Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Opinion: Cycle Rage

I submitted this article to the Argus as an opinion piece to follow up on my Cycle Injuries story. The Argus demurred, inviting Adam Trimingham to comment instead. Here's my point of view:

Cyclists are a target of road rage in Brighton. I know, because I was on the receiving end of a bit of rage the other day as I cycled home. In my opinion, the conflict is due to unclear council policy, at least in part.

Reader comments on my article "Cycle Injuries" (Argus, story below) reveal the anger that people are feeling about road use in Brighton.

The issue of cycle injuries is a growing and important one. The council is asking cyclists to be responsible citizens, and cycle to work and school, to reduce traffic and improve their health. If more cyclists are on the roads, motorists find their traditional rights are reduced. Conflict between motorists and cyclists is bound to increase, as more people are encouraged to cycle. There is a natural tendency to anger when these groups compete for the same road space.

My experience of anti-cyclist road rage happened as I cycled home on Friday, 4 December 2009, at one pm in the afternoon. The weather was fine, and road conditions good. I cycled down the Old Steine, onto the roundabout opposite the Brighton Pier. A transit style van lurched forward out of Madeira Drive, seeming to aim at a cyclist on the roundabout ahead of me. At first I thought the van had lurched in error, but I was astonished to see the driver of the van yelling at the cyclist, apparently aware of what he was doing. The cyclist seemed not to notice and continued cycling around the round about. I looked at the van driver as I cycled past. The driver, now stopped, turned his attention toward me, pulling his finger up at me, and yelling through the glass of his cab. I was shocked, since I had the right of way. Why the fury, I thought? Now I thought he had deliberately lurched forward. This all took place in the second or so that it took me to cycle past the front of the van. I pulled my bike onto the pavement just past the intersection with Madeira Drive, and stared at the driver, who continued gesticulating at me aggressively. As soon as he could, he pulled out and then stopped next to me.
He was in a rage and shouted through his window: 'Why are you not on the cycle track?"
He kept repeating this, leaning forward aggressively and shouting, while I attempted to explain that there is no cycle track around the round about, and that in any event I had a right to be on the road.
I told him that he seemed very angry, and then he lurched toward me, inside his cab, with a grim expression and bulging eyes.
I thought he wanted to attack me, so I said: "I'm just trying to find out why you are so angry, mate."
That seemed to calm him down slightly. But he continued shouting without pause, now asking me where my cycle helmet was, saying: "You are supposed to be wearing a cycle helmet, cyclists take no interest in their own safety, you are supposed to wear a florescent jacket."
Well, that's not a requirement for daytime cycling, but he was angry so I said nothing.
The rant went on. He said aggressively: "You take no interest in your own safety. Do you?"
Then he started repeating, "Do you?" each time more angrily, until I said, "I can see no point in continuing with this conversation."
He indicated his satisfaction with a grunt of dismissive words. He drove off. I was shocked. Too late, I looked for his licence number, but he was gone in the traffic.

I wondered whether to report this since I did not have a license number. I thought, if he is like this on Friday afternoon, what is he like on Saturday night? He may be a danger, and at least needs to be talked to, if not asked to take a rest from driving. So I made a police report. I phoned Sussex Police, and found that there is a website where all incidents of antisocial driving (and presumably, antisocial cycling) can be reported. I made my report, and copy the address here:

If we intend to promote cycling, we must by necessity reduce the road space and priority given to motorists. If Brighton and Hove intends to be a "Cycling City", the council needs to explain what they are doing, using publicity, so that motorists understand. They may not agree, but at least they will understand that the council is intentionally giving more space to cyclists, and it is not the wicked cyclists who are stealing the traditional right to be “king of the road” from the motorist.

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