War on the roads a problem? Easy! Just tell cyclists to put up and shut up!
I am of the view that what is said is what matters, not who said it. With that said, the following is from Contract Hire and Leasing dot com, and comes from their opinion section. I think it’s relevant only as far as it seems to contain a tiny bit of bias.
Let’s be fair, though – I am biased towards cycling. I hope, however, that I at least succeed in presenting a cogent and fair argument. If not, I hope that someone calls me on it, and I am (in theory…) prepared to accept that I might be wrong.
With that out of the way, I was pointed to this article by The Cyco Path and feel the need to respond to it. Bear with me as I will be quoting quite a lot from the article, but it makes it easier to follow. Yeah, it’s bad journalism, but The Times this ain’t, am I right? Read it in full first, here, in all it’s glory.
Here we go.
So the title suggests that both sides are fighting a war they don’t need to be, leading the reader to believe that what we are about to encounter is a balanced article from someone merely interested in making the roads a better place for everyone.
I had some sort of post-apocalyptic scene playing through my head as I read through the first few paragraphs, with all the animosity and #bloodycyclists and crossing swords and macabre scenes of death and whatnot.
Sounds pretty serious.
We will apparently learn two things from this article, which are, “why is there such a rift between those on two and four wheels, and what can be done about it”, which is broken into three sections: Speed differential, Bear the responsibility, and finally, we arrive at the Harmonious road network.
The large difference in speed is one of the biggest problems, says the author. Firstly, I doubt it, because…
Even tonight, on my way home, I was traveling at, at most, 10kph less than the flow of traffic, so by this logic, I should have been almost entirely a non-issue for the motorist who was almost on top of me, and who, incidentally, turned at the next side street directly after passing me.
My takeaway from incidents like these? I’m not holding you up in any materially significant way, but you just can’t bear to have me as an equal user of the road. I know that sounds rather emotive and short on rigor, which it is, but I’m open to another reading of a car tailgating a cyclist on a road with regular speed humps and a minimal speed differential who only needs to be on that road for about four seconds. In any case, I promise to keep it a bit more professional from here on in…
As a result [of this speed differential] cyclists often berate drivers’ dangerous overtakes borne out of a desperation to get past. We’ve all been there. It’s a bit tight and the road isn’t ideal for it, but the cyclist isn’t pedaling that hard and you’re late. Stuff it. Wait for a gap that’s borderline, put your foot to the floor and hope for the best. Yes, it’s a risk, and no, we shouldn’t even consider it, but few of us can honestly say we’ve never done it, or at least been tempted.
At the same time, cyclists don’t always make life easy for the motorists. Riding side-by-side may be more sociable and, in the minds of some, safer, but don’t for one moment expect a driver to thank you for it.
Alright, so first of all, drivers are desperate to get past, and besides, we’ve all done it. Straight away the author is dismissing the inherent danger of dangerous overtakes. He’s basically saying that we’re asking for it, those pesky, nagging cyclists. We’re just low-hanging fruit, begging to be picked off. And then the author almost literally says that cyclists are asking for it: “Cyclists don’t always make life easy for the motorists.”
The author then pushes the first of the big red buttons – riding two abreast. To be fair, even many cyclists struggle with this one. Although I am strongly in favour of riding two abreast in many situations (not all, and particularly when there is enough space to pass cyclists in-lane with clear visibility of the road ahead and while still leaving at least three feet), I still find myself unconsciously sliding back into single file when I hear “car back!”. It appeals to people in many ways regardless of whether they are on a bike or in a car.
Here’s the thing, though. It’s more dangerous, and actually makes it harder for drivers to pass. I really wish motorists would take a second to think about that and adjust their view of the world. There are a gazillion explanations of why this is (they’re all the same, but it’s not exactly a secret), but to start you off, here’s a super lazy Google search.
In urban environments, however, speed is less of an issue. In a city centre, neither party can regularly get above about 20mph, so ‘being held up’ by cyclists and dangerous overtaking is unlikely. Instead, most of the conflict around town comes from a lack of space.
Hemmed in by other cars, motorists struggle to make their way without depriving other road users of space, and while cyclists have a little more manoeuvrability, they’re stumped by cars parked in the cycle lanes (because they can’t find a parking space) and they have to contend with the enormous buses that can’t see them. In short, the urban jungle is just that, and both parties feel the need to fight for survival.
Apparently, when speeds are lower, dangerous overtaking is unlikely to happen. Well I’ll be. I had no idea. I must have been imagining last night and the previous five years of commuting through residential roads, roundabouts, and slow-zones before that, where people passed me dangerously close on a regular basis.
Thanks for clearing that up.
Oh, hang on. I’m confused again, The very next sentence says that rather than being held up, in cities, the real issue is a lack of space. My tiny brain is already hurting, but let me see if I can understand this. Struggling to pass cyclists, or “being held up”, is a different situation than sharing space.
No, see, in cities, it’s the poor motorist who struggles “to make their way without depriving other road users of space”. Look, I know the author is writing for an auto industry publication to a motorist audience who are already on his side, but, seriously, this is some weak-ass stuff.
Cyclists get a concession by mentioning parked cars in the cycle lane, but it’s immediately snatched back when he says that that only happens because motorists are being oppressed by not having all the parking spaces they want, where they want them.
But, hang on to your helmets folks (or not, if you don’t swing that way), here is a diamond in the rough: in this urban jungle, “both parties feel the need to fight for survival”.
What happens when you hit an apple with a brick? Aside from checking if the apple was wearing a helmet. No, no, aside from assuming that the apple must have deviated from its course a bit and rolled over into the brick. No, no, no, aside from presuming that the apple was liable and that the driver – crap, sorry… brick – is innocent.
Scoop up the apple sauce and say something about tragic accidents, and oh well, and hey, we all have to look out for each other, friends.
Some have suggested that motorists, being protected by their big metal boxes, should automatically bear the entirety of the responsibility for any incidents, hoping to encourage more considerate driving using the fear of legal action.
You know what? I know nobody would like it, but that would work. I mean, it would actually make a difference. What people don’t want to understand is that the greater the negative consequences of an action are, the less likely that action is to happen. They don’t want the responsibility that cyclists, registered or not, have to bear: very large consequences.
This isn’t like spanking kids. There are no developmental issues here we need to be concerned with. Drivers of cars are presumed to be adults. Adults should know better, and they are given a license to use a potentially dangerous machine on public roads under the presumption that they understand that responsibility. Driving is not a right, it’s a privilege.
However, many motorists, who can be traced by their number plates, feel that they’re already accountable enough and that the cyclists should have to take more responsibility for their actions if they’re going to use the road, perhaps by introducing number plates for bicycles.
Accountable enough, eh? Yeah, I’d say that 146 drivers an hour on Victorian roads alone and just under 1200 people killed on the roads in Australia in 2013 is a pretty fair display of accountability. Clearly number plates work.
Conversely, some are taking the law into their own hands, fitting cameras here, there and everywhere in a bid to catch those flouting the rules of the road. Ironically, these people also often seem to be the ones complaining about a ‘Big Brother’ society, but that’s beside the point.
Then don’t mention it.
To me, the answer to all the problems is a simple one, although I suspect it would be nigh on impossible to implement. We have to realise that everyone is going to make mistakes. Sometimes a driver won’t see a cyclist not because they’re breaking the law, but because cyclists are difficult to see. Equally, a cyclist will occasionally misjudge a car’s speed and pull out when he or she shouldn’t – it’s going to happen.
The key to avoiding confrontation and ill sentiment is not to ride or drive around reporting people, filming them and putting them on the internet, and nor is it to shout at them and become a vigilante trying to do the work of the authorities. Instead, we just have to remain calm.
Apparently the old, “Sorry Mate I Didn’t See You” is a blank cheque for motorists, but I have to say, cyclists really aren’t difficult to see (with the exception of the incredibly stupid nocturnal bike ninjas), but that does unfortunately require that you are paying attention to the road in the first place.
The authors answer to all this is to just throw your hands in the air and wave them like you just don’t care. Oopsies will happen. What are you going to do? The problem with this is, one party will be killed, and the other? No harm will come to them at all. Not physically, materially, or legally, in too many cases.
So don’t worry about it. Remain calm. And remember, we can all get along, each and every one of us, as long as only one of us takes their lumps and likes it.
Thanks, James, and Contract Hire and Leasing dot com for fixing our roads. Who would have thought it would have been so simple?
Header image: source