>Laura Dale discusses the benefits of The Times’ campaign. But what if one of the problems are the victims themselves?
Pulling up to traffic lights, I stop my car and put on the hand break, waiting patiently for the green light. To my left I see a cyclist approach. He doesn’t wear a helmet or any other protective clothing. He doesn’t slow down and he doesn’t stop. He keeps going, right through the red light, joining the moving traffic. A couple of seconds later, another cyclist approaches. This time, a woman, who again has no protective clothing on. She simply mounts the curb and skips the red light by way of cycling over a pedestrian crossing. Meanwhile, in my car, I wait.
Recently, The Times newspaper launched a Cities Fit for Cycling campaign after one of their reporters, Mary Bowers, was critically injured in a road traffic accident in London last November. With approximately a third of adults owning a bike and 13 million riding regularly, the campaign encourages cities to allow further spending to ensure safer roads for cyclists.
While the campaign raises awareness of accidents, it also encourages motorists to become increasingly aware of more vulnerable road users, such as cyclists. It calls for funding towards cycle lanes, extra training for motorists and for blind spot sensors to be installed on lorries.
But what if it’s not just the drivers at fault? Often, cyclists put themselves in danger by disregarding laws and their own safety. Isn’t The Times comfortably ignoring the bad habits of their so-called victims?
Cabinet Member for Cycling City Councilor, Dr Jon Rogers said: “Bristol agrees that cyclists should obey the law too. Running red lights is an absolute no-go, as is cycling on a pavement that is not a dedicated cycle way or shared space. Cycling City funded several rounds of Police enforcement to penalise cyclists who break the law.”
It is not just the law that cyclists should abide by when on the roads, but also common courtesy. Local cyclist and UWE student Kara Lewis comments: “What doesn’t work in Bristol is the lack of cyclist communication. As a cyclist, if you are passing another cyclist on a busy road or cycle path it’s really important that you call out ‘on your right’ or ‘on your left’ when passing them to prevent a possible accident for both cyclists and traffic involved. I find it very strange that very few cyclists do this in Bristol and I think it is one thing that cyclists need to start doing more.”
As the roads are such a dangerous place, protective clothing, such as helmets, seems an obvious choice to better personal safety. Kara says: “For those cyclists not wearing a helmet due to the fear of messing up their hair, let’s face it, your hair is probably going to look a lot worse if you get knocked off your bike and crack your head on the road than if you just wear a helmet in the first place. It’s that simple.”
However, wearing a helmet is not a legal requirement. Dr Jon explains: “No-one can be penalised for choosing not to wear one. I stopped wearing a cycling helmet after an adult cycle training lesson in 2009. It is very much a matter of personal choice.”
This is all very well as Dr Jon admits having had training lessons in cycling etiquette. But for those that bike-like-no-ones-watching, cutting up cars and sliding through tiny spaces is hardly a clever move and has motorists fuming from more than just their exhaust pipes. Cyclists weaving between still or slow moving traffic angers many motorists as they often ‘pop up’ from out of no-where, and often without indication.
Dr Jon says: “Concern about cyclists ‘weaving between cars’ rather suggests that cars have more right to the road than bikes. Bikes need to change lanes just as cars do, and motorists are advised by the Highway Code to respect other, more vulnerable road users. That means slowing down and letting them cross in front of you, or giving them time and room if they are in front of you.”
Another misconception is the idea that cyclists don’t pay road tax and so are secondary to vehicles, which do. “The often-heard argument that cyclists don’t pay road tax is not at all fair,” says Dr Jon. “Motorists don’t pay road tax either, they pay vehicle excise duty, which is not used to repair city roads. City roads are repaired using council tax – and cyclists pay as much of that as anybody, even though their vehicles do much less damage to the roads.”
In 2008, Bristol was awarded £11 million to transform cycling. This money has enabled new routes, bridges and paths to be made within the city and surrounding area, some of which are still underway or due to be started. But what can still be done?
In parts of Europe, cycle paths are visible on almost every road. Growing up in Germany, I always felt safe on my bike. Instead of the cycle paths being on the road, the route was laid on the (wider than British) pavement. Pedestrians had their own space whilst cyclists had more than enough room to cycle in pairs without the worry of a vehicle clipping their wheels. Teamed with after school cycling classes, these paths had me cycling everywhere from the tender age of five – not exactly a common sight you seen on Gloucester Road.
In spite of the efforts made by the Bristol council, their plans do not appear to include training for cyclists. Yet if cyclists are to have the same privileges on the road as motorists, shouldn’t they also be tested and licensed – surely they should know about the highway code, indicating, overtaking and so on? Cyclists that are ‘un-road-worthy’ should not be allowed on the roads, just as drivers aren’t as their actions are just as often a cause for accidents as careless drivers’.
If we are to share our roads, we must work together. As Dr Jon explains: “The key to safe cycling is good road awareness, good road position and keeping visible.”