Why I Became a Citizen Cyclist Vigilante...
Every morning I cycle to school with my 11 year old son. It takes us just 5 minutes but you have to be on red alert at all times, because to most drivers, we seem to be quite invisible. It can be like entering a war zone, and you have to be prepared for anything. Our route is down a residential road with cars parked on each side, and often cars driving from both directions, but there is only enough room for one car at a time to proceed. So there is lots of impatient waiting, often beeping of horns, angry reversing, and frequent Mexican standoffs with both drivers screaming from their windows or simply refusing to move for the other. So it's actually far quicker to walk or cycle than to drive down that particular route.
I have cycled around London for years and have become pretty road savvy on my Goku road bike, whizzing through those gaps, swearing under your breath when someone cuts me up, but once you become adept it's exhilarating to navigate past or around just about anything, with virtually no waiting.
But it's become quite a different matter now for me since I started riding with my youngest son to school each day, because I really started to notice just how dangerous some car drivers are. There are just far too many utterly callous and impatient drivers who think it's OK to drive past far too close, dangerously fast, and that has scared the sh.t out if me as a mum with her precious son. The new bike laws are really quite necessary and very welcome. Now we can at least feel confident doing what I have actually insisted that we do anyway, much to the annoyance of many a driver, which is to be road hog's, deliberately and without remorse.
Cycling down the middle of the road, either me in front or the two of us abreast, my son always on the inside, has always struck me as the best approach to keep us safe. Yes it annoys the hell out of car drivers ... to make them have to wait until we are clear, but they have no choice. It can be like 'chicken' though, a car driving at us, far too fast, assuming we will move out of their way, but my nerve is unflinching being in full awareness of what I am doing. At the end of the day a driver really does not want to hit a cyclist. But there certainly seems to be very little respect for us two wheelers.
Sometimes I even stop right in the middle of the road, in the direct pathway of a car driving far too fast, accelerating even, evidently not leaving enough room for us. In the past I would have tended to swerve in between the parked cars, but now I prefer to block their way, making them have to stop because they have no room to pass.. Incredulous their window will go down, their language foul, seemingly obvious to the fact that there is a small boy in direct earshot. They seem neither aware, nor care of the danger they are putting us both in. I simply ask them calmly and politely to please slow down before slowing passing them. My belief is that it might at least give them food for thought, their mind snapping to the present moment, needing to process what I am saying.
Another strategy is to deliberately veer out into a speedy drivers path, once again forcing the driver to have to slow down. Other times I gesticulate with the 'slow down' signal with my arm, although they probably have no idea what it means.
So I suppose I became a kind of citizen cyclist vigilante of sorts some time ago, self policing those drivers all with the intention of getting them to slow down and be more thoughtful of a mother and a child on their bicycles en route to school. With no cycle lanes to use around us, it's a natural reaction to want to keep my boy safe. Only time will tell if the new laws will make a long term difference, but for the time being at least, it has put cyclist safety higher up on the agenda.
What would be really great though is if schools could bring back the cycling proficiency test....