The Day I Nearly Killed A Cyclist
On Thursday morning I had a breakfast meeting in Gosforth, so I was driving to work. There’s a stretch of road leading out of Tynemouth where the speed limit is 60mph:
I was doing a bit less than this, watching the cyclist in the lay-by… who then rode straight out and diagonally across the road right in front of me. I hit the brakes hard, locking up all the wheels and feeling the car start to slew diagonally. I stopped so close to his back wheel that I couldn’t believe that he wasn’t actually sitting on the bonnet.
Naturally, as a Road Tax paying motorist, I did the obvious and hit the horn. Nothing. Not even a twitch from Mr Nine Lives. By this point he was riding up the hatched central area of the road. I pulled along side and hit the horn again. Still nothing. Then I noticed the headphones. Ah.
There was no point pulling over and remonstrating with him - it’d make me late, I was now flushed with adrenaline & shaking, and a bloke jumping out of a car and shouting tends not to get the most constructive of conversations started.
So I went back the next day to talk to him as a cyclist instead of a motorist:
OK. So what?
Well this was probably some useful instruction to Mr Nine Lives that it’s a big scary world out there. He (may have) learnt the lesson the painless way. It also taught me how horribly long the braking distance is at fifty something mph, and that you should always drive assuming that everyone else around you is going to do wildly unpredictable things.
The experience also got me thinking about road design. Planners and engineers go to great lengths to to make roads error-tolerant for drivers. Motorways have rumble strips to alert drivers when they’re drifting out of lane; it’s now common to see a central hatched area like in the above Google Streetview image to increase the separation of oncoming vehicles so that they’re less likely to collide (perversely, as we feel safer, we drive faster); and trees are removed or protected with crash barriers.
Yet when it comes to facilities for cyclists… we have virtually nothing. Now it’s true that you can’t design for every eventuality - if people really do want to do stupid things they will find a way. But without decent, high quality segregated cycle routes, people cycle on the road, where even minor lapses in judgement or concentration from either motorists or cyclists can have fatal consequences.
We could look at Mr Nine Lives and say that what he needs is some training. But this is only because the environment in which he’s forced to cycle is so downright hostile. Training only deals with the symptoms - the cause of this hostility is that people and cars travel at radically different speeds. Surely it’s time we took a more sensible approach to deciding when we should encourage sharing road space, and when we should make segregation the obvious choice?