Cyclist deaths – are cyclists considered dispensible?

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?

About janh1

Part-time hedonist.
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20 Responses to Cyclist deaths – are cyclists considered dispensible?

  1. Pseu says:

    Oh how right you are, Jan.
    This week’s Oxford Times has letters in response to letters last week and the week before…all about provision for cyclists… and this in the city of the cycle, historically.

    I simply don’t understand the aggression shown to cyclists.
    The roads are in such a state around here that the edges are all pot holes and is is incredibly dangerous to cycle, with cars etc givging no consideration to the one one the bike.

  2. janh1 says:

    Morning Pseu. I think we’ve passed the stage where Something Must Be Done. There’s the Times cycling campaign but now it’s behind the paywall on the internet, I’m not sure how effective that is turning out to be… The Cycling Tourists’ Club (of which I am a member!! 🙂 ) has been banging on about potholes and dangers for years and years with what seems like little effect. Not sure what the right course is but perhaps it would be good to take every single MP for a series of bike rides around their constituency to demonstrate exactly how it is? No doubt there are also individual cycling clubs making representations – and if they’re not, they should be!!

    The aggression is a different and very scary issue. I try not to think about that in the light of my experiences on the road being overwhelmingly positive. The possibility that one psycho motorist who hates cyclists could take me out with his car and leave me for dead in a roadside ditch is, happily, extremely unlikely! Now if you’ll excuse, I have people coming for lunch, the main course is cooking in the oven and I’m intending to squeeze in a cheeky ride out there in the sunshine!

  3. IsobelandCat says:

    Hear, hear.
    One of the things that put me off cycling in London for years was the aggressive language and behaviour of bus drivers when cyclists were ahead. Not all bus drivers, of course, but enough to make me feel they didn’t regard cyclists as having any road rights. The worst was a driver on the 171. He drove so close he was almost touching the rear well of the bike. All the time swearing at the rider.
    On a stretch of road near Mile End there is a cycle lane, but it has been taken out of the car lane which is now not wide enough for anything bigger than a Smartcar. Maybe the authorities expect drivers to breathe in.
    The other week I was signalling to turn right when my front tyre hit a pothole and I wobbled. The car behind me drew level and the driver leaned out. I thought he was going to sympathise about the state of the road. Instead he said, “keep both hands on the handle bars, love” and shot off.

    • Pseu says:

      Cyclo was hit on the backside by a white man van and a friend was pushed off on a country lane a few years ago. Difficult to get a number plate when you’re in the ditch.

      It’s a bit frosty out there Jan!

      • janh1 says:

        Yikes that sounds horrible, Pseu. Very difficult to get a number – and very difficult to whip out a mobile phone to take a pic.

        No frost in this bit of Glaws – a few residual puddles but otherwise all bright sunshine, fleeing bunnies including one which was about four inches long, love ‘im, and two courting partridges who panicked and couldn’t decide what the hell to do. I think I was definitely interrupting something… 🙂

    • janh1 says:

      Some people are just morons, Isobel. But what you write about demonstrates a basic need for ALL drivers to understand the predicament of cyclists. When the road is rubbish, we either wobble or veer to avoid the pothole or fall off!! Which is why I’ve been having a think and I feel a TV publicity campaign is called for, together with a storyline involving a cyclist hurt in an accident on EastEnders or Corrie. It’s the only way the essential message about giving space to cyclists is going to be broadcast.

      The infrastructural stuff involving councils and cycling H&S issues with road works would have to be tackled with legislation. But the basic rights of cyclists need to be established and EVERYONE needs to be aware of them.

      Oh and all women cyclists should get some kind of medal for not being put off by the boorish sexist aggression of some males… you included, Isobel 😀

      • IsobelandCat says:

        I have found people who don’t know I cycle come out with boorish, prejudiced comments, expecting me to agree with them. Getting the message across, and getting people to take onboard and respect other road users as equal are, I believe, two different things. I shouldn’t dare cycle near Cousin’s. The traffic thunders along the main road, not slowing much even for blind hills and bends.
        As a pedestrian in London, I find some cyclists boorish at road crossings. Too many seem to think the red lights do not apply to them. Then some pedestrians seem to think cyclists present no danger or can stop in a nano second and walk out in front of them. I have seen cyclists who have called out or rung their bells threatened with physical aggression for so doing.
        Maybe if everyone were a driver, a cyclist and a pedestrian, there would be more respect and tolerance all round. And I think horse riders on roads are very brave. At least a bicycle won’t bolt if someone comes too close.

  4. janh1 says:

    I cycle along dual carriageways and the really dangerous sections are the slip roads, with cars sometimes coming off a faster road at 60 – 70mph and expecting to merge right in. No provision at all for cyclists. I think the road designers expect cyclists to take a detour of three or four extra miles negotiating quieter roads.

    As I wrote after our Boris biking, it totally amazed me how many cyclists in London a) don’t wear helmets and b) jump red lights and c) don’t have any lights on their bikes. Cyclists in Cheltenham are incredibly well kitted up and law-abiding in comparison. Maybe it’s a city thing and these people feel safe on well-lit streets.

    Totally agree Isobel that every driver should also be experienced in cycling and maybe lorry driving too – at least a taster to show them the limitations and just what the view is like from the cab!

    Horse riding? I had one experience of riding on a road. Dreadful. It was a steep narrow country lane and my gelding’s shoes kept slipping on the tarmac. It seemed an awfully long way to fall.

  5. Ema1985 says:

    I completely understand what u are saying about no one take notice of cyclists but with the unfortunate accident of which you speak I will have to defend the road workers as they had not started laying the chippings until 7.30 on Saturday morning. So the state of the road had no part to play in the accident.
    With regards to cyclist things do need to be done to encourage other road users to be on guard for cyclist. But cyclist also need to understand that they should not ride two a breast as they are putting there on lives at risk.

    • janh1 says:

      Hi Ema. Thanks for that information. Still hoping this lady makes a good recovery but we’ll probably never hear now.

      There’s lots to be done from the point of view of motorists and cyclists to promote better understanding of risk and safety. It’s perfectly possible to share roads with minimum inconvenience and max safety! 🙂

      The two abreast thing is a moot point, Ema because actually it’s not sensible in a lot of circumstances to do that, yet cyclists do have the “right” to take up a car-sized space on the road. So riding as a cycling club outing for instance, you’re really not expected to string out in a long single line of 20 riders for the whole journey. I just think consideration for other road users, whether you’re cyclist or driver, is key! 🙂

  6. Years ago the father of one of my son’s school class mates was killed by a bus driver in London. The bus driver aggressively went for him – everyone on the bus said so. It was just at the time we left London, so I don’t know what happened in the end. It was awful.
    I’m not a cyclist, but am very conscious of their vulnerability. Motorcyclists are at enough risk (more – because of their speed) but cyclists have no protection really – all bare arms and legs, with just lycra between them and the world.
    My sister was once shoved up the Marylebone Road on her face. A motorbike jumped the lights and nearly wiped her out on her bicycle. She came to hearing an ambulance siren and it took her awhile to realise that she was actually in it. Fortunately she wasn’t more seriously hurt, but she had to have the grit ‘scrubbed’ out of her face under general anaesthetic. The motorcyclist tried to sue her, when he had jumped the lights in full view of 3 lanes of traffic!

    You might be interested in reading my current blog post – I’m hosting a guest post by my brother about his Pedal to Paris endeavour!

  7. janh1 says:

    Talking about bus drivers aggressively going for a cyclist…. I expect you might have seen this

    Just dreadful. The cyclist was lucky not to have been killed. But then psychos shouldn’t be employed as bus drivers so hopefully that driver will never get another job in public transport!

    Your sister’s experience was horrific too. It must take some guts to get back on a bike after an experience like that. Re your brother’s blog – I’m already signed up 🙂

    • That’s great! When you say ‘already’ do you mean you had already come across his blog, or have you just signed up now?! Sorry to be so curious!
      I’m glad you have. I am full of admiration for him doing it! Not sure if I’d get to the end of the drive on a bike… (probably confessing that to the wrong person!)

  8. janh1 says:

    I signed up after you mentioned it. Quick as a flash, me. 🙂 Not sponsored yet, tho I will when I have money again.

  9. John Mackie says:

    Hi Janh1

    This may all go horribly pear-shaped and we may never be friends again. But.

    I spent six years of my life cycling to and from secondary school. For the last four years thereof, I applied the crack of dawn to whizzing around my paper round on my bike before departing for the Groves of Academe.

    So, I’ve done the bit about realising with sickening horror that the guy parked at the side of the road had opened his door without checking his wing mirror and that I was due for a major and messy sprawl. (Thrice). I’ve also, more than once, despairingly applied the brakes as a driver decided that there was enough time to pull out from a side road right in front of me.

    Luckily for me, I picked myself up (usually limping and bruised) and moved on. In those far off days, my assailants did apologise and seemed contrite.

    In due course, I learnt to drive. I like to think that I never forgot my time in the saddle and that I always give cyclists the space and time they need. I have to say, however, that it is sometimes a trial, even more so when I am a pedestrian.

    There appears to me to be an utter arrogance by a significant proportion of urban cyclists these days, possibly only in Embra. Said significant proportion seem to feel free to ignore red lights and one way streets and to ride on the pavement, scattering pedestrians, if they feel like it.

    Specifically, I have absolutely no problem with the idea that every other road-user should respect a cyclist by giving them the space of a car. I do get, however, slightly iffy about the fact that some cyclists seem able to feel free to ignore their right to said car-sized space,when convenient, by.choosing to ride up through the narrowest possible space and at the highest possible speed on the blind side of a queue of traffic and to ride on (or even hang a right) against a red light.

    No cyclist is more or less ‘dispensible’ than any other road user. We all owe it to each other to be as responsible as we can in our our shared use of said roads. In my opinion.

  10. janh1 says:

    Morning John. No danger of us falling out over this as I wholeheartedly agree with you, summed up in your final paragraph. I’ve seen the arrogance of which you speak and I’ve been shocked by the difference between the riding styles of some big city cyclists compared with the terribly well-behaved cyclists of Chelters! 🙂

    It’s interesting to wonder how the more cavalier attitude to safety has developed in cities, where the cycling seems way more hazardous than most other locations. The riders I’ve seen are very quick off the mark and depend on speed and sheer nerve to get them out of trouble.

    As a cyclist you find that the road/cycle network can be incredibly badly planned and confused. For example, today I rode to the other side of Gloucester via road, cycle trail, dual carriageway, shared pavement, dual carriageway, cycleway/footpath. But the “shared pavement” was only signed for cyclists from one direction and not from the other. Sigh. Work to be done, definitely!

    ps hope Dougal-dog is well. I’m supposed to be following your blog but I don’t get notifications! I’ll have another go.

    • John Mackie says:

      Janh1, good evening. Dougal is blooming.

      I don’t seem to get notifications about your blogs either and I am definitely supposed to be following them by purpose, design and choice. It’s a worry,

      • janh1 says:

        Good boy!! (Dougal, not you John but I wouldn’t rule you out completely)

        I wonder what’s amiss? I have carried out a fairly desultory rummage in my WordPress Toolkit, to no effect.

  11. I couldn’t agree more, Jan. The bicycle is everything that sustainable, healthy transport should be. It is the solution to so many of our problems, and the infrastructure and legislation required to make it safe and workable would need a tiny fraction of the investment that the new roads receive every year. The policy towards cyclists in this country is often short sighted and – frankly – unintelligent.

    • janh1 says:

      ‘Unintellligent’ is the word, Kate. I’m hoping that cycling safety will rise up the agenda thanks to anticipated gold medal successes in the Olympics but we do need Government money poured into a well-designed, nationwide “2+ 4+18 wheels” road safety campaign! It would at least be a start.

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