Cycling is in the news due to several deaths in London. As someone who has cycled quite a lot in and around London (although very little in Central London) I have a few suggestions.
1. Don’t panic. Yes, cyclists have died and that is a tragedy for the families involved. But the number of deaths has remained fairly constant, even with an increasing number of cyclists on the road (see this document for details). And more pedestrians die than cyclists (where is the uproar about that?)
2. Get involved. Cycling may be no more unsafe than in the past but we still compare badly to other countries, even if our own government ministers try to bend this obvious truth (of course Norman Baker is an utter berk, just read his poorly researched conspiracy theory about the death of David Kelly). And pressure from the public may make a difference. Space for Cycling are targeting the upcoming local elections, which seems like a good idea.
Another obvious target for pressure is Boris Johnson. Boris seems to want to be a friend to motorists and to cyclists, which is a noble plan but is doomed to failure. Cars and bikes do not mix, so anything that is going to improve life for cyclists will almost certainly make life worse for cars. So Boris, which side are you on?
3. Help yourself. Here are some things I do when I’m riding my bike
- Find a route that you are comfortable with. One of the weird things about the cycling super highways is they encourage cyclists on to major arterial roads. Generally I try to avoid main roads as much as possible, since they are a pretty unpleasant experience. If you’re commuting to the same location day after day and you don’t feel safe on the route you’re using, then find an alternative. This is is where a smart phone comes in really useful. You can nip down some unfamiliar roads to see if the route is better and if you get lost, you can find your way using the phone’s maps. If the route is better, your phone should be recording where you went.
- Wear a helmet. I’m still surprised when I see a cyclist without a helmet, or even more bizarrely a child with a helmet sharing a bike with a parent without a helmet. It might not help if you get dragged under a lorry, but it will certainly help for less serious accidents.
- Don’t jump red lights. I have to admit I don’t always stick to this, but there are many junctions where you would have to be insane to ignore the lights.
- Assume every driver is an idiot. Most drivers are sensible but there are still plenty who will do daft things, like turning at a junction without indicating, or pulling out right in front of you.
- Don’t undertake lorries. Undertaking in general is not a great idea, but undertaking lorries is an even worse idea since they likely won’t be able to see you at all.