It's not a war
by charlieeliseAug 2nd 2012
Something funny happened on the way to the gym this morning. I was heading to Picadilly from Mile End and was really enjoying the journey. I had just pumped my tyres and the air was cool, and after the heat of the day before, it felt great. I got to Aldgate East and there were a lot of large vehicles around. It was about 6.35am. I like the roads before 7am. Except today. I was on the Cycle Superhighway 2 and there was a guy on a white mountain bike in front. Headphones in. One of my pet hates.
He was travelling down the cycle lane alongside a lorry. Now I realise undertaking is illegal but I think there is a mass belief that on a cycle lane, it's a separate lane. It doesn't make it right but we have to accept it happens. Just as motor vehicles are supposed to be on the road, not the cycle path, but there they are. All the time.
As he progressed I noticed the lorry was closing in on him, forcing him closer and closer to the pavement. I was behind the lorry and looked for hazards on the right to explain the drifting but there were none. The cyclist ahead meanwhile was forced, inevitably, into the kerb and crashed. He fell onto the pavement as the lorry rumbled past. My first thought was that he was lucky he hadn't been dragged under the wheels as is so common in these situations - and it sounds like this is exactly what had happened the night before to Dan Harris, who was struck by an Olympic media bus and pronounced dead at the scene. My second thought was that I'd better start braking as I was getting a bit close to his bike which was half in the road.
The man seemed unhurt, but shaken, and he moved his bike. Without really thinking about it I carried on past him as the lights turned red up in front. The lorry had stopped for the traffic lights. The cab was very high up and I watched my hand reach up and smack the side of the passenger door.
I shouted "You just knocked a guy off his bike back there!" but he'd already seen me. I saw the cab lurch as the driver started jumping about, screaming at us - I say us - another cyclist had seen what happened and had stopped and the mountain bike and it's owner were now also standing next to me.
I had genuinely assumed this was an accident caused by stupidly or lack of awareness. But it turned out not. The driver, as I understand it, sees himself as some kind of Sherrif, hoping to rid the wild East of London of cyclists. He purposely drove dangerously in order, he bellowed down from his cab, to 'Teach him a lesson'. Never mind that this very situation is how people are killed. The other witness was questioning the driver as to whether he wanted to go to jail. I got my phone out and took a few pictures. I have a choice one of his numberplate. The driver screamed at me to put the camera away. He shouted something about how 'You lot are taking over the road'. The lights went green. I waved him off.
I had thought that might be it but no. The screaming driver had an equally irate colleague in a matching lorry who stopped and held up the traffic to shout at us. He yelled at us to look at the stickers on the back of the lorry which read 'Cyclists: Beware of passing this vehicle on the inside'. We told him he shouldn't be on the cycle lane and pointed out the blue paint. And the driver could hardly claim the cyclist was in his blind spot when he'd already admitted to knocking him off on purpose.
What did I expect when I smacked on the door? Abuse. Definitely. But although I maintain cycling safely is the best way to get around the City, I face abuse, shouted comments, agressive driving, gawping and straightforward perving on, I'd say, a weekly basis. And that's the truth.
There are bad drivers and bad cyclists. I'm not perfect, and we all make bad decisions sometimes. I don't take risks, I am cautious, and I don't jump red lights.
Afterwards I thought to myself, "What would Doug have done?" Doug is a consultant who is passionate about many things including consumer rights and to me, a bit of a cycling guru because he used to timetrial. I suspect Doug might have screamed less and been a lot more clever about the whole thing. And he might not have sworn like a docker. I will try to channel that next time this happens. Sadly I know it will happen again.
Ultimately I'm looking for us all to work together to share the road, not create a war. But some people seem to be hell-bent on making it so. Over the past week I've been nudged by a taxi at red lights which broke my rear mudguard, been shouted at by a man in a Jag who thought I was going too slowly around a wet slipperly corner (either way, he'd have got wherever he was going quicker if he hadn't stopped to have a go), openly perved at by a young lad in a building van, which I did not enjoy, and had a full blown screaming match with two lorry drivers. I maintain I did not provoke any of these situations, although I admit this morning I didn't manage to ride on by after someone was knocked over in front of me.
And to these warmongers I do not say 'Bring it on!' I say, grow up. This is not a war, not a race and no one wins. Some people lose, and the price is very high. Dan Harris lived in London. He worked in community management. He was a cyclist. He wore a helmet. He was 28. I didn't know him but we moved in the same circles and on paper our lives are so similar: and he lost his last night under a bus. I feel deeply sorry for his family and friends. My family and friends have exhorted me to be careful. I will be. I am. But it would be better if we could come together and all look out for each other, not attack each other on the streets.