17 February 2006

Misunderstood Cyclists

I loved this article from Zoe Williams in the Guardian last week about the ludicrous views of many road users (starting in our Upper House) about bicyclists. A snippet:

This is the truth about the cyclist - before they have even decided whether or not to shoot a red light or run over your wife, they are more civic-minded than anyone else travelling in any other manner, bar by foot. If they do run into someone, they at least (like the bee) do their victim the favour of hurting themselves in the process, which is why, if you had any sense, you'd save your hatred for the motorist, who (like the wasp) injures without care. Cyclists are persistently treated like the naughty children of the road, where the SUV driver is the decent, law-abiding adult, when, in fact, the very opposite is the case. And while it's a difficult sum to calculate precisely, I'd estimate that one cyclist is as socially beneficial as 10 lords. Would Her Majesty's government care to take any steps about that?

As a commuter cyclist around London on my folding Brompton, and a more serious (though not fast) touring cyclist, many of her points rang true. But what is frustrating is how little we can do about it. This week as I headed towards a major crossing with a green traffic light in my favour (and a red light for the pedestrians) I was amazed to see two separate women with children just walk across the road, without appearing to look. I rang my bell, and the second one looked up turned away and continued to walk in front of me with children. I was the one of course who had to take evasive action. Had I been a car, I assume they might have paid more attention. But what message does it send to the kids? Pedestrians, like motorists, treat cyclists with disdain. Road planners (in this country at least) seem to be adding more obstacles to our path which, while slowing motorists down, also serve to make riding a bike increasingly frustrating as you are stopped for ages at lights with multiple priorities, empty pedestrian crossings, and bicyle-unfriendly speed bumps.

What's an environmentally-friendly cyclist to do?

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