Thursday, 6 December 2012

War on Britain's Roads

Like a lot of cyclists last night I watched "War on Britain's Roads" on the BBC.  Having read some of the grumbling complaints prior to it airing, I wasn't going to bother but then figured I'd rather be part of the informed debate than stick my head in the sand.

For those that didn't have the pleasure, it was supposed to be an hour-long documentary showing the relationship between cyclists and other road users in UK cities (mainly London).  I say supposed to be because it was actually like an hour long cycling version of "Police, Camera, Action" for bicycles.

Bluntly, I thought it was overly sensationalist and concentrated mainly on footage of incidents and accidents.  Car drivers ranting at cyclists, cyclists ranting at car drivers and a ridiculous "Alley Cat" race through the Capital. 

It did not (as far as I could see):
  • Explain why more people are using their bikes to commute
  • Explain why it is a really good idea for people to get out of cars and onto a bike
  • Suggest what could be done to improve the situation (in particular the patchy cycling infrastructure in the UK)
  • Highlight very much considerate use of the road by cyclists or motorists
There was one person on their whose story could really have been used to made a difference.  The lady who lost her 26 year old daughter to a collision between her bike and a cement mixer.  I genuinely felt for her but any learning points the documentary made from the tragedy were thin. 

A lot of the footage was dedicated to "exciting" confrontations between cyclists and other road users.  It was hard to say whose side the documentary was on as both were made to seem as bad as one another at times.  Sure we've all shouted in alarm when someone's pulled out on us but to follow it up to the degree that one particular cyclist did is asking for trouble.  If he hasn't had his head kicked in by now it is a minor miracle.  Motorists who drive like idiots are idiots. Cyclists that ride like idiots are idiots and give us all a bad name.

I was actually left feeling genuinely dismayed for the state of cycling in our cities.  I am blessed that my commute is not usually so busy, although it has its own unique issues.  It would be easy (on either side of the discussion) to have watched "War on Britain's Roads" and feel considerably more animosity towards the other party than you might have beforehand.  When they had the opportunity to make a situation better, I feel the documentary makers passed it by.  It was tabloid-esque voyeurism from start to finish.

And as for those of us getting angrier on the roads? 

Fighting fire with fire just makes a bigger fire.  How many times do we need to be taught that consideration for our fellow man and peaceful means better resolve conflicts.  Jesus said it, St Paul said it, Gandhi said it, Martin Luther King said it... the list goes on.  One day we'll actually listen, wise up and change our behaviour.  One day.

I can't help feel that there is something deeper going on here.  The "Me first!" and "Now, now, now!" pressures of modern life mean that many of us are carrying around a lot of pent up stress and anger.  Inevitably it is finding an outlet where it is felt worst - on the roads.  I'm sure that even if we all cycled, there would be instances of "cycle-rage" but as cardio exercise is proven to reduce stress, I doubt that it would be as bad.

To attempt, in my own limited way, to address the issue, I made a conscious effort to be observant and considerate in my cycling this morning.  A smile and a thumb up was given to anyone who let me pull out or even just didn't pull out on me at an island.  I even refitted my bell, the better to alert pedestrians on the shared pavement sections.       

A better infrastructure isn't going to happen overnight so we need to keep campaigning.  Car drivers aren't going to change over night so we still need to keep our eyes peeled and ride carefully. 

And above all, we all need to chill-out, get along and share the road considerately.

Peace and love.

On another note, this video has nothing whatsoever to do with the article, it was just the song I had on the mental iPod on the way to work this morning.  I like Billy Bragg and dislike tabloids.  Two birds with one stone - enjoy:


  1. Thanks for sharing. I've just watched part of the documentary and I thought it was out for sensationalism. Pity it wasn't used more constructively to promote cycling. Still what do you expect? It's only bad news that gets promoted heavily not the good stuff that happens quietly every day.
    Brenda in the Boro