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.