Cyclists in the City: Will 'hating' cyclists be acceptable until cycling gets a proper place in the city?

“All the surveys conducted by the AA and others indicate that more than 2/3rd of drivers admit to routinely breaking speed limits.”

Good point Paul — I hadn’t thought about speeding (which often seems the rule rather than the exception) and parking illegally (if that never happened, we’d need no traffic wardens!).

However, we’re discussing the perception of groups of road users — what other groups think of them. Parking is an annoyance but it rarely makes people fear for their safety. Speeding obviously can induce fear, although it’s a matter of degree — I probably wouldn’t feel more worried by a car going 35mph in a 30mph zone, but would if it was going 50mph.

And I think this is why things like light-jumping, pavement-riding and using one-way streets wrongly are things that affect perception. They are often a matter of clearly right or wrong, no grey area. (Light-jumping has a grey area, people going through just as, or after, the lights change, but I suspect both bikes and motor vehicles are equally at fault there.)

And because this is all about perception it doesn’t matter what the safety statistics are. We’re talking subjective feelings, rather than objective accident statistics. It could be that no cyclist has ever been injured, and no one else has ever been injured by a cyclist, but that doesn’t stop people being worried by the erratic behaviour.

And it’s this unpredictability that’s key. We expect people using the road to obey the road’s rules, no matter what vehicle they’re using. This is what helps traffic move as smoothly as it does. We expect vehicles to stay in lane when they’re supposed to, to stop at red lights, to obey traffic signs, etc. Yes, there are always people who don’t do this — cars who don’t signal before turning, I’m looking at you — but by and large everyone cooperates to help things run smoothly.

This is why too many cyclists attract the wrong kind of attention: because often they don’t obey the rules of the road that everyone else is sticking to (again, by and large). Suddenly, pedestrians can’t be sure that a bike will stop while the man is green, or that they won’t get hit by a bike coming the wrong way down the road. And cars can’t be sure that a cyclist won’t zip across a junction when oncoming traffic should be stationary. Cyclists — vehicles on the road — are behaving more erratically than anyone expects road users to behave.

If it was very rare that cyclists did this, then it wouldn’t be an issue. But because it’s so common, all cyclists are seen as potential rule-breakers, as unpredictable, as potentially dangerous.

You’re completely right Paul that motorists misbehave a lot. It drives me nuts how many stop at the ASL when they shouldn’t. But their behaviour isn’t blatant enough, and doesn’t bother enough people (yet), to make everyone else hate them.

Maybe if cyclists had much better facilities we wouldn’t break the rules so often. But we don’t have those facilities and too many people hate cyclists. Yes, motorists and pedestrians break road laws too, and I wish they wouldn’t. But that doesn’t mean cyclists should be allowed to break laws even more blatantly.

I want people to love cyclists. I want more people to cycle. I want cyclists and pedestrians and drivers to feel safe around cyclists and to see bikes as the great example of healthy, fun, sociable, inexpensive, green transport that we know them to be. But while a large number of cyclists continue to flagrantly break the law, then too many people will hate us all.

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4 Oct 2011 at Twitter

  • 9:53pm: @ianbetteridge @russelldavies OH NO WE’RE NOT!
  • 9:46pm: @ianbetteridge It’s OK My Lord Of Rightness, I corrected the Internet. You may sleep now.
  • 9:44pm: When someone’s wrong on the Internet, there’s only one man to call. And when @ianbetteridge isn’t available, I’m in reserve.
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4 Oct 2011 in Links