James Daley: The Cycling Column

I will go on breaking this extreme law
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Indy Lifestyle Online

The last couple of weeks have been a true eye-opener. I'd always believed that cyclists were generally mild-mannered, sensible folk who - even if they did not agree with each other - would stick together in the fight against the motorist. How wrong I was.

After espousing the merits of red-light jumping in this column two weeks ago, I had expected to generate an irate response from motorists (who I had set out to rile). Yet while my inbox did indeed begin to fill with hate mail during the following few days - every piece of correspondence, without exception, was from fellow cyclists.

Within 24 hours of my column being published, I received an e-mail directing me to a cycling website where dozens more biking enthusiasts were laying into my column. "Missing a few brain cells", "Idiot", "Nutter", "Sad" - just a few of the charming comments directed at me. Not to forget my favourite, "Is he the Clarkson of cycling journalism?"

While many objected to the fact that cyclists like me, who red-light jump (or RLJ, as the people on this website call it), give the rest of the community a bad name, it was not these I took great issue with. Instead, it was the dozens of self-righteous bores, who kept banging on about how the law is the law, and "Have I ever heard of a document called the Highway Code?".

I do not think the law is there for everyone else and not for me. However, I do think it can be unnecessarily draconian.

Have you ever broken the speed limit, stopped on a double-red line or smoked marijuana? All of these are illegal in Britain, but you won't get arrested for smoking a joint, and you often won't get pulled over if you're a few miles an hour over the speed limit. On the whole, the police busy themselves enforcing the spirit of the law, not the letter.

When it comes to "RLJing", the law has been laid down to stop accidents, but it is a little inconsistent. A cyclist jumping a red light is safer than a pedestrian doing the same - yet one is against the law and the other isn't.

To my mind, the spirit of the law says that cyclists should give way at red traffic lights. If the road is clear, and there is no danger, then there is no harm done by crossing.

I'm horrified that Ken Livingstone is thinking of putting number plates on cyclists in London, so that the law can be enforced to the letter. What a waste of time and money. Yes, the number of cycling accidents are increasing in London, but so too is the number of cyclists. Where's the evidence that cyclists have become a menace? At least we're not ruining the environment.

Which brings me nicely to my next point. Although I probably received more hate mail than compliments, there were a couple of supportive correspondents who came up with some sensible ideas to redress the balance between motorists and cyclists.

My favourite was that all city cyclists should keep a bundle of bumper stickers with them, carrying the catchphrase: "Please do not endanger the cyclist - you're already endangering the environment". These, my correspondent suggested, could be slapped on the windows and bumpers of offending vehicles.

Other e-mailers rightly pointed out that those who get irate about "bad" cyclists giving the rest of the community a bad name, should remember that the die was cast a long time ago. Most motorists already believe that all people on bikes are irresponsible idiots - even the law-abiding ones. So why not - at the very least - stick up for yourself when someone tries to shove you off the road? I'd rather be alive and stupid, than dead and proud.

j.daley@independent.co.uk

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