Considerate Cycling

I have just read a Guardian blog about conflict in Toronto between different road-using factions. It’s pretty alarming. Read it here The author wrote something that really made me sit up and squeak. The passage was:

I would argue that cyclists who behave carelessly are either consciously or unconsciously responding to an equally careless attitude to cycling at a municipal level.

Now that’s a point of view that could be  supported with a variety of evidence and logic. It’s not wrong in itself.  But it does fly right across the experiences I have had in the last two months in the city I have just moved to. Bristol is a lovely place. It has cycle lanes all over the city with cycle paths shooting out of town in all directions. Temple Meads Railway Station has a huge cycle parking area on the main platform and everywhere I look there are good Sheffield cycle racks. I have already seen several  very good bike shops and have used one and got excellent service (Fred Baker Cycles in Cheltenham Road) . There are advance stop lines and generous lead in paths at a lot of junctions. And so on.

However, the level of consideration for other road and footpath users and the degree of adherence to traffic regulations by Bristol cyclists are every bit as bad as the provision for their bikes is good.  Things aren’t nightmarishly bad, but the provision is nowhere near perfect either.

In defence of my conclusion I have spent several sessions watching from a window at a major junction on Cheltenham Road, and have done quite lot of walking around Clifton and the City Centre. Routine events include:

  • Cycling on footpaths, often at speed and without making allowances for pedestrians in close proximity or for the possibility of people emerging from shops or houses.
  • Sudden changes of direction – road to path to road, for example
  • Cutting corners at junctions by mounting the pavement
  • Cycling across zebra crossings alongside and in between pedestrians.
  • Ignoring red lights in busy traffic.
  • Weaving in and out of pedestrians in shopping areas.
  • Cyclists going down steep hill in busy streets at speeds that would make stopping impossible.
  • Cyclists using shared paths at reckless speeds and ignoring the keep left rule of the road with other cyclists.
  • Cyclists manoeuvring without first checking behind.

In one case an older woman at a bus stop was brushed by a middle aged woman on a bicycle who still didn’t dismount, but wobbled off to threaten others.

This sort of behaviour seems to go way beyond anomic shrugging at the ineptitude of the civic authorities. It isn’t matched by Bristol’s car, bus lorry, or van drivers either – I have seen lots of courtesy and consideration from these. Stopping for zebra crossings, for example, is almost embarrassing in its religious observance: I saw two lines of traffic in Gloucester Road waiting patiently for one young man to finish his mobile phone conversation before he crossed.

The lack of consideration for others seems to me to be simply a habit acquired from imitating others – it’s like the Bristol accent or this year’s haircuts. It’s just taken-for-granted and anyone who spoke out or stopped anyone would simply cause annoyance or amazement. The cyclist concerned would never have thought that their own personal journey through the city touched anyone but themselves. They are doing what they believe is safe (for themselves) and what is convenient and pleasurable (for themselves).

Pedestrians who are startled by a sudden and unexpected rush of wind, parents with push chairs trying to cross a road safely, motorists waiting patiently for an approaching bike who suddenly turns left without indicating, infirm or partially sighted people coming out of a shop into bright light and sudden confrontation, daydreamers who have chosen the safety of a pedestrian controlled crossing – only to be awakened by a bike doing 20mph in their path: all these people deserve a little consideration I think. I’m not going to start a campaign or harass anyone about it. But I will try to cycle as I preach, knowing that roads and traffic are very complex these days and that mistakes are not difficult to make.


6 thoughts on “Considerate Cycling

  1. As I understand it, “Cycling across zebra crossings alongside and in between pedestrians” isn’t actually against the law, as long as cyclists give way to pedestrians. For larger vehicles, giving way means stopping while they cross because they can’t fit and are large and intimidating, but that’s less so for cycles. If done badly, it may be inconsiderate but often not banned.

  2. An interesting point. It raises the question of what “banned” means in practice. I guess that “freedom” is the underlying state of being in a free country. We do as we please, but others have a right or a duty to complain or intervene when our actions seem to have contravened an established law or maybe just offended them. We might say “x is illegal” but what we mean is that in some cases x could lead to a complaint or even a prosecution that could (but might not) result in a conviction.
    My personal view is that in the present era simply simply riding across a Zebra while pedestrians are using it upsets both me and lots of others, so I don’t do it.

    1. There are two problems with that: firstly, pedestrians don’t understand what zebras are or how they work and even the Highway Code (which many pedestrians don’t know) is unhelpfully vague on it (“Wait until traffic has stopped from both directions” but doesn’t mention that you don’t have right of way until you’re on it) because there would probably be an uprising if people realised how weak they are; and secondly, an increasing number of cycleways encourage/expect people to ride across zebras, although I don’t remember any in Bristol itself.

  3. Thanks Sam and MJ. One example I know of in Bristol. The raised zebra crossing on Wade Street at corner with River Street, on the cycle and pedestrian route from Cabot Circus towards Eastville along by the Frome, is extra wide and encourages bicycles to use the crossing.

  4. Thanks to both of you for contributing here. That crossing on Wade Street is one I pass regularly Jon. It leads me towards those even more splendid bicycle priority crossings beside/under the M32 (see ) and on to family who live in the area.

    I was shocked to re-read the blog itself – three years old now and a very telling indication of how my perceptions and attitudes have changed since I moved to Bristol from Leeds. The liberal instinct of Bristol people is part of the equation here. On arrival I obviously found the general pattern of cycling to be pretty anarchic – I have gradually discovered that the same holds in most aspects of the City’s culture and I have adjusted accordingly. I notice the foibles of cyclists less often, and have come to focus on the waywardness of those who pose the greater threats – driving motor vehicles or building poor infrastructure.

    One current anxiety is focused on the remodelling of the approaches to Clifton Suspension Bridge (North Somerset and Bristol or just Bristol?). Badly surfaced and way-too-narrow cycle lanes either side of the bridge have been repainted instead of being removed and the elegant alternative I suggested at the consultation stage failed to impress.

    What has happened over the three years of living here is that I have stopped trying to lecture fellow cyclists (giving advice is never welcome) and shifted towards trying to influence those with a bit more power (drivers of vehicles and politicians) to take the Rawlesian road of considering the welfare of the least well-placed as a route to a better society. For example would you want your children to walk unaccompanied to the shops along this road? Just how many hazards are there for the unwary or the frail?

    1. No, Clifton is an area that feels abandoned by authority and anything goes. I don’t feel particularly safe walking there because you feel like a van is going to drive onto the footway at any time. It’s slightly better by bike because I feel I could get out of the way. I’d expect the usual “the police say it’s parking enforcement that the council should do, the council say it’s highway obstruction that the police should handle” game of pass-the-buck. At least I think the Highways Agency wouldn’t be involved, unlike another place I’ve had problems.

      As far as I know, the Bristol/North Somerset border is under the south/west side of the bridge, between the cycleway (Bristol) and railway (North Somerset) under it, so a plague on both their houses for not acting on your suggested improvement! 😉

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