I learned to ride a bike in Cambridge over thirty years ago – beautifully flat roads, no long flights of steps, lots of places to chain a bike up, and such a culture of cycling that car drivers actually see you.
There are a bunch of problems with cycling round Edinburgh – the hills, the stairs, where to lock your bike safely if you live in or are visiting a tenement. I rode a bike to school for a few years. Got bullied fiercely by the boys at Gillespies who regarded bike-riding as a strictly male privilege. (Eventually my parents found out because of the minor vandalism the boys were practicing on my bike, and I got to stow my bicycle safely inside the school where they couldn’t get at it. I still remember the bewildered look of one of the boys – who’d been taking part in the vandalise-the-girl’s-bike campaign – when he demanded how come I got to use an inside storage room for my bicycle, when I pointed out that it was because my bike wasn’t safe in the shelter where all the boys kept theirs. I expect he compiled a female privilege list in later life.)
That experience didn’t stop me, though. It was unpleasant, but I still loved the feeling of getting places under my own power: if it was a struggle getting up hills, it’s a pleasure speeding down hills. There was something else that stopped me.
I was cycling down Gilmore Place, towards the traffic lights where Home Street and Leven Street meet. The lights were red. I slowed down and glanced behind me: there was a big double-decker bus coming along, right next to the pavement. I assumed that it would have to stop, since otherwise it would run me down. I glanced back a moment later. The driver didn’t appear to be slowing. It looked as if the bus just meant to run right over me.
I didn’t think that could be. I had always been told that bus drivers and taxi drivers will take more care avoiding cyclists and pedestrians than ordinary private car drivers, since for them it’s their livelihood if they’re in an accident. But. I could see the bus was not slowing. I leaped off my bike on to the pavement and dragged the bike off the road and I stood there, breathless, almost disbelieving, realising that if I had not reacted like that – if I had calmly continued to assume that the bus driver was paying attention to the road ahead and to the solitary cyclist on it – I would now be dead.
I didn’t quit bicycling immediately. But that moment has never gone away from me. That bus driver would have killed me, and no doubt felt very sorry afterwards. But I’d still be dead.
Every year or two, there’s some newsworthy account of yet another cyclist being killed on Edinburgh roads. Yesterday Andrew McNicoll died on Lanark Road – he hit a parked car (my guess? parked in a bike lane. Car drivers do this) and an articulated lorry hit him. No doubt the driver is very sorry now. But Andrew McNicoll is still dead. In April last year, a cyclist was killed at Broughton Point – an odd junction and one that another cyclist friend mentions as a dangerous area for anyone on a bike. Car drivers are supposed to give a bicycle exactly as much road space as they would another car – but they don’t. A bicycle will not harm a car driver even if the cyclist crashes into the car, and drivers do not worry about what happens to cyclists if a car bumps into them.
Ricky Henderson, one of the ward councillors, intends to ask if road improvements would have saved the cyclist’s life:
No comfort whatsoever to Andrew McNicol’s family but I’ve asked for this to placed on the agenda for the next Pentlands Neighbourhood Partnership meeting so that we can consider any road safety improvements that may be possible. Could be of course that no such measures would have prevented this tragedy but I’m keen to look at all the options. Pleased to say the NP Manager responded immediately saying he has already instructed work to look at this location.
When cyclists ride on the pavement, providing they take due care to avoid pedestrians, who can blame them? Edinburgh roads are not safe, and it’s Edinburgh drivers who kill cyclists. No doubt they’re always very sorry afterward.
They don’t see us.
Note: Wednesday 11th January 2012, 1pm: St Andrews House, Regent Road, Edinburgh – cyclists urged to attend a demo for an hour
to urge Scottish Ministers to increase funding for cycling and walking instead of funding expensive road-building programmes that will increase Scotland’s carbon footprint.
Good plan. Fund compulsory annual classes for drivers on cyclist-awareness.