Saturday, June 02, 2007
Cycling: The new unsafe sex
One sure way to avoid the risks of deep vein thrombosis, attention deficit disorder or addiction to Big Brother is the taking up of cycling. For years now I have been a ferocious and fanatical cyclist - the mangled steel of HGVs and Ferraris clatter behind my mud guard even now as if I had just married, for on the road the bike rider reigns supreme (or did). The fear of a costly personal injury compensation claim is more than enough to keep most motorists in check. With my own eyes I have seen White Vans perform triple axels in successful attempts to avoid turning me into road pizza - intuitively they knew my vengeful estate would pursue them to their graves and make paupers of their Darrens and Chantelles.
But now times are a-changin' gears. In the last two or three years more and more cycle lanes have snaked into existence, usually encroaching on pedestrian walkways, if not narrowing roads with yet another dedicated lane. It's the pedestrian highways that are the real menace. Whereas in better times the onus was on car drivers to beware the unmotorised, now cyclists must suffer the burden of care. Far from adding to the safety of bike riders, cycle lanes have exposed them to all sorts of horrible risks. Cycling is the new unsafe sex. Let me explain.
Most weekends I retire to my dacha-by-sea on the south coast after the toil of weekday London. For years I happily cycled the stretch between my village and fabulous Worthing on the road. Bike riders caught even scootering on pavements were cautioned or fined. Riding on walkways was anti-social, up there with spitting and being drunk and making lewd remarks to postboxes.
Then suddenly the civic nanny-wand was waved and, hey presto!, it was made obligatory to ride on pavements. Green-dyed lanes were created, halving the breadth of walkways, so that bikes speeding by at 20 or 30mph might pass pedestrians walking just six inches away, on the other side of a thin white line. How logical this must have looked on paper as councillors sighed at the ingenuity of getting two different types of traveller - the cyclist and the walker - to share a narrow line of creosote. Why, the two need not even know of each other! Where there's a will etc! "Why didn't we think of this before?" they must have asked themselves before abandoning themselves to the orgiastic delights of a town hall thé dansant.
In reality, the result is a nightmare for all - except motorists who have the roads all to themselves, bar the odd milk float or farm tractor. Cycling that stretch between my village and Worthing and back, on the promenade, is now an assault course, a disaster waiting to happen. Let me explain further.
Pedestrians are dumb. Even highly intelligent people, once on the hoof, with a shopping bag swinging on an arm or a mobile phone cleaved to the skull, turn stoooopid. They don't think. Because what they do is, first, they don't remember that the pavement, the walkway, is now a shared thoroughfare. It is in effect a crypto road. But that's not what's in their heads. They see the green lane and think: "Oooh, how pretty! That's my favourite colour!" Then they walk in it. Meanwhile, hurtling behind them at, ooh, 25mph, is me. Do you see the disaster waiting to happen? But there's more.
Some pedestrians are bright enough to walk in their allotted non-green lane. But it's a funny thing about walking. You assume that when you walk you do so in a straight line. But in nature nothing is a straight line. People tend to wander about, they veer left and right, they make sudden left turns for no reason, they're unpredictable. And there's a funnier thing. They tend to get unpredictable just as I am passing at 25mph. Do you see the disaster waiting to happen? Only because I have my wits about me, only because I have the reflexes of a maddened cobra, do I fail to dispatch these fools to A&E or the mortuary. Arncha grateful?
Certain types of pedestrian are more stooopid than others. Families are very stooopid. They dawdle along in a comfy congregation, steeped in blood-relative complacency, and imagine that the world is for a moment a safe place. How very foolish. They have not seen me fast approaching at 25mph behind them. Then just as I'm about to pass, the four-year-old tot decides its a kangaroo and hops over the thin white line. Happily, infanticide is avoided as I pirouette on my front wheel and back flip over the little bastard ... you see, I'm all heart.
The elderly, too, create perils in different ways. Many choose to walk in the cycle lane because they are tempting fate to release them from a wretched existence. They want to be terminally crashed into. Many jay walk, some fall over into the cycle lane at the sound of my bell. Worse are the elderly disabled who assume, wrongly, that their battery-operated carts have right of way on the green lanes. No no no. But a cyclist cannot win if on collision course with a disability vehicle. No court in the land would find against some old cock - it would be presumed that the cyclist chose to crash into the four-wheel Stannah, or was drunk. Cyclists can react fast, see. The onus is against the bike. We are the new motorists.
Nowadays, cycling is a tremendous and onerous activity. Its joy for me is rapidly diminishing as I must always look out for the reckless disregard of others for themselves. Left to me I would end all cycle lanes right away and put bikes back where they belong - on cycle lane-free roads. Pedestrians, too, would be happier not to have to think about their personal safety on what was once their exclusive right of way - and dogs will never get the handle on cycle lanes. Not even the cleverest pooch in the land. Nope.
What a pity it would be if dispirited cyclists abandoned their carbon neutral mode of transport and took to the safe sex of the car again - it's very tempting.