Have been following with interest The Times' highly worthy campaign to make cycling safer in our cities. I used to cycle regularly across London to work.
Cycling? In London? Are you mad? The more I read the more I've asked myself the same question. I was lucky. In the three years I spent cycling in the city I managed to avoid being hit, but did so, I believe, by regularly breaking the law.
As The Times campaign has made plain, should you choose to cycle across London there is no way, wherever your destination, to avoid tranches where you literally have to take your life into your hands. In these cases if there is any means to reduce the risk of being killed you take it. At traffic-lit junctions I would try to get to the front of the waiting traffic, and go the moment the other traffic stopped, often jumping the red-light that corresponded to me. In so doing I would get a second's start on the front-of-queue vehicle ensuring vital visibility, particularly if that vehicle was a left-turning lorry.
I would knowingly go the wrong way down quiet one-way streets and occasionally ride on empty pavements when it was the safer option - e.g. no cycle lane, just a bus lane. When you have an irritated bus driver behind on his timetable thundering down on you, a bus lane is not a pleasant place to be. To let the frustrated bus pass you have two options - to veer right into the general traffic lane and run the risk of being sandwiched between bus and car, or mount the pavement on the left if that's possible, flatten yourself against the railings if not.
I would regularly flout the rules in London's parks and ride my bike on footpaths rather than cycle paths. That's because London parks are huge and cycle paths tended to circumnavigate them. Footpaths crossed them, were wide and occupied by few enough people to navigate. The way I saw it there was no logic to separating walkers and cyclists in parks. It bordered on patronising. Where there were pedestrians I'd ensure they'd seen me, slow right down, if need be get off. I was not some kamikaze two-wheeler who enjoyed running into people, nor I believe is any cyclist.
That said I did see some incredibly stupid cycling out there. There are those who refuse to wear helmets for fear of it flattening their hair and those who never wear any reflective gear, again putting vanity before safety. Huh? Let's be clear, cyclists generally get hit because drivers don't see them. There is no logic to not maximising your visibility. Case in point, I once saw a slim, attractive woman with hair like Demi Moore's, clad in dusky-toned designer gear pedalling her £600 Brompton across four lanes of imposing traffic in 4-inch stiletto boots. In this context, she looked an idiot.
There are those who listen to personal stereos while cycling, those who cycle too fast to stop if child/dog steps off pavement/someone opens a car door/car turns into path etc, and those who see other road users as The Enemy, are universally hostile and cycle with an aggressive defensiveness that's guaranteed to rile anyone on a short fuse - 95% of London's rush hour drivers. Not really helping cycling's cause.
There are also sadly those cyclists who naively think they can follow all the rules and be ok. As Ross Clark recently asserted in The Times, its going to take a long time and massive investment until cities are rendered safe for cyclists so, in the meantime, my advice to these people would be this:
Never, ever be on the left hand side of a lorry or large vehicle - brake if you are;
Never sit adjacent to vehicles at traffic lights, position yourself in front of them, in full view, and do whatever's required to ensure they've seen you;
Don't feel pressured into accelerating/veering/bailing to appease some irate driver;
Never assume cycle lanes are safe - some beggar belief;
Have a functioning, easy-to-operate bell (refer to aforementioned pavement, parks, pedestrians) and perhaps a wing mirror of some description would not be a bad idea either - turning your head to look at what's bearing down on your backside can create major wobble;
Apply The Knowledge to your route - like that once painstakingly acquired by anyone driving a cab in London - to know all the back routes and cycle paths that wherever possible take you away from heavy traffic - surely there's an app that does this?
And finally, should you ever need to negotiate the junction from Hyde Park turning left into two-lane Bayswater Road, then right 100 yards later across two lanes of fast-approaching traffic into Sussex Gardens, or any of the myriad London junctions like this or worse, grit your teeth, pedal like billio and pray.
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