So, recently the men with diggers have been busy digging up and resurfacing the Kennington Road*. After a slight glitch when they had to dig it up all over again to fix all the water mains they’d broken the first time around, it is now all lovely and smooth and they can get on with the fun part: decorating it. They’ve done most of the lines, and the writing and zig-zags and arrows and now they’re getting out their pretty coloured tarmac and colouring it all in. We’ve got a tasteful subdued burgundy for the bus lane and a rather brighter red for the pedestrian crossing (so the blood doesn’t show?) and – a new one for me – a sort of stylish beige for the lane approaching the crossing. On closer inspection, this appears to be an extra layer of grit that has been glued onto the road so that drivers who were approaching the crossing at speed can slam on their brakes more effectively when the lights suddenly change against them. These road-mending chaps think of everything these days.
Of course it would be even better if drivers could just approach the pedestrian crossing actually prepared to stop, but I suppose if one clever man with a grit lorry can undo the work of several dozen idiots armed with a car apiece, it’s better than nothing. I just wonder if they couldn’t have chosen a nicer colour than beige.
* Actually, it would probably be quicker these days to tell you which roads around us are not being dug up. Do you think they’re looking for oil? Or maybe just buried treasure…
You would think, wouldn’t you, that the horn would be redundant on a police car. You’d think that the whole flashing blue light and wailing siren thing – not to mention the whole screaming down the road on the wrong side at seventy miles an hour thing – would tip off the other drivers that they might want to get out of the way. But – in London at least – you’d be wrong. For, as I witnessed today, and countless other times to boot, the police car can scream up the road with all (metaphorical) guns blazing all it likes, there’s always one driver who ignores it until the police car hoots at them. And then and only then do they look in their rear view mirror, think ‘blimey, a police car, sneaking up on me like that – do you think it wants me to move?’ and manoeuvre out of the way.
I do hate to repeat myself, but sometimes I am driven to it. Indicating. Why do drivers find this so hard? Do you have to put a coin in the slot every time you use them, or what?
There I was, waiting to cycle across Black Prince Road on my way to the station this morning. An oncoming truck was turning right into the road I wanted to go down – it hadn’t indicated it was turning right in any formal sense, but the fact that it had mounted the pavement to do so had tipped me off, a bit. Behind it, a car was waiting, indicating neither to right nor to left. The lorry finally made it round the bend and the car paused. I think it was kindly waiting for me to cross the road because it was intending to turn left into the street I was in but that was just a guess. You see, I’m a cyclist. My special powers include squeezing through impossibly narrow gaps, accelerating away from you (briefly) at the lights, and having an astoundingly loud air horn*. They do not include mind reading. So I had to wait at the foot of the road, unsure exactly whether the car was pausing in order to let me out or to lure me out into the road and run me over properly. Caution got the better of me and I stayed where I was, just as the car got bored of waiting and turned left. Everybody held up, and for no good reason.
Look. There’s a little stick thing by your steering wheel. Sometimes on the left, sometimes on the right. Push it up or down and it makes an entertaining ticking noise and some flashing turn signals come on. Try it, one of these days. Trust me. You’ll be amazed how effective it is at helping people guess where you are going.
*no, babymother, I didn’t. I only just remembered it now.
And how fast can you reverse the wrong way down a one-way street before it stops being an acceptable parking manouevre and starts becoming taking the piss? Five yards? Fifty? The length of the street? There comes a point – as the engine starts doing that laboured whine thing – that you want to say, ‘oh just turn the damn car round and break the damn law properly.’
Alert readers may have noticed I’m not posting so much about the cycle ride to Battersea any more. The truth is that although I’m still pedalling down to Vauxhall every day, I haven’t tackled the longer ride for weeks. The reason is simple – it frightens me. I realised this only gradually when I found that every morning there was yet another good reason why I couldn’t do the longer ride – I was recovering from a cold, I had to be in early that day, tomorrow would be a better option, etc. etc. And the thing that frightens me most are the roundabouts where I’ve basically had one too many episodes of the old vehicle pulling out into the road without either seeing or caring about the bike that’s in their way story. I may joke about it, but when it happens it’s terrifying and one of these days I feel sure either my luck or my legs will run out and I won’t be able to get out of the way.
I’m pretty sure it’s not me. I cycle in the midst of the traffic, not scuttling round the outside in the gutter. I have lights, and my reflective jacket and I signal my intentions as clearly as I can. But there are still simply too many drivers out there who just do not look for the bike. And I don’t intend to be the one that teaches them to do so the hard (or soft and squishy, depending on which bit of me they hit) way.
I’ve recently discovered the jealousy-inducing Copenhagen Girls on Bikes (put it away, boys, they’re real girls, not scantily clad Scandinavian fantasies). It has a deceptively simple formula – pictures of stylishly clad women cycling to work or school or home – interspersed with the odd bit of cycle advocacy. And it was only after checking it out for a week or two that I realised what was missing in the pictures. There are no helmets here, and no high-visibility jackets, no obvious safety gear at all even when cycling with kids in tow. Just people on bikes dressed in exactly the same way as people off bikes. Because any driver in Copenhagen is likely to be a cyclist too. And anyone claiming not to have seen the bike would surely get laughed out of court, for the cyclists there are everywhere.
I know what the answer is, here in London. We all have to get on and stay on our bikes. Not just in the summer months or during a tube strike, but until bikes are built into the consciousness of everyone on the road, not just the lycra clad. But I’m not sure I’m prepared to be quite out there at the bleeding edge just yet. Maybe when it’s lighter again, maybe when it isn’t raining all the bloody time, maybe if I move to Copenhagen. But for now I’m sticking to the back roads and the short route and the trains. I feel as though I’ve somehow failed. But I also feel relieved to be alive.
… Brought to you courtesy of the driver of the white van who answered the question, ‘I wonder what I’ll blog about today?’ with ‘why not blog about how a white van driver tried to kill you on the Queenstown Road roundabout? Again.’
The problem (apart from the nearly being killed part) is it’s almost as tedious to write about badly driven white vans than it is to write about cancelled trains. I mean, stop me if you’ve heard this one before: I’m cycling on the roundabout, in the correct lane to be turning left at the next exit. The white van is waiting to pull onto the roundabout, except, no, he isn’t waiting, he’s just pulling onto the roundabout on the exact bit of road that I’m currently cycling on, leaving me with the choice of meekly falling under his wheels, pulling out to the right and ending up in the wrong lane, or accelerating madly to get in front of him while giving him the benefit of my extensive unladylike vocabulary*.
I really don’t understand this. Unless his objective was simply to pick off all the cyclists of London one by one, all he achieved by this was to have a pissed off cyclist in front of him instead of just an ordinary one. I make a big effort to ensure I’m visible at night on my bike what with the lights and the scary jacket and everything. But I’m beginning to think the hi-vis gear is a mistake. It’s simply giving the buggers something to aim at.
*Guess which one I chose?
After a while, cycling in London, you get a bit of a sixth sense about what some drivers will do next. For instance, the other day as I was crossing Lambeth Bridge on my way home, cycling up the tiny little bike lane they’ve put in there, to get to the head of the traffic queue. Right at the front was a coach and, while it wasn’t actually indicating left, something made me hang back a little and wait next to a relatively safe taxi instead (taxi drivers, love them or loathe them, can generally be relied on to at least see the cyclist. Whether they like what they see is another matter). Sure enough the coach turned left right across the spot on the road where I would have been and I cycled on, feeling a little smug at my foresight.
For about three seconds. Because, of course, what happened next was a car decided to turn left right across me from the inside lane of the roundabout forcing me to slam on my brakes and question out loud the morality of the drivers’s parents. And this evening, on the same spot, a motorbike came from my left, onto the roundabout, cut slowly in front of me and crossed all the way across to the right hand lane without indicating or even turning their head. The problem is, it’s not just a sixth sense you need out there in London traffic, it’s a seventh or eighth. Either that, or some bloody good brakes.