This year, there has been a slew of high-profile incidents including well-publicised cyclist deaths, vigilante cyclist filming and shaming, and acts of violence. As a cycling commuter for more than three years, while vigilant for bad drivers, I’m far more aware and afraid of cyclists behaving terribly. During my morning commute from South Hackney to Bloomsbury, my mood always shifts from enjoyment when I leave Regents Canal to irritated stickler by the time I stop at the first set of traffic lights. Painted bike spaces at the front of the traffic lights provide relief from cars and are the best vantage point to spot the worst behaviour. Jumping to the front of the queue, using a four-way pedestrian crossing as an excuse to ride through red lights and frightened road-crossing pedestrians, taking off before the light has gone green, wearing headphones while cycling, careless overtaking and weaving through cars, cutting off other cyclists, and riding on the footpath.
Though we sometimes ideally see ourselves as more ethical commuters and therefore better than drivers, our differing motivations complicates this thinking. Sometimes it’s because it’s enjoyable, we get good exercise, it saves money, and helps avoid the hellish morning tube. As a result, our motivations lead to different individual behaviours – some worse than others.
The shameless acts of the worst behaved indicates to me that they’re motivated by pure entitlement. There are two common forms. One is money. Cyclists who can and have spent more on bikes and accessories tend to behave worse because many believe they’ve paid for the privilege. £2,000 bikes, £200 scantily-clad lycra paired with Olympic disqualification-level muscular shaved calves, weaving in and out of traffic with reckless disregard for other cyclists who are probably considered mole people in comparison. The sort of privately educated former cross country competitive cyclists whose mentalities don’t extended beyond each Map My Ride record as the equivalent of a new prefect badge. The second entitlement is gender. The majority of offenders – regardless of financial ability – are men. From the bearded man-children of the East to the city trader Mamils of the West and the Boris biking tourists of Bloomsbury. Whether in London or in Melbourne. The lack of warning bell or hand gestures in high-speed takeovers or even lack of thanks to polite pedestrians who allow them to pass/ leap into the Canal suggests that aggressive behaviour is a perfectly legitimate way of getting what you want.
Bad drivers show similar tendencies. Those in powerful, expensive cars are also more likely to act like pricks and men also tend to be worse. On our part, greater honesty by cyclists of our bad behaviour is a first step towards improving our reputation and would hopefully then lead to legal steps to control behaviour.
A realistic solution needs to address a lack of clarity about what a cyclist is. Too often we consider ourselves more like pedestrians when it’s convenient, Using the pavement, jumping to the front of the queue, or using a green crossing are reasonable pedestrian behaviours but not for vehicles. However, thinking of them purely as vehicles through licensing and registration is too bureaucratic and punitive. A more balanced definition is somewhere between the two where they should not co-exist together. Building vast networks of cycle-only pathways would reduce animosity through separating us. Enforcing civil behaviour between cyclists could include speeding limits enforced through cameras, law enforcement, and ticketing. For those who want to want to enact Tour De France fantasies in their morning commutes or can’t be bothered leaving home five minutes earlier, there’s always the road.