I don’t know what the circumstances were leading up to the accident between a woman cyclist and a car on the B4077 at Alderton in Gloucestershire yesterday.
The police will investigate and take action as appropriate. But the cyclist was airlifted to Frenchay Hospital, Bristol with serious head injuries and the local paper carried a photograph of her smart blue racing bike with two buckled wheels.
I drove along this stretch of road today and thought it was treacherous. The road was thick with fresh-laid gravel and there were “Maximum 20mph” signs which warned of skidding. Absolutely none of the cars and lorries on the road were taking a blind bit of notice. They all sped through at 40mph minimum leaving thick clouds of gravel dust in their wake.
The sides of the road were thick with kicked up gravel. By what miracle could a cyclist riding a road bike with skinny tyres negotiate that mess without slipping?
On my return journey along the road I noticed a roadsweeper trundling slowly along, clearing the gravel from the edges of the road. My gut feeling was too bloody little, too bloody late.
That section of road was part of the 40 mile charity cycle ride I did last year so it’s often used by cyclists heading back from the Cotswolds to do the final climb up Alstone Hill before descending into the Severn Vale again.
I can’t presume what might have happened but did anyone supervising the “repair” of this road give a single thought to cyclists? Did anyone consider that actually if it might cause cars to skid, they might skid into cyclists… Did anyone consider how cyclists would fare on this kind of surface with absolutely no alternative route apart from a lumpy grass verge?
I wonder how it is that cyclists have a legal entitlement to take up the space of a car on our roads yet no consideration whatsoever seems to be given to their presence? The attitude still broadly seems to be “You decided to cycle… you know it’s dangerous.. you just get out there, take your chances and stop whingeing.”
It’s becoming increasingly obvious that in spite of the increase in cyclists and the mealy-mouthed promotions of cycling as a healthy thing without a penny of infrastructural back-up – the dangers from drivers and the sheer practical day-to-day obstacles are not going away. I believe this is thanks, in large part, to the apathy of local councils.
Road works usually fail to take any account of cyclists. Do I assert my place on the road and squeeze through a narrowed gap alongside buses and lorries or wait twenty minutes twiddling my thumbs until some kind driver decides to let me go?
Even post office drivers – who may at some time have been cycling posties – don’t think twice about parking their vans right across designated cycle paths.
I’ve mentioned before the road workers who cordoned off a section of cycle path so clumsily that it was barely wide enough for the handlebars of the bike. When I complained they’d made it too tight, one merely replied “You’ll have to get off and walk, then love.” I’ll leave you to imagine the look he got.
You can find that lack of consideration in the countryside too. A cycleway I regularly ride is now so plastered in mud, thanks to the local farmer running his vehicles across there, that in rain, me and the bike get absolutely plastered. e’s made no attempt to clear it despite the fact that anyone trying to ride a mobility scooter along there – which they have a perfect right to do – would find it impossible.
There was another example last summer where I was out on the bike and saw a chap on a quad bike in the lane to my left. He looked at me, saw me pedalling towards him and then let an entire field of sheep out into the lane. He drove them ahead for about a mile and a half with me trailing behind at 3mph. What a jolly jape that was.
Another aspect of cycling is that the condition of road surfaces has never been so bad. Decades of cutting highways maintenance budgets to the bone, coupled with severe frosts and winter weather has wreaked havoc on some town and country roads. My bike route to work includes some of the B4063 old Gloucester road between Gloucester and Cheltenham. The road surface there must figure among the worst in the county. There are shockingly bad sections where nothing joins up and there six inch deep potholes and “crevasses” in the worn tarmac which have been further eroded by floodwater.
I spotted one the other day that is a long wheel-sized narrow pit – a bit like the kind of thing you might park your bike in. It’s about a metre and a half out from the pavement and parallel with it – precisely the sort of thing that would stop you dead and have you over the handlebars if you weren’t looking out for it.
I wasn’t even going to mention the stupid short sections of pink “cycle path” at the side of the road which stop and start for no reason whatsoever and provide no practical help. Or the signed “cycleway” directions which don’t actually work if you try to follow them. I tried once and found myself on a scrappy verge looking at the on-coming traffic of a dual carriageway.
So all this makes me think that the authorities consider that it’s far less worthwhile to bother with making things safer for cyclists. If these risks involved children, disabled or elderly people, something would be done about it.
But it seems to me that because cyclists choose to get on their bikes, the attitude is that the responsibility for that risk is all theirs and theirs alone. It’s nonsense. Every day cyclists are getting killed in accidents – falling victim to this mind-set and enduring dangerous circumstances which could and should be changed.
We were all created equal. Why should a cyclist’s life be more dispensible than anyone else’s?