My commute to and from work yesterday should have been one of the best of the year, the sun was shining, I was in a good mood, it couldn’t be better, but strangely by the time I got home I was weary, depressed and downhearted.
Riding a bike in the sunshine at the end of a day’s work should be a wonderful, pleasant experience but it wasn’t at all for some reason every junction, every passing car felt like a battle to be fought.
Let’s look at a situation every regular cyclist has found themselves in at some time; a queue of traffic waiting at lights, a cycle lane up the nearside guiding the cyclist into an advanced stop zone. I move up the inside and as I enter the ASZ the minicab driver at the front is edging forward into the ASZ. I pull up at the front of the box, now the front of his car is level with my rear hub. Somewhat behind me but the gap between is is less than a foot horizontally. We wait. Time passes, these lights take a long time. He’s getting frustrated, he starts edging forward again, I look around to catch his eye, nothing more, no gestures. He keeps moving forward, the front of his car is now level with the front of my bike and he’s about one foot away from me. The lights change, I push off to try and gain some ground, I probably gain a couple of metres but half way across the junction and he comes passed, milimetres separate my knuckles from his wing mirror, a deliberate attempt to intimidate.
Regular cyclists reading this will recognise this situation, they’ve probably read it thinking, so what? why bother writing about that? And that is why I have written, so commonplace are such assaults that we barely notice them or consider them worthy of comment.
In hindsight I had two options to deal with the situation.
1. Do pretty much as I did, be submissive, keep myself in to the kerb, let the driver go past, attempting to intimidate me and probably amused that he’s got one over on me.
2. When I reached the front, move to my right and plant my bike right in front of him so he had no opportunity to intimidate and endanger me.
Experience and vehicular cycling will tell you that number 2 is the correct option, that’s fine except we’re dealing with unpredictable humans. To do number 2 requires the cyclist to put themselves in a postion that can be interpreted as antagonistic, and that is the interpretation that will be made by a person who has already proven they are willing to break the laws of the road. So as a cyclist we arrive at the front of the queue and the first thing we do is ask ourselves ‘How angry is this person going to get if I position myself in front of them?”, The driver now has several options
- I worried about nothing, they do nothing
- They might honk their horn
- Rev their engine
- Yell out of their window
- Nudge your back tyre
- Get out and have an argument
- Get out and attack you
- Just plain old run you down
Of course it’s far more likely that they will do nothing other than swear at me under their breath than run me down, but it remains that that is an option open to them, and with no information about the driver other than their make of car, possibly their gender, age and size to go on how am I to know what they will do? And so this discomfort is built in to the structure of the road. At every set of lights I have to choose between humiliation and endangerment or antagonism and endangerment.
If a fit, healthy, confident, experienced middle aged male feels this discomfort, one can barely comprehend how awful the prospect of cycling on our roads must be to others who may not be as well equipped to deal with these situations.
Just a small vignette but one I think that encapsulates just why vehicular cycling is yet again utterly lacking as a credible way to enable mass cycling, it does nothing to address our real fears, it’s a sticking plaster that a motorist can come along and rip off any time they feel like it either by malice or carelessness.