Thursday, 18 November 2010

A Modest Proposal: Road Users Round Table.

I had a really interesting conversation with a car-driving friend of mine yesterday. He had had a bit of a contretemps with a cyclist and was confused by it. Driving up to a roundabout, he had been aware of a cyclist on his outside, so had clocked his position, indicated and pulled out leaving, he thought, plenty of space for the bike. The cyclist didn't agree, and followed him up the road, shouting and banging on the roof. 

My friend said something really interesting- "It was frustrating, because we couldn't sit down and work out what had happened. He could only see it from his point of view, but I was fairly sure I had been careful and not really got anywhere near him. I wanted to talk to him, to ask what had upset him particularly so I could bear it in mind in the future, but I just got yelled at".

I think he's right. We two tribes rage against the behaviour of the other but never really make rational contact. It would certainly be glib to compare the friction between motorists and cyclists on London's roads as in any way comparable to the tensions of the Middle East, but we are sometimes almost as bad at listening to each other.

And I was very moved to hear about the orchestra made up of Israelis and Palestinians that is making a stand for co-existence in the midst of a seemingly intractable conflict.

So I propose an equivalent- not an actual orchestra, unless anyone knows a good conductor, or indeed a biker who is handy on the double bass and a taxi driver who plays the triangle. A simpler version which could possibly have the same unifying effect would be a 'road users council', with representatives from the cycling community, heavy goods vehicles companies, taxi firms and car drivers. Probably we should involve the poor pedestrians too, but not sure there is a body for that. If we could all get in a room and have a glass of wine and share a bowl of dry roasted peanuts I'm sure we could thrash out a way to help us all co-exist more peacefully. Probably most drivers have no idea that some of their behaviour scares the life out of (occasionally literally) us cyclists, and we are blissfully unaware of the genuinely annoying things we get up to too.

I might be a bit naive but I think it is worth a go. If you get agreement at the organisational level it could filter down, and we could hold each other to account. I'm happy to host, I'll make a big pot of chili and someone else can take notes.  Who's in?


  1. You admitted in a previous post to crossing red lights. Do you still do this? If so, then you can't really claim to care about other road users and pedestrians, or their opinions of cyclists.

  2. @JdeP- interesting point. I do sometimes still run red lights, much less often than I used to, but when I am beside/in front of a truck or a bus I feel the need to scurry out of the way and make sure I am in their eyeline, and I also sometimes go on the greenman (only if there are no pedestrians, obviously). I care very much about other road users, especially those on foot and have been known to yell at cyclists for harrassing them. It is the kind of of thing I'd like to discuss, why many cyclists think it is sometimes justified, wether drivers thinks there should be a blanket ban etc.

  3. I too struggle with the red light thing. It annoys the hell out of me if I'm on foot or driving, but as soon as I'm on my bike I sometimes cross the light early so that, as you say, I can get ahead of the car/lorry and assert my space in the road. As a cyclist I often feel that any time I can spend on the road on my own and not with traffic is infinitely safer and so I tend to run light (if it's safe) in order to (as I perceive it) keep myself safer for longer...
    As for your idea, Liz, I only fear that, as with the Middle East, it may not end in a peaceful discussion :)

  4. I'm all for a change in the law that *allows* us to turn left at red lights (just as it is legal in most of the US for cars to turn right at red lights), but until the law is changed, red-light-jumpers are doing huge harm to the popular perception of cyclists.

    Books and safe bicycling teachers all seem to agree that it is better to simply wait *behind* a lorry/bus/etc. at red lights, if there is not enough space in safely get front of it. Do we have a god-given right to always be at the front of other traffic? How often does the 3 seconds we might save really make a difference to our journey?