We were talking about this over supper the other night (a delicious meal all home grown and home cooked by our lovely neighbours). We were mulling over why it is that a very aggressive and negative image of cycling seems to prevail in our home city (and elsewhere). I was talking about cyclists and walkers, and our host expressed the view that part of the problem is the language we use.
We talk about cyclists. We talk about walkers. We talk about car drivers. As if they were different species, or at the very least different people.
But of course, they’re not. Most of us who cycle are also walkers, most are also car drivers, are also buggy pushers, are also runners (and may also at times be people with limited mobility). And at each of those times we may be doing something different, but we are the same person.
So it makes no sense to talk about cyclists as if they’re a different group of people from walkers and different again from car drivers. These are false dichotomies, and we have to challenge them instead of accepting them, if we are to successfully challenge the status quo.
Yes I want to be able to cycle safely, and I want children to be able to cycle safely. I also want to be able to walk safely, I also want to be able to go for a pleasant stroll in the same places with my friend who uses a wheelchair. I want people to be able to walk safely with buggies and push chairs. Provision for the least flexible of these (wheelchair users) will be equally good for the most flexible (walkers).
The real danger to each of these groups is cars and other motorised vehicles. This is what we need protection from, and this is what must be addressed. Otherwise what happens is that the perceived danger to pedestrians (and others) is from cyclists, when in reality the actual danger to all is from cars, lorries and other motorised vehicles.
If you want to read more, here’s a brief but informative leaflet from RoSPA about cycling accident figures in the UK in 2013. It puts the relative dangers into perspective.
Of course, what is also needed is mutual respect and consideration from all to everyone else. I’ve had two accidents while cycling (other than the two caused by me and me alone, with only me being hurt): one was caused by a lorry squeezing me off a busy road (fortunately I only lost a tooth: a friend lost a leg in a similar accident; every year others lose their lives). The other was on the Kennet and Avon towpath, and was caused by a large group of elderly female walkers behaving as though the whole towpath was theirs and theirs alone.
Anecdotal I know, but I don’t as a result go around lambasting elderly female walkers as though they need to be carefully controlled and kept off the towpath. I simply think that those individuals had no understanding of how to share a shared space and behave with respect to other users.
Can we please now apply the same kind of thinking to cyclists who behave badly?
All the while we accede to the discourse based on an assumption that cyclists present a massive danger to pedestrians, we allow the danger posed by cars and lorries to all of us travelling actively to fade out of view.
Which is a shame, because it delays the time when we can achieve what has been happening for years and years just across the Channel. And that can only be good for all of us.
Or we can continue to have the same conversation, and just get more of this: