Sunday, 29 January 2012

Reclaim the Pavements

Two events came together in my mind last week, each concerning cyclists.

There were reports in the press of another  'reclaim the streets' gathering by cyclists seeking to draw attention to their concerns.  I have a measure of sympathy with them, not least because of the worrying number of fatalities in London and other cities.

But there is a danger in a mindset which decrees all cyclists 'good';  all drivers 'bad': demonising the majority --of careful, considerate drivers -- is patently unfair.  And it is naive to paint all cyclists as faultless victims.

Just as vehicle drivers must take on board a need for greater awareness of cycles, so cyclists need to recognise those behaviours which reflect badly on them or cause great frustration.

This was brought in to sharp focus for me this week.  I was walking in Glasgow's Bath Street at a point where wide pavement narrowed because of the basement railings and steps on my left; cars were parked on my right. I paused briefly to glance up at the numbers above doors.  Suddenly, a cyclist flew past me ... on the pavement.... at a speed which would have been questionable on a busy city street.  Having barely missed me, he swerved to avoid two other pedestrians and rode on.  He was a heavily built young man; had I stepped six inches to my left as I paused he would have hit me and the combination of his substantial body weight and the speed at which he was travelling would have led to my serious injury; you will understand that had he injured himself I would have had no sympathy for him.

I was very shocked; arriving at the tearoom I had been looking for, I know I must have seemed garbled and semi coherent.  As the shock faded, I felt increasingly angry. This is the closest I have been to serious injury for a very long time.  What if a baby or toddler in a buggy, or a frail elderly person had been walking where I had been?  When he had arrived at the traffic lights, did this selfish man choose to be a 'pedestrian' or 'vehicle' depending on what suited him best?  Any vehicle driver will have seen the cyclist who breaks the lights, drives the wrong way on the one way street. These are not rare occurrences.

I am fighting the urge to think of this man as the representative of all cyclists.  He is, no doubt,  as much of an embarrassment to decent cyclists as the speeding, exhaust-roaring, baseball cap wearing car driver and bullying white-van-man are to responsible motorists.

But the selfishness and arrogance of this one cyclist made me feel vulnerable and dented my confidence; and for that I cannot forgive him.  Sadly too, he has dulled my ear to the pleas of the cycling community.

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