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Saturday, March 18, 2006
The plight of the modern cyclist
It isn’t often I can stir myself to get out of my coffin but I suppose I have to: to make way for one of those remarkable Howard twins: John & Michael. (More of John anon). I’ve been keeping the place warm for Michael and I’ve got my garlic, silver bullets, wooden stakes and mallet handy for him.
And having stirred myself, it isn’t often I find myself agreeing with – or even reading – Boris Johnson. He may sometimes be amusing but his version of politics is selfish, elitist in the nastiest possible way and out of place in David Duchovny’s (oops – David Cameron’s) new touchy-feely Conservative Party. Boris Cottonmop has an article in today’s Grauniad about Cycling that rings a bell (ha ha) with me. Here's the link; the article's very short.
And here’s my personal experience of cycling. I’ve been doing it for most of my 175 years of life. I do (did) it to keep fit and to get from place to place quickly and cheaply. Reluctantly I had to give it up about ten years ago, not for health reasons but for life and death reasons: I too had been knocked off more times than I can count. The offenders were motorists as well as pedestrians: many was the time I ran into vehicles coming out of minor side roads in front of me. I became expert at diving over cars as I hit them. And do you think that the police were interested in prosecuting the drivers for dangerous/careless driving? Of course not. The only suggestion they would make was that I should take out a private prosecution to recover the costs of a new wheel. Then there were the people who squeezed me against the kerb.
On one memorable occasion, a woman drove so close to me that she squashed the wheel against the kerb as she knocked me off. She claimed that she was driving carefully, particularly as she had her baby in the seat next to her, blah blah.. Oh yeah? That cost me a new wheel. too.
Then, one day while I was pushing my bike down a one-way street, an oncoming bus-driver deliberately drove straight at me. I was walking right at the left-hand side, as far over as possible without going on to the pavement, as required by the road signs. There was lots of space the other side of the bus. I had to jump for my life.
But it is to pedestrians that I owe my worst moments. One motorist, walking to the door of his parked car, stepped out in front of me and knocked me into the path of overtaking traffic. I came to rest a few feet from a passing car. The police weren’t interested, despite my injuries (‘just’ bad bruising and grazing, fortunately) and damage to my clothing and to the bike.
The final straw was when I was knocked off by a pedestrian who stepped off the pavement without looking (he wasn’t foreign) straight into the side of me. I finished inches from a passing car. He was very apologetic but what would have been his punishment had I finished under that car? Nothing, I’ll bet.
After this, I thought carefully about my life; I didn't (and don’t) want to die or be critically injured. Cycling’s risks are too great. Even in ‘cyclist-friendly’ Oxford, where the humps have cycle through-routes and there are a few dedicated cycle tracks away from traffic, I was several times pushed over deliberately by pedestrians – an early example of ‘happy slapping’, perhaps. Cyclists and pedestrians are the most vulnerable road users. I had always felt that there was common cause between pedestrians and cyclists but it isn’t true. Some pedestrians, like some cyclists, are vicious.
So let’s see Johnson’s solution:
When Cameron's Conservatives come to power it will be a golden age for cyclists and an Elysium of cycle lanes, bike racks, and sharia law for bike thieves.So, more seriously, what is to be done? Sharia law is too lenient, even for bike thieves, and we might have to put up with the other rubbish that goes with it: inviolable turbans, four wives, irretrievable male–power sexism, more faith schools (ugh!), and compulsory prayers on Fridays. No, it’ll have to be based on my manifesto [see Josh 17 April 2005]: we could start with capital punishment for those who park in cycle lanes and for motorists who dare to drive into cyclist reserves at traffic lights.
I started by suggesting that Cottonmop is too selfish and elitist for today. It’s his lot's endorsement of Thatcherism that has led to the terrible ‘devil-take-the-hindmost’ political philosophy of even the yoghurt/sandal brigade. And if pedestrians hate cyclists and motorists try to kill them both, is it really surprising? Perhaps some of them are hoping that the next cyclist or pedestrian they hit is a Thatcherite Tory like Boris Johnson.
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