For a while, a few years ago, I was quite taken with running, and trotted regularly along the canal near our house. Every time I ran, I would meet numbers of commuting cyclists. Since the towpath was narrow, I would step off to let them past. They never said thank you; most of them wouldn't even make eye-contact. After a few weeks, my runs began to fill with murderous fantasies about sideswiping cyclists into the canal and, on bad days, holding them down.
My point is, I know the anger that rude, lawless cyclists can arouse - in fact, being a cyclist means that I get even crosser: the narcissism of minor difference combines with outrage that these people are making the rest of us look bad. Then again, as a cyclist, I've been on the receiving end of some pretty unforgivable behaviour from motorists (who, after all, are in a position to kill you), not to mention a fair amount of stupidity from pedestrians. But I've come to realise that most of the time, the frictions that too frequently arise between cyclists and the rest of the populace aren't anybody's fault; the underlying problem is that in this country we don't have proper rules for cycling.
This isn't a simple matter of the legal position, though a quick flip through the Highway Code makes it clear that whoever drew up our traffic regulations had no idea what it's like to cycle in a city (have you ever tried using, or seen anyone else use, the prescribed signal for "I intend to slow down or stop"?). No, the trouble is that we don't know the rules of precedence, the manners. By and large, motorists know when they're being rude to each other, not that it stops them, but they haven't got a clue how to behave around cyclists, and many, perhaps most cyclists don't know how to behave around cars or pedestrians. What looks like bad manners or aggression is really confusion, on both sides.
More and more people are turning to cycling. In the long term, the anti-bike culture on our roads will surely fade away, but in the short term it is likely to get worse. If cyclists are going to stay alive, we need better traffic regulations and improvements in road design. Until then, we can do two things on our own account.
First, be better cyclists - read a good cycling book, or go to www.cycletraining.co.uk. And second, start making eye contact.