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Look both ways…

November 26, 2009

I’ve been cycling from Marylebone to my office in Finsbury Square, a distance of just under 5 miles each way, for a month now. I’m enjoying the exercise, and I don’t miss travelling on the tube. I have got wet a few times – actually a lot – but that’s OK since I have showers and a locker at work, so I can get clean, dry and change into my work clothes.

However my domestic and laundry arrangements aren’t the subject of this blog: I have something else I want to get off my chest.

There are, of course, some risks involved in cycling around London, but my conclusion after the first month may be surprising. The biggest risk isn’t lorry drivers – I think you’re OK provided you’re sensible, don’t try to squeeze through silly gaps, and stay well in sight of either their mirrors or infront of them. It’s not taxis either – taxi drivers are, in my experience, courteous, polite and well aware of cyclists.

Most car drivers are aware of cyclists too, and it’s relatively easy to spot the ones who don’t know where they’re going and who might turn across you without signalling.

I minimise the risk as much as possible by wearing a fluorescent yellow jacket, and in the dark or twilight I use a bright flashing front light and three rear lights -two of which flash, so I’m hardly camouflaged or hard to see.

But I perceive the biggest risk to me on my rides to and from work is presented by pedestrians!

They just don’t look where they’re going. They step off the kerb without looking. They assume that just because the cars have stopped (or there are no cars) that there’s no traffic and just step out without looking.

And worst of all, they keep walking in the bloody cycle lanes! It’s bizarre, but I have noticed it elsewhere in the world – paint a couple of white lines on the ground to make a cycle lane and, lo and behold, pedestrians feel compelled to walk between the lines despite the huge amount of space around them. It doesn’t matter how many other signs or pictures of bikes are painted around – the lines are a subliminal suggestion that many pedestrians follow.

Generally cycle lanes are alongside roads or on paved areas, so a cyclist can treat these pedestrians as mobile slalom poles and swerve around them, but in many places across London the efforts of Boris and Ken have resulted in cycle lanes separated by kerbs from the rest of the traffic. If there’s a pedestrian strolling along blissfully unaware that they’re in a cycle lane there’s nowhere for a cyclist to go!

When I’m sprinting between traffic lights (most mornings now, I’m starting to work out the phasing of the lights so I know which are worth sprinting for and which aren’t) I can get my airnimal to well over 20mph. I weigh just over 14st (around 200lbs) so there’s a lot of energy bearing down on a pedestrian who steps off the kerb infront of me – I’ll do them a lot of damage if I hit them.

So if you’re a pedestrian (or even a driver or cyclist occasionally using your feet instead) please look both ways before you step off the kerb, and don’t walk in the cycle lanes – you’re putting yourself, and me, at risk.

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