ARE BRITISH ROADS THE MOST DANGEROUS IN EUROPE FOR CYCLISTS?
There is no doubt that roads in Britain are not particularly bike friendly. Dedicated bike lanes are few and far between, and usually seem to have been designed by people who have haven’t ridden a bicycle since they were at school. Consequently, cyclists are always at risk of being hurt by inconsiderate, careless, thoughtless drivers who are usually not paying attention to where they’re going when they change lanes. Because of this most cyclists have now taken to riding on the footpaths, pavements, sidewalks, just to get away from two-ton tin boxes that can crush a cyclist to death without really noticing.
This places the speeding cyclist into direct conflict with pedestrians ~ those people who have a legitimate right to be on the footpath. In England and Wales, cycling on the footpath is against the law. Yet, hardly anyone is ever charged with breaking this particular law, total prosecutions in England and Wales run at about 150 per year. I have even seen policemen riding their police bicycles on the footpath. This is not a good idea for daydreaming pedestrians. It is very unfunny to walk around a street corner to be faced with a couple of speeding cyclists coming the other way. Non cyclists regard this as extreme anti-social behaviour which causes a potentially fatal hazard to pedestrians and cyclists alike. Cyclists often have less than perfect manners or any consideration for any other person unlucky enough to come into close proximity to a madly pedaling maniac.
A Parliamentary report said; ‘Some cyclists are perceived to behave irresponsibly, such as riding on pavements and disregarding red traffic signals, thereby posing a danger to themselves and making other road users including elderly pedestrians feel unsafe.’ David Curry asked the transport department’s permanent secretary Robert Devereux, ‘Why are cyclists such irresponsible and arrogant road users?’ Mr Deveraux denied that his department looked at cyclists as though they were; ‘living in some sort of superior moral category.’ The report concludes; ‘It is surprising that the department was unaware of a strongly held perception that, through the irresponsible behaviour of some cyclists, they are a hazard to themselves and other road users.’
Not every cyclist is a lout dressed in Lycra. Not every cyclist has forgotten how to say thank you. Not every cyclist cannot be bothered to show consideration to other people they meet on the road, pavement, car parks, the beach-side promenade… If you happen to meet a Lycra lout then do not attempt to stand your ground, get to one side as quickly as possible, because the very best you can expect if you make them deviate from their chosen course is a mouthful of expletives, or a stream of saliva. Do not point out that for riding on the footpath they should get a £30 fixed-penalty fine, because you both know that the police will be massively disinterested.
Motorists in cities face similar problems with aggressive cyclists. Any motorist seeing a bike in their mirrors should expect the cyclist to do something dangerous, it’s best to pause to let them past, or they are in danger of ending under your wheels. Cyclists should observe indicator lights and wait for the car to move on, as it is the duty of the vehicle doing the overtaking to keep out of the way of the vehicle being overtaken. But any motorist who does not give cyclists an absolute right of way is asking for a kick in the door, thump on the window and a stream of four letter words.
The odds of a cyclist hurting or killing themselves are bad enough even with wary drivers always giving them a wide berth. Transplant surgeons refer to cyclists and motor cyclists as donors and know there will be a fresh supply of spare parts every time it rains. Every year in England about 19,000 cyclists are killed or injured in reported road accidents. This despite the fact that hardly anyone cycles anywhere. On average people in England and Wales only make 10 trips a year by bike travelling no more than 30 miles, (out of a total of 7,056 miles per person per year). Less than 4% of adults use a bicycle as a means of transport, and just over 4% of adults use a bike for fun or to keep fit. Most cycling accidents, some 80%, involve adult males.
Cycling is an excellent exercise, much better than running in some ways. Many serious runners of my acquaintance suffer from knee problems, muscle damage, and inflammation. But cycling also puts you in harms way unless you can find a safe route, free from interference from cars and pedestrians. Other excellent exercise regimes, for the more mature manly man, are distance walking, stair-laps, swimming, and working out with weights. As I hate bicycles and getting wet, walking, stair laps, and working out with weights is my personal exercise regime. A couple of thousand steps is a great cardiovascular workout.
Cycling is also a great sport. Great Britain has had a lot of recent successes in the Olympics and major road races such as the Tour de France. But, road races take place mostly on closed roads, and yet serious accidents still happen. The dynamics of a bicycle are such that the machine is always on the verge of catastrophe. It is only the gyroscopic effect of the turning road wheels that keeps a bike upright, disturb that equilibrium at all, and you will be kissing tarmac. Also, back in the day, we were expected to take a cycling proficiency test. This has now been rehashed as Bikeability. Sadly, not many cyclists bother with this kind of training.
Personally, I haven’t seriously ridden a bike since I was at school. Looking at today’s roads I don’t think I’m going to start now. Some cyclists lose all common sense as soon as they get out onto the roads. Some cyclists become aggressive and dangerous. This is why we should be teaching young cyclists that they have responsibilities as well as rights. If cyclists go on believing that everything is always someone else’s fault, they cease to have any grasp on reality. But this attitude of it’s always the fault of the motorist is exactly the line that Cycling England espouses.
The hard truth is; Keep death off the roads, don’t ride a bike.