Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Cyclist vs Driver

Last nights local Inside Out program had a section on the long running debate between cyclists and car drivers in Cambridge - available here on iPlayer for about a week, from about 1 minute in.

It uses cameras to compare the view of a cyclist, in this case Jim Chisholm, liaison officer of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign, and a delivery driver. There is lots of footage of cycling around Cambridge, and there are a fair few clips of other cyclists and drivers that that leave you feeling scared for the participants (mostly for the cyclists).

Overall the report seemed fair on both sides, but if anything I would say it exaggerates the extent to which there are problems - it is a small percentage of cyclists and drivers that give each side a bad name, and the extent of problems can be overstated.

But that doesn't mean there aren't problems. I have the advantage of being both a cyclist and a driver - I drive around 4,000 miles a year, and probably cycle around 1,500 miles. This gives a good insight into both points of view in Cambridge.

Car drivers, in theory at least, need to be formally trained and their costs are significantly higher - this can lead some drivers to assume they have a greater right to use the roads in Cambridge than cyclists. They don't, and sometimes (e.g. following a cyclist who is taking a perfectly reasonable position in the middle of a road), they need to just relax. But sitting inside a comfortable vehicle, many drivers simply fail to appreciate the risks that they are exposing more vulnerable road users to - in how much room they give cyclists when following them or overtaking, how fast they travel or when manoeuvring at junctions. A mindset change from a small number of drivers would solve a lot of problems.

Cyclists on the other hand can just get on a bike and ride off - no training, no insurance, no tax (and quite right too!) - but they also run a much greater risk of being injured in any collision with a car. And in this context, there is clearly a problem with a significant minority of cyclists. There are simple steps that all cyclists could take to be safer - assuming that they must stop at red lights, always using bike lights at night, not cycling whilst on the phone or whilst drunk. But to significantly improve cyclist safety, I think it would take some less obvious solutions. I am frequently in a hurry as a cyclist, and end up taking manoeuvres that if not outright dangerous, with hindsight could be called aggressive - in the same way there is a concept of defensive driving, there are definitely times when my safety would benefit from 'defensive cycling'.

The debate between cyclists and drivers in Cambridge has been going on for decades, and doubtless will go on for decades more. But as someone who does both, I don't think the importance of cycling to Cambridge can be overstated - and both cyclists and car drivers should welcome ever greater take up of cycling. If every cyclist in Cambridge gave up cycling, the results would be disastrous - Cambridge would grind to a halt and cease to function as a City. I don't think cycling is going to be that crucial in saving the planet from climate change, but if every car driver was to take up cycling in Cambridge, if only for some journeys, the roads would be less congested, people would be fitter and healthier, and journeys would be faster and safer for everyone. Which is why I usually, if not always, err on the side of the cyclist in these debates.


Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that they left the faces of rule-breaking cyclists visible but blurred the number plates of rule-breaking drivers' cars.

Chris Howell said...

I thought that at the time as well...