Looking at my videos might appear to tell a different story, but statistically cycling is safer than walking (per unit distance) in the UK. However, statistics are a dangerous beast, and can often hide horrors under the surface. So is cycling really safe?
Humans are often very poor at perceiving risk. We often overestimate it. I know from previous work I have done how scared of small doses of radiation people can often be, with little or no basis in reality. This is often the case with cycling. Often when I mention to people that I cycle commute I get replies like, 'oh, isn't that dangerous', 'surprised you're still here', and 'you must have a deathwish'.
Yes, things could go wrong, but then then things can go wrong gardening and I no-one bats an eyelid when I take the lawn mower out.
However, recently during a conversation with my wife I realised something. First, I realised that I had a wife, which is something that many Youtube pundits suggest would never happen. More importantly though I realised that whilst I would love my wife to cycle to her work, I would actually be concerned for her if she did it.
So I am happy to cycle to work myself, but don't want my wife to? Double standards?!
|This is not a picture of my wife.|
The difference is that I have been cycling in the urban environment for nearly six years now. I started off quite timid (using the odd pavement!) and over time have grown more confident, and capable of mixing safely (fingers crossed that continues) with heavy traffic. I enjoy mixing with traffic. Not as some might suggest for the conflict that occasionally occurs, but for the days when you glide with, through and around the traffic seamlessly. I find it immensely enjoyable when it all works.
My risk of incident over the years has probably remained the same. When I started and my skill set was smaller and rode more timidly. As I got better and started mixing with the traffic my risk remained fairly steady as I had developed the skills through practice. Thus my cycling is probably as safe now as when I cycled on the odd path.
However, if someone was to start out now, and try and cycle as I do, they would be at significantly increased risk. There is no way I could expect my wife to filter through two lanes of slow moving traffic safely. I have become this 'vehicular cyclist' because I enjoy challenges, and I don't mind taking the leap into the unknown. Not everyone is built like that. Not everyone would enjoy what I do, day in day out. In fact I can understand why some might be completely terrified to do it. So whilst I was able to mix more with traffic whilst keeping my risk the same, others might not be able or even want to do that.
So expecting a majority of people to become 'vehicular cyclists' from day one will never happen. Yet, cycling on the paths is not the answer either.
So that is why I wouldn't want my wife to cycle the way I do.
She doesn't have the same attitude to risk as I do, and most importantly she shouldn't need to.
Riding a bike, should be as easy as....well, as easy as riding a bike. As things currently stand, it isn't.
So, this is why I am changing my attitude to the building of and campaigning for separate cycle facilities and changes in the law to protect cyclists. People like my wife should not have to build up a new skill set over a number of years. They should not have to be concerned with the principles of traffic herding, lane control or SMIDSY avoidance techniques. Everyone should be able to cycle with the minimum of preparation.That can be achieved through infrastructure and new legislation that is designed both to ease the passage ot the cyclist, and to encourage drivers to drive mores responsibly.
Yes, it will take time, and texts like Cyclecraft, are certainly relevant now and will always have some relevance in the future where the lanes come to an end. It's a book I'd highly recommend. However, how many people in Copenhagen or Amsterdam have read Cyclecraft? They don't have to.
However I hope, soon, a day will come where my wife can just ride her bike without having to becoming an expert in urban cycling techniques.
Edit: Please note, the fact that my wife is a woman (I'm quite pleased she is) has nothing to do with my fear of her cycling. She is a better driver than me, and a MUCH better horse rider than me, so I don't doubt for a second that she could be a safer cyclist than me. Its the fact that she would be new to cycling, and any new cyclist if trying to cycle on busy urban roads (and they can be very busy in Glasgow) has a steep learning curve. There shouldn't need to be a steep learning curve. If my wife was a man (personally I'm quite pleased she isn't) I'd feel exactly the same.
Phew! Glad that's clear up! :-)