Increasing the number of cyclists in London is not solely reliant on better infrastructure. For there to be more cyclists, there needs to be more people that are happy and comfortable on the roads. They need to want to give it a try and then want to do repeatedly.
As a hardened urban cyclist, with plenty of experience of riding in traffic it’s a shame to admit that there are still days when I get put off. In fact, when I first moved to London I ended up walking more than cycling, because I just didn’t enjoy it.
The reason? Not cars or scooters, not taxis or buses, but fellow cyclists. I remember getting so fed up with other cyclists cutting me up and overtaking me at traffic lights. To this day, the behaviour of fellow cyclists still boils my blood, despite my efforts to be more zen. It’s clear from speaking to other cyclists and reading the blog comments, that I’m not the only one that feels this way.
I am pretty used to cars sometimes cutting me up and I find that it is easy to predict what they are going to do. Especially when they are doing something ridiculous. I can tell when a cyclist is going to do something that represents a hazard to me as well. I guess after cycling (and driving) around for nearly 30 years I have a well honed ‘accident sense’.
I understand that people are not all equal in terms of road skills and experience and ardently feel that should not stop people cycling. I do think that everyone should take a cycle training course though. Sadly, I also understand that everyone in this city wishes they were in a bubble, particularly when commuting. However, I am incredibly saddened that this selfish bubble extends to people who cycle commute.
Cyclists often talk about an us and them divide between drivers and cyclists. Regardless of how unhelpful this rhetoric is, it is presupposing that cyclists are a united, cohesive group. I am not sure this is true.
I get that cyclists are all very different people, and we should not have to all have the same ideals, ethics and interests. To think otherwise is naive. But, we are all out doing essentially the same thing every day. Cycling in London is not as unsafe as it may seem if you just watch the news, but it is not the safest thing you can do in a day. (For the safest thing to do you should wrap yourself in a blanket, hole up in your lounge and watch Netflix reruns all day. But that’s only fun for a day.)
Despite our shared goal of getting to our destination, there are those cyclists that feel the need to zoom around and take every opportunity to overtake a bus, car, whatever. We are road uses and as such are held to the highway code as much as any other vehicle on the road.
Lead by example
Being an idiot on a bike to get to work a couple minutes quicker is not helping anyone. Cutting up a car or a bus because you think you have more of a right to be in the road and in front at the lights is not helpful. Drivers should not take things personally and get annoyed but they do, the same way we get annoyed and hacked off at drivers. Do not give them fuel to think that cyclists are in their way. Next time they try to speed past a person on a bike because you got in their way, it might not work out and someone could get hurt.
Filtering is often necessary in traffic if you want to get anywhere and not inhale the fumes from a whole tank of petrol. We all do it, and often it is safe to do so. Sometimes however it is not. The prime example of this is filtering alongside a lorry. We all know about this and it is probably the most talked about danger point on the road for cyclists. Just because there is an advanced stop box at a junction does not give you an automatic right to use it. It is there for the safety of cyclists. It is not there for you to weave through tons of cars to get to. Nor is it there for you to sit in front of traffic in the wrong lane and cut cars up. It is certainly not there for you to cut up other cyclists already present.
These behaviours all give drivers a bad impression of cyclists and this is not what we want. When I do occasionally drive a car I hate it when a cyclist cuts in front of me at a junction and is then in the wrong place. I fear a cyclist swinging out in front of me with out adequate signals and space. These things irritate and anger me and I am about as committed a cyclist as you get.
Think about others
I often hang back at a junction rather than squeeze my way to the front. Usually it is because it is not necessary to do so or it is not very safe. I will then sit there while 5 or 6 other cyclists cycle down the wrong side of the road to get to the front of the junction. They then hold up traffic and are slow to pull off, often needing to cut a lane or two to get to the correct place on the road. When I cycle through the city at rush hour I lose track of the number of times I am cut up at traffic lights and then held up by the same person pulling off very slowly and cycling very slowly.
I am all for people cycling at their own pace, I certainly am not a speedy cyclist. But I do not appreciate being overtaken at lights by people I had previously passed while cycling along. I also do not appreciate it when people jump the lights and continue to cycle slowly, meaning I have to play leap frog with them along a stretch of road. This puts everyone at risk. Yes queuing is irritating, but you will still be quicker than the cars even if you don’t cut everyone up.
I also find that I am undertaken by other cyclists regularly. I do not always cycle in the primary position, it is just not feasible on most roads. I also do not always cycle right in the gutter, I leave a gap so that I can see pedestrians and not get hit by car doors, as you are supposed to. I do not leave a gap for other cyclists to nip up and then nearly take out my front wheel getting in front of me. You should never undertake another cyclist.
What can we do?
When I am put in danger by a car when on the road it is bad. When it is a ‘fellow’ cyclists it is, to my mind, worse. We all have the same hazards. We all face the same problems from vehicles, and bad opinions from some drivers. Perhaps we should be a little more courteous to each other.
Lets try to be a community and not put people off becoming cyclists. Help each other out if you see an accident. If you can behave in a way that makes someones journey just a little better, do it. Say hello to each other occasionally, or at least make eye contact and crack a smile now and then. It won’t kill you or turn you to stone. It certainly won’t make you late.