists. In both cases motorists overtook me inappropriately: in the first I was cycling down a single track lane and having waited on my back wheel the motorist overtook forcing me onto the grass verge, the second saw the motorist overtake me without sufficient clearance and with oncoming vehicles in the adjacent side of the carriageway. In both cases I shouted after the drivers and despite their apparent hurry to pass me both stopped to take offence. Neither seemed to appreciate their responsibility as drivers just their right to use the road.

It saddens me whilst at the same time making me more anxious to partake of a hobby that has given me pleasure and distraction in the past. It makes me think twice (if not more) about heading out. And the second incident almost brought me to tears and turn home. I’m an uneasy rider. I’m not asking for special treatment for anyone, just a bit of give and take, a bit of respect for responsibilities so we can all use the roads in some safety (as I’ve outlined before). It seems that this is beyond a selfish few and my unease is a hidden consequence of their ignorance.

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Cycle safe

As today is the big Cycle Safe debate in the House of Commons (if you can call it a debate when people duck in and out and miss all the previous and later points)* here are a few observations from the saddle and the car which may help put some reality on the politics:

  • Some motorists have overlooked/ignored/are ignorant to the bit of the Highway Code which allows cyclists to ride 4ft from the kerb/gutter and that they should give room equivalent to the width of their vehicle when passing a cyclist.
  • Nobody should overtake when it is unsafe to do so. Blind bends are particularly unsafe and it is best to hold back rather than swerve into the cyclist you are overtaking.
  • When being held up behind a cyclist because it is unsafe to pass, revving your engine does not make a cyclist go faster.
  • The speed limit is just that it is not a minimum requirement.
  • 4×4 drivers tend to assume that in poor driving and road conditions (e.g. snow and ice) that their vehicle is immune to accidents and drive accordingly putting other road users (cyclists, pedestrians, other drivers) at risk from their actions.
  • Parents who place “baby on board” signs in their car seem to have an unhealthy disregard for other road users.

Yet just as these issues are probably brought to us by a minority of motorists, there are those amongst us cyclist who fail to help. Whilst being a passenger in the car in the last 2 weeks I have noticed:

  • Several cyclists riding through red lights and across the stream of traffic – not a smart move for self preservation and brings a bad name to the rest of us
  • Cyclists riding at or after dusk without lights – come on people, be safe be seen isn’t for the hell of it and it only stokes the fires of the “compulsory lights” brigade.

So there we have it. A few observations from both perspectives. Some motorists clearly view the roads as their own and never to be shared but if we are to be able to stand our ground as cyclists we need to put our house in order at the same time.  A bit of give and take would make the roads a safer place.

*60 out of 650 MPs attended the debate, less than 10% of our representatives in the House of Commons.

Actions speak louder than words

Picture courtesy of @HaroldZDalton

One worry that constantly haunts me about cycling is the danger posed by other road users, particularly by a small albeit seemingly growing band of motorists who appear to lack any consideration for anyone who might also wish to occupy the road space they want to consume.  This week, cycling was in the news for the attempts by backbench MP Andrea Leadsom to introduce legislation to create an offence of death by dangerous driving.  I have been torn by this move: on one hand I will not condone the action of wilfully negligent cyclists who feel they have a right to claim the road and, more particularly, the pavement as their own; on the other hand there is a strong feeling as a cyclist that we are perhaps the group most in need of legislating against.  Let me put it this way, I am happy to disown the cyclist that wants to run red lights and to cycle without a care at break neck speed along a pavement.  Just as I have complained about the selfishness of some motorists, these type of cyclists give the rest of us a bad name, they need to re-evaluate their responsibilities and learn to share space with other users.  But is the real concern about a specific crime of death by dangerous cycling. Firstly, the statistics do not suggest there is a major problem in this regard.Secondly, surely prosecution can surely be brought under existing legislation if only the law experts looked at this. What the statistics do reveal is the danger posed to both cyclists and pedestrians from motor vehicles.  The front page of yesterday’s Independent was a chilling reminder of this.

There is already legislation on statute design to make our roads safer: roads have speed limits, you cannot drink and drive, you cannot use a mobile device whilst driving.  The success in implementing and policing this legislation is already patchy. Therefore, will adding another piece of legislation make any difference? I doubt it.  Rather than legislate, why not take some action.  The London Cycling Campaign has put forward a 9 step plan for safer cycling. The majority do relate to motor traffic. Some might already be legislated for elsewhere  – surely responsibilities of HGV owners and drivers is covered in road traffic regulations and under the auspices of Health and Safety legislation? Some, like reducing speed limits in built up areas has been proposed by a range of groups.  But equally there is a role for awareness amongst cyclists.  Partly it is our role as cyclists to disown and/or re-educate the inconsiderate minority, though I agree this is easier said than done.  But at the same time schemes such as bikeability have a crucial role to play in educating children how to use the roads confidently and respectfully.  Now, bikeability is a scheme that was co-ordinated by Cycling England and run through local authorities. The sharp ones amongst you will have realised a problem here – Cycling England has been wound up in the bonfire of the Quangos and local authorities have had their budgets cut, both of which instigated by the coalition, of which Ms Leadsom is a backbench member.  So this is my problem: rather than create headlines with a piece of un-needed legislation, why don’t Ms Leadsom and her supporters pressure the government into taking real action.  In part this is the implementation of existing legislation to protect cyclists and pedestrians. But this is only part of the story and the solution is through the real action needed to improve skills and awareness through training.  Like so many things this will take time and resources.  However, as they say, action speaks louder than word and for once the politicians could work with what they’ve got.