I really like cycling. I’m not particularly good at it, but when I lived in Brighton I liked cycling up and down the seafront on balmy summer evenings, and I like having a spin around Richmond Park. The problem is, I do it so infrequently because I’m scared of cycling in traffic. And here are my reasons why:
1. I’m scared because I know that no matter how good I am at cycling, there’s nothing to stop a distracted driver from ploughing straight into the side of me. That no matter how carefully I ride, I’m still at risk of dying every time I set off into traffic.
2. There are so many cyclist deaths that the odds are too high for me to even consider cycling to work in London. I hear tragic tales almost every week of men and women being crushed by tipper trucks with wheels so big that they don’t even feel a bump, or buses that drag the bike underneath their wheels.
3. There are young drivers that laugh at the thought of hitting cyclists. Emma Way was only the beginning; I’ve seen at least four more instances on Twitter of young people (usually girls, unfortunately) bragging about the fact that they either hit or almost hit, a cyclist. If the people that will be teaching the next generation of drivers don’t value a cyclist’s life, who will?
4. It seems like the law doesn’t seem to provide any incentive for drivers to be more careful; there are too many small fines and not enough convictions for drivers who hit cyclists.
5. Even though my boyfriend is a seasoned cyclist and has ridden almost every day for years, he still has weekly near misses and has been knocked off of his bike twice in the last few months. I worry every evening when I know he’s riding back because no matter how safe he is, and how well he can deal with a impending collision, there’s nothing to stop him being hit again by a driver who’s not looking at the road.
6. I’m scared because even good drivers can miss a cyclist if they lose concentration for just one second.
All of these things will continue to be true to some extent. The law won’t change quickly (although the new enforcement of the fine for motorists who enter the safety box at traffic lights is a good start). Every driver in the UK is not going to suddenly become more aware of the people they share the roads with. Years of “you don’t even pay road tax!” prejudice is not going to disappear overnight. There are cycling proficiency courses that would most likely make me feel a little safer and more confident in my abilities, but that wouldn’t address most of my fears.
It’s a shame that such an enjoyable activity (and one that keeps people healthier, taking some of the strain off an already stretched NHS) is made almost inaccessible by things that could, really, be controlled. New drivers need a better education on how they can avoid collisions with cyclists, and how just glancing down at your phone could end in a fatality. Experienced drivers need some kind of refresher – I think of most drivers I know and how set in their habits they are (myself included), so to challenge those habits is no mean feat. HGVs that drive through urbanised areas need cycle safety training, and to actually use that training. Traffic infrastructure in cities (especially London) needs to be heavily reviewed to make sure that the roads themselves aren’t endangering cyclists, regardless of the traffic on them.
Maybe one day we’ll live in a society where cycling is a universally accepted form of transport, one that doesn’t require courage. Where cyclists aren’t seen as obstacles to be negotiated as quickly as possible, rather people that are just getting from A to B. Until then, I’ll be keeping to my occasional little trips around Richmond Park, feeling safer in the knowledge that there are fewer junctions and a nice 20mph speed limit.
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