Sunday, 29 January 2012

Why some people get angry with cyclists: and why it's time to do something about it

“What was the problem back there?” I asked the motorist who had sat behind my bike honking her horn. She said I’d been blocking the road. On a four-lane road, I pointed out, a cyclist riding a car door’s width from parked cars wasn't much of an obstruction. I also had as good a right as she to use the road. “You don’t pay road tax,” she answered. Roads were funded from general taxation, rather than a specific tax, I retorted – and, I added, no respectable transport economist believes motoring taxes cover all the costs of motoring pollution and other damage. As a higher-rate income tax payer, I was subsidising her driving. She changed tack. “F*** off back to Scotland,” she said – except that she didn’t use the stars.

A double provocation to the Angry Woman of Camberwell:
me, with my bike and still in England. While I am normally invisible,
sharp-eyed readers will spot me towards the centre of the bridge.
It would be tempting to describe my partner in this impromptu Socratic dialogue as typical of motorists in general – but unfair. There are, of course, many considerate, thoughtful motorists – it could hardly be otherwise in a decent, democratic country where cars account for the vast majority of personal journeys. But I have had enough ecounters with angry motorists – and read enough angry commentary from those exasperated with cyclists’ perceived shortcomings – to think that a sizeable minority share her feelings. I’ve seen no evidence attitudes elsewhere in the world are significantly different - and a fair amount that they’re much the same.

The woman’s mentioning of my ethnicity was suggestive. Cycling may be only a personal transport choice – but her attitude towards me as a cyclist seemed of a piece with her casual racism. Her comment about my going “back” also illustrated the dangers of jumping to conclusions about someone based on limited information. I was, despite my accent, born in west London. Even if one accepted the dubious idea that only Londoners should be in London, I probably had at least as strong a claim on citizenship of the Capital as the Angry Woman of Camberwell.

But the nature of some people’s feelings about cyclists is clear from what they write about us. In December 2007, Matthew Parris wrote in The Times that life in his village would be better if someone strung piano wire across the country lanes to decapitate passing cyclists. Cyclists, he said, were responsible for the litter found in local hedgerows because the litter was at cyclist, rather than runner, height. I’ve been trying ever since to work out how different a cyclist’s height is from a runner’s. Around the same time, a column in the Guardian – for which I can’t now find a precise reference – complained about cyclists in general and in particular their “pompous little plastic helmets”.

In September 2009, meanwhile, James Martin – a TV chef –wrote a car review for the Mail on Sunday of an electric sportscar. Having mentioned in the piece his irritation at the number of cyclists riding on the roads in his area, he wrote about how he had seen two cyclists ahead of him when driving the silent car. He had, he wrote, deliberately accelerated as he passed them - then honked the horn.

"The look of sheer terror as they tottered into the hedge was the best thing I've ever seen in my rear-view mirror,” he wrote.

Matthew Parris’s column, the Guardian piece, James Martin’s car review and Camberwell Motorist all seem to express an anger out of all proportions to the anger’s stated motive. I had delayed the woman by milliseconds from reaching the end of a traffic jam. Even if cyclists had been littering in Matthew Parris’s hedgerows, it’s hard to see death is a reasonable punishment. Helmets are no more capable of pomposity than any other inanimate object – the columnist who imagined it was expressing only his own rage. James Martin seemed content to describe himself committing a crime against cyclists for no other reason than that they were there and vulnerable.

Thousands of cyclists at the 2009 London SkyRide:
decapitating them all would be messy -
but, according to Matthew Parris, fair
Parris and Martin subsequently half-apologised by saying their columns had been meant as jokes. What comfort one is meant to draw from the idea that Matthew Parris thinks it amusing to imagine cyclists being decapitated remains a mystery to me, however. I still wonder which other crimes against fellow citizens the conservative, bourgeois Mail on Sunday would have regarded it as a joke for one of its columnists to describe.

Such anti-cyclist anger reminds me in many ways of the feelings about gypsies that I would hear expressed when in lived in central Europe. In Hungary, people would tell me they disliked gypsies because they were lazy and dishonest. In Romania, some gypsy groups were unpopular because they were more successful than most Romanians, and built large, vulgar houses to show it. The truth was that gypsies – like, I would suggest, cyclists - were unpopular principally for being different.

Humans seem to feel a rage against those who get away with things they long to do – with the gypsies for seeming carefree and unconcerned about bourgeois norms, with gay men who flaunt their feminine side, with cyclists for skipping ahead of them to the front of the traffic queue. It would be wrong to claim that cyclists – mostly, in London, articulate, middle-class men - face anything like the problems that the perpetually victimised gypsies or blacks or gays face. But I think the instincts have a similar genesis.

None of this of course would matter much either if the sentiments expressed produced no real world consequences or if anything were being done to tackle the prejudices. Yet there are real-world consequences – and significant reluctance to tackle them.

Days after Matthew Parris’s Times column, I was cycling out of Hyde Park across Knightsbridge one Saturday, heading towards home. Seeing me heading towards a cycle-only section of road, a young man on the pavement aimed a punch at me. He then guffawed with his friends at how his gesture made me wobble. I met Ken Livingstone, the then mayor of London, a few days later when he announced plans for what is now the London Cycle Hire Scheme. I recounted my story and asked the mayor how he planned to stop such – fairly common – behaviour from putting new cyclists off. He brushed it aside. “Well, I’ve often felt like punching a journalist myself,” he droned, before launching into the story of a constituent who, in his days as a member of parliament, had been seriously injured when knocked down by a cyclist. Cyclists, he seemed to imply – against all the evidence – were the real menace.

As long as veteran left-wingers like London’s former mayor continue to make common cause with the worst parts of the right-wing press and the least reflective motorists on cyclists’ rights, cycling in London – and many other parts of the developed world – will remain an activity for the determined few. When it becomes as unthinkable to joke about cyclists deserving death as it rightly is about any other group, tempers on the roads might less easily get frayed.

52 comments:

  1. In The Netherlands (aka Holland) cyclists are given an enormous amount of respect by fellow road users who are prepared to go slow behind a group of cyclists riding abreast. This is mainly because most Dutch drivers are also cyclists, or their family members are often on a bike. We need to get more people onto bicycles to end the prejudice currently seen in the UK.

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    1. And the way to resolve this is to get children cycling (as they all do in Holland) and the way to do that is build proper infrastructure so children can get safely to either a school or a centre where they can learn. The take-up of off and on-road cycling training for years 5,6 and 7 which is on offer is very low as the children cannot get to the place of training to start with. I also advocate at least a session of cycling for anyone taking a driving test as there are now whole generations of young people who have never been on a bike let alone walk much

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  2. I'm not a cyclist on a regular basis, but have been in the past, but my current modes of transport are classic cars or my motorbike, both of which place me at the bottom of the highway food-chain admittedly slightly above cyclist, but far below buses, lorries and distracted car drivers. I've wondered about why I feel so victimized on the road and have come to the conclusion that is is because the other road users are so cocooned in their vehicles where as I (much like cyclists) are in closer touch with the road and the shared environment. Once solution to this problem I would like to see is new cars becoming less comfortable, and maybe even less safe. That way, travelling at speed would feel like travelling at speed, therefore giving the user more respect for the road and also their fellow road users.

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  3. FYI - VED is rated against emissions - zero emissions is zero tax. http://www.nextgreencar.com/roadtax.php - So as a cyclist you DO pay, but you pay a zero rate.

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    1. IIRC, VED only applies to motor-vehicles. So there are two reasons why cyclist don't pay VED.

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    2. Anonymous and Amoeba - the point is that VED is a tax, part of which goes to maintaining the roads - and anybody who earns money enough to pay tax pays for the roads - and people who cycle disproportionately pay for damage which they do not cause. In fact it has been ridiculous that some cars are VED free - all cars cause damage to the roads and cause business damaging congestion. What is required is a Public Broadcasting advert which explains exactly what it is.

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  4. What bothers me about cyclists is that they expect to be treated like vehicles when it suits them and then like pedestrians when that is more convenient for them.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. I think you missed out the "some" here, and that it would more appropriately read "What bothers me about some cyclists is that ...."

      If you'd written that, you'll find that most people commenting on this site will agree with you; I certainly would.

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    3. Richard C,

      Thanks for your comment. A "some" might have helped with the comment - but I'm still not sure what good it does anyone. I remarked below when Anonymous at 1pm made his original comment that it didn't seem unreasonable for a human-powered mode of transport that went faster than pedestrians but slower than cars (on the open road) to be treated in some circumstances more like pedestrians and in others more like motorists. There are, for example, quite a few mixed-used paths in the UK for pedestrians and cyclists - and motorways where cyclists are banned. Do we have to choose to be either pedestrians and constantly ploughing down the sidewalks or always motorists and risking it on the motorways?

      The comment seemed to me when it was made and remains now an example of the kind of excuse people invent to get angry with cyclists. Cyclists harm hardly any other road users. Anonymous at 1pm would, in my view, have been better off directing his anger at drivers speeding, driving while distracted or doing any of the myriad other things that actually harm people.

      Invisible.

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  5. I go out cycling regularly with a local cycling club and it does amaze me that motorists often get vey irritated when they are delayed by more than 30 milliseconds. It also strikes me somewhat daft for motorists to shout abuse at groups of very fit (mainly) males - if it ever came to fisticuffs I know who I would put my money on. The other interesting fact is that most cyclists do also drive (how do you think they get to races and sportives), so they do indeed pay road tax.

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  6. Anonymous at 1pm - thank you so much for that. I'd been thinking to myself that this blog wouldn't really be serving a purpose until it started getting negative comments from non-cyclists. As long as it was just talking to cyclists, it wasn't really doing its job.
    Meanwhile, you've surely hit the nail on the head. What could be more unreasonable than for a light, human-powered vehicle that has elements in common with pedestrians and elements in common with other road vehicles than to be sometimes treated like a road vehicle and sometimes like a pedestrian?

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  7. Your agile machine, by weight, is mainly flesh and brain, while the lumbering, overpowered, clumsy machines around you are mainly steel and are piloted by cell phone distracted hungover clerks with anger management issues. Their only immediate emotional outlet is to scream incoherently as they slam their fists against the steering wheel (seen it many times myself) or, alternatively, to direct their rage at anything that moves, preferably something that looks smaller and easy to squish. Their frantic, darting rage-vision settles on you, then is frustrated as you dance lithely in and out of their creeping, carbon monoxide-enhanced traffic jam. I am completely in favor of anything that could be done to decrease their rage and to correct their errors and misconceptions about cyclists. I contribute to several organizations which slowly, slowly try to do so. But also, I own my own reactions to the anger and rage of others, and I find, particularly while commuting on my my bicycle in traffic, reacting with patience, tolerance, curiosity, and compassion is the best course. If I chuck my u-lock at them with one hand and give them the finger with the other, well, the anger cycle just continues, and we all have a bad day. I smile and wave. A lot.

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    1. Great observations and suggestions. As cyclists we should strive to be positive and helpful. It's difficult to avoid anger when your life has been threatened -- I should know -- but in the end we have to culture positive vibes in motorists. So: I ride way out in the lane and avoid the door zone but if I am going to hold someone up for more than 20 seconds (e.g., while passing parked vehicles), I will either sprint to 25 mph or pull over and wave drivers past. A few seconds seems like an eternity to a motorist. At the same time, we have a right to be on the road: ride as if you mean it, without apology.

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    2. xchopp,

      Thank you for your comment - and, John Romeo Alpha, thank you for the comment to which xchopp replied. A couple of weeks ago, I published a post (which you may have already read) trying to unpick what kind of atmosphere cyclists should be trying to create on the roads and how best to behave to create it.
      If you haven't read it already, it's here: http://invisiblevisibleman.blogspot.com/2012/02/why-no-man-is-island-even-in-his-car.html . I'd be fascinating to hear your comments on whether you think the post is making the right kinds of suggestions.
      All the best,
      Invisible.

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  8. As both a motorist and a cyclist it seems that a lot of behaviour of road users (on bikes and in cars) is an extension of their personality, but with those cocooned in their cars having their personality bizarrely magnified. As a motorist I have come across a fair few agressive and discourtious car drivers who seem to feel the road is for their use alone. I'm sure these are the same individuals who hurl abuse at cyclists. Living in Hampshire rather than London, I'm sure that less competition for space on the roads leads to less agression; however driving on semi-rural roads with little street lighting I do curse cyclists who cycle at night without adequate lights or high visibilty clothing - but again, as a cyclist myself, I realise that this has more to do with the laissez-faire attitude of the individual on the bike, rather a problem endemic in all cyclists.

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  9. I think it would help if there were some rules/laws set up for cycles, which motorists also understood - eg, cyclists must stop at red lights, but if the way is clear, they can go again before the lights turn green, in order to gain distance from cars. I often do stupid things as a cyclist, and I don't mind it when drivers put me in my place, but I find it maddening when they get outraged without realising that I'm, say, on a marked cycle route -- not just trundling the wrong way down a one-way road.

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  10. Cyclists make drivers work harder. Driving with other cars on the road is something that requires minimal attention. Vehicles are large, with large flashing lights and established behavior that makes it easy to predict what they are going to do next.

    Driving with cyclists is much more difficult. Because they are moving slowly, you come upon them more quickly and need to react faster. Because they only occupy a partial lane, it is always a judgment call whether there is room to pass them or not without changing lanes. This is made more difficult because (i) cyclists are much more likely to swerve unpredictably to dodge a pothole; (ii) cyclists are smaller and have smaller flashing lights, making them harder to see; (iii) cyclists are much more likely than cars to unpredictable things like jump on or off the sidewalk, turn unexpectedly, run red lights or stop signs, etc.. Add to this the fact that you often have to pass a cyclist several times, because they keep catching up to you at red lights. Add that the consequences of gently hitting a cyclist are much more serious than gently hitting another vehicle.

    I drive and ride a bike in Boston. There is no question that cyclists make driving more stressful. Driving is already unpleasant for most people so they aren't in good moods to begin with. It's not bad cyclist behavior that's the root of the problem, but the inevitable problem that it is much more challenging to drive around cyclists than it is to drive around cars.

    While this doesn't justify the reprehensible behavior described in this article, I think this is a better explanation of its source than the fact that cyclists are different. I don't see pedestrians yelling at cyclists (except when cyclists ride past in seeming dangerous ways), nor do I see people getting angry at cyclists when they need to stop for the cyclists at crosswalks, for example, even when the cyclists are wearing silly cycling clothes and clearly forcing the cars to stop at the crosswalk.

    I predict that if roads are designed so cyclists and cars don't need to share the same busiest lanes, altercations and anti-cycling attitude would diminish radically.

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    1. Not to worry, as anyone who is quick to get angry/stressed is more likely to end in an early grave, another downside to driving, think I'll stick to cycling.

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    2. Interesting blog, I came here from your post over on The Guardian website here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/bike-blog/2013/may/21/twitter-hit-and-run-boast-road-tax#comment-23761737

      In any case, I agreewith pn's post.

      I also find it interesting to consider why it is that some motorists become so disproportionately angry at cyclists. My main form of transport is bike, I cycle most days to and from work (a short, 15 minute cycle through the centre of Bristol). I also drive 3 or 4 times a week for the weekly shop and to meetings that are a bit further afield.

      I'm not totally convinced by the argument that anger at cyclists is "a rage against those who get away with things they long to do". I think that's part of it .. but the thing is - I find myself getting instinctively frustrated with cyclists when I'm driving sometimes - and I'm a cyclist! I understand how it feels to cycle, and that there's no point rushing to overtake because I'll end up sat at traffic lights in any case. I should be totally calm about it, but I'm not.

      I've also seen this in friends - for example, my girlfriend, a normally (well ...) reasonable and considerate person, who will become quite angry at slow-moving cyclists, at which point I have to remind her that they've every right to be on the road, feel vulnerable, no point rushing, etc, etc.

      I think pn's point about stress hits the nail on the head.

      The reason I'm unhappy to encounter a cyclist when I'm driving, is because it makes the experience of driving more of a hassle. Instead of just waltzing around keeping half an eye open for big cars lit up like Christmas trees, you suddenly have to; slow down (worrying about the car behind you getting frustrated at you and beeping their horn), carefully manoeuvre your big car about the fragile fleshy cyclist, worrying about them wobbling, etc... Consequently, you find yourself seeing a cyclist and thinking, "oh sh!t, a bloody cylist..." not because the cyclist is doing anything wrong, but because they mean driving is suddenly more of a chore.

      A bit like getting angry at seeing a caravan ahead when driving a country road.

      It only takes a little bit of bad habit, egging on from your peers, or just a lack of introspection, to go from thinking "ahh, bloody cyclist", to "bloody cyclists, they're a menace".

      this doesn't justify the thinking at all, of course, but I think it's a good explanation for how otherwise reasonable people can end up being so unreasonable towards cyclists.

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  11. pn, thanks for your comment. But, as you'll see, I do refer specifically to bad pedestrian behaviour (the guy who tried to knock me off). That wasn't motivated by anything other than dislike. It happens pretty regularly in London (I get an incident roughly every six months). I'd be surprised if it were different elsewhere.

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    1. Invisible, you make a fair comment here but I think pn has a valid point too. as a driver and a cyclist, I see both sides and agree that cyclists make driving more stressful. because I'm a decent human being, I try not to let this get to me but you can see how this would make angry/frustrated/uncaring people crack. it's not an excuse but it's definitely part of the problem.

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  12. I read this a few days ago, and this just splashed up on my Twitter feed ten minutes ago:

    http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/public/cyclesafety/contact/

    Thought you might like it. I found your blog through an earlier Twitter link, although I confess I don't actually cycle, largely in part due to the risks to life, limb and blood pressure that bad drivers pose to you poor gits. I feel like I'm missing out, truth be told.

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  13. I try to be as polite and considerate as I can to cyclists. I understand that they have as much right to space on the road as any other road users. If you're using a route which you know from experience to see a high level of cycle traffic, maybe you should factor extra time into your journey? And if driving along country lanes with blind corners on a sunny day, don't drive like a lunatic, as you're likely to find more cyclists around. I know that this summer will see the Olympic road race around Surrey and into London, so I'm expecting journey times to be longer in my local area, not just during the events, but with teams training beforehand and others taking the same route afterwards. All I need to do is to plan for my journey to take a little longer. And just one plea to annoyed cyclists: not all drivers are monsters. Give some credit to the considerate ones....

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  14. Andrew Fereday, you're the second avowed non-cyclist to comment on this blog and I must say I'm rather touched by the calm, considerate tone of your comments. On behalf of south-east England's cyclists, thank you. And, if you know Anonymous at 1pm above, please give him some sound advice.
    You'll notice that I'm careful in whatever I've written in my three posts so far to talk about "some motorists", "some pedestrians" and so on when talking about the people that annoy me. It's precisely the idea that motorists are one, homogenous group, pedestrians another and cyclists another that I oppose.
    So I do recognise that there are many considerate motorists (and pedestrians) out there. I try to say, 'Thank you' to considerate pedestrians and give a cheery wave to kind motorists.
    The problem is that one naturally notices more the interactions with the inconsiderate, because they're more alarming.

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  15. "I’ve seen no evidence attitudes elsewhere in the world are significantly different"

    Attitudes are significantly different in countries with a mass cycling culture - for instance the Netherlands and Denmark.

    It's very difficult to be prejudiced against 'cyclists' as a group if nearly everyone you know happens to use a bicycle on a fairly regular basis.

    Great blog btw.

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  16. Yes I agree with mark, a great blog and a worth while read. This whole campaign of cyclist versus motorist has brought up some very interesting articles. I'll probably be bringing up nothing new when I say that it personalities that make up whether you are a good driver or cyclist. There are plenty of bad in all cases and this I can't see ever changing.

    Must say and agree with an earlier comment that attitudes towards cyclists would change connsiderably if they had all experience in cycling on the roads themselves. I know when I drive I'm probably over cautious when passing cyclists and know that I couldn't live with myself if I hit one.

    Like the road tax argument too. But the Zero emissions means zero payment is the best one yet, wonder how long it'll be before I get to use it?

    Jez

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  17. "with gay men for flouting their feminine side". Do you mean flaunt rather than flout? And if you do, do you mean by being effeminate in speech, manner or dress? And if so, perhaps you mean 'some' gay men rather then just 'gay men'? My apologies if I have misunderstood but stereotyping is not going to help your cause; just the opposite. Spotting a gay man, or a gay male cyclist, is not like spotting a toupee. Some gay men keep their feminine side better hidden than your average straight blogger.

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    1. Dear Wiganwill,
      Thank you for your comment. You're quite right about the flaunt, which I've changed. I've changed the gay man point, meanwhile, to read "with gay men who flaunt their feminine side". I'm sorry if it read like stereotyping. I think the blog has gone out of its way to try to avoid that. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to find ways of writing about the prejudices that some people have (which I try hard not to share) without causing some offence in describing them. The point of the passage is to try to explain the inarticulate rage that some people feel about those who are different and why they feel it. I'm sorry if I've given offence in the course of doing that.
      Invisible Visible Man.

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  18. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  19. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    1. Danial,
      Thank you for your kind words. I have, as it happens, just put up a new blogpost here: http://invisiblevisibleman.blogspot.com/2012/02/why-no-man-is-island-even-in-his-car.html . I hope you enjoy it.
      Invisible.

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    2. Wow, you're even polite to a spammer ! Impressive. LOL

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    3. ...and a spammer who provides a 'paper' writing service yet displays an ignorance of good grammar.

      Huey.

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    4. Anonymous,

      Apologies - I thought I'd deleted that bit of spam. It's gone now.

      Invisible.

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  20. Thanks for this, good read. I wonder if there is also a sense in which some motorists feel 'got at' by cyclists, because they know there are all sorts of reasons why cycling is better than driving - health and the environment especially - so seeing a cyclist is an accusation? The language certainly suggests that some motorists believe that cyclists see themselves as morally superior to drivers, there's a bit of the 'so you think you are better than me for cycling, I'll show you!' about it.

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    1. David,

      Thanks for your comment. I do think motorists feel "got at" by cyclists. The moral superiority thing might be part of it. The "pompous little plastic helmets" comment was certainly in that vein.

      But, as I expounded in another recent post, I think some motorists feel rights that are naturally theirs to have the roads to themselves are being eroded. You can see that post here: http://invisiblevisibleman.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/bikes-can-be-hard-to-overtake.html

      All the best,

      Invisible.

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  21. I've read a few of your blog posts and your comment on the guardian website and I would like to thank you for a well thought out and enjoyable blog.
    I regualarly cycle in Northern Ireland between my town and Belfast. However I do this with headphones on ( Big cans!) and on the footpath. I'm fortunate to have few walkers on my route but will always be courteous and give way to them. Also, I believe my awareness is heightened with headphones on. This is because I have to rely on my eyes rather than the multitude of confusing sounds that surrond my on my cycle. It also means I pay special attention when passing streets.
    However, I can appriciate that this mode of cycling would be difficult in a busy city such as London or busy towns.

    The reason I cycle on the footpath is that I don't believe I could trust 100% of drivers on the road. Now in saying that, people in my area are generally very courteous and good drivers but it only takes one bad, unaware driver to cause a serious accident and that is a risk that I will not accept.

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  22. The word you are looking for is 'motorism' - by analogy with racism and sexism (and homphobism ?). Interestingly it first hit the Web as fully-fledged "institutional motorism", by council/highway planning departments ! Of course, 'motorist' has been used for ages in a non-pejorative sense, so someone has given it a capital 'M'.
    http://waronthemotorist.wordpress.com/2010/11/04/what-is-a-motorist/
    Perhaps we should say 'motorism-ist' ?

    To spell out the analogy, macho males are believed to resent homosexuals, because they cannot easily rank them in a 'pecking-order' - they are not entered in the same competition for a mate. Similarly, motorists can't compare cc's, bhp, mph, or 0-60s with a cyclist.

    http://btawa.org.au/2012/03/26/motoristcyclists-conflicts/
    "To a driver, cocooned by their cars various risk reducing devices, this visible vulnerability requires them to exercise particular caution, which is resented."
    In a strange way, they may actually be afraid of hurting us. Motorists that kill find it hard to come to terms with, after the event - is it unlikely that they dread the possibility in advance ?

    There is a vicious circle that tends towards "I drive a tank, so I can't see where I'm going - so everyone should drive a tank". There may be a twinge of guilt for making oneself safer at the expense of everyone else. Also for participating in an activity that kills thousands, resenting those that don't.

    'Blaming the victim' is just a way of denying their own individual and collective guilt. Irresponsible.

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  23. There's a strong argument about the level of training (or lack of) that enables people to get on a bike to ride on road. There are not that many psychopaths out to kill cyclists but when someone shows little to zero awareness to what is going on around them, fails to look back or signal and swerves into dangerous positions, I imagine it's a scary feeling being the one behind the wheel and nearly harming someone, which, quickly turns to anger. On top of that when you try and reason or question their actions all you get is an unreasonable volley of abuse. I know many experienced cyclists also have this view or their less skilled/experienced brethren.

    Another issue is the view that red lights are optional. In my mind there is no safety issue, as most of us can cross a road safely irrespective of what colour the little man is, however, you get some cyclists that feel it is totally their right to keep going through the red whether pedestrians are crossing or not. This has led to the unacceptable situation where pedestrians that have the green man, hence the legal right of way are petrified to cross because they're half expecting someone to come flying through. I always raise the point that if you, as a cyclist had a green light on a junction and a motorised vehicle went through a red and found it's way into your path....

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    1. Multi Grooves,

      Thank you very much for your comment - but I'm not sure any rationalisation explains this phenomenon. I hadn't in any way scared the woman I mention at the top of this story. She just didn't want to share the road with me. Nor does any rationalisation explain why some people want to overtake even cyclists going faster than they are ( as described at http://invisiblevisibleman.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/bikes-can-be-hard-to-overtake.html). I agree wholeheartedly that cyclists should follow the road rules, if only because they have so much to gain from an improved road culture (http://invisiblevisibleman.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/why-no-man-is-island-even-in-his-car.html). But we need to remember that, in Great Britain from 2008 to 2010, collisions with cyclists killed six pedestrians, 0.08 per cent of all road deaths. I also point out in another post (http://invisiblevisibleman.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/it-may-be-fun-but-is-cycling-part-of.html) that research shows motorists are responsible for around three-quarters of cyclist-motorist serious accidents. Other research has put the figure higher.
      So it doesn't make much sense to rationalise hatred of cyclists - it comes deep from within many people's souls. I feel that particularly strongly because, every now and again, I get someone rushing out into the road to try to knock me off. That's utterly irrational - but fits perfectly into the explanation I've given, I think.

      All the best,

      Invisible.

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  24. Great blog that I have just discovered. Allow me to contribute. Actually my thought is that the serious psychology at play here is even more deep rooted than people think but is surprisingly simple.
    Motorists (and of course I mean some - for the purposes of readability I will generalise for all groups) don't just hate cyclists, they hate everybody when they are in a car! They particularly hate other motorists who get in their way, slow them down, take their parking spot etc. The isolation and "freedom" of the motoring dream is directly at odds with the reality.

    How many people do you see picking their nose in their car; something they would not dream of doing at a restaurant table or in the busy street, even though they are just as Invisible visible through those glass windows!?

    However they cannot bully other motorists the same way without risk of damage and reprisal. Cyclists however are seen as an easy target. I think what is at play on our city streets is a primeval bullying and cyclists just happen to be literally softer targets. Add in the difference, freedom, joy and simplicity of getting around by bike and you have a legitimate target of agression.

    We have not evolved enough to be allowed to drive...

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    1. Rhode,

      Thank you so much for your comment - and your kind words.

      You make some excellent points and there is an element of bullying, I think. But your explanation doesn't cover one phenomenon that really does sum up the strange, visceral hatred some people seem to feel for cyclists. I've occasionally had pedestrians rush out into the street to try to knock me off. They generally seem drunk, on something else or very, very immature. But it does happen - and I think people's strange anger at cyclists explains it. You may well have a better theory, however.

      Invisible.

      Delete
  25. Excellent analysis of the irrational, out-of-proportion anger and hatred that cyclists face. It's interesting to note that it's actually poor road designs and widespread antagonism towards cyclists that encourage us to increase our 'otherness' (with cycle specific clothing, high-vis, body armour etc), thereby reinforcing our difference and progressively stripping us of what we as road users - be it cyclists or motorists - all have in common, our humanity. And once someone is not quite viewed as belonging to the same human race, it is of course perfectly acceptable to direct abuse at them or even to endanger their lives.

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  27. I had an experience with a group of youths who made what I considered a very menacing move towards me.
    I was approaching a tee junction via the 'stem', and about a dozen youths were walking along the 'top' of the tee and had started to cross ahead of me. They spotted me (presumably, my very bright headlight), changed direction, fanned-out, blocking the entire road and as a group began to approach me.
    I was riding my recumbent which made the obvious manoeuvre of turning-round to escape quite impossible. The road was too narrow for a U-turn and they were too close for me to stop and turn round. So I dropped several gears and accelerated hard directly towards the biggest 'clump' of youths and luckily the bluff worked. They were surprised, scattered and I did not hang around to find out if they were just drunk or as I believe, out to cause trouble.

    I have found that the recumbent seems to bring-out the worst in some people, (I've had a telephone directory thrown at me in an unprovoked incident). Being different and eye-catching, it attracts attention and comment, some of it is most definitely not welcome.

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    1. Amoeba,

      I have often wondered what it's like riding a recumbent in a city - and had the idea that it might attract even more of the nonsense than an ordinary bicycle. I've had eggs and a bottle thrown at me (the eggs hit; the bottle missed). I've also had a few menacing gangs of yoofs. One lot had some rather unfriendly dogs. People have some very creepy instincts,

      Invisible.

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  28. I've had people point, and kids regularly shout 'cool bike mister', but no extra aggression.

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  29. sadly you are 100% correct. one of the almost hidden truths in your piece was the fact that you then obviously caught up with her. 99.9% of motorists in a hurry are hurrying towards a set of lights, a traffic jam etc. they are desperately frustrated by all this and look for easy targets.
    One of my retorts, now my commute is 90% rural is to point out that i never hear anyone moan about getting held up by a tractor - which are far more difficult for the car to pass. I think in a primitive way respect is given 'cos the thing could mince the car, whereas it is vice versa for the poor old cyclist.

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    1. Doug,

      Thank you for your kind words. It's true that the woman was heading towards a traffic jam - a long traffic jam - that formed at that point every morning. If one were wanting to be fair - which I'm obviously not - the traffic jam wasn't visible at the point where she noised me up. But I easily filtered up the outside of the jam to where she was. I probably got where I was going long before she got where she was going.

      Since writing the post, I've moved from London to New York and I actually had a similar - but potentially more dangerous - experience on W54 Street two mornings ago. A car sat on my tail leaning on his horn as I negotiated a stretch where there was no room for passing. When I changed my line slightly, he squeezed past - to get to the red lights. When I caught up with him, I told him he could have killed me (which he could have). "I still can," he replied, in yet another indication that people don't see other road users as fully-fledged human beings.

      Invisible.

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  30. Hi Invisible Man,

    I agree with you that motorists can be aggressive towards cyclists. I have been knocked off my bicycle a couple of times in Cambridge and have had a particularly aggressive coach driver shout at me for cycling as close to the pavement as I could. I have been teaching my 8 year old daughter the 'rules of the road' for the last 10 months and I have to say that there is a significant minority of cyclists in Cambridge who have complete disregard for pedestrians. I have not noticed this in any other British cities. By the way I have two bikes and I will choose cycling over walking in this town as when you are a pedestrian in generally involves having to avoid cyclists on the pavement. Please come and see for yourself if you don't believe me. I have actually got to the point where I am going to start carrying a video camera with an infra red light around to record the number idiots on bicycles in Cambridge. I like that fact that sociologists have studied the behaviour of the minority of cyclists and that they are not aware that it is illegal to cycle of the pavement, cycle the wrong way up a one way street, cycle in the dark without lights - come on, give me a break please. It is down to laziness, impatience and lack of respect for other people. I agree that a cyclist is unlikely to kill a pedestrian, although I do have a friend who suffered head injuries after being knocked down by a cyclist, but the roads here in Cambridge are not dangerous, there are plenty of cycle lanes on many of the roads and mixed cycle/pedestrian paths. It is about having respect for pedestrians or even motorists and other cyclists. Unfortunately in society at the moment a lot of people have learnt that they can take advantage of situations by doing something illegal. There seems to be a lack of courtesy and impatience, and a need for instant gratification, which unfortunately permeates into all sections of society.

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    1. Dear Mr Durward,

      I've been to Cambridge on a number of occasions, although as I've moved since writing the post on which you commented to the United States, Cambridge Cambridgeshire is a bit of a long trip for me.

      It's disproportionately safe for pedestrians to be around cyclists - cyclists in the UK kill far fewer people than would be expected given their share of the traffic. I'm not aware that Cambridge in any way bucks that trend. I do know that around 6 per cent of incidents in the UK where a car hits a pedestrian happen when the pedestrian's on the pavement, so a high level of pavement cycling still poses far less danger to you than cars careering onto the pavement where you're walking.

      It's certainly inconsiderate to ride on the pavement where it's not allowed and I don't do it. But it's not a serious public safety issue - and in no way justifies the hostility towards cyclists that many of us experience.

      All the best,

      Invisible.

      Delete

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