Share:

Life

Reaction readers on why cyclists are so aggressive

BY Iain Martin | iainmartin1   /  8 September 2017

A couple of weeks ago, I asked you, Reaction readers, why cyclists are so aggressive towards pedestrians. You responded in your numbers, and very kindly agreed to let us share your excellent – and varied – contributions here. For anyone wondering what’s happening to cycling in this country, look no further.

Justin Knight thinks that in the end, it all comes down to the need for speed:

“I think I know what causes cyclists to behave badly – it’s really down to what psychologists might call “Cyclist’s Momentum/Safety Bias”, and what I would call “Cyclist’s Toad of Toad Hall Bias”, whereby a cyclist’s subconscious desire to maintain momentum infringes on his sense of safe road use and/or his willingness to observe the highway code.

If you are cycling fast (and most London cyclists go as fast as they can as they are either commuting or delivering things), what keeps you going fast is not so much the effort you put into pedalling but your momentum – i.e. the fact that you are going fast already. Acceleration to maximum speed, especially from a standing start, requires a relatively large amount of physical effort even compared to the equivalent while running. The cyclist would thus rather not slow down let alone stop altogether, if he/she can avoid it. Put simply, the body tells the subconscious to jump that red light.

It is not so much that cyclists are aggressive towards pedestrians, it is that they are aggressive – for reasons they themselves mostly do not understand – towards anyone or anything for which they might have to slow down.”

Simon, a London cyclist, notes that often, it’s not the cyclists who are to blame:

“You pose an interesting question and hint at an answer in your article on cyclists and why they seem to mix so poorly with pedestrians. I’ve commuted 20 miles a day for the last five and a half years and I’ve had one or two near misses with pedestrians, so I feel that I have a little insight to offer.

The first thing to note, however is that actual serious injury as a result of cycle-pedestrian collisions is very, very rare, thank goodness.

The second thing to note is that in my experience it is people stepping out without warning and obviously without looking that is the main reason for bike-pedestrian incidents. Surprisingly often they are speaking on the phone or listening to headphones. Somehow this distances them from their surroundings and the fact that they are in an environment where cyclists may be present.

As for solutions, we probably have two choices. The first is to regulate and police cyclists, perhaps introduce a test and a license. You could even introduce a cycling component to the driving test. There are lots of options if you want to tackle the problem that way.

Alternatively you can build on what is actually happening already. Over my five plus years on the bike everyday, I’ve seen the steady emergence of a native cycling culture, with a code of behaviour quickly understood and adhered to by newbies. Of course not everyone buys into it, but it is vastly more advanced now than even three or four years ago.

With some gentle encouragement and official nurturing, but without enshrining it in law and regulation, we can create a cycling culture that works for everyone.”

Thomas disagrees; he believes that cyclists need to learn a few basic lessons – and he’s only too happy to teach them:

“I’m sure there’s multiple incidents where either cyclists are at fault, or pedestrians, or both, but my experience is as a pedestrian so my impression is that the rise in tiffs is the fault of cyclists failing to appreciate that they’re road users. Whether it be cycling on the pavement, running red lights or not wearing helmets, cycling (especially in London) is approached in a blasé fashion that encroaches on the space of pedestrians. I find that stepping out abruptly at zebra crossings, where they are used to weaving through pedestrians, serves as a gentle reminder that they’re supposed to obey the Highway Code. Plus it’s a pleasure to help them test their brakes and reactions.”

Edward, a sage voice of reason, offered us some more practical advice:

“Firstly, thanks for setting up Reaction – I’m enjoying it very much.

Secondly, I wonder if it would help to make it clearer to people that when they are on a bike they are most definitely piloting a vehicle, not acting as enhanced pedestrians. We (mostly) all take road signs seriously when we are driving, but we treat them as merely advisory when we’re on foot.

That would very clearly put in the wrong that cyclist you mentioned who cycled into a Tube station, as well as the myriads who cycle on pavements.

This would all benefit the cyclists themselves, as well as the rest of us. I very nearly hit a cyclist with my car recently when leaving a car park; he was riding on the pavement and going against the direction of traffic, whereas if he’d been on the correct side of the road he’d have been perfectly safe.”

Alex points out that the problem is more widespread than we realised:

“It’s not just cities. In Chester there are canal towpaths where cyclists and pedestrians are in all too close proximity. Hard walls to one side, a drop into the canal on the other and a meter or so wide towpath. They ping their bells, and I immediately leap sideways (most times away from the canal, which they are avoiding too) since I can’t tell where they’re attacking me from, except it’s behind me.

And the speed…”

And finally Nick – who’s looking at the bigger picture:

“I travel round London a variety of ways – walking and cycling.

Your question targets one subset of the population, with the assumption that their aggression is greater than other subsets. For each anecdote of cycling aggression you’ve listed, I can contribute many more from others – mainly drivers, whether professional (taxis) or not – displaying a similar level of aggression. I don’t do this to distract attention from the poor behaviour of some cyclists – I do it to show that it is not isolated to one subset of the population.

For example, the elderly lady who thought I was cycling the wrong way down a one way street (I was not) – decided to change direction to steer directly towards me, only veering away at the last minute. I’ve genuinely lost count of the number of times I’ve been verbally abused by taxi drivers.

It is not cyclists that are aggressive. It’s people.”

Nick Chadwick-Smith

We enjoyed your responses so much, we have decided to start a forum where readers can contribute their own thoughts on the issues discussed on Reaction. Watch this space.