Commuter cycling is the most dangerous form of transport, especially in the morning rush hour. Perhaps this explains why only 2% of us get to work on two wheels.
I enjoy it because it gets me more alert and relaxed and saves me £11.50 a week, which adds up over time. It’s also exciting whizzing along as clumsy cars wait in a queue.
A few days ago though, I took my eyes off the road for the first time and the unthinkable happened.
I knew it was a possibility – all our cycling friends had been hit at least once. But I thought I was too careful for it to happen to me.
I was a little concerned about setting off late, it was already 8.15am and the roads were incredibly busy. There was a traffic jam briefly in the bus lane and I had to dodge round buses, motorbikes, school transport vehicles and even other cyclists. It was mayhem.
But after the jam everything seemed fine and I continued as usual.
On my way to the junction I was keeping an eye out for pedestrians, giving space for cars coming out of side roads, slowing down when cars were switching lanes ahead, following all the usual safety precautions.
But as the lights went green I felt the angry breath of the car’s radiator on my back as I sensed it trying to turn impatiently. So I put my head down to get some speed for a split second. Then I looked up just as a white van was turning into me. It hadn’t seen me speeding through in my bright blue top and high visibility vest. I immediately applied the breaks hard, skidding along. I looked opened mouthed at it coming towards me, bracing myself for the inevitable. But by some miracle I stopped just before the bonnet.
I pedalled on furiously in both senses of the word. How could they not see me? I had right of way, they SHOULD have seen me. Arriving at my destination shaken, I got myself some calming chamomile tea and talked about it. They reminded me that the van’s driver would only have seen a blur if anything.
I later celebrated my survival with an indulgent shop at Waitrose.
Cyclist versus vehicle is all too common. In 2011 52 490 cyclists were injured on the roads and the number killed or seriously injured increased by 9%. In my city alone, 15% of “slight accidents” had risen between 2006-11.
In my experience red lanes are inadequate, badly maintained and sometimes completely illogical, like the lane which stops before a vehicle bottleneck. We need street signs raising awareness of bicycles using the lanes.
My brother’s friend was knocked off in a hit and run, a family friend was injured by a car not leaving enough room, and a fellow zero emissions commuter told me how he once didn’t see a Land Rover and ended up in a neck brace. But even as a pedestrian the roads are perilous. A friend tripped over her shoes and landed across two lanes. The car on one side stopped but the bus didn’t see her. She rolled over and the wheels
passed inches from her head. Quick reactions can be the difference between life and death.
I think myself lucky that I escaped unharmed but learnt an important lesson. I haven’t let it stop me, indeed I cycled in to work today. Due to my added awareness I managed to avoid going into a car that had seen me, but thought that it could turn before I came towards it. How a driver can be on the road with that sort of spatial awareness I don’t know. I also avoided a car crossing into the lane I was in ahead of me, without leaving sufficient space.
I had inspired a friend to think about cycling to work, but she is now deterred by my near miss and safety warnings from her family.
However, I think it’s important to remember that if you keep safety in check, the health benefits will make two-wheeling worth it. Research shows that cyclists have lower weight, blood pressure and insulin levels. It can even cut the risk of breast cancer. I have certainly noticed my stamina and general fitness improve. I think it is still possible to cycle to work safely. Here’s how…
LEAVE AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE.
- I have found that the earlier before 8am the better. The roads are quieter, less traffic and I haven’t had an incident yet before this time.
- THINK – CYCLE LIKE YOU’RE DRIVING A CAR
- This is probably the best advice I have seen, from an accident lawyer. Since following this I have not had any trouble. Anticipate just as you would when driving.
- 1. Pedestrians – are they about to cross the road? If they are crossing the road, have they seen you?
- 2. Vehicles – have they seen you at junctions? Slow down until you can be sure they are not going to move off.
- Are they switching lanes? Let them do this ahead of you as they may not have seen you and so may not allow enough room.
- – Be aware of hidden side roads – cars can come shooting out of them so slow down when you pass them and look right into them.
DON’T RISK YOUR SAFETY FOR A
- If I hadn’t been rushing to try to allow the tailgating car behind me to turn, I would have seen the van coming turning towards me.
- If I had been cycling in the middle of the lane the van would be more likely to have seen me. It is often better to cycle with the cars than at the side of the road, which can encourage them to pass you, sometimes without leaving enough room.
All this sounds obvious but it’s easily overlooked. Don’t ever get complacent because as soon as you lose concentration like I did, something could happen. But don’t let a brush with danger stop you getting on your bike. Stay safe out there everyone!
So what am I taking away from my experience?
ALWAYS SLOW DOWN AND LOOK AS YOU GO THROUGH A JUNCTION.