I write this as a road user who happens to ride a bike.
When I ride my bike, people shout at me. They yell at me to get out of the way. They swear at me and say, ‘Get on the pavement!’, and when I do that, pedestrians moan that I should be on the road. Drivers pass too close, or try to intimidate me by revving fast behind. Sometimes they throw things at me; I once had a can of coke levelled at my head. Sometimes I get spat at. Sometimes people actually get out of their vehicle and square up to me. All of these things are really horrible and actually quite frightening, and are done for no other reason than that I chose to ride a bike.
Most drivers don’t think I have a right to use the road because they think I didn’t pay for it. Of course I did – roads are funded through general taxation, so I pay for the roads because I pay tax. And you’re wrong about the roads being created for cars: it was the bicycle lobby that led to our current network of roads, which has, in the grand scheme of things, only recently been dominated by the motor car. This sense of entitlement by drivers means that almost daily I am subjected to intimidating behaviour. It’s exhausting being hated just because I ride a bike.
It’s exhausting because riding a bike should be seen as a positive thing. It’s good for my health, and my pocket, and my spirits. I am not contributing to congestion or pollution. In countries where there are large numbers of cyclists, there is better air quality, less burden on health services, safer roads, less congestion and happier people.
I agree that we need more safe, segregated, good-quality cycle lanes. But until that happens, I will continue to share the roads with motor vehicles.
There are loads of cyclists who ride dangerously. Yes, it’s annoying. But no road user is perfect. Because for every cyclist who jumps the lights, there is a driver on their phone. For every rider weaving through traffic, there’s a motorist that pulls out in front of you. For every bicycle on the pavement, there is a car speeding. You see, we are all guilty of using the roads badly, every single one of us, no matter what we ride. I could argue that motorists transgressing is far more dangerous than cyclists doing it, and the statistics back that up. But I’m not here to try and excuse poor cycling by listing everyone else’s transgressions. What I am here to say is, when you go on national TV ranting about cyclists, it perpetuates the view that we’re all a bunch of thoughtless, irresponsible law-breakers. It means that people feel more justified in their views. It means that when I next get on my bike, I’m more likely to be on the receiving end of someone else’s anger. And not only does that anger have a negative impact on me as a person who’s just trying to get where they’re going, not only is it unfair, annoying, dangerous and deeply depressing, it could also endanger my life.