Julia Stephenson: The Green Goddess

'Cyclists aren't perfect, but they're no worse than motorists chatting on mobiles'
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The Independent Online

I was able to cycle to Craig the amazing osteopath in record time last week because half the Fulham Road had been penned off by the police. The usually frantic thoroughfare had been transformed into a motorist-free oasis.

On the way out I asked the receptionist why the road was blocked off. She told me that a cyclist had been involved in a serious road accident with a lorry. Not the sort of thing that you want to hear if you're a pedal pusher.

In recent years the public's perception of cyclists has changed. They used to be considered bean-crunching harmless souls but are now regarded as a menace to society. Cyclists daily incur the wrath of the public and many in the media.

These days, anti-cycling fanatics vent so much rage towards cyclists they appear to have none left for Stalin or Hitler, let alone any of today's brutal dictators. Take the usually mild-mannered actor Nigel Havers, for example, who recently wrote a violent diatribe in the Daily Mail, in which he described cyclists as "Lycra-clad maniacs", before going on to say how he longed to "jam between the spokes of their wheels and bring them to a deservedly painful halt".

The cyclist who died last week was no Lycra-clad maniac. Her name was Victoria Buchanan, and she was on her way to work at Chelsea Football Club when her bike was in collision with a lorry at the traffic lights. She was 28 and had just got engaged. The reality is that cyclists do not kill anyone. British motorists, however, were responsible for the deaths of 3,500 people last year through carelessness, tiredness, bad luck, misjudgement etc, and yet this is taken for granted.

Are cyclists hated because they are somehow perceived as smug? Do they make motorists feel guilty? The reason I sold my car and became a cyclist was primarily out of a desire to escape from the hassle of owning a car in central London. Cutting down on my carbon emissions was a happy by-product.

Cyclists are like anyone else - and they aren't perfect. They're certainly no worse than the average sandwich-eating-mobile-phone-chatting car driver. They inch ahead at red lights in order to get a head start and avoid being mangled by revving SUV drivers and terrifying white van men in their rush to overtake; the desire to stay alive is a powerful instinct. And, as for stopping at zebra crossings, when I'm in pedestrian mode I've no problem with waiting for a minute for a bus full of passengers or a few cyclists to pass before crossing. I know how exhausting it is to be pedalling uphill then be forced to stop for one able-bodied person who expects priority even if there is no one for miles behind me.

Cyclists are an easy target in more ways than one. Let's give them a break.