Monday 27 February 2023

Freewheeling: Why the cyclist-motorist war?

Last week the broadcaster and TV news presenter Dan Walker was knocked off his e-bike while cycling around a roundabout in Sheffield, on his way to work. 

The selfie he posted on social media while in the ambulance, his bloodied face sandwiched between two smiling paramedics drew hundreds of wellwishers conveying their sympathy and bidding him a speedy recovery.

Dan Walker after being knocked off his bike (photo: D Walker)

The former Football Focus presenter was hit from behind by a car as he crossed the four-lane interchange of the Eccleshall Road roundabout, and was sent flying. Looking at the camera footage shared by another motorist it appears that the 45-year old took the brunt of the impact to his face. According to Walker, paramedics said that wearing a helmet saved is life.

The aftermath of the incident has been dominated by many reactions, and notably fuelled the acrimony between cyclists and motorists.

As well as Walker posting a selfie on Twitter, he followed it up with a personal account and opinion-editorial in the The Times newspaper about his misfortune. This has begun to backfire on him.

Many readers have become tired of the publicity he is apparently trying to milk out of a seemingly minor incident, given that he did not suffer any significant injuries apart from an achy body and bruising to his face. "I've been knocked off my bike several times and it never made it to the papers once," commented one reader.

Others have suggested he caused problems for himself by not wearing any hi-vis clothing. "How can someone who values his life choose to cycle around a major roundabout when there was an alternative traffic-free cycle path?" Said another.

Let the battle commence! 

Local cyclists claim that the cycle path, which passes under the roundabout is riddled with potholes and always has broken glass, not to mention "shady" characters that hang around in the subway.

Cycling campaigners went further by railing against local councils that won't maintain cycle paths, and spew out the hackneyed retort that if cyclists have to wear hi-vis then motorists should drive brightly coloured vehicles!

Motorists hit back by describing cyclists as an arrogant, self-entitled bunch who think they are above the law, jumping red lights and not following any rules.

Then other cyclists rail against motorists being the scourge of society. If they behaved correctly on the road cyclists would feel safe, wouldn't have to wear hi-vis, helmets, and could ride anywhere without the risk of a near-death experience!

Then others question the effectiveness of helmets. One reader sent Mr Walker a message containing data demonstrating that helmets don't protect against injury.

So the battle rages on!

I must say, for my part that in more than twenty years of travelling around by bicycle I have never been knocked off my bike. On two occasions a vehicle turned left across my path and I managed to take evasive action. I have been involved in a mini disagreement with a motorist on two occasions. There have been around four or five instances where I caught up with a motorist or bus driver at the traffic lights after they had overtaken me too closely. I would generally explain their dangerous manoeuvre to them in a polite civilised way, and most of them would apologise (even if a couple of apologies were uttered in a "sorry, not sorry" kind of tone).

This incidence rate over a 22-year period is very low, and hardly what I would describe as a battle between motorists and cyclists. In fact, that is no more than the number of road rage incidents between car drivers.

Furthermore, I would say that I personally encounter more acts of friendliness than negativity on the roads when cycling. 

Motorists generally do give way to me when I am waiting to turn right. Some even slow down and allow me to move into the middle of the lane before I have begun to signal or manoeuvred. Just the sight of me looking over my shoulder gives them a clue about my intention.

I did my cycling proficiency in primary school back in the 1970s, and I must say I still follow the rules I learned back then. I also do dress so that I can be seen. 

I definitely don't jump the lights. Interestingly, while waiting at the lights I have had pedestrians look at me with curiosity, before complimenting me for following the rules!

I am not trying to be smug about my bike riding, but I do feel that there is a correlation between the way cyclists are treated by motorists and the way cyclists behave on the roads, and take responsibility for their personal safety. 

Obviously there will always be a small percentage of reckless drivers, and those people behave like that towards all road users - not necessarily singling out cyclists. 

The problem is that so many cyclists don't follow the rules and don't take ownership of their actions. Many club riders wear fashionable dark-coloured kit, some youths ride in black, and with no lights at night. And in my experience the majority of cyclists jump through the red lights. I have even had other cyclists shout "What are you waiting for?" While I was waiting at the lights as they plough on ahead.

These days I don't describe myself as a cyclist given that cycling is one of a variety of modes of transport I use - car, motorcycle, public transport, walking. I even rollerskate, though I wouldn't trust myself doing so on a public highway. I value my life!

For me, using different modes of transport is important because it means that I naturally put myself in the mind of other road users, and crucially this removes the notion of a them and us culture. 

Perhaps if road users and cyclists looked at road usage in a holistic, multi-functional way, that could go some way towards eliminating these road wars.

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