Friday, April 18, 2014

Vicious cycle

There are some things you have to give up when you become a commuter cyclist, namely:

  •  Your dignity (especially when it rains): the words “high vis” and “elegance” would rarely appear in the same sentence;
  •  Any faith in the ability of car drivers to
a)      Drive;
b)      See anyone on a bike;
c)       Notice bike lanes; or
d)      Act sensibly when it’s raining.

Commuter drivers have already made a selfish decision, which is to take up space on the roads into the city in their cars with (in the overwhelming majority) only one person inside. Sitting inside their cars with the music on, in their own little self-satisfied micro-world, impatient at the lights, they seem to feel they are justified in taking any tiny shortcut that will cut down the length of their journey at the expense of others. This applies particularly to cyclists, against whom there seems to have been an increase in aggression, for which Australian shock jocks like Alan Jones must take some of the responsibility; but also, in their aggressive individualism, no driver likes to see cyclists sailing past them, which unfortunately is the norm in every city centre. My response to this is: every cyclist is one less car on the road, making your journey to work that bit shorter than if I had chosen to drive my car. You aren’t “stuck in traffic”, you ARE traffic. You are driving a vehicle that can kill me. And would you like to explain to my two year old son that you knocked me off my bike because you wanted to shave another two minutes off your journey? I’m looking at you, yes you, eg the driver of the car with the sticker on the back saying “DRIVE IT LIKE YOU STOLE IT”, who this morning went illegally into the left hand lane ahead of me and sat waiting at the lights, blocking the cycle path, in order to get an advantage over fellow drivers at the lights by accelerating past them into the micro-feeder lane (which certainly is not there for that purpose) at the other side of the junction. I hope you got the shock of your life when your car fishtailed alarmingly on the wet road. The cyclist in front of me, just a metre or so away from being hit, certainly did.
  • Sadly, some faith in fellow cyclists. I have to bite back a comment (“this is why drivers don’t respect us!”) when I see cyclists do all the things I know drivers hate:
a)      Riding through red lights;
b)      Riding on pavements; and generally
c)       Ignoring the road rules.

The fact is, although arguably drivers are collectively unreasonable anyway, and it makes no difference whether you follow the rules or disobey them, I see every cyclist who flouts the road rules as someone who is needlessly angering drivers and ultimately putting my life in danger. For the record, I always follow stop signs. I always try to use hand signals to show my intentions clearly in advance. I rarely go on the pavement unless I’m accompanying a child under 7 – and yes, it is legal then. I wear a bright white jacket and put my lights on. Yet I’ve been in situations where I’ve been beeped at by impatient drivers (I’m in front of you, wait to see what I am doing as you would with any vehicle) – or, frequently, almost side-swiped by someone coming past way too close (as Ken Lay says: if you can’t leave a metre between us, you are too close to pass).

Having said all that, my journey to work is mostly a delight: 30 minutes of cycling door to door, along a dedicated cycle path by the railway for almost half the journey, and then through Royal Park on a  wide road with plenty of space for everyone and usually enough time to get up some speed and freewheel down the road enjoying the green-ness of everything. Towards the end I have a few slightly hairy minutes at Flemington Roundabout (the bike lane goes one way and I want to go another) and some close encounters until I get to my office at the corner of Queen Street and Little Bourke; but it’s generally been a pretty good experience and to my knowledge it’s the fastest method door to door. If I’ve learned that the majority of drivers are fools, and many cyclists are too, these are things that might save my life one day.


Anonymous said...

aiNocAlthough my sympathy is instinctively with my fellow cyclists, I've seen so many pull idiotic stunts on roads here (Montreal) that I'm surprised more people aren't killed. Add in the morons who cycle along the pavement or on the roads in the pitch black with no lights on...


LottieP said...

I know, and it is incredible how crazily people cycle when you consider that usually the only person really at risk is the cyclist themselves.

I often find myself annoyingly advising my fellow cyclists at night that they are, indeed, practically invisible without lights. And if I can't see them, a careless driver certainly won't.

Anonymous said...

Terrible accident here this week, a 33-year old woman killed by some 23-year in a flat-bed truck (for transporting tractors, so enormous). He told police he "never saw her" so they let him go without any charges.

Presumably at the behest of the car lobby, they have a "no liability" clause, so basically if a car hits a bike the driver has no responsibility towards the bike or cyclist.

LottiP said...

Yikes! I thought it was bad here, but at least you have some sort of legal protection if someone hits you.