London Evening Standard)
- ROSAMUND URWIN
- 3 days ago
As a cyclist, I feel tired. Tired of hearing “wow, you’re brave!” when I explain how I get to work. Tired of feeling brave when I’m on the receiving end of dangerous driving — tailgating lorries, cars swerving into my lane, the odd abusive motorist trying to run me off the road. Most of all, though, I’m tired of the defeatism of many drivers, who claim it’s inevitable that riders are knocked off, maimed or even killed — and that no pleas, protests or plans can change that.
We have to change that. This week, another two cyclists were killed in London. Karla Roman, a 32-year-old architect, died after a collision with a coach in Whitechapel on Monday morning. Anita Szucs died the same day, after a suspected hit-and-run in Enfield. She was just 30.
From next Monday, London will have a new cycling and walking commissioner, the former Nike executive Will Norman. He faces the difficult task of trying to get unsupportive groups — councils, residents, motorists — to support the Mayor’s cycling strategy. But I also hope Norman addresses one of the biggest barriers to getting commuters onto their bikes: driver behaviour.
A majority of motorists believe they are better than average behind the wheel. This (often illusory) superiority means many aren’t receptive to hearing their faults. But you’re not Fangio, guys! Every motorist would benefit from a “be cycle kind” masterclass.
First, they could teach tricks. For example, the “Dutch reach” is easy, decades-old, yet rarely performed here. All it means is opening a car door with the hand that’s further from the handle, forcing you to swivel your body around. This means you see over your shoulder before opening the door, perhaps spotting an approaching cyclist, and preventing them from taking a car door to the trachea.
The Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, who knocked over a cyclist in December while jumping out of his ministerial car, needed this lesson.
A trickier challenge is getting drivers to pay more attention. Last year, a Mr Dozy drove into the back of my bike at a junction. I was stationary. He had the clearest possible view of me yet inexplicably moved off, ramming me.
At first I assumed he was drunk but I’ve now come to a different conclusion: he was probably on his mobile phone. You’re in charge of 1,300 kg of steel, probably the most powerful weapon that you use routinely. It isn’t the time to be checking the football scores or whether your flatmate bought some milk.
There’s a broader principle here too. Many drivers proclaim that the capital’s streets aren’t designed for bikes, that “the car is king” — even though roads pre-date motor vehicles by, ooh, about 7,000 years. Our car-centricity is a choice that our society has made (and keeps making), not a given, but it feeds into a mindset among many motorists that cyclists are unwelcome, invading agitators.
All the talk of “a war on motorists” then stems from the idea that driving a car is a right, not just a privilege. But the road is a shared space — mine as much as a motorist’s.
The best way to get drivers to see that is to get them to ride on our wheels. It would also be safer; one car insurer charges a lower premium to cyclists because they are less likely to have an accident. So why not make cycling proficiency part of a driving test?
Until that glorious day, though, I bet people keep telling me how brave I am to jump on a bike.