From the Other Side of the Steering Wheel
Today I woke up to some seriously icy conditions. When it comes to getting from A to B, I will cycle in most conditions. But not ice. Today I was going to have to be a driver.
To be fair, I gave the bike a go. I got the cargo bike out of the garage…and it skidded across the driveway and was almost impossible to turn. I was pretty sure the cycle paths wouldn’t have been gritted either.
If you ride a very large and very heavy bike carrying two children, ice is really not your friend.
Even with my trusty yaktrax there was no way I was going to manage to manoeuvre two children down the glass-like pavements to the bus stop. The same problem applied to walking to school.
There was nothing else for it.
I was going to have to drive.
The thought of the school run by car is something which fills me with dread. It turns out that my feelings of dread are well placed.
This was my experience:
- It took me 45 minutes to drive to school. A journey which takes me 15 minutes to do by cargo bike. This is despite the fact that the driving route is the most direct and the cycling route is a slightly roundabout ‘quiet’ route.
- I experienced as much aggressive driving while I was in the car as I do when I am on the bike. I didn’t feel quite as vulnerable in the car but I did feel less in control. On the bike I know how to ride assertively to make us as safe as possible. In the car a felt a little bit more like a sitting duck.
- I managed to park in a street which is fairly quiet as it involves a walk through the park to the school. Bu I still had a slight feeling of panic over whether I was going to be able to park for the whole journey.
We got there in one piece. 10 minutes late. And I was a nervous wreck.
But that was just the start of the day. From there I had to take the little one a couple of miles to where we were meeting friends, then take her to nursery, then go to the local shops, then go back to school to collect both children, then go home. I didn’t have enough time to go home and get the bike and I wasn’t convinced that the ice was going to be any better, so this was all by car.
I didn’t travel more than 15 miles over the course of the day. But I do feel like I have aged considerably through the experience.
My conclusion from the day is this:
I do not know how people do this day after day.
For what it is worth, here are my conclusions about the positives and negatives of driving versus cycling for me. Bear in mind that I am talking about the kinds of two or three mile journeys I have spent the day doing.
Sometimes it is quicker.
I get to listen to the radio on on the way.
I am a slightly less vulnerable road user.
My hair doesn’t get wet when it’s raining.
It is not quite as treacherous when it is icy.
I find driving at busy times of the day really stressful.
I face just as much aggression on the roads in the car as I do when I am on a bike.
Finding somewhere to park is stressful and time consuming.
I don’t get any exercise.
I have to concentrate on driving and cannot pay as much attention to the conversation / arguments with my children.
Petrol / Diesel costs money (as do car tax, insurance, MOTs, and servicing) which I could otherwise spend on bikes.
I feel guilty about the fact that driving causes pollution.
I get plenty of exercise as part of my normal day.
I have become known as ‘the lady with the bike’.
My children can see where they are going and chat / argue about what they see.
I know how long each journey will take.
I have a ‘system’ on the bike which ensures I never forget anything vital.
Apart fromt the initial outlay on the bike and a very small amount of maintenance, it is free.
I am never stuck for a parking space.
The children stay warm and dry under the waterproof cover.
I feel I am setting a positive example of an active lifestyle to my children.
I never get stuck in traffic.
I have got to know my local area very well.
Sometimes I get very cold hands despite wearing gloves.
I have become known as ‘the lady with the bike’.
We are often subject to agression and a lack of consideration by other road users.
On the really torrential days, my waterproofs sometimes fail and I end up with a soggy bottom.
Now I know that this is not a very scientific comparison, but I can’t help noticing that the longest lists up there are the positives for cycling and the negatives for driving.
There is a positive which I can take from today’s experience. I feel that the day has given me a greater understanding of the drivers I face every day on the bike. The extent of the frustration drivers must feel on a daily basis just trying to get where they need to be is phenomenal. That degree of frustration is bound to lead to feelings of anger and aggression. In my experience, when I feel frustrated and angry it takes time for that feeling to dissipate. And while that feeling is dissipating I am not the most pleasant person to be around.
When the majority of people drive on a daily basis, what is that level of frustration and anger doing to our families and our communities?
Imagine living in a society with less frustration. With less anger.
Most of us need to use a car for some of our journeys. But the only way to reduce the congestion which causes so much frustration is for there to be fewer cars on the roads.
I have cycled for transport locally for so long that I didn’t realise how long the list of negatives associated with driving is. What if more people gave cycling (or walking, or scooting) a go and realised just how long the list of positives can be?