When I was living in Edinburgh about 8 years ago, I remember seeing a crowd of rubberneckers gawping at what was clearly the scene of a nasty accident on Princes Street – the main, and busiest, street of the city. I never want to be one of those type of people but I certainly clocked a bus with it’s windscreen smashed and bloodied and a cordened off area of the road where whoever’s blood it had been had clearly landed.
It was ghoulish but that’s life. Accidents happen. People get hurt and people die. It’s worth taking a moment to be thankful to be walking past that scene rather than a player in it.
A few days later, I found out the details of what had happened. It was a Saturday afternoon, some teenage lad had been nicking CDs from HMV and had been spotted by a security guard. The lad had sprinted out of the shop, pursued by the guard and had run blindly into the busy road, across 3 lanes of traffic, finally meeting his grisly end by running infront of a speed-limit-adhering bus that couldn’t possibly have seen him coming.
What a pathetic and tragic waste of life. Not the kid. I couldn’t care less that he died. There are people in this world who contribute to making it a better place and there are people who just exist within it. Those whose existence actually makes the world a worse place (and this is in no way a class issue – I’d be positively elated if any of the executives from Trafigura had a similar, if not more painful demise) deserve no sympathy.
The thought I couldn’t keep out of my head is how his final act had been a cacophony of selfishness. I couldn’t care less about a multinational like HMV having stock stolen from them (although that in no way exonerates anyone who steals anything) , the waste of life I’m thinking about and where my sympathy absolutely, painfully, lay was with the security guard and the bus driver. However you look at it, and although no blame could or was apportioned them, one of them had chased a boy to his death, the other had killed him. The burden of guilt that would put on any human being must be unimaginable. Throw in the youth of the victim, the pettiness of the crime he was running from and the violence of his death. Any decent person in either of their positions wouldn’t be able to just close themselves off to that. I bet it still haunts them even a decade later.
Can you imagine being in that position? Just going about your business, doing your job, the way you’d been trained, within all the parameters of legal and moral right and then suddenly, indelibly, having someone’s blood on your hands?
I felt it important to start this post with that story. The following is something I’ve wanted to write about for a while but have been trying to find an angle to convey my feelings without sounding petty or – worse – like Jeremy Clarkson. What I’m about to say is not grounded in the smugness of being a driver or the sense of self-entitlement to the roads (which I pay my road tax for, etc, etc) and especially not allying myself with the pathetically trite ‘anti-hippy’ sentiment. But it is something I very strongly feel.
I hate cyclists.
I really, really do. This isn’t to say I find them a ‘nuisance’ or find their promotion of the healthy/environmentally sound lifestyle smug, this is to say they need to be regulated. They are a danger to themselves and others.
I’m not anti-cycling and I’m certainly not against them as people, I’m just against them conceptually. I don’t understand how it can be a good idea when you have roads full of big, fast, solid automobiles, that unlicensed, unregulated, unprotected human beings on flimsy wheels can be allowed to just dance about between them. You’d never see a motorcyclist without at least a helmet, if not – almost always – a full set of protective leathers, meaning that if the worst happened, their head is well protected and their body should be spared at least the friction and gravel scars of making contact with the road, if not the broken bones.
One of our regular customers came off his bike on High Street a few days ago, he came away with a broken arm, collarbone and nasty gash on his head. A head injury. That means his head made contact with the road, so the only thing stopping him from having his brains smashed out was, presumably, the speed he was travelling. I see bikes going very fast around here.
On my drive down Cowley Road this morning, I counted 26 cyclists. Only four of them were wearing helmets – and I’m going to discount one of them because he was TEXTING on his phone – whilst cycling at a pretty good clip.
3 out of 26 is little more than 10%. And it’s not like the other 22 were foolhardy teenagers, it was a completely broad mix of age ranges and socio-economic backgrounds. Male pensioners, middle aged women, academics, chavs, none of them in helmets. Meaning that if one of them makes one bad split second choice, even if I’m driving at the new speed limit of 20, they could still end up through my windscreen, under my wheels or bouncing off my bonnet and smashing their heads open right outside the new health centre. To be entirely selfish – that’s not fair on me! I’m doing nothing wrong. I shouldn’t be put in that position. It is entirely avoidable by either seperating the bikes from the cars or making it completely illegal to ride without (at least) a helmet.
“But the bikes ARE separated from the cars!” I (don’t actually but would if they were here) hear the Oxonians cry. “There are special bike lanes THROUGHOUT the city”. Yes, there are. But there is no enforcement of them. They are merely an option for cyclists who are just as likely to opt to use the road or – incredibly – the pavement. I really believe that pedestrians should be given the right to push pavement cyclists back onto the road as violently as they see fit. The amount of times in this city I’ve been clipped or whipped past by a bike on the pavement is amazing.
So, they’re a hazard to drivers, a risk to pedestrians and an absolute danger to themselves – but it’s somehow OK? I just can’t process it. If a cyclist knocks over a pedestrian, there is no way of identifying them – no licence plate, there are also apparently no enforced laws about the physical state of the bike itself. You can be driving a brakeless, loose-wheeled death trap that could cause a pile-up but nobody is looking out for that. As the nights get darker, we will once again see the rise of our old friend The Phantom Cyclist. No lights, nothing reflective, just bombing around at high speeds, waiting to kill a pedestrian or be knocked flying by a car who might never even know that he’d just left them bleeding to death in the road. I make a point of shouting ‘GET SOME FUCKING LIGHTS’ at these people. But I shouldn’t have to.
I don’t understand how this form of transport is so completely unregulated. I know the police are overstretched but I can’t help feeling the efforts that are gone to in this country to ensure that cars aren’t parked for a second longer than paid for on public streets… I don’t want to be the guy who whinges about speed cameras…. and rightfully getting untaxed/un MOT’d cars off the road could be even slightly diverted towards our two-wheeled friends.
To risk sounding Clarkson-y, The fact is that drivers DO pay road tax, also if you talk to any driver you’ll find that they also end up paying a bunch of parking and congestions fees throughout the year and the occasional speeding fine too. We also legally have to have INSURANCE and an MOT and be clearly displaying our numberplate.
I can see the arguments for not taxing cyclists – it encourages healthiness and cuts down on emissions – but I can’t understand why they don’t have to have insurance, why they are not regulated by licence plates (or are licence plates solely there to profit from speed cameras?), why they are not legally required to stick to bike lanes or wear protective gear or have lights?
As someone who considers himself a safe and considerate driver and never wants to be involved with a road fatality, I ask this very sincerely.