James Daley: The Cycling Column

I'm the cyclist who motorists love to hate
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Before I begin, I should probably offer an apology to the law-abiding and thoroughly sensible Robert Hanks - whose column I have hijacked while he is away on holiday, only to rubbish his conservative views about safety and cycling etiquette.

Unlike Robert, I am the cyclist who all motorists love to hate. I jump every red light that I can, use the pavement or wrong side of the road if I need to, and kick the side of cars that don't give me enough room. Oh yes - and I do all that while I'm listening to my iPod.

Yet regardless of how much hate I inspire on my 11-mile tack across town to work each day, I sincerely believe I'm one of the safest people on two (or even four) wheels in London.

I've been cycling the same route for more than two years. I know the sequences of every set of traffic lights which I cross, and which direction to look in as I approach them. And more than half of the lights that I jump are ones where there is a green man showing for pedestrians (to whom I am utterly considerate, of course). The others are those where there is a clear break in the traffic, and where I know I can get across without causing any kind of danger - to myself or anyone else on the road.

I know it's a well-rehearsed argument, but there's not a whole lot of difference between this sort of red-light jumping, and jay walking. A pedestrian, just like a cyclist, can be a menace if they dance about in the middle of a busy road. But if they cross when there's a break in the traffic - what's the problem?

I'm just about sick to death of the hatred towards cyclists which has built up over the past couple of years - especially in London. I was cut up by a car at Tower Bridge once, and when I stopped at the lights (sometimes you have to) and gave him a nasty look, he put his foot on the floor and tried to run me over. More recently, another driver started shouting obscenities at me simply because I was circling around in front of him waiting for the lights to change.

The idea that cyclists are some great danger on the roads is a myth. We frustrate drivers because they wish they could nip in and out of the traffic like we do. But if there's an accident - guess who's going to come off worse? It's not in our interests to ride recklessly.

Like most cyclists, I am always acutely aware of my vulnerability on the road (I don't believe for a second that the piece of polystyrene I wear on my head will make a whole lot of difference if I get hit by a car). As a result, I rely on eye-contact wherever I go, and if there is any chance that a driver has not seen me, and may be about to cut me up, or drive straight into me as I make a turn, then I stop.

Personally, I would prefer that there was a more comprehensive cycle network in every town in Britain - like there is in countries such as Denmark - which would keep bikes off the roads altogether. But in the absence of that, I see no reason why motorists should not be civil to the cyclists they share the road with, and appreciate that we are much more vulnerable.

No, we don't pay road tax - but we don't cause any wear and tear to the roads (or the environment) either.

I know that Robert would say that people like me give cyclists a bad name - but the hysteria about cyclists who jump red lights is generally unjustified. If you do it safely and quickly, then no one on the road is any the worse off. Yes, it technically constitutes a breach of the law, but as one astute columnist wrote in Time Out this week - if you're not vigilant enough to spot a policeman, then you shouldn't be jumping red lights in the first place.

j.daley@independent.co.uk

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