Swimming with the sharks

Swimming with sharks (1 of 1)

I’m not prone to whinging about cycling. I’m not likely to rant, at length, about the rough treatment cyclists get from some drivers, or the lack of infrastructure, or the lack of political will to really drive changes in our transport infrastructure. On the contrary, I prefer to highlight the positives, focus on the shear brilliance of cycling as a practical mode of transport/pathway to health and fitness/exhilarating tool for sport (delete as you see fit). But every now and then, my placid, largely affable exterior, explodes in a fountain of liquid magma, an Indonesian ‘Ring of fire’ style geological event, that sends boiling hot vitriol into the stratosphere and casts a long cloud over those in the immediate vicinity. So what’s set me off? An event I can only refer to as ‘Black Thursday’.

So what happened?

I set out of work at around 8.30 and cycled through Whitchurch and into Llandaff North. The Pedestrian lights outside the Co-op were red and a little boy was waiting to cross. The lights have been red for about 10 seconds when a car sails straight through them, at around 20mph. Fortunately this little lad has listened to his school’s kerbcraft lessons and not moved until the road was clear. I stop wincing. The lad crosses. The lights turn green. I set off.

Llandaff North was busy and traffic choked. The cars allowed me… ooh….6 inches of space when they passed and in some places almost as much as 7! Lucky me. Next time I shall affix a sponge to my right knee and offer a valeting service (one side of vehicle only. Terms and conditions apply). Turning left at the mini-roundabout before Llandaff bridge, I applied my finest detective work to the game of ‘Llandaff roulette’. If you haven’t played it before, its dead simple. Wait at this tiny roundabout and see if you can second guess the cars that want to turn right. It might be simple, but its not easy; they’ll all be giving it some welly and none of them will indicate. Still, keeps you on your toes, right? Three cars turn right in rapid succession.

I pull in to Gabalfa Road and the next mini-roundabout. This is where you play ‘Gabalfa roulette’. It is very similar, only this time the cars not only don’t indicate, but they also don’t pause for thought and ignore the traffic coming from the right. And that means YOU (or me. Obviously). If you survive that one, you can now play ‘second guess the looney parent who wants to drop Johnny/Mary off directly outside the school gates irrespective of all the other parents trying to do the same, the kids trying to cross the road and the parents carrying toddlers to the nursery’. And when I mean ‘second guess’ I really do mean ‘second guess’, because the only thing on these parent’s minds is to tear into the first car shaped gap they can find irrespective of what’s going on around them. Anyway, once this was carefully negotiated, the next challenge was…….avoid the angry, speeding motorist who is trying to make up for the lost 30 seconds on the previous section whilst – wait for it – typing a text message. Bravo! I’m not sure I’m talented enough to break two laws at the same time (at the wheel of a potentially lethal weapon at least). But this lady was. I’ve never seen any of those ‘Fast and furious’ movies, but really, I think she should audition. She’d be a shoo-in.

I then enter the Taff trail and everything is lovely.

Blackweir? Lovely.

Bute Park? Lovely.

Bike lane in the civic centre? Lovely.

Then back into Cardiff city centre and let the mayhem recommence. Behind the prison I wait at the light (yes, wait at the lights). Traffic pours over the bypass. Cars block the junction box. The lights turn green. Horns. Curses. It’s a good job I spent many years on the rugby fields of South Wales. The language would make a sailor blush. On the green light, I wiggle through the melee and set off (the same thing happened the following day in extremis).

A couple of minutes later, I’m going around the bend where East Tyndall Street meets green and leafy (almost) Lewis Road. Of course, I’m invisible to all, despite it being broad daylight and a slip of a thing at only 6ft tall. So a van looks right, left, right, sees absolutely bugger all and pulls out straight in front of me. Queue squealing brakes, controlled skid and fruity sailor language largesse.

I get in. Shackle my bike in the bike shelter and watch a black Audi super-car-thingy hammer – and I really do mean hammer – down Lewis Road. Speed limits? They’re for wimps. I might have been back on the safety of dry land (the roads on this day felt like shark infested water), but the speeding thing particularly annoys me. Drivers are quick to point out that ‘cyclists jump red lights’ and ‘ride on pavements’ when it completely skips them by that a speeding car is simply the most dangerous thing in our modern environment (and horribly common to boot).

Its rare days like this that remind me how low down the food chain cyclists really are. The automobile is truly king. No apologies were forthcoming from these drivers, who, I presume, are all qualified to be firing their 1 tonne rockets toward crowds of people indiscriminately. The only time that this particular ride was safe and enjoyable was when the cars where the other side of the Taff trail.

So my number one suggestion for tackling this problem of safety, is starting with a bit – or rather a lot –  of education and awareness. Sure, I want the segregated bike lanes and priority treatment at lights and all the other proper niceties they have on the continent.  But let’s be pragmatic and start with Education. Education. Education. Education. The only cycling safety thing I’ve seen on TV in recent years is the Network Rail advert that shows a family on bikes opening a railway crossing and blundering  into the path of an oncoming – and presumably silent – train. More frequent dangers lie on the roads and much resides in the hands of drivers. I’m convinced that there is a proportion who have become so comfortable and inoculated in their steel cocoons, that they are simply divorced from the reality of the dangers they pose. I want them never to forget that the next time they speed down the road, gaze down on the smartphone in their lap, jump a red light or scythe across a junction, that the person tootling on the bicycle directly in harm’s way, could be their wife/husband/daughter/son/niece/nephew/cousin/friend.

…..Rant over. Glad that’s off my chest. Back to more positive things. Did you see yesterday’s cycle art? Spot on.

I’m a driver too. Many thanks to the hundreds and thousands of fellow motorists who already show consideration on the roads. Irrespective of the issues; never be put off. Cycling is the most civilized and sensible form of transport out there (awareness of the issues is half the battle). Top image: Poster on London underground (from my flickr account).

8 replies »

  1. Chapeau!!!Top blog! Just wish I could channel my anger in the same way towards the oncoming clowns who dip their lights at the last moment in the evenings on the way home…

    Hope you weren’t riding when you wrote this!;-)

  2. Tweet the reg plates! But don’t get mad…. Get even! Well written article mind, reminds me of commuting!

    • Thanks – sad it’s so familiar though, isn’t it? Still…….for keen cyclist like us the positives will always outweigh the negatives. Now where’s that sponge…..

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