I had been thinking of writing something about the state of road safety in the UK for a while now, but it seems that I reached a tipping point yesterday morning…
A man stands in the middle of the road shouting. He is the embodiment of rage. Apoplectic. His overtake was reckless at best. He has narrowly avoided the front row of cyclists as he swung back across the road to avoid the oncoming traffic. The group voices and signals it’s discontent. He then slams on the brakes immediately after overtaking our group of seven. Every name under the sun is used, and then he threatens to use his car as a weapon against us. Fortunately on this occasion his threats were empty.
We had been riding down the Pilgrims Way near Otford and we were two abreast. It is a narrow section of road where I would not be happy to be overtaken even as a single cyclist if there were oncoming traffic, which there often is. So I have to ask the question, when did we reach the point that the lives of others became seemingly so dispensable compared to increasing your journey time by 30 seconds? Sadly, this is not the first time I have pondered this question since returning to the UK cycling scene in the past few months.
I should say at this point, that yes I know what it’s like to have a bad day, and yes I know what it’s like to make a mistake. I have made plenty. My main concern isn’t with the specific events from yesterday’s ride- during which I was going like a sack of spuds for the record. My concern lies with the culture of the clash between motorists and cyclists. You don’t have to cycle for long in London, or spend much time searching on Youtube before the problem presents itself loudly and clearly.
My sister has taken her driving test in the past three years, but apparently the issue of how to drive around cyclists was barely touched upon. She wasn’t sure if cyclists were allowed to cycle two abreast. It is legal, if you weren’t sure either. It feels wrong to me that as the number of riders on the road continues to increase, there is apparently little education or consideration for sharing the road with cyclists (from my sample of one, and my road experience). The figures are not perfect because of the low sample number for cycling journeys in a Department for Transport report from 2014, but they do show that the average distance covered by bicycle has increased from 46 miles to 49 miles per year from 1995 to 2013. On top of this the number of journeys by bicycle in London has increased by 55% in the same time period.
It scares me that I wasn’t especially taken aback by what happened yesterday, ok it’s not the first time someone has yelled in my face, but it means my mind didn’t interpret it as completely abnormal. And therein lies the real problem. I know I’m not the only person worried about this, and there are some great campaigns out there (London Cycling Campaign, THINK Cycling ) but it’s clear we have a way to go.