You Should Know That…

I had a confrontation with a taxi driver the other day. Those of you who regularly ride bikes may well think that this is nothing new. But it was.This was a confrontation that wasn’t a confrontation.

I was cycling along a cycle route, back towards my house. This particular route is a shared use path alongside a dual carriageway. There is one particular bit on it which is unbelievably dangerous. It involves crossing a road which is effectively a slip road onto the dual carriageway. As always, I slowed down, listened and couldn’t hear anything coming. I did look, but it is only possible to see about 4 metres up the road no matter how close you get. I couldn’t see or hear anything so I pulled out.

Just as a taxi came flying around the corner.

We both slammed on the brakes.

We both stopped about a centimetre from hitting each other.

Since I was already out in the road, I finished crossing the road and made eye contact wit the driver. His immediate response was to yell out of his open window “so I suppose that was my fault was it” in a somewhat aggressive manner.

It must have been a long ride that I was coming back from because I stayed remarkably calm.

I explained that, although I had slowed and looked and listening, it is almost impossible to tell if a car is coming before crossing. I explained that I appreciated that he was trying to pull out onto a busy and fast road so his attention was on the traffic to his right, rather than me crossing to his left. I explained that I appreciated that he wasn’t really driving that fast, in fact he was probably driving exactly as I would do at that particular point.

We both agreed that it is an incredibly dangerous crossing. We both smiled and thanked the other for chatting to us. We both wished each other a pleasant day.

The thing is that I was actually quite surprised by my own serenity in dealing with an angry taxi driver. If I am honest, my usual reaction would probably have been to yell back at him that it was indeed his fault and he should be more careful. I may well have added expression and feeling to my sentiments with some choice colourful phrases.

I also know how that would have gone. Both the taxi driver and I would have left the scene wound up and angry. That anger would have stayed with me all day. I would have a permanent reminder of that anger every time I cycled that route.

Instead, I think we both left the scene feeling positive.

Instead of anger, that feeling of positivity has stayed with me.

It made me think about how often we could do away with bitterness and anger with just a bit of communication.

Travelling by bike is wonderful. But fir the time being, in the UK, it can be fraught with disputes.

I believe that often these disputes stem from misunderstandings.

I believe that misunderstandings can cause anger, bitterness and confrontation.

I have always believed that, with a very small number of exceptions, people are inherently good. We are frequently misguided or unhappy and that causes us to act in ways which are anything but good. But we are all good at heart. Perhaps this is a naive attitude, but it is an attitude which makes the world a positive place for me, so it is an attitude I try to live by. It is an attitude which I try to pass on to my children.

The place I find it hardest to hang on to this belief is on our roads. On the roads it can be very difficult to hang on to the belief that all people are inherently good because so many of them seem to behave like they are inherently bad when they are behind the wheel of a vehicle. I have often taken this somewhat personally and felt that a huge amount of negativity is directed at me because I choose to travel by bike. However, my recent experience made me realise that just as much negativity is directed at drivers by other drivers.

I also have to admit that I frequently direct my negativity towards drivers.

This made me wonder why? Why do we behave so badly towards each other when we are on the roads?

I suspect that some (not all) of this comes down to misunderstanding.

I suspect this because I have found myself venting my frustration with gesticulations at drivers passing to close only to realise that they are smiling and waving at me. Or that they are another mum that I chat to in the playground at school drop offs or pick ups. That they have absolutely no idea what close passes mean to cyclists.

So, here is what I would like other road (and path) users to know, from a variety of perspectives:

As a Cyclist

I would like drivers to know:

  • That I do stop at red lights. Always. There is no excuse for any cyclist who does not.
  • That I have as much right to use the roads as you do.
  • That the right to use the roads has nothing to do with paying car tax. I do pay car tax for my car, I cannot pay it for my bike.
  • That it would be nice to be thanked when I show courtesy on the roads, especially as I do try hard to thank those who show me courtesy.
  • That the roads can be a scary place on a bike.
  • That the ‘safe’ passing distance is around 1.5 metres. Anything less makes me feel afraid.
  • That, when I adopt the primary position and you cannot get past me, I am doing this because I do not feel safe being passed at this point, not because I want to hold you up.
  • That if I delay you, that delay is rarely more than 30 seconds if you are honest.
  • That I am unlikely to harm you, yet you could kill me.
  • That I use cycle paths when it is appropriate for me to do so, but I still have to get to the cycle paths. I also sometimes ride a road bike at speeds which are not acceptable on shared use paths. I will therefore, always use the roads sometimes, regardless of whether or not I want to.
  • That sometimes what you are seeing as a pavement is a shared use path. This means that I am not riding on the pavement, I am riding on a cycle path. It might be best to check for signs before yelling at me to get off the pavement.
  • That I am not the real cause of traffic delays. Real delays are caused by too many vehicles on the roads.
  • That it will not make any difference to your journey if cyclists paid road tax.
  • That parking on double yellow lines often means that I cannot see if it is safe ahead.
  • That cycling two abreast in a group makes it easier for you to pass us.
  • That I do understand that people use vehicles for many different reasons. That I drive a car too sometimes and I do not think that everyone should be on a bike at all times.

I would like other cyclists to know:

  • That all cyclists are judged by the actions of each cyclist. You do all cyclists a disservice if you are one of the minority who jump red lights and fail to obey the basic rules of the road.
  • That a smile or a wave is a nice way to acknowledge a shared interest and foster a sense of connection.

I would like dog walkers to know:

  • That paths are shared spaces and we all have equal rights to use them.
  • That it is scary if your dog runs at my bike barking and snarling. If this is how your dog reacts to bikes, perhaps a cycle path is not the place to walk them or perhaps it might be safer if they were on a lead there.
  • That some people (like my four year old daughter) are terrified of dogs. All dogs, even a teeny tiny dog on a lead.
  • That dog poo is really difficult to get out of tyre treads.

I would like walkers to know:

  • That is is very difficult to warn you of my approach if you have headphones on.
  • That, when I ring my bell, what I mean is “excuse me” or “I am here”, not “get out of my way”. I keep ringing my bell until you acknowledge that you are aware of me, because I really don’t want to give you a fright.

As a Driver

I would like other drivers to know:

  • That I don’t care who gets there first, I just want to get there safely.
  • That sometimes it is impossible to pull out unless someone allows you out.
  • That tailgating is unnecessary and dangerous.

 

As A Pedestrian

I would like drivers to know:

  • That children move fast and unpredictably sometimes. Even when they are fully supervised you should still be very aware of them.
  • That parking on a pavement stops buggies and wheelchairs from passing safely.

What Would YOU Say?

So here is a challenge. What would you like to say to other road users? The answer to this for you may well be somewhat colourful. But think beyond the anger. Think honesty. What could you say to help other road or path users better understand you? Email me or write a comment below. Be aware though that I am unlikely to approve angry comments or colourful language!

Would our daily journeys be any different if we all understood each other better? Who knows. I would like to think so.

I do know that they are not getting any better with everyone shouting at each other.

 

22 Replies to “You Should Know That…”

  1. Great points well expressed.
    Up here in Inverness we’ve engaged in a collaboration with the biggest taxi company. It’s MD is a cyclist and wants to tackle the divisions you’ve described.
    We’re planning a joint event – to show how it can work.

  2. It all stemmed from our Cycling Without Age ETrike project – taking elderly folk out.
    We wanted a taxi recovery service in case of an incident.
    The conversation moved on to campaign stuff.
    Great result so far.

  3. Traffic lights were invented for cars – I don’t think that pedestrians and cyclists should have to wait when they can clearly see and hear that nobody is coming. However, vehicle drivers should have to wait because they have a much-reduced field of view. Some European nations already allow cyclists to ‘jump’ lights and more will follow.

      1. It is perfectly possible to design a junction with traffic signals, at which cyclists do not have to stop… legally. There have been such installations in York for at least 20 years.

        Where the law is being frequently abused, you might reflect on why this is happening, and perhaps change the law, or the conditions that invite its abuse. Uf drivers are always exceeding 30mph than perhaps the road should not have been designed for 60mph?

        1. I agree that the law is not necessarily correct and that a campaign to change it could be very positive. However until the law does change, it is still the law and cyclists should observe it, in my opinion

  4. A wonderful, positive article.
    You have said so much – little more needs to be said.
    We all need to turn positive talk, into positive actions 🙂
    Happy trails :j

  5. Totally agree with all points raised. I recently wrote a very similar letter to a large haulage company in my area after a near miss with one of their drivers. They thanked me for my level and fair points (if which there were many lol) and my letter was given to all drivers and the transport manager for driver training. I’m hoping to do more of this in my area, not because I’m being socially responsible but because I’m F’n shit scared on the roads sometimes! Safe journeys for all are all ask for. Great article, enjoyed reading it. Jo

    1. That’s fantastic, good for you! It’s too easy to rant about these things when they happen rather than taking positive action like you did.

  6. Great article. Sharing roads certainly brings out the worst in people – they’re happy to put others lives at risk to save a few seconds here and there on their journeys. And when cycling, the fight or flight response kicking in, when someone does something dangerous, ending up in the usual shouting you mention.

    I’d add one more thing to pedestrians to be aware of, the highway code, it applies to all. Basic things like walking facing oncoming traffic when there’s no pavement e.g. shared use paths, so you can see approaching cyclists and communicate with them instead of creating a hazard and shouting abuse when we ring our bells or surprise you because you didn’t hear the bell.

  7. Fabulous points that I will share too.

    I’d also like to add that as a horse rider, I would also like to be overtaken with respect and care. Both by car, van and lorry drivers and by cyclists. I always make the attempt to move over, but cyclists in particular often don’t make any noise at all when coming up behind and so scare the bejesus out of both my horse and me. Horses can see ALMOST all the way around, but because the body is in the way, they can’t see behind them any more than I can. So a cheery “morning” or something similar lets both me and the horse know that someone is coming up and for the horse, he then understands that it’s actually a human, not an odd rolling monster.

    I will always do my best to be courteous to other users on roads, paths, BOATS and bridleways. I don’t always get it right, but I try. I think the world is a better place when we do.

  8. Great article. As a horse rider and a carriage driver, I would like cyclists to be aware that:
    – 2 m away is the recommended safe distance to pass
    – that calling out as you approach a horse from in front lets the horse know you are human ie friendly, not a silent horse eating monster
    – when approaching from behind, you need to call out to check that it is ok to pass before overtaking
    – that these extracts from the highway code are as much for your safety as mine and should be followed at all times.

    After all, we vulnerable road users ought to work together!

    1. Thanks very much for your comments. I have to say that I did not know any of that, despite the fact that I used to ride horses (a very very very very long time ago!!). I will remember this the next time I encounter a horse rider when I am out on my bike.

  9. Very good points. At the end of a long hot day’s cycling recently I found myself making rude signs at one who overtook me on dangerous bends very close to home. This isn’t something I would normally do and I instantly regretted it. I was just very hot and tired and that driver was the final straw after many had overtaken me too close and too fast.
    So I’m with you on the whole thing of how easy it is to get angry rather than doing and saying things that result in positive feelings and hopefully action.

    In a rather similar vein, I have just been reading “Bike Nation” by Peter Walker – fascinating stuff about how safer cycling has been/can be introduced in other countries and cities, and it’s really made me think a lot about how persuasion is the best method of getting more people onto bikes. The carrot rather than the stick. I tend to just get angry with people who are constantly jumping in their cars, particularly to drive short distances, but this isn’t going to get them onto bikes!

    1. Bike Nation is a brilliant book! Well worth reading. I think we need to show people the self interest in cycling. In all honesty, the reason I first got a cargo bike was because the thought of trying to park near the local primary school when my son started at playgroup filled me with dread!!

  10. Excellent post, dialogue is what we need, not confrontation, but isn’t always easy.

    I’m not sure why “…cycling two abreast in a group makes it easier for you to pass us.”..?

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