The constant battle between motorists and cyclists.

All this debate about cycling and motoring (usually presented as a confrontation between the two) is getting tiresome. I’m a motorist and a cyclist too, like many people. I don’t commute to work on my bike, but I ride for leisure and have ridden competitively. I ride off-road a lot, but also quite often on the road too
If we’re going to get anywhere with this debate, I think we need to agree on a few key points:
1. Cycling is good, and should be encouraged. It’s good for the environment, good for congestion, and good for the health and fitness of the cyclist.
2. Cyclists are vulnerable. With just a lightweight helmet and clothing for protection, motorists need to be aware that what might be a minor accident for them, can mean death or serious injury to a cyclist.
3. Cycling is hard work. The shorter a cyclist’s journey can be, the better. Stopping and starting is also hard work. In a car at traffic lights, a green light means you lift the clutch and push on the throttle, on a bike, you get up out of the saddle, pump those legs, and exert a lot of energy in order to get up to speed.
If all motorists were properly aware of those facts, they might not be in such a hurry to condemn cyclists. I know it can be frustrating to drive behind a cyclist, waiting for space to pass, and it can be a surprise to see a bike weaving their way through a queue of slow traffic, and sometimes around junctions, you have to wait for a cyclist to get out of the way before you turn right or left, but that doesn’t mean the cyclist isn’t aware of this. Cycle paths are often terrible. I’ll often ride on the road instead of a cycle path, because cycle paths can be so difficult to navigate. Lowered kerbs (especially on a lightweight road bike), potholes, convoluted routes around traffic junctions, and the way they seem to suddenly end and reappear a few hundred yards down the road all mean that the actual road is often a better place to ride.

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Motorists and pedestrians alike seem to have a few regular things to say about cyclists:
“Cyclists don’t obey the highway code.”
Neither do motorists. Not all cyclists are angelic, considerate, and polite road users, but neither are motorists, and we don’t start every debate about driving with how many drivers exceed the speed limit, drive after a beer or two, drive recklessly or don’t pay attention. Why do it to cyclists?
Cyclists aren’t entirely without blame though. And I’m not *just* talking about the reckless, junction-skipping, red light jumping, no-lights or helmet ones. The cyclists that are too slow, too hesitant, and too timid are equally as bad. Be bold, obvious, and clear about your intentions, and you won’t have many problems with traffic. And don’t be an idiot.
“Cyclists jump red lights.”
I’ll admit to this. Partly because of item 3 above,  if it’s obviously clear and safe do so, I see no problem with a cyclist going through a red light, carefully and at an appropriate speed, bearing in mind that it’s their own welfare at risk.
“They ride the wrong way up one-way streets.”
One way streets and footpaths. I’ve cycled the wrong way up a one way street, when the alternative would be to add over 10 minutes to my journey – it’s no big deal to drive an extra half mile around a city centre to obey street regulations, but it’s a whole different matter on a bike. I’d only do it if it was clear, safe, and not busy, of course. This often applies to pedestrianised areas too. Of course, this wouldn’t be an issue if town planners took cyclists into account, but they so rarely do.
“If cyclists want to use the roads, they should pay road tax.”
We do. Most of us have cars too. And anyway, there’s no fiscal link between vehicle excise duty (road tax), and the roads themselves. Roads are funded by general taxation, so cyclists have paid just as much as motorists.
“Roads were built for cars, not bikes.”
Bikes were here before cars. Horses and carts before either.
“Motorists have to have insurance, so cyclists should too.”
Actually many of us do, through cycling clubs or as part of our other insurance policies. But this is a more complex issue than just insisting cyclists are insured. Cycling is cheap, and obliging cyclists to be insured would mean many either couldn’t afford it, wouldn’t bother, or would just go back to driving their car.
As a cyclist, I’d like to see better cycle routes, town planning that actually aids cyclists rather than hinders them, more encouragement for recreational and competitive cycling, and and better integration with public transport. If drivers could treat us with respect, that’d be great too. We need to encourage more people out on their bikes; if just 10% of motorists got out if their cars and into their bikes, imagine how much less congested the roads would be, how much healthier and happier we’d be as a nation, and we wouldn’t spending so much on petrol either.

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11 Replies to “The constant battle between motorists and cyclists.”

  1. RE: Cyclists jump red lights

    I do not do this (except as below), but I understand your point. The best thing the US ever gave to road usage was their rule about being able to turn right at red lights – it just makes sense if it is safe to do so. Sadly, we do not have any such rule.

    Traffic lights often work on current demands of the traffic that are decided upon by interpretting data from camera feeds at the junction. The problem is that these cameras do not detect cyclists!! I have a friend who writes the software for road management systems and is involved with designing junctions, etc. He freely admits this, which I have always suspected.

    So, when junctions of this type are free of motorists, they never change as a cyclist approaches – in such places, I will look behind me for a car as I approach, and if there isn’t one, push on through. One such example is on Canal Street at the junction for Castle Marina Retail Park in Nottingham… you can sit for ever at those lights at 4am, waiting for the next taxi to be detected by the camera! It is THIS that needs addressing, then you wouldn’t need to cycle through red lights, they will change as you arrive 🙂

    Cheers, G

  2. You are using the ROADS therefore you need to abide by the ROAD rules, by saying if by your judgement you deem it safe to go through a red light then what’s the difference between a cyclist saying that and a motorist? I too agree that this argument is becoming pathetic and desperately needs a solution, but your reasons to breaking road rules are not acceptable. The road rules and traffic lights are there for many reasons, to keep EVERYONE safe and to be followed AT ALL TIMES. Both pedestrians and motorists follow the road rules, so are cyclists any different?

    1. As G mentioned above, some traffic lights will never change to green if a cyclist is waiting, so there’s no other option but to go through on red.
      Additionally, on quiet country roads, in good conditions, with clear visibility in all directions, if it’s safe to go through on red rather than waiting, then why shouldn’t you? This applies to all road users in my opinion.

      1. I understand what you’re saying concerning roads similar to country roads, but what about those cyclists in the city who still don’t abide by the road rules, instead of breaking them maybe consult someone about fixing them or making them more cyclists friendly. Just because it doesn’t work for you, doesn’t give you the right to break the law, you are not only endangering yourself but others. Imagine if you were the motorist who had no chance to stop because a cyclist ran a red light because they thought it was safe? The mental damage done to that person can never be erased. Clearly you don’t realise the consequences of simply running a red light, have you ever looked into your (UK) road toll? In the past year cyclist deaths have risen by 7%, ever thought that this was due to not following the simplest road rules such as not running a red light?

  3. Clearly you’ve realised your errors…hope you now have consideration for others on the road and have stopped bending the law to suit yourself.

    1. Hmm, not quite! The rule for most cyclists in the uk is to get to where you want to be with the least danger to yourself and other road users, but not forgetting that you still want to get to where you want to be in a reasonable time. This may necessitate goin through a red light on junctions that don’t recognise cyclists, not using poorly designed cycle paths, or even going the wrong way along a one way street if the alternative route adds a mile or more to the journey, and it is safe to do so.

      If you disagree with this, I suggest you try cycling around the UK for a couple of days. It may change your mind.

  4. Seriously??? What is it going to take for you to realise? Do you need to kill someone or be killed? Its pathetic that you think you can justify breaking the law…once again…IT’S THERE FOR A REASON! let me know when you have had a close friend or family member taken away from you because of some idiots choice. My brother was taken away from my family after a cyclist made the judgement that it was safe to go through the red light. His defence was your reasoning…it makes me sick to think someone else will have to go through what my family did.

    1. One more thing.. Above I did agree that maybe not every road around the world is cyclist friendly, as I once was a cyclist but the solution isn’t to break the law and put others in something about it.

      1. I’m very sorry to hear that your brother was taken from you in such tragic circumstances.

        The sad fact is that sometimes the safest option isn’t the legal one. There are many junctions, roads, cycle paths and similar where the legal route puts a cyclist at more risk of harm than the illegal route, and given the choice, any sensible cyclist will choose the safer route, whether it’s legal or not.

        We still campaign and push for safer infrastructure for cyclists, but it’s going to take decades to make any meaningful progress, and we’re cycling now.

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