Selasa, 10 Januari 2012

Urban cycling

After just having got back from London, which has done a pretty good job of retro-fitting facilities for cyclists to an old, crowded city, I was struck by the amount of newspaper print dedicated to a tragic bike accident in Barcelona. Please don't misunderstand me: it was a terrible thing to happen but it is also something that happens (unfortunately) every so often in London. Meaningless statistics were quoted claiming that riding a bike was 5 times as safe as going by car, given that the number of accidents relative to the population of bike users is five times less than it is in the car world. This would only be a fair comparison if it were restricted to inter-urban journeys: to compare road accidents at 120 kph on the motorway with those incurred while cycling to the local corner shop doesn't make much sense.

However, this particular type of accident is worryingly common. The cyclist rides is on the inside of a large truck, the truck decides to turn right (left in the UK) without having seen the cyclist and drags him or her under the wheels. Actually, I read that this more commonly befalls women than men. The reason that was speculatively put forward is that women tend not to be such aggressive riders as men and prefer to tuck themselves into the side, rather than confidently claiming the road ahead. In fact the same person that made this comment said that the common advice given by road safety authorities to keep in as close to the curb as possible (while watching for opening car doors) is actually wrong: cyclists have to be more assertive and claim a (reasonable) part of the road for themselves and BE SEEN if they are going to survive as equals.

Many steps have been taken in the UK to avoid this type of accident, perhaps the best of these being the Advance Stop Line (ASL) which is the box just behind the traffic lights which only cyclists are allowed to use. This makes sure that they are clearly seen by the motorists behind. Another innovation is for some trucks to have written on the side - "If you are here I can't see you in my mirror".

Still, the best defense against road accidents is to gain critical mass. Once cyclists become a common sight rather than a rarity, motorists will be sure to look out for them. Until then and even after, we have to ride imagining every possible scenario. Please be safe...

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