Road safety when cycle commuting

Do you cycle on the road?

I’ve been cycling to work (bar the odd day here and there) for a year and a half now, and I’ve got a confession: I still don’t feel safe on the roads.

We hear stories on the news all the time about incidents in London, but the problem is everywhere.

I thought that after a while my confidence would grow, I’d become more assertive and as a result, more comfortable on the bike. But the longer I cycle, the less comfortable I feel. Every week brings another near-miss: a car overtaking way too close, or pulling in too soon; cars cutting me up; people refusing to let me change lanes on the approach to roundabouts and junctions, or forcing me into the gutter; people yelling out of their car window at me to cycle on the pavement…

I’m not a bad cyclist. I follow the rules (including stopping at red lights, whether there’s other traffic on the road or not), I wear high vis and switch my lights on in low visibility; I look around and signal in plenty of time before manoeuvring; I even move over a bit to give cars more space to pass me, if I know that there are no hazards up ahead.

Most of the cyclists I see are the same way. And to be fair, most drivers are fairly considerate and sensible, too. But the other day I saw something that made me feel quite ill; a cyclist lying at the side of the road, a crowd of people around him, and his bike a few feet away. He had been moved into the recovery position, and someone was calling an ambulance – I couldn’t tell if he was conscious.

bk

It was a wide stretch of road, curving but with good visibility. It was dry, and the road wasn’t busy. The cyclist was in high vis and was using lights – he would have been seen from a long way back, and there was plenty of space to overtake him. There was absolutely no reason for him to have been hit.

If this can happen to someone under those circumstances, it goes without saying that there is something lacking both in our cycling infrastructure and with drivers’ awareness when it comes to vulnerable road users. Speaking to friends who don’t cycle, I keep hearing the same response:

Cyclists shouldn’t be on the road’.

Firstly, this is a big pile of crap. We have as much right as anyone else to be on the road (don’t even get me started on the road tax issue), and we shouldn’t be bullied or intimidated into alternative means of transport, or cycling on the pavement (which is actually illegal, just FYI…)

On the other hand, a small part of me agrees with this. I don’t want to be forced off the road – for my journey, the main road is a much more direct route than footpaths and other options, and I’m sure this is the case for plenty of us – but with the roads being so dangerous, we desperately need a decent cycle infrastructure in this country.

Look at Europe – there is an extensive, well maintained, well used cycling network.

Schematic-Diagram-Test

When I lived in France, I didn’t think twice about hopping on my bike – I never had any problems, even on the roads. I actually felt safer on my bike than I did in a car – despite their infamous driving habits! And I would often see entire families cycling together.

In contrast, look at the state of cycle routes in the UK. Generally, the most you can hope for is a shared use path – but who really wants to cycle on something like this?

pth

A shared path along my commute, courtesy of Google Maps – narrow, bumpy and overgrown.

Given the lumps, bumps, potholes and other hazards – not to mention the pedestrians, who will often refuse to make space purely on principle – these paths aren’t much better than using the road.

What’s your cycle route like? Have you ever had any problems?

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