Monday 9 September 2013

But I didn't hit you!

I can clearly remember the first day I cycled a bike on a city road. It was back in 2005, having just bought a bike from a Glasgow bike shop (it will remain nameless, as they should have given me a bigger frame...). I had already planned my route home on that sunny day. It would involve a bit of cycling on some busy roads before I would get to a canal path, which would take me the rest of the way home.

The thing I most clearly remember as I mounted my bike and started cycling was my feeling of vulnerability. I suddenly noticed something that I hadn't notice before, that is, that the big metallic boxes driving around me were rather....scary.

A few months passed and the constant feeling of vulnerability faded from the front of my mind. It did not, and has not, ever completely disappeared. Whilst I never get nervous before riding a bike, I would be worried if I did, there is a little guy at the back of my mind always tapping me on my sholder reminding me.... careful that car might pull out...

...keep listening for the vehicles behind you, as you might heara sound that saves your life...

...don't filter there, that space isn't safe....

Ok, there isn't actually any voices....honest...but I've found myself every so often reminding myself that I am vulnerable and that I can't trust anyone else to look after me. When you ride a bike, you only have yourself looking after you. When you drive a car, you have road designers and car manufacturers looking after you. Driving has be designed to be safe.

I don't have a roll cage or any airbags.

That is not to say that cycling is intrinsically dangerous. It isn't. Statistically, I am much more likely to live longer by cycling than by not. This is especially true considering that my dad died of a heart attack when he was only 11 years older than I am now. So the fact that by cycling a minimum of 20 miles a day, 5 days a week has dropped my resting heart rate down to 45, I know that I am at the very least significantly dropping my risk of death (which is of course, ultimately 100%!) per year.

Cycling though, could and should be safer than it is in the UK. However, the UK isn't alone in its problems. Whilst there are a growing number of countries that are working towards safe cycling and making great strides, there are others that are facing similar problems to us. For example, whilst I can't claim to know a huge amount about conditions in Australia , I have heard lots of horror stories coming from there about how cyclists are treated on the roads. In fact it was no surprise to hear that War on Britain's Roads had recently been aired over there. I think the issues are very similar.

Today I came across a video from Australia that went some way to confirming this. Not only that, but it confirmed my concerns about vulnerability.

Before I link to the video though, a word of caution. When I watched it  a very strong shiver went down my spine. It was horrible. The video doesn't actually contain any graphic images. There is no blood or gore. In fact, you barely get to see the cyclist at all. What you do see is some incredibly terrible driving and most spine-chilling of all, you get to hear the horrific screams of a cyclist in extreme agony.

I'll be honest, I watched this video before I cycled to work. I wish I hadn't.

So why am I sharing this video? I think this video demonstrates just how vulnerable a cyclist can be, and no matter how safely they cycle (this cyclist could have been me), you are not just at the mercy of your own decisions, but you are at the mercy of everyone around you as well.

So here is the link. Remember, the cyclist is OKish in the end.

It's horrible isn't it. Really horrible. What it does do is demonstrate the danger that close passes present. We've all heard drivers say something like....but I didn't hit had plenty of room... . Until you have actually been on a bike riding on busy roads you just can't appreciate how scary close passes can be. That is, unless you see a video like that.

All it took was a small amount of contact to send that cyclist spinning and ending up with a serious life changing injury.

Dress up cycling on roads whatever way you like, but we are vulnerable. This sad story demonstrates it as well.

What's the answer? Asking drivers to be nice? Nope. It just doesn't work because a driver who has never cycled can't understand how scary it feels and how little room for error there is.

So is there an answer?

Yes. Seperate the traffic from the vulnerable where you can and where you can't reduce the speeds to make it safe. It really is that simple. Perhaps too simple for our politicians to comprehend. They need ribbons to cut on big bridges and motorways, not lots of spread out infrastructure saving peoples lives.

Investment please.

Oh, and if you are still desperate to spend money on an advertising campaign, don't waste it  asking people to be nice, spend it showing people adverts like this. Show the cyclist with his family, and show the effect that driving like this can have on someone life. All for the sake of a few seconds.


  1. Well said. I saw the video earlier today and had to turn it off. It freaks me out. I know how bad a minor collision is and how much it hurts, I also know other riders who have had serious injury.

    It makes you realise why we need change.

  2. I live near the A91 where a cyclist was killed last week, a few miles further east but the road isn't any less hostile. I've long since taken to the pavement.

    I've contacted my local councillor again for the umpteenth time about much needed maintenance to the Bow of Fife-Springfield "cycle path" (ie a track that's too muddy and nettle-infested for cars to go on), the only available route going to Cupar that doesn't go anywhere near a busy, fast, lethal A-road.

    My councillor has been "told it will be this financial year that it will be looked at". That's at least 7 more months of either mortal terror or muddy inconvenient crappiness. Not even deaths can convince Fife Council to maintain what they already have never mind build new.

  3. Scary stuff for a novice cyclist like myself.
    I think it should be part of the driving test that you have to cycle on a bike thru a busy city centre for a three hours-you only get to multiple choice after passing a cycle test.
    If you get 3 points on your licence-again compulsory cycle test.
    That and infrastructure- on the busiest roads separate cyclists from
    vehicular traffic-neednt cost a fortune.If you can spend countless millions on the colonial games Glasgow you can spend a few bob on more cycle paths.

  4. At the weekend there was the official opening of the famed Bridge to Nowhere, the useless lump of steel and concrete which has sat for 43 years waiting to be finished, restoring after that long wait, a continuity to the Great Dumbarton Highway, a route so important that many will find their title deeds specify free access to it across adjoining land, and it appears straight and direct on maps dating back to the 18th century, linking Glasgow to the main North-South route at Govan.

    A damning detail for this vital piece of infrastructure is that it took funding from the National Lottery for around half the cost to actually deliver what should have been provided in through the budget that built the M8 in the first place. It has a light controlled crossing right at the start of the M8 on-ramp from Waterloo Street, a compromise which has the high hazard of traffic signals changing as drivers 'blank-out' pedestrians and cyclists as they accelerate (in theory) to join the faster moving motorway traffic. There is a redundant bridge over Waterloo Street at that point, but the limitations of the budget meant that negotiating the removal of the empty building that partly blocks the way, and delivery of a ramped access to the bridge from either side.

    There remain other access details from the M8 construction. The firet to be remedied happened in part fairly quickly - that pedestrian (and dreadfully compromised cycling)route from Woodlands Road to Sauchiehall Street had to be built shortly after opening because no one was making the huge and tortuous diversion to use the bridge from Woodside Crescent to Renfrew Street, but we had to wait over 35 years before a proper crossing was provided for the M8 off ramp (and non motorway link for Newton Street which annoyingly is not readily useable for walking or cycling Northbound) It does however maintain a Southbound route from Dobbies Loan, and the interesting observations that I'm often cycling faster than the traffic on the motorway when I'm using it, and that the 30mph signs rarely survive more than 3 months before someone demolishes them with a car.

    Next on the tick-off list is the reconnection of Great Western and City Roads as a clear and effective route - especially for pedestrians who currently walk along the central strip of the dual carriageway from West Graham Street rather than use the labyrinth of damp and dingy paths for troglodyte pedestrians.

    So the real judgement will be when the infrastructure for walking & cycling is delivered in full by the same government funding that delivers the road schemes.

  5. I get a strong feeling that it was deliberate.

  6. Yeah I think it was deliberate too-he really should be going to jail for that episode-not a few points and a token fine.Reassuring that Australia's justice system is as car friendly as Scotlands.

  7. Further to my comment at 17:26
    Watch the white car at the traffic lights; it slows alongside the cyclist a fair bit back from the queue. Was he intending to have some verbal with the cyclist? Being frustrated a close pass or intentional whack is the next move. Magnatom do you know if the driver stopped?