What do you think would be the greatest menace to cyclists riding around the roads of a busy city? Lorries, motorbikes, bendy buses, perhaps? Not in my experience. For me, arguably the biggest danger – and without doubt, the biggest irritation – are pedestrians, who, since the proliferation of the iPod, are more likely than any other moving object inadvertently to place themselves directly in my path while I'm cycling, forcing me either to brake suddenly or to swerve out into the traffic – both of which could end up in a nasty accident.
As a cyclist who rides around town with headphones on, I'm aware I may be leaving myself open to accusations of hypocrisy here – but you'll just have to take my word for it when I say that I take nothing for granted on the roads, even when I am listening to music. And, of course, I'm well aware that there are many pedestrians who – like I do – manage both to wear headphones and remain vigilant when crossing the street.
But since the propagation of digital music players, an increasing number of people walk around in a complete daze – stepping into cycle lanes, walking out from behind stationary vehicles and crossing roads without so much as a turn of the head, to check if something is coming.
I've no doubt my agitation is somewhat disproportionate. After all, I've not yet actually come off my bike as a result of an absent-minded walker. But what makes me so frustrated is that pedestrians don't seem to consider bicycles to be any great threat to them. While you'll often see people running across the road when they see a car coming, they often seem totally nonchalant when a bike is hurtling towards them.
But collisions between bikes and pedestrians can be fatal. Last year, for example, a teenager was killed in Buckingham when a cyclist crashed into her. By all accounts, the cyclist was at fault, and should certainly have slowed down, rather than simply shouting at the girl to get out of his way. Nevertheless, it shows the damage a bike can do in a collision with a pedestrian.
I understand that many cyclists are not very considerate on the roads, and that many pedestrians feel intimidated by cyclists who badger them off a crossing even when they've got a green man. I certainly don't condone this sort of behaviour. My golden rule of the road is that everyone should give way to whoever has priority at the time. That means cars not hassling pedestrians off a crossing just because the amber light has started to flash, and cyclists not jumping red lights if it's going to interfere with the flow of traffic.
But it also means that pedestrians need to look where they're going and pay a little more respect to cyclists. I just hope it doesn't take more fatal collisions for this message to start getting through.