19 February 2007

On Nigel Havers and wrong battles

Nigel Havers, the erstwhile TV hearthrob and self-appointed anti-cyclist campaigner, wrote in June last year a diatribe against cyclists in which many gross and sweeping generalisations are made.

Havers' fundamental mistake is to align moral and ethical traits to forms of transport (cycling, driving, walking, jogging) rather than to individuals. Not all cyclists are the reckless thugs Havers depicts - just as not all pedestrian (or indeed drivers) are shining examples of highway-side virtue. Indeed, most cyclists are also pedestrian and motorists!.

Good old Nigel is fighting the wrong battle - he'd do better to direct his fire against bad road users, and in aid of responsible, considerate road users. He would also do well to acknowledge that, in the UK today, when it comes to road design and 'systems' (how traffic lights work, the location, layout and length of bike lanes), cars and pedestrians are taken into consideration far more than bicycles are. This forces even the most civilised cyclists to take the occasional shortcut. I can own up to this, though I like to think never if it involves putting anyone at risk - and always with good manners that aren't always matched by the pedestrian or motorist involved.

How many pedestrians would happily choose to throw themselves under the wheels of an oncoming car or lorry? Nor out of a suicide wish, but fully expecting to live to tell the tale? And yet, this is what people in Manchester city centre do to me every day - just because I'm on a bike, and therefore under the radar for them - either they don't see I'm there (even if I've got more lights than a Xmas tree) or they actually ignore me.

The junction of Market St. and Fountain/High St. is a notable troublespot, as pedestrians take no notice of the traffic lights. I find that my best bet is to hope a big van or taxi makes the crossing my way, so I can tag along, rather like following an ice-breaker ship.

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