Spot the Cyclist

Rather a paucity of posts recently. Apologies for that, readers, but sometimes work has to come first.

Just occasionally I manage to get a top deck front seat on one of London’s red buses. It’s a great place to watch the world rush around. It’s a particularly good spot to watch everyone bend, twist and break the rules of the road. Everyone does it. Cars, buses, trucks, pedestrians as well as cyclists. It’s a good place to get photos too, if you’re quick enough. You do see some ridiculous manouevres. Taxis do u-turns all over the place, cars make wrong turns, cross lights, pull out in front of buses, pedestrians wander amongst moving traffic. All crazy.

But of course the subject matter here brings the spotlight on cyclists. At almost every junction I will, from this seat, spot cyclists going through red lights but the angle to grab those photos is not great. So today I thought I’d bring you the story of a cyclist with both a personal death wish and a pedestrian targeting plan around the incredibly busy Marble Arch junction at the end of Oxford Street.

Take 1
And this is where spot the cyclist comes in.
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This photo appears at first glance to be just a random shot of a busy junction. But look more closely and you will see a cyclist apparently trying to kill pedestrians. Look more closely still and you can just see the lights on red on the right hand edge of the photo. In fact this cyclist drew up alongside the bus on the left hand side with the lights on red. She proceeded to ride straight across the front of the bus (whose driver would not have seen her had the lights turned green by the way), across the adjacent line of traffic (between which other cyclists could well have ploughed straight through her) and on to weave through the pedestrians on the crossing.

Take 2
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The second photo shows the same cyclist moments later using the pedestrian crossing to ride across the road (pedestrian? ride? what’s wrong here then?). What the photo does not show is that to get that far she has already travelled a few yards on the wrong side of the road against the traffic on possibly the busiest intersection in West London. At least she has a helmet on so it must be ok I guess!

Now look a bit deeper into the photo. In the distance you will see a second cyclist travelling at right angles across the road. Note that this is the middle of the gyratory and there is every expectation that vehicles will be approaching at speed!

What to Do?

Now that 2wheelsbad has been going for a month, I expect you’re wondering, amidst all the problems I pose, what my solution or solutions might be. Well I’m glad you asked. Because apart from simply wanting safer behaviour and more considerate behaviour from the cyclists who don’t display it, I would like to suggest the following (and before anyone gets uppity, remember this isn’t a non cyclist or an anti cyclist speaking. I’m a cyclist myself – albeit not a commuter and not every day – and these ideas simply feel like common sense to me).

1. Stop the leniency currently displayed around cycle related offences. I know there’s the whole encouraging cycling argument but the simple fact is that bending the rules for cyclists encourages BAD cycling and that’s no good for anyone. If cyclists receive equitable treatment in the eyes of the law they will be less likely to offend or behave dangerously.

2. This one is controversial, but for cyclists who are caught breaking the law, compulsory training along the lines of the ‘speed check’ classes that speeding motorists can opt for. There’s nothing like being faced with the reality of what dangerous behaviour can do to make you think twice before blasting across that red light junction or cutting in front of a bus to mount the pavement.

3. Compulsory bike helmets. I can’t see on what planet this doesn’t make sense.

All I’m after is to get the minority of dangerous and inconsiderate cyclists to ride more sensibly. Then we can all enjoy what is a fantastic mode of transport, which should, like this chap I snapped this morning carrying, inexplicably, a giant unicycle, bring a smile to all our faces.

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Time Challenge

I set myself a challenge this morning. How many cycling infractions could I spot on my 7 minute walk from the bus to the office? It’s often said, fairly I think, that most cyclists are law abiding so I was interested to see, on an average morning walk during which I’ll probably encounter around 40 cyclists, how many displayed illegal or dangerous behaviour.

Minute 1 – off the bus and immediately a cycle swerves onto the pavement in front of me. Not especially dangerous – we were both looking where we were going. Possibly nothing to get aerated about but still not legal (and the one I saw the day before where a bike swooped in front of a bus, missing it by inches and mounting the kerb at speed, scattering pedestrians, was much worse).

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Minute 2 – a spot more pavement riding from someone down a side street. Again not especially bothersome but why do it? It was quiet on the road and there was no reason I could see to be on the footway.

Minute 3 – uneventful.

Minute 4 – extraordinary. Never seen this before. Someone on a Boris bike riding along the central reseveration before dapping out into traffic at an acute angle and at speed. Also one of the speediest red light jumpers I have ever seen barrels across a junction.

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Minute 5 – at a busy junction I see a group of cyclists queueing absolutely correctly behind the line and then moving off when the lights go green. By contrast, two have crossed over the crossing and are in ‘no man’s land’ between the other side of the crossing and the yellow cross hatches. Instead of waiting for the lights they shoot across on red the minute they see a gap. Unfortuantely a cyclist is coming the other way on green and there is a moment where distaster looks iminent when they have to swerve around each other. Luckily there’s no contact.

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Minute 6 – uneventful (and I’m distracted by getting coffee).

Minute 7 – a couple of cyclists are a bit lairy on the pedestrian crossing outside the office, bombing over when there are pedestrians already crossing but that’s pretty much par for the course (although it shouldn’t be of course).

So. It’s a fairly significant rate of transgression. Out of an estimated 40 cyclists, I see 8 – or 20% doing things which could potentially be seen as anti-social, two that were obviously reckless and one that caused a very near miss.

Excuses, excuses

I’ll start again with the assertion that I really like cycling and I like most cyclists I meet. I cycle out of town for the most part and I rarely encounter problems with other cyclists or other road users apart from a few cars who come too close on country lanes. I ride with caution and courtesy and things rub along just fine.

Things are very different in the city and it’s London that worries me most. I started this blog after several narrow escapes in which careless or reckless bikes came very close to injuring me. What stuns me is how glibly the cycle lobby dismisses this. Of course the stats are clear – fewer people are killed by cyclists than cars for all kinds of reasons – but is that all we care about? Isn’t one death one too many? Especially when you consider that to kill someone while riding a bike you’d have to be riding pretty fast and in all likelihood, somewhat recklessly. And there are plenty of injuries not to mention the unpleasantness of having to worry about being hit by a renegade cyclist when you are using the road as a pedestrian. This blog is not anti-cyclist. It’s anti the cyclists who make us all look at bikes riding around us in the city with wariness, suspicion and anxiety because of the actions of what I still fervently believe is a minority.

What disturbs me most is what appears to be a growing view that cyclists are above the law. In one of the many cycling blogs online, this one based around Cambridge, I found this comment about a police campaign to stop cyclists riding without lights.

“One person I spoke to did get caught, but she just went out and bought a new set of lights the following morning, popped to the police station and the ticket was cancelled immediately.”

And if you think that’s staggering, try this:

Wow. Can you imagine any other kind of law breaker being treated like this? And when one of Britain’s most respected specialist cyclist publications appears to reject even demonstrably dangerous cyclists being responsible for their actions I honestly despair.

I know that the cycle lobby will argue that cyclists need to be encouraged but countering any reasonable complaints about anti social cycling with hyperbolic headline statements like this (in an otherwise excellent and very level headed post, I should add) is going to win you few friends. I am astounded that the positive encouragement for cycling has in some cases become twisted into allowing people who actively and knowingly break the law do so with apparent impunity and I can’t see how this benefits any of us.

And it’s going to get worse. Boris Johnson’s cycling manifesto for London is a joyous document full of positivity and a vision for safer more pleasurable use of the ‘Johnson velocipede’ BUT if he’s going, as he says he wants to, to vastly increase the number of cyclists in the capital, and, double the money spent on cycling, he’d better hope some of them start behaving better.