Monday, April 14, 2008

Anger and Detachment: Cycling in London

These are very small incidents and many more of them happen on every road, every day.

Last Sunday a group of us went for a walk around Lyme Park. At first we tried to park in a car park that has access to a disused railway line that is now a footpath, a canal, and the footpath up to Lyme. In other words it is a base for recreation. Lots of other people had the same idea and although it was full cars were still streaming in. As it was a bit awkward to turn round and get out cars had to make room for each other. A woman was doing this and therefore blocking the road up to the spaces. This incensed the driver behind and I watched in fascination as he gradually increased the pitch of his swearing and got redder in the face. It was a place to go to for pleasure so why was he so wound up? Sunday mornings should not be like that! It just reminded me how angry everybody seemed to be with all other road users.

There is an badly designed cycle way at the bottom of Gordon Square in London. Lots of traffic wants to turn right into the road to get to Euston but they not only have to cross the lane of oncoming traffic they have to cross the cycle path with bikes coming in both directions. It requires extra vigilance. I saw a near collision where the cyclist berated the driver for not looking and the driver turned round and yelled “ Well I would take more notice of you lot if you paid any notice to traffic lights!” The conversation was very loud.

On the South Circular Road near Kew Bridge two lanes merge into one. Instead of the orderly intertwining of one vehicle from one lane with the next from the other, one van was determined not to allow this to happen and kept as close as possible to the bumper of the car ahead. The van in the other lane was outraged and wanted its space so they both carried on in parallel, with the road running out, looking at each other swearing and gesturing. It was silent slow-motion ballet

A few years ago I was crossing the road at traffic lights, waited for the green man and set off but had to jump back as I was nearly barged into by a cyclist who had not intention of stopping at the lights. I could have coped with that if he hadn't shouted at me to look where I was going, as if it was my fault. As he disappeared out of sight all I had was the bitter taste of impotent rage. After I had stopped wanting to chin him I had one of those moments of insight and realised that over time the traffic had increasingly been getting to me.

I had been making the egocentric error of thinking people were deliberately getting in my way or being malicious idiots just for the fun of it. I used to get especially annoyed at traffic lights, when other cyclist would just cycle through. The annoyance was increased if I then caught them up between lights was then obstructed. Taxis and bendy buses were enemies and pedestrians were no better when they wandered out into the gutter without looking.

Things were getting stupid and so I decided to let go and cycle by two maxims:

The first and most important is that cycling in London is transport and not training. Getting or proving fitness has nothing to do with anything as you are only trying to get from A to B. There will be lots of obstructions and you will have to stop and start many times so don't worry and let the journey take as long as it takes.

The second is to not worry about what you cannot control. You cannot control the way other people treat the highway code so you have to become detached about their actions. However for your own safety you have to be very aware of what they do. The more you become detached the more you must increase your vigilance.

Two simple rules but the consequence is that I do not count any cycling in London towards cross training. The way things are it is more the equivalent of strolling.


womble said...

Cycling is not training. I agree with you there. I'm currently cycling to work, 5 days a week, 14 miles each way. But I complain to Mike that I never get any exercise - because I'm not running!

I too take the view that it takes as long as it takes. Unfortunately, I do get annoyed with cyclists who go through red lights particularly when they are on pedestrian crossings. I don't suppose I really care if they want to cycle under the wheels of a large vehicle but I get very angry when I see pedestrians almost knocked flying while to trying to cross when the green man says they can. I frequently shout at other cycles and tell them what I think about this. And without swear words too!

Highway Kind said...

When I commuted exactly that distance I became as fit as I have ever been in my life. Although not specic training the effect of regular exercise of that amount is huge.

As for shouting I keep on telling myself to stay detached. Sometimes it is hard and I keep on telling myself anger feeds on anger. But I have no idea how to deal with the self righteous idiots who think they have the total right of way at all times and everyone else should scatter out of their path.