London. It’s a bustling city, full of surprises. That’s great and all, but not so much when those surprises happen in traffic.
Somehow I haven’t been fully aware of how bad the cycling is in London and how that relates to the whole bikes vs. cars thing. It’s heated, as per usual, and with the population growing inside of a finite space, more and more people are trying to use the same bit of road as everyone else. Bicycles have a number of advantages over cars and even other transport methods, especially in crowded environments, so clearly cycling deserves some serious political backing and funding. The push towards a greater modal-share for cycling has emboldened some cyclists to take a little more ownership of the roads than perhaps is recommended, or, more to the point, justified.
More and more these days, I have to side with the motorists.
Given that it’s better to remain out of the hospital (or morgue) than in, most cyclists have good reason to be defensive of the space around them in traffic. Some (what seems like an increasing number) cyclists use what they believe to be the moral high ground to throw their weight around on the roads, all the while shouting about needing more and better laws to protect vulnerable cyclists, drivers needing to take more care, punishment needing to be more severe, and then…
I’m all for all of that. I definitely don’t feel as though the consequences of negligence are severe enough. The vast majority of the time, “accidents” never have to happen at all – people choose to take the risk, or choose to be less diligent than the situation deserves. Cyclists sometimes forget that they are included in this expectation to play by the rules and to behave responsibly (maybe even respectfully) towards others. “Forget”, in this case, is like “accident”. You don’t really forget not to rush through the pedestrians, blow the red light, cut off that car, or ride in a wholly unpredictable manner. You choose to, just as you choose to try to squeeze by the cyclist rather than wait until it’s safe.
It’s easier for cyclists to slip into that habit, though, because it’s far easier to maneuver your bike through more places, the speeds are usually slower, the consequences usually less far-reaching, and there is a certain anonymity that goes with cycling that puts individual responsibility at arm’s length compared to that of a motorist. As a pedestrian, you don’t feel any pangs of guilt or get a feeling that you are acting outside of what should be acceptable when crossing the street where there is no marked crossing. As a cyclist, filtering to the front at a red light might be perfectly fine and as low-risk as anything, but then you try it in slow-moving traffic, then in normal traffic, then on the wrong side of traffic and use the oncoming lane… and then you are one of those cyclists…
When doing the things cyclists are doing in these videos, on top of doing yourself a disservice, you are doing a disservice to all cyclists, especially in the eyes of motorists. I don’t know why, but I get at least as mad at cyclists for doing stupid things as I do at people in cars. It might be that I expect more from cyclists – don’t ask me why that should be the case. Probably it’s because I am painted with the same brush as numb-nuts up ahead cutting up traffic like it’s his right and duty.
If there isn’t room to filter (where that’s legal and/or safe), then don’t expect that you should be able to. You are part of traffic, not an exception to it. Yes, you can get through places that cars can’t, and sometimes filtering is allowed. Even if it is, it’s not always a good idea, and certainly not when traffic is as complicated as it can be in places like London. I’ll save a discussion of filtering for another time, but what these videos leaves me feeling is sympathy for the people in cars who have to deal with this highly unpredictable situation that cyclists can present. You can’t seriously blame drivers in these conditions when they say, “I didn’t see him!”. It’s quite likely that they actually couldn’t.
When you decide to drive, ride, or walk like a jackass, you change the balance of traffic. You have to take more responsibility for your actions, and if you come to grief, you need to realize that you have created the dangerous situation you find yourself, and often others, in. You should also expect absolutely no sympathy nor goodwill from me, or the hapless motorist that you put in an impossible position.
These videos of so many cyclists filtering on both sides of cars, popping out from behind buses, swerving into the oncoming lane, weaving in every direction, going around pedestrian islands on the wrong side of the road, diving in front of turning lorries, and all the other ridiculous things that cyclists do, it’s no wonder motorists, and increasingly, pedestrians, in places like London, have such a negative opinion of cyclists.
I don’t blame them. I do too.
Header image: source