The question in the headline is not glib. After this week’s conviction in London of a young cyclist riding a racing bike without front brakes, who collided with a pedestrian who later died, we can expect renewed attention to be paid to road safety in London.
This is not a rant against cyclists. I like cyclists and think the switch to bikes across the UK is a highly positive development. I marvel at their bravery when lorry drivers seem too often to speed carelessly in the city. The work of campaigners such as Labour MP Ian Austin for safer roads for cyclists, and for more cycling generally, is hugely important.
I pose the question about the aggression of many London cyclists in search of answers, having done some reading last night on the topic and ending up none the wiser. It is genuinely bemusing when so much extra space has been created for cyclists. Perhaps it is the profusion of couriers? Or of Uber drivers? Or of pedestrians on their phones and not looking.
Whatever the explanation, ask any pedestrian in London and they’ll be able to cite aggressive behaviour by men and women on bikes.
The backdrop is positive. In the UK, road deaths have fallen dramatically in the developed world in the last 50 years. In 1967, 7319 died in traffic related accidents. In 2015, this figure was down to 1,367. 2013 also saw fewer pedestrian deaths than any year since 1949. This encouraging news is the result of improvements to car safety, changes in the law and public education.
Worryingly, though, there seems to be a rise in road deaths underway in the US. The 32,479 traffic fatalities in 2011 were the lowest in 62 years (1949), but this figure increased to 35,000 in 2015. It may be driven by the use of mobile phones and other devices by car and truck drivers. That is a problem hardly restricted to the US. There still seem to be drivers who deem it okay to drive wearing headphones for example. Are they ill? Driving a large chunk of metal at 70mph with earphones in? They should be thrown in the slammer, as no-one says. And cyclists who wear headphones – depriving themselves of access to hearing on a busy road – are almost as bananas, surely.
On injuries to pedestrians from collisions with cyclists I can find nothing other than cyclists saying 60% of such accidents are caused by pedestrians. Apologies if I’ve missed more and it is buried in a report from a dogged university researcher.
What seems more likely is that the problems happen at relatively low speed in which serious injury is generally averted narrowly or avoided, but still the annoyance, fear and anger is real. It erodes the pleasure of public space and makes life more crappy and unpleasant, with the small risk of serious injury associated.
Four examples in the last week. At our local station, where a lycra-clad cyclist came at speed through the narrow corridor where tickets are sold and the exit pours people out onto the street. At any second a small child or elderly person could have stepped from round one of three corners. But there he was, head down, earphones in and a face like thunder.
Outside the same station a virtual punch-up between two cyclists, one older and one youngster, over road rights, causing several cars to swerve at a busy junction.
A cyclist going far too fast through a red light on Oxford Street and then turning the wrong way up a busy one way street – leaving pedestrians (who were missed narrowly) to gawp. If he had been on a motorbike someone would have taken his number. But how can anyone report this? Officer: what was he cycling? Answer: A bike, going very fast. Officer: what was he wearing? Answer: Er, cycling gear. It could be any of half a million people.
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This follows my sister-in-law narrowly avoiding being mowed down by a cyclist going at high speed alongside a traffic jam with him veering close to the pavement.
Object to such behaviour and you’ll get a torrent of f words flung at you as they tear off. Why are they furious? What explains it? Is it rooted in a moral superiority complex, because cycling is so widely praised and green? Or is it justified in some way?
We – Reaction – would like to hear from you if you research this subject, or feel strongly, or have any constructive answers. Perhaps you think it irrelevant, in which case you must be getting driven around in a car rather than walking anywhere. Or you live in rural Wales, or somewhere else nice.
Why does this matter? The population of London, and of other mega-cities, is going to grow. As it gets ever more crowded, and people need to get around in ways that don’t pollute, the conventions by which we co-exist need to adapt and improve.
The Victorians developed new codes and behaviour to make commuting in the south east bearable. The main rule remains don’t talk to each other and respect the small amount of personal space available. Privacy amid crowds.
How might new rules and a better etiquette be developed for the roads in our cities without recourse to endless new laws? How might better manners be encouraged and death and injury avoided?
Email me on firstname.lastname@example.org