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The lane in which the two HGVs thundered past the frightened woman has been replaced by a protected cycleway.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.