Thursday, 11 August 2011

Considerate Cycling

I have just read a Guardian blog about conflict in Toronto between different road-using factions. It's pretty alarming. Read it here The author wrote something that really made me sit up and squeak. The passage was:

I would argue that cyclists who behave carelessly are either consciously or unconsciously responding to an equally careless attitude to cycling at a municipal level.
Now that's a point of view that could be  supported with a variety of evidence and logic. It's not wrong in itself.  But it does fly right across the experiences I have had in the last two months in the city I have just moved to. Bristol is a lovely place. It has cycle lanes all over the city with cycle paths shooting out of town in all directions. Temple Meads Railway Station has a huge cycle parking area on the main platform and everywhere I look there are good Sheffield cycle racks. I have already seen several  very good bike shops and have used one and got excellent service (Fred Baker Cycles in Cheltenham Road) . There are advance stop lines and generous lead in paths at a lot of junctions. And so on.

However, the level of consideration for other road and footpath users and the degree of adherence to traffic regulations by Bristol cyclists are every bit as bad as the provision for their bikes is good.  Things aren't nightmarishly bad, but the provision is nowhere near perfect either.

In defence of my conclusion I have spent several sessions watching from a window at a major junction on Cheltenham Road, and have done quite lot of walking around Clifton and the City Centre. Routine events include:

  • Cycling on footpaths, often at speed and without making allowances for pedestrians in close proximity or for the possibility of people emerging from shops or houses.
  • Sudden changes of direction - road to path to road, for example
  • Cutting corners at junctions by mounting the pavement
  • Cycling across zebra crossings alongside and in between pedestrians.
  • Ignoring red lights in busy traffic.
  • Weaving in and out of pedestrians in shopping areas.
  • Cyclists going down steep hill in busy streets at speeds that would make stopping impossible.
  • Cyclists using shared paths at reckless speeds and ignoring the keep left rule of the road with other cyclists.
  • Cyclists manoeuvring without first checking behind.

In one case an older woman at a bus stop was brushed by a middle aged woman on a bicycle who still didn't dismount, but wobbled off to threaten others.

This sort of behaviour seems to go way beyond anomic shrugging at the ineptitude of the civic authorities. It isn't matched by Bristol's car, bus lorry, or van drivers either - I have seen lots of courtesy and consideration from these. Stopping for zebra crossings, for example, is almost embarrassing in its religious observance: I saw two lines of traffic in Gloucester Road waiting patiently for one young man to finish his mobile phone conversation before he crossed.

The lack of consideration for others seems to me to be simply a habit acquired from imitating others - it's like the Bristol accent or this year's haircuts. It's just taken-for-granted and anyone who spoke out or stopped anyone would simply cause annoyance or amazement. The cyclist concerned would never have thought that their own personal journey through the city touched anyone but themselves. They are doing what they believe is safe (for themselves) and what is convenient and pleasurable (for themselves).

Pedestrians who are startled by a sudden and unexpected rush of wind, parents with push chairs trying to cross a road safely, motorists waiting patiently for an approaching bike who suddenly turns left without indicating, infirm or partially sighted people coming out of a shop into bright light and sudden confrontation, daydreamers who have chosen the safety of a pedestrian controlled crossing - only to be awakened by a bike doing 20mph in their path: all these people deserve a little consideration I think. I'm not going to start a campaign or harass anyone about it. But I will try to cycle as I preach, knowing that roads and traffic are very complex these days and that mistakes are not difficult to make.

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