Why they hate you

A consistent theme that you will encounter in campaigning circles – and indeed amongst the wider public – is that British people ‘hate cyclists’, or ‘hate cycling’. The explanation here must be that there is something genetic, something innate in the British character, that flares up at the sight of a bicycle, or someone riding one. That we’re culturally disposed to find a certain mode of transport annoying and irritating, along with its user.

But this is obviously a very superficial explanation. It doesn’t provide any account of the origins of that hatred and annoyance, instead, only asserts that it exists.

The reason people actually hate cyclists is, in fact, because we’re in the way. It’s that simple. Cycling is hated not for what it is, but because it causes inconvenience and hassle.

This man is hated not for who he is, or for his mode of transport, but because he is in the way.

This man is hated not for who he is, or for his mode of transport, but because he is in the way.

All the other complaints flow from this central problem. ‘Cycling two abreast’, ‘cycling in the middle of the road’, ‘weaving’, and so on, are all manifestations of this root annoyance at being impeded.

I was reminded of this the other day when I spotted someone expressing annoyance about cyclists in pretty much the same way. Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 15.33.44

Except, of course, that this person was himself using a bike! He was expressing frustration at being ‘held up’ by other Superhighway users in exactly the same way drivers express annoyance – the ‘casualness’ and the ‘non-helmet’ use are, as with driver complaints, merely a garnish, an attempt to reinforce the notion that people in the way are incompetent or irresponsible, and not ‘proper’ users of a road, or a cycleway, unlike the person being held up.

Nobody likes to be held up, whether they are walking along a footway that’s blocked by a crowd of people, or cycling on a cycleway where other users are getting in your way and not letting you get past, or driving a motor vehicle. It’s an innate, human characteristic.

So at root the problem of ‘cyclist hatred’ is really one of space. The reason it flares up so often, and appears to be so ubiquitous, is because cycling doesn’t have its own dedicated domain, and is consequently constantly rubbing against other incompatible modes of transport, with predictable results. This is equally true for cycling on footways, which is just as potent a source of annoyance as cycling in front of motor vehicles.

Take these people, and transfer them onto a system where they are not in the way of either motorists or pedestrians, and all the grounds for hatred disappear.

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 15.53.37

Likewise all these people here – cycling on Blackfriars Bridge – are on a separate system to drivers and pedestrians, and consequently all parties are benignly indifferent to each other in a way that would not be possible if they were pushed into the same space.Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 16.01.49And this kind of separated approach is of course universal in the Netherlands. The Dutch system of ensuring that roads without cycling infrastructure are only used by motorists for access purposes means that – even on these roads where cyclists aren’t physically separated – motorists aren’t held up, because there aren’t many other motorists to cause problems.

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 16.06.00

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 16.09.13

It is of course true that these kinds of design approaches also reduce frustration between motorists. In ensuring that these inappropriate residential streets cannot be used as through routes, we prevent rat-running and antagonism between drivers trying to battle their way, often against opposing motor traffic, on narrow streets.

So the solution to hostility between users of different modes – and indeed amongst users of the same mode – is not pleas for tolerance, or attempts to get us to ‘share the road’, or to ‘respect each other’, but one of design. We can’t engineer out basic human frustration. We can engineer streets and roads where that frustration doesn’t even materialise in the first place.

This entry was posted in Infrastructure, Subjective safety, Sustainable Safety, The Netherlands. Bookmark the permalink.

39 Responses to Why they hate you

  1. Andy Dayton says:

    Britain’s roads are going to be overcrowded so we need patience and politeness – I don’t see why a cyclist couldn’t be annoyed by other cyclists ‘pushing to the front’. I’m a cyclist, and I also believe that some cyclists cruise around in a push-to-the-front mode.

    • I’m suggesting that design is the only sensible way of actually permanently solving those problems. (Did you actually read what I’ve written here?)

      • Andy Dayton says:

        I don’t agree that segregation is the only way of solving the problems, i think it’s also better training of road users. We got ASL’s plonked on roads and I genuinely had no idea what they were really for, there was no information campaign that I noticed. I’ve just cycled to work today with zero problems again, maybe the unacceptable minority could be made socially unacceptable.

        • Mark Williams says:

          Pray tell how you are proposing to bring this about and why we should be confident that you shall succeed this time when all those who have tried this for the past century have not?

        • Mark says:

          Perhaps you live in a delusional fairy tale world where everyone is happy and bad things never happen? Vehicular cycling needs to die, it does not work (as a way of getting more people cycling). Normal people do not want to share space with fast moving motor vehicles, I don’t know why some people find that so hard to understand.

    • paulc says:

      I hate ‘shoalers’ who consistently insist on pushing to the front and then when the lights change are slow off the mark and cycle nowhere near as fast as I can…

  2. rdrf says:

    I think this is over-simplifying.

    Firstly, there is an overall background feeling among motorists that they are an oppressed group (paying too much, persecuted by the police, not having enough parking space etc.) As such anybody using the road who doesn’t “suffer” as they do is fair game for prejudice. For example, how do drivers feel about cyclists proceeding swiftly past them as they sit in a traffic jam? They don’t like them, even if they are segregated out of “their” way.

    That leads on to the issue of being in “their” way. If you believe you have special rights over the space in front of you, you are – as you say – liable to some extent to becoming aggrieved. But if you have the kind of segregated cycle tracks you want, then some space will have to be taken away from the drivers – or appear to be taken away, even if capacity is hardly reduced. So “their way” will be, or appear to be, infringed upon.

    Finally, there are going to be plenty of locations where cyclists and drivers will be in close proximity – country lanes, junctions etc. – where drivers may feel they are having “their way” infringed upon.

    • “For example, how do drivers feel about cyclists proceeding swiftly past them as they sit in a traffic jam? They don’t like them, even if they are segregated out of “their” way.”

      Is that happening? I doubt it. People sitting in queues on the Embankment will see people walking, jogging and cycling going faster than them. They’re just on a different system; no reason to get annoyed, any more than being annoyed by pedestrians walking faster on a footway than parallel stationary motor traffic.

      • rdrf says:

        I dunno. There may be no “reason”, but reason isn’t the issue. They may feel they have “paid a tax” etc. and cyclists haven’t, and that space has been given to cyclists. Similarly, the more civilised drivers who are above that sort of prejudice may be OK and giving enough space when overtaking etc.

        • Mark Williams says:

          You are both correct. There is also a pretty hefty dollop of cognitive dissonance which accompanies motoring which often bubbles up as hate—and not just directed at cyclists.

      • Andy Dayton says:

        I’ve not really noticed any problems with people who are overtaken by me when I cycle either, and there’s been enough of them with long queues of cars at traffic lights. I was ‘annoyed’ by pedestrians overtaking me on the same road every morning, so I got a commuter bike.

    • I reckon that in most people’s heads, the layout of the roads is completely set in stone and cannot be changed. They are not even really aware of the possibility that it could be different. Thus whenever problems appear, the solution most people think of is enforcement, or training, or being nice.

      This makes me think that whilst there might be strong opposition to cycle infrastructure when it is being proposed or constructed, after it has been there for a few years most people will have forgotten that it was ever any different. In that case I don’t think that drivers will feel that “their way” is being infringed upon.

      Basically, I largely agree with Mark. I think about 60% of “hate” is due to simple frustration and impatience that Mark describes, maybe 25% is due to the fact that most people never ride a bike on a busy road and thus have no feeling of what this is like and no empathy, and 15% is due to the things that RDRF describes, such as a general victim mentality.

  3. rdrf says:

    And also…drivers have taken up the “road safety” industry’s idea that cycling is an inherently hazardous form of activity where you need to be dressed up in special clothes. If you’re not (or even if you are) you may be on the reeiving end of prejudice. Some people just want an out-group to hate.

    • Andy Dayton says:

      I’ve ridden i hi-viz and plain clothing, no one ever said one word about any of it! Where do you have to ride a bike to experience all this? I’m in Gtr Manchester. I see people in 100% hi-viz including helmet and backpack, and I see blokes in black in failing light bombing around on mountain bikes.

  4. Nick says:

    I think you’ve partly misunderstood the original comment. It’s not so much a complaint about being held up by slower cyclists, but a complaint about those who push to the front when riders are waiting at the lights and then proceed slowly. In other words, people who jump the queue for no good reason.

    I suspect the British might have an innate hatred of queue jumpers.

  5. bbb says:

    Vast majority of drivers are obviously held up by er… other drivers not cyclists.

    They spend many hours in traffic jams but it never actually occurs to them to blame fellow motorists for their misery. The prospect of being able to blame a selected minority of road users instead is far more appealing to small minded individuals.
    The anticycling sentiments are no different than othef forms of intolerance.

    • Paul Luton says:

      If a fellow motorist were towing a caravan they might be blamed. As in the response above people look for an out-group to pin the blame onto.

      • Andy Dayton says:

        Caravans seem less popular these days, but I remember them being a common target of blame for holiday makers stuck in traffic jams.

        • paulc says:

          and tractors… but at least their drivers generally pull over when they’ve got a queue behind them… unlike caravan towers…

    • meltdblog says:

      It requires only a small minority of all traffic to be bicycles (just a few percent) for overall throughput of cars to be reduced substantially:
      Making dedicated space for cyclists might be an unpopular option among drivers but it can increase total throughput, the other option being to ban cycling or make it so unpleasant that no one would cycle and eliminate the “problem”.

      • HivemindX says:

        I find that article very unclear and I’m particularly confused by the graph which purports to back up the conclusions. It appears to be an XY scatter and the blue dots show the supposed maximum efficiency. Efficiency means throughput of cars, since while the author says vehicles, the yellow dots means 300 bikes per hour and give a result of less than 300 ‘vehicles’ per hour in some cases. Bizarrely the yellow (high bicycle) and blue (no bicycle) points are very closely co-related, while the orange (low bicycle) points are not. It’s a bit baffling why there are two distinct clusters of ‘car only’ points. What can the low speed, low throughput dots do to match the performance of their high speed high throughput compatriots? Are the ‘low bicycle’ points showing massive improvement over the badly performing ‘car only’ points or a massive disadvantage over the high performing ‘car only’ points?

        I was also wondering how on earth these statistics were collected when I noticed the word simulation in the introduction. We can’t know anything about the quality of these results without knowing details of the simulation used. It does seem that the parameters were a four lane 80kph road with each lane being 3m for a total width of 12m. It seems to me that this issue would not occur on a road what wasn’t so narrow.

        It’s unreasonable to throw around a blanket statement that a small number of bicycles can reduce car throughput substantially based on this web page. It is very unclear what the numbers actually show and even more unclear how they were obtained. Even if it does show what the author says it appears to only apply to a narrow, high speed road.

        The problem with providing off road cycle lanes is that you then have to persuade people that they should devote space to that instead of parking, or simply adding another lane of traffic. Hey, this simulation indicates that adding an extra lane is a more efficient (meaning more and faster cars) use of space. I’ve seen a motoring journalist argue that it was ridiculous to have an on road cycle lane when it would be far better to get rid of that and have two narrower standard lanes. No doubt leading to people complaining about cyclists holding them up because they couldn’t over take them in their 2.7m wide lane.

        • meltdblog says:

          The graph is a typical format used in traffic engineering and shows the relative points where saturation sets in, with a discontinuity as the flow transitions from smooth to stop-start traffic. Adding more lanes shared with bicycles and cars will have less throughput than dedicated lanes for each as just a small number of bicycles in shared lanes (3%) reduce the overall capacity of the two lane example by approximately one half.

          a 2 lane one way road without bicycles saturates at 4300 cars/h
          a 2 lane one way road shared with bicycles saturates at approximately 2600 cars/h, with only 30 bicycles/h

          Adding a small number of bicycles has faster vehicles merging and unmerging repeatedly to pass them, quickly creating congestion. The loss of capacity for motor traffic is greatly inequitable.

          a single lane of motor traffic saturates at approximately 2200 cars/h
          a 3m width of bicycles saturates at approximately 6000 bicycles/h

          If there is a wide lane lane available where cars can pass bicycles without needing to change lanes then it is effectively creating a specific space for bicycles, road standards specify ranges of lane widths that should not be used because they would encourage unsafe passing/lane sharing. Lanes wide enough to share are wide enough to paint as a dedicated bicycle lane and traffic lane, but that is incompatible with allowing kerbside parking so such compromises are often seen (https://meltdblog.wordpress.com/2016/07/25/accommodating-the-inconsiderate/). Once you start running the numbers for large roads or road systems you can make the fractional trade of removing one traffic lane to provide two bicycle lanes since few locations require more bicycle capacity than a 1.5m lane provides. Removing 1 motorised traffic lane out of 6 or 8 parallel lanes to eliminate sharing with bicycles will yield a net increase in peak throughput (saturation) for motorised traffic, especially when you consider the reduction of bicycle use on surrounding roads (a favourite trick of any traffic engineer is to show how new infrastructure will improve the transport system by reducing congestion on surrounding routes, before the induced demand returns traffic to saturation).

    • Andy Dayton says:

      Someone told me this theory and although he didn’t concede being wrong over his belief that his long drive to work was caused by cyclists, I think it was never-the-less possible to debate the issue. Surely most motorists do realise they are being held up by cars, the vast majority don’t think that banning cyclists would help them.

    • I don’t think it’s true that ‘it never occurs’ to drivers to blame each other; listen to drivers & they all hate any other driver who goes either slower or faster than them. One underlying reason for ever bigger cars is to intimidate not cyclists (who can intimidated by a mini) but each other in the game of chicken drivers play on narrow roads etc.

  6. Clive Durdle says:

    I think there are medieval attitudes like droit de segneur also happening. They believe they have a right to proceed rapidly.

    I think a huge proportion of vehicles travel far too fast. 20 should be the speed limit on country lanes and main roads in towns, and ten on all non main roads, with rat running made impossible.

    Motorway speed limits should be enforced.

    Has anyone ever written into law the actual,effects of momentum?

    • Andy Dayton says:

      I’ve driven no motorways for 30 years, I recently noticed speed limits seemed to be observed more than they were. Many motorways do have controlled variable speed limits.

    • Mark says:

      I guess you’ve never driven a car, a 20mph limit on rural roads is insanely low!

  7. Clive Durdle says:

    And could we have a breakdown of the full costs of the various modes, including land costs of all forms of parking, cost of covering gardens in concrete, of global warming, of air pollution ?

    • meltdblog says:

      The relative energy costs are well known, with bicycles being 10-30 times more efficient than typical car use. The lifetime incremental costs of using a car or bike will outweigh the manufacturing and there is an extended analysis including infrastructure here:

      Click to access LCAwhitepaper.pdf

      But they include a zero cost of fuel for human powered transport so its not the most accurate of calculations.

      • Andy Dayton says:

        I think it’s fair to assume a zero cost of fuel for cycling because most western people eat excess food, so there is little reason to increase calorific intake in most cases. If you did argue that a cyclists BMI would eventually fall to ideal, meaning they had to eat extra food to maintain it, I think it can easily be assumed that the extra food cost is pretty negligible and cancelled by lower health care needs, smaller clothing sizes etc.

  8. Bmblbzzz says:

    There’s an assumption here that the solution to a problem indicates the source of that problem. That’s not necessarily the case. There are many parts of the world where cyclists share roadspace with motorists but are not thought of as “being in the way” or the object of antagonism. Although it’s undoubtedly true that ‘road rage’ is triggered by congestion, its root cause is cultural; it is not found wherever there is congestion.

  9. Bmblbzzz says:

    In addition to which, the idea that everyone in the UK hates cyclists is hyperbole worthy of the tabloid press.

    • HivemindX says:

      Not everyone obviously, but you only have to read the comments on any news story which includes a cyclist, or the story itself in some cases, to realise that there are plenty of people who are blinded by their hatred of cyclists and that that attitude is completely acceptable to the majority.

      • Bmblbzzz says:

        If you judge popular attitudes by those comments you have to conclude everyone hates everything. They function not so much as a barometer of societal attitudes but as an outlet for a vocal minority to vent their bile on all topics.

  10. Jbro says:

    I think it’s as much envy as anything else. Envy of being out in the great outdoors, the low cost of cycling, the freedom, the ability to whizz past the queues, the obviously fit and healthy participants, and yes, in some cases the ability to break the rules without consequence. Logic doesn’t really apply, as many of those motorists could easily cycle, of course.

  11. Bill G says:

    I cannot read minds, so I cannot say how many off my fellows citizens hate me for my mode of transport, but there is an upside to hate.
    If the motorist behind me does hate my activity then they are also aware of my presence. They will look, see, curse. Far more scary is the indifferent driver, looking thru’ me without seeing me, fiddling with a phone or satnav while their vehicle bears down on my rear wheel.
    Hate is a deeply unpleasant emotion that hurts the hater, but at least the hater is paying attention.

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  13. MJ Ray says:

    The separated approach is normal in the Netherlands, but not quite universal.

  14. * says:

    In Japanese cities I’ve been to, cyclists and pedestrians share pavement space. Everyone gets along fine. However, here, I’ve seen fights break out when pedestrians challenge cyclists on the pavement. Of course, in Japan, the on-pavement cyclists cycle very slowly – and the pedestrians behave like motorcyclists, i.e., they check over their shoulder before moving left or right on the pavements. As an urban cyclist, I’ve also been ran off the pavement, once by a bloke in a 5 series, once by a bloke in York in a white van – deliberately targeted / rammed (vehicle mounted pavement to get me). Fortunately, I was young and fit and able to throw myself over a wall to escape on both occasions. Face it, we have an aggressive culture!

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