Walking my kids to school, we pause at the traffic lights at the foot of our road until the green man appears. Stepping out into the road, I notice a fast moving object in my peripheral vision. Just in time, I realize that the cyclist who’s just gone through the red light with a little kid perched on his top tube has no intention of stopping so I pull my daughter out of harm’s way and warn a mum with a buggy who’s about to step into his path. I shout at him as he cycles past. He ignores me.
Nearer the school, there are cyclists emerging from the park (in which cycling is forbidden) with their kids. They cycle along the pavement towards the school until it gets too congested, sometimes waiting for gaps before passing pedestrians, sometimes pinging their bells to get past.
Along the seafront in Brighton, the cycle lane runs alongside the pavement, past various tourist attractions that are regularly teeming with people from out of town: the pier, the big wheel, the sightseeing bus stops, and numerous access points to the beach. At regular intervals there are give way signs where pedestrians are supposed to be able to safely cross from the town to the beach. It’s a system that relies on cooperation between cyclists and pedestrians and yet some cyclists barrel along, never stopping where they are supposed to; shouting abuse at people who stray into the bike lane. When I stop at a give way point (and I don’t always – see below), pedestrians stare incredulously and then thank me suspiciously as they tentatively cross, as though half expecting me to cackle evilly and plough into them.
Cycling back through the town, past the busy central shopping area, I pause at the red lights. A middle-aged bloke dressed like a teenager goes past on his BMX, half-exposed arse hanging over the back wheel and a phone clamped to his ear as he weaves through pedestrians.
For a week or so, when they were building the jubilee stage opposite Buckingham Palace and erecting the banks of seating, The Mall was closed and, because the way through had been narrowed so much by the construction work, cyclists were required to walk or find another route. I walk that way every morning to get to work and I saw numerous cyclists pedal past the crystal-clear ‘please dismount’ signs and slalom through the crowds of walking workers.
When they were asked to get off their bikes and walk through like everyone else, some did so, but others argued with the stewards, saying asinine things like “I’ve got a job to get to you know”, while others just kept cycling. I saw one ignoring a motorbike cop who’d told him to dismount. Bad idea.
Even after the road was reopened I saw loads of people cycling along the path on the eastern edge of Green Park, past the permanent ‘no cycling’ signs, cutting through narrow gaps between pedestrians and fence on the loose gravel. At a tight gateway used by many to cut through from the park towards Pall Mall, a cyclist barges to the front of the queue, shoving his Boris bike through the gate, forcing those coming the other way to wait while he inexpertly manhandles it in the narrow gap.
Every day I see red lights jumped, pavements mounted, pedestrians harassed, horses spooked, by-laws flouted…I see cyclists texting, phoning, abusing… For some reason it’s doing my head in now more than ever before. Perhaps it’s an age thing.
I suppose I’ve been pretty inconsiderate myself at times over the years, with little regard for anything except my own swift progress. Back in the day I rather enjoyed breaking the rules every now and then and feeling like a bit of an outlaw. I still like darting in and out of traffic, I still cross the odd red light when there’s no one around, and I still use the occasional pavement when it’s safer.
I know that makes me a hypocrite. I know some of the rules are daft. I know some pedestrians are a pain in the arse. I know some motorists are careless to the point of recklessness. I know some road systems have been designed as though to deliberately endanger cyclists. I know there are situations where it’s safer to break the rules than to observe them.
I know all these things, but still I say we have to do better as a breed or we run the risk of fuelling the lunatic anti-cyclist frothings of pondlife like Jeremy Clarkson. And if that’s not incentive enough to obey the rules, then truly we are lost forever.