Why so angry

Take a look at this short video [language warning].

It’s a woman attempting to cycle along Upper Thames Street, and having to come to a stop as two HGVs barrel past her, at speed. You can actually hear the fear in her voice.

This was of course back in 2011. This section of road looks very different now.

The lane in which the two HGVs thundered past the frightened woman has been replaced by a protected cycleway. The post box where she was forced to come to a halt is visible in the photograph above, with a father and his young son cycling past it, side by side. It’s precisely the same location. There is an HGV in the background of the photograph, but it won’t come anywhere near these two. The contrast is total.

There is a cliché of cycle campaigners being angry, or aggressive. That we froth, won’t compromise – that we are fanatics, or ‘militant’. While I tend to resist these kinds of lazy stereotypes, I think the juxtaposition between the scary video and the present-day situation on Upper Thames Street goes a long way towards explaining why we might come across this like this.

We are scared. We are frequently put in intimidating or dangerous situations, not through any fault of our own, but through the indifference of highway engineers and politicians, and (very often) the people driving motor vehicles that we are forced to share the roads with. It doesn’t take much searching to find these kinds of incidents on social media.

Even as I write this now, similar kinds of incidents are popping up in my timeline.

Near misses are an everyday experience for people who cycle, and – tellingly – they are experienced more frequently by women, and people who cycle more slowly.

Cycling speed is the main factor affecting near miss rates: those who reach their destination at an average speed of under 8 mph have around three times more near misses per mile compared to those who get there at 12 mph or faster.

So we are scared. And we want that this fear to go away. We don’t want our journeys to be punctuated with near-death experiences, or fraught with danger and hostility. We’d also like to see our friends and family able to accompany us when we travel around, and not see their horizons limited. We’d like them to experience the freedom we enjoy, and not be forced into using less convenient (and objectively more dangerous) modes of transport because of fear.

So when we seem to get angry, or ‘militant’, with people who oppose engineering schemes that would replace danger with safety, it’s not for the fun of it, or because of any inherent flaw in our nature. It’s because that opposition has consequences. It means people trembling at the side of the road, swearing uncontrollably, as vehicles thunder past them. It means people continuing to be seriously injured or killed on these roads. It means our day-to-day trips are much more scary and unpleasant than they need to be. It means that people who want to cycle can’t. That’s why we’re angry.

We don’t tolerate it with other modes of transport. We expect to be able to use buses or trains without visceral fear, or having to glance over our shoulder as someone pilots a vehicle that could easily maim or kill with a minor error or misjudgement, within inches of us. We shouldn’t tolerate people having to give up using a mode of transport because of fear, or people not being able to use a mode of transport they enjoy, because of fear.

So if you think that we’re angry, at the very least reflect for a moment on why that might be the case.

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17 Responses to Why so angry

  1. awjreynolds says:

    Reblogged this on CycleBath and commented:
    I’ve given in and bought myself a bike camera (https://m.probikekit.co.uk/bicycle-computers-gps-hrm/shimano-cm-2000-action-sports-camera-1080p/11583222.html was £240, now £65) Pretty much every time I cycle on main roads I get a close pass or somebody racing past you to get through a pedestrian island pinch point, only to pass them a minute later as they sit in traffic. Worse can be on some of the residential rat runs where you have to take primary position to block people from overtaking you dangerously. You can hear them revving their engine and sitting as close to your back wheel as possible. Even on an eBike riding up hills at 15mph in a 20mph zone you get this behaviour. Enough is enough. Luckily Avon and Somerset Police now have a dashcam evidence submission page https://forms.avonandsomerset.police.uk/forms/dcu

    A sad state of affairs our roads have come to.

  2. Brilliant article and wording. Thank you.

  3. Paul Luton says:

    Good illustration of why the Superhighway solution is so necessary for roads where volume and speed of motor traffic cannot be reduced to tolerable (by everyone , not just the confident/foolhardy) levels.

  4. Often like to point out to the drivers who complain on Twitter about all the angry cyclists they encounter that I rarely, if ever, encounter an angry cyclist whilst driving and that the problem might actually be their driving rather then the attitude of different people on bikes….

  5. euan says:

    Reminds me of the “Don’t Murder Me” compilation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vlRQaJTOS-s

  6. Tim says:

    Again, Thank You.

    That’s a moving post, not to mention the juxtaposition of the two renderings of Upper Thames Street.

    So often we see a video of a person on a bike remonstrating with a driver, and they can come across as a mouthy arrogant sod. But unless you’ve been there, it’s hard to understand how that person feels, how it feels to be in that situation.

    Of course I know it’s very rare that anything good or positive comes out of kerb-side interactions through drivers-side windows. But on too many occasions I’ve honestly been scared my kids wouldn’t see their dad arrive home from work, and I just feel I need to explain to the driver the fear they cause. Just for once, I would like one of those drivers to know what it feels like. It’s not arrogance in that person’s voice, it’s terror fuelled adrenalin.

    It’s such a shame, because riding a bike has the potential to be such a relaxed enjoyable way to travel.

  7. Gerard says:

    By contrast, cycling in the Netherlands is safe and very many young children cycle without adult supervision. The remarkable thing is that the change came about very quickly. If only the political will (and the funding) could be found to create the same infrastructure in the UK: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/may/05/amsterdam-bicycle-capital-world-transport-cycling-kindermoord

  8. bikesyuk says:

    What makes us even more angry is poor infrastructure like the bit of paint on the road in the video. It gives drivers a false sense of how close they can overtake a cyclist despite their wheels being just inches away from the person travelling on the bicycle. Horrendous.

  9. Mike says:

    Happened to me only last night, lit up like a Christmas tree, pedalling through the quiet village of Dalmeny (near South Queensferry) – driver came out of the side junction, didn’t even slow down, missed me by inches. And yes, I got very angry, not my usual state, adrenaline induced?

  10. Pingback: Why so angry | As Easy As…

  11. Antony OBrien says:

    Well said, and to plagiarise Lennon, imagine theres no footpaths, imagine you have to walk down a road 1 metre from the edge. Imagine cars and trucks passing you at 40mph so close you can reach out and touch them. You hoo

    • Paul Luton says:

      Absolutely which is why Living Streets is generally supportive of cycle infrastructure. Pity that some of the less reflective pedestrians don’t get it.

      • MJ Ray says:

        Generally but not locally. Living Streets Norfolk still seems to oppose merely unbanning cycling from streets where it never should have been banned.

  12. Would you mind if i’d translate this post to French on my (non-profit) blog ? (I provide of course a link to this page and credit the original author)

  13. Dinsmore Roach says:

    While cycling in Florida in March 2017, a lady pulled out from a side street in front of me claiming responsibility but said she did not see me. I managed to brake to avoid a full impact by broadsiding her front door. I got scratches and a crooked shifter. I got her to pay for brand new Ulterga shifters and handlebar tape.a step up from 105. Yes!

  14. Nigel says:

    I often get up to speeds of around 25mph going downhill in urban areas on my bike. Yet some motorists still seem to feel the need to bust a gut to get past me, even if it means a very close and dangerous pass. I then often sail past them at the next traffic light, giving them a very loud blast of my airhorn as I go past them (they don’t like it up ’em!) The solution is of course proper cycling infrastructure, but maybe a short term fix would be much, much better education of motorists. Meanwhile, an aggressive reaction on the part of many (mainly male) cyclists is a matter of instinct and evolution, part of a survival response when confronted with a dangerous predator.

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