The week before last I attended the Living Streets London mayoral hustings (though with only Jenny Jones of the candidates actually attending). The focus was on transport issues with the safety of cyclists discussed at a fair length.
There is a swell of a activism and passion surrounding cycling in London at the moment, with the ‘Go Dutch!‘ campaign and a mass ride planned for 28 April, which I’d urge you to attend. It’s heartening to such a high level of attention paid to such an important issue.
But most Londoners don’t cycle. They might not do so even if the HGVs were banned from Zones 1 and 2, the Boris/Ken (depending on your partisan bent) bike scheme was cheaper and more widespread) or there was more division between cars and bikes. But in order to achieve safer streets, cyclists need to take as many members of the non-riding public with them.
Every time I bring up the issue of cycling provision and the dangers of riding around the capital with (non-cycling) friends, the consistent and immediate response I get is not about the behaviour of motorists but of cyclists. The two issues they bring up are not stopping at red lights and cycling on the pavement.
Whether my (non-cycling) friends are right or wrong, their points are valid and that needs to be acknowledged.
I’m not a saint on two wheels and I have been known to do both. When faced with a crazy one way system or a four lane roundabout, I think cyclists can be forgiven for riding on the pavement, providing it is done so slowly and with consideration.
What I can’t understand is riding out past stationary cars and other cyclists straight through red lights, especially when they then weave through the path of pedestrians crossing the road at the correct time and place.
I get incredibly frustrated with car drivers who edge forward when they think the light might be about to turn green, as if doing so will somehow make an automated system act faster. But they won’t jump the lights (in most cases) in a car. So why do so many cyclists I ride alongside feel they can?
The danger of doing so should be enough for cyclists to wait for the damn things to turn green. Just like the elbow barging on the tube and trains or the rush to the front of the bus queue, it’s not a matter of life or death if you get home five minutes faster. But there is another reason not to. This isn’t a ‘war’ between cyclists and motorists but it is a battle for public opinion and public sympathy.
The more cyclists bend the rules, especially when doing so involves nearly hitting pedestrians, the less likely other Londoners are to respond positively to suggestions for better cycling provision. We need to be seen as a polite bunch, not a menace.
Comments made by Richard Tracey (stand in for Boris at the event and London Assembly member) about the dangers and nuisance of cycling on the pavement may not have gone down well with an event full of dedicated cyclists but they would resonate with many others across the capital. If we want cycling to really resonate with the public then we need to watch our own behaviour.