“Scoff-law cyclist” myth strikes again

I was once admonished by a driver that I should wear a helmet when cycling. I politely pointed out to the driver that he was not wearing a seatbelt. Today, a pedestian crossing the street in front of me remarked how astounding it was to see a cyclist wait for the bicycle green light. He was in the process of crossing the street against a pedestrian red – this time I didn’t bother to point it out.

Meanwhile research suggests that all road users break the law in equal measures, but drivers and pedestrians are more likely to break the law for their own convenience, while cyclists are more likely to be motivated by the desire to stay safe. But hey, let’s keep demonising cyclists, why don’t we.

Logs and eyes come to mind.

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Drivers, drains, and brains

My route to college includes a road with a Z bend: sharp right followed immediately by a sharp left. That exact section of road also has a number of recessed drains probably about twenty metres apart. Therefore, even cyclists who don’t believe in the merits of vehicular cycling* have to move to a position in line with where motor traffic’s closest-to-the-kerb tyre would run.

On Thursday two car drivers overtook me on the turn, one giving an oncoming driver a near heart attack because overtaking on a blind bend is not a good idea. No accident, but a close call. What took the cake was that I joined a queue of waiting traffic at the T junction about thirty metres after the bends… right behind both cars that had overtaken me dangerously.

Now, I get that people are frustrated by cyclists slowing them down to a fraction of the speed they are capable of and allowed. What intrigues me is what foundational thinking framework is lodged in the mind of a driver that results in them making the split-second decision that overtaking the cyclist is worth the risk of one of the most dangerous types of collisions: head-on with a vehicle travelling in the opposite direction. The situation Thursday highlighted the pointlessness of this risk: these drivers gained literally nothing. I don’t believe in overtaking traffic on the left, but it would have been my legal right to do so and to cross that intersection before them. As it was, I stayed in the queue of traffic, so they risked collision, injury, death for the sake of making a right turn at best thirty seconds before me.

There is no logic here, so what prompts such folly? I am convinced that dangerous road user behaviour doesn’t start with the moment in which poor decisions are made. Therefore, changing such behaviour will not start with addressing the moment in which poor decisions are made. The key lies in shifting the springboard from which these decisions originate. I believe also that this behaviour is most visible in road user interactions involving cyclists, but that the “bakermat” – the place of origin – of a lot of dangerous road user behaviour resulting in injury and death is the same.

Imagine if we could address that core, if we could shift the launch pad to direct decisions into a safer trajectory. It could save so many lives.

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*Vehicular cycling means you cycle as part of the traffic stream, placing yourself in line with other vehicles for visibility and predictability (our eyes are in the front of our heads, so cycling as close to the kerb as possible takes you out of the line of sight and focus of drivers, and violates the Road Safety Authority’s advice to “Be Safe, Be Seen”. It also places you in the lane with the highest number of obstacles, increasing your risk of swerving into oncoming traffic – drain covers, holes, debris, pedestrians stepping into the road without looking which yes, happens unbelievably often. A British qualitative study mentioned cyclist unpredictability as a major stressor for drivers, so putting yourself in a lane where you’re more likely to swerve unpredictably does drivers no favours, even if they don’t realise that). Segregation (separated cycle lanes) seems to work better for cycling safety, but in a situation where you have no other choice but to share a surface with motorised traffic, many argue it is the safest practice.

Nothing to do with me

I really, REALLY struggle to deal with things I see around me which are wrong. This is especially a problem for me when I’m in traffic. Being on a bicycle, realising how severe the consequences can be for me if a driver’s actions cause me to crash, I can get very worked up. This leads, sometimes, to me completely losing my nut and scfreaming or gesturing at people. And this in turn leads to me beating myself up about acting like that for days, weeks sometimes.

This week, I remembered a piece of advice from Fred Luskin’s Forgiveness methods: you cannot enforce your rules on others. Even if your rule is to obey rules we as society have decided we need in order to function for the maximum good for us as a group, such as stopping at a traffic light when it is red, you cannot enforce your rule of abiding by rules.

And I started repeating the mantra: “Nothing to do with me.” Cars parked in a space reserved for bicycles to be able to enter the cycle lane and, you know, GET OUT OF THE WAY OF CARS? Nothing to do with me. What has got something to do with me is figuring out how to get past them, so really that’s all I should focus on. Why they’re there is none of my business. It is especially not something I can influence or change, so no amount of anger or frustration on my side is going to be helpful.

Instead, I can raise the issue of lack of enforcement with someone who can do something about it. I can raise the issue when a politician comes to look for my vote. I can help with whatever efforts are being made to increase cycling numbers in my town – the more of us there are, the more provision and consideration becomes important.

But shouting and swearing? Pointless. At best, counterproductive, creating a negative image of cyclists in general, and of me in particular.

That’s everything to do with me.

Mr bus driver, you scare me

A few weeks ago, it was raining and I decided to take the bus to school. It was very full, so I stood right at the front beside the driver. At a stage, he remarked that there were a lot more people than usual taking the bus. I speculated it might be the rain. “For instance, I wouldn’t usually be on the bus, I’d be on my bicycle.”

“That’s one good thing the rain did today then,” he guffawed, “getting one of you off the road.”

This demonstrates a problem which I think is rampant: drivers view cyclists as nuisances to barely tolerate, rather than extremely vulnerable fellow road users who should be afforded a lot of patience, consideration and the benefit of the doubt where perhaps their actions annoyed you. After all, you’re sitting in a metal shell, not even able to see the road right in front of you. Surely it makes sense to give the benefit of the doubt to someone who is much closer to the road, much more exposed and receiving much more stimulus to work with. Even if you were to disagree with a cyclist’s actions, the fact that they’re so many magnitudes more vulnerable than you are in your car or truck should surely buy them some patience and consideration.

Instead the attitude to cyclists sucks unbelievably, with the bus driver’s sentiment echoed to an alarming degree. In light of the fact that attitudes are already hostile to cyclists, it is disheartening to read of Boris Johnson’s… let’s just call it what it is – his STUPID remarks in response to the spate of cyclist deaths in London recently. It’s frustrating to see someone like him being that irresponsible.