Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Last night's commute was great; a nice steady spin through the lanes, spotting the changing colour of the trees as Autumn entres stage left. The last bit of this particular route takes me home along what is locally known as the St Albans ringroad; it's not the most direct route from the lanes, just a little loop I add in to squeeze another mile or so into the ride.

Despite the name, the 'ring road' is not really that grand, just a set of normal streets which link to run round the north side of the city about two-thirds of the way out. Traffic can be busy, but it's not intimidating. Close to home there's a couple of mini roundabouts about 75 yards apart; at this stage in my commute I'm well warmed up, the road is flat to slightly downhill and I'm riding fairly quickly (about 18-20mph), maintaining a distance of about 4 feet from the kerb to set myself up to turn right at the second roundabout. My speed and the distance between the two roundabouts means that I'm not holding up the traffic to any real extent and traffic in the other direction usually prevents safe overtaking.

Anyway, last night I'm about 3 feet from the kerb approaching the first roundabout when a van starts to overtake (pretty stupid thing to do, but no problem, I have space to move into if needs be), then pulls in sharply to within 18" of me when it's half way past and almost up to the roundabout (big problem). I slap the side of the van, not hard, just enough to let the driver know I'm there, and shout 'give me room!'. The driver bakes, and I clear the roundabout ahead of him. This is red rag to a bull to the driver, who then sits on my back wheel tooting his horn and follows me as I turn, keeping up the agression and the horn. As we approach a parked car he's nearly parallel and it looks like he's going to box me in. I'm on a road bike, so hopping the
kerb isn't really an option and I stop before we get into a road duel which I'll only lose. Most of all, I don't want him to follow me home.

The usual enraged cager diatribe ensues; I tell him he was too close, he threatens to 'slap my face like I slapped his van' and follows up with the tired old 'you shouldn't be on the road, you don't pay road tax, don't have insurance, yadda, yadda yadda.' He's virtually foaming at the mouth, won't admit he pulled in on me at the roundabout, won't listen to me, so I just let him spew his bullshit and calm down a little before saying 'whatever' and riding off unfazed.

There's no solution to this sort of outburst which doesn't invite further agression, so there was no point in continuing the 'conversation'. In retrospect I'm slightly annoyed I forgot to pull my phone from my jersey poket and video the encounter to follow up with his employer, possibly "CV plumbing" or similar but I couldn't be sure- a plumbering/heating firm in any case.

This incodent isn't a big deal, I've commuted by bike for more than twenty years, I'm well used to this sort of thing and it doesn't happen often. What bothers me is the degree of ingorance and bigotry and the downright agression of a small minority of drivers.

We need a local road strategy which educates drivers about leaving adequate room for other road users, and infractructure design/signing to reinforce the message.

On the other side of the Atlantic, blogger Cycledog writes about simialar attitudes in the US and references analysis which refutes the 'freeloading cyclists don't pay for the roads' myth.


Unknown said...

Hi Mike
I dont think your problem here was one of cycling and the motorist, more of encountering the phenonmenon that is 'the St Albans motorist' need I say more.... :)

moonmamma said...

oh yes the infamous St Albans motorist, and whilst I drive my car in Snorbans, I am glad to say I learnt to drive many miles away, and got most my driving experience away from this mad little City!