Cycling to work – why people hate cyclists, part 3

The third in a series of posts examining the four most common reasons for people hating cyclists. The usual reasons being given as:
  1. Assaulting innocent pedestrians
  2. Wearing lycra  

Assaulting innocent pedestrians
We frequently read about how a poor pedestrian was mown down by a cyclist committing one of the offences described in parts 1 and 2. Or possibly he or she was just crossing the road minding their own business when a cyclist slammed into them at high speed.

I have had five collisions in five years of regular cycling and three of them have been with pedestrians. From my personal experience I can say that cyclist-pedestrian collisions are not uncommon. Here are a couple of points that are self-evident to a cyclist but perhaps less obvious to a non-cyclist, especially one predisposed to think badly of cyclists (more on that later):

  1. A cyclist is just a person too. It’s all too easy to equate bikes with other vehicles in this situation, but mowing down a pedestrian with a car is much, much easier than doing it on a bike. If you don’t believe me, try it. You are one person colliding with another, and you have the disadvantage of being perched on top of an unstable support, so the collision is inevitably followed by a fall. My point is this: a cyclist will usually come off worst in a collision with a pedestrian. Cyclists know this and therefore try very hard not to let it happen. My evidence is two broken laptops, a damaged bike and several joints that hurt in cold, damp weather.
  2. Pedestrians are blithly unaware of what is going on round them. They cross the road using their ears instead of their eyes. They cross the road using a sort of herd instinct: if somebody else starts to cross then everybody follows without themselves checking that it is safe to do so. Unless you are a cyclist you will doubt this. I can only say once again: try it yourself.

And this, I think, is the crux of it. Cyclists’ attention is fixed on a zone about 20-30 metres ahead of where they are. The cyclist will see a pedestrian many metres ahead and will calculate his own trajectory and the pedestrian’s to ensure there is no collision.

Pedestrians’ attention is fixed on their iPod or their mobile phone. Thus when a bike passes near a pedestrian it is a complete surprise to the pedestrian. He or she will not have noticed the bike until it is very close. Thus startled, the pedestrian looks for the cause of his fear. I did not notice the bicycle therefore it was out of control, he reasons. That stupid cyclist nearly hit me! Stupid cyclists.

Then he opens his Daily Mail and there is a story about hooligan cyclists ramming pedestrians and his reasoning is confirmed. How true! he writes to the Letters Editor. And so the newspaper prints more such stories. It never prints stories about pedestrians stepping out in front of cyclists without looking – why would it? That isn’t news.

I conclude that the charge of assaulting innocent pedestrians is largely false. I’m sure it happens sometimes – I once saw a YouTube video of some cycle couriers in a race across London. Several innocent pedestrians were harmed in the making of that film, which was completely deplorable. Such cases are a tiny minority of cyclist-pedestrian collisions.

I read a newspaper article (I think it was the Daily Mail in fact) where cyclist-pedestrian incident statistics were quoted in support of the hooligan cyclist viewpoint. In other words, the journalist simply assumed that all such collisions were the cyclists’ fault (or hoped his readers would be stupid enough to do so). There seems to be a school of thought that says pedestrians are automatically the injured party in any road incident. I think this needs to be challenged. Pedestrians are often the cause of incidents and should be made to take responsibility for their actions.

Including me when I am one of course.


14 Responses to “Cycling to work – why people hate cyclists, part 3”

  1. 1 Kim February 7, 2010 at 18:32

    It is odd how papers like the Daily Wail, sorry I mean Mail, get so hettup about cyclist running in to pedestrians but ignore the fact that 70 people are kill by drivers on the pavement every year. Now I don’t condone pavement cycling for anyone over the age of 10, but I accept that it happens. What should be totally unacceptable is driving on the pavements!

  2. 2 Fixup August 8, 2008 at 15:42

    Holly, what about the petroleum that was used to transport the food and clothes to the shops that pedestrians are buying from?

  3. 4 John August 8, 2008 at 03:33

    “The cyclist will see a pedestrian many metres ahead and will calculate his own trajectory and the pedestrian’s to ensure there is no collision.”

    I think that is an error.

    You should not expect a pedestrian to continue on a predictable course, ever. Anytime you’re in a pedestrian crossing, or see a pedestrian standing at the roadside waiting to cross, you should slow down and pay attention – whether you’re on a bicycle, in a car, or riding a motorcycle. (It’s not just a listening thing – I’ve head people nearly walk into me on my motorcycle.)

    Pedestrians are best viewed as objects that will move randomly. Because… they are.

    I have a theory that here in the U.S. the ability to navigate streets on foot is on the decline. With so much of our population doing most of their walking in suburban shopping malls and similar spaces, when you put them on a sidewalk they have no idea that they cannot simply bobble around in all directions, or that they need to watch the flow of other pedestrians. Having grown up in a traditional town (sidewalks, strolling to the town center to shops, and so on) and lived most of my adult life in cities where people walk (Boston, Washington), I find it refreshing to visit London or Paris and note that people seem to know how to get around on sidewalks without blocking one another, nearly colliding with each other, and so on.

  4. 5 Dominic Sayers July 28, 2008 at 07:31

    Hi Holly and thanks for your thoughts. Actually, I think stupdity is often illegal – ignorance is no defence (although IANAL of course). Of course there are pedestrians who are incapable of acting sensibly but that’s quite a small minority. I’m talking about you and me – people who are otherwise responsible citizens but who act irresponsibly when walking in busy city streets. My contention is that part (and only part) of the reason for this is that the law allows us to do so.

  5. 6 Holly July 28, 2008 at 05:11

    I know this–stupidity isn’t illegal. Neither is being blind, or distracted, or hungover, or any of the other things one may be when one chooses to use his or her feet to travel instead of wheels. Walking is the one, the ONE transportation choice left to people who are otherwise unqualified or reluctant to do when not at peak efficiency. Pedestrians should be left to do what they do, however they do it. This comes from a driver and cyclist, dude! I’m serious; let them be. They mean no harm, are more law-abiding than you paint them, and are completely incapable of harming our precious toys if we use simple caution. Don’t confuse pedestrians with idiots, either–most are just trying to get from A to B without incident or petroleum. That includes whatever petroleum was used to manufacture our bikes and acoutrements. Again, let them do what they do however they do it. Watch yourself and you’ll be okay.

  6. 7 Dominic Sayers June 11, 2008 at 13:10

    Hi Jamie, and thanks for your thoughtful comments and amusing anecdote.

    I don’t know the answer to your hypothetical question, I just know it’s never going to happen unless pedestrians are held responsible for their actions.

  7. 8 JamieLB June 10, 2008 at 23:43

    I have to agree with you completely that pedestrians are the least defensive so called driver of them all. They do not seem to pay much attention to what is going on around them, hence the accidents with both motorists and cyclists and ironically become the most offensive individuals after the fact. This is kind of funny but you know the chirping sound that they put at crosswalks in large cities, well I was with my wife in a downtown area standing with a group of people, whom we did not know, waiting for the crosswalk sign to say go and for that chirping sound. Well before it began, while we stood there I began making that chirping sound with my mouth by whistling it and to my surprise a group of people began to walk across the cross-walk even though the little sign that indicates it is ok to cross still had the solid “stop-hand”. I began to chuckle a little and my wife reprimandingly slapped me on the shoulder and told me that it was not funny, but the funny thing is that it was…you are absolutey right when you say people cross the road using their ears rather than their eyes. In this case it was literal. When you are cycling I think that it is hard to move in a herd due to the nature of things so in-herently you forced to become more aware. Unfortunately you get the few cyclists, when this becomes second nature, who become over confident and even arrogant on the road and can end up causing some dangerous situations. What if walking by nature required a great deal of awareness to accomplish it? Do you think there would be less motor vehicle and cyclist accidents respectively speaking?

  8. 9 Messenger of Doom April 12, 2008 at 18:30

    Its an ugly emotion too, felt by ugly people.

  9. 10 Dominic Sayers March 25, 2008 at 09:52

    Hello Scaramouche and welcome to the conversation. Can you do the fandango?

    I agree that anti-social behaviour and poor taste in clothing are both regrettable. But hate? Hate is an ugly word.

  10. 11 Scaramouche March 23, 2008 at 07:09

    I am a road cyclist. It pisses me off when idiots who drive cars come too close or cut me off. But I see other cyclists every day who ride like arrogant wankers. These cyclists are frequently the ones who dress up to look like their favorite professional riders in the Tour de France, and ride in groups. I see them all the time riding two or more abreast, blocking car traffic, and ignoring the angry motorists who are stuck behind them. Today I was riding my bike and some Lance Armstrong-costumed idiot came up behind me silently, nearly knocked me off, and began to curse me for getting in his way. A few miles later another pair of dress-up boys going the opposite way cut to the inside of a turn and almost ran me off the path. It takes a lot more than the money to buy a pro team jersey to be a good cyclist, but these morons seem to think a team shirt gives them the license to ride like jerks. As I said, I am a cyclist. And I hate cyclists.

  11. 12 Messenger of Doom January 30, 2008 at 20:26

    I witnessed some complete wanker grab a girl’s arse as he rode paste her. I saide, “do you know him?”; as I expected, she replied “no!”. I saide, “what a tosser, you should have knocked him off his bike”.

    I refuse to share the tag ‘cyclist’ with people like him. These are not cyclists, these are scumbags who happen to be using bicycles.

    It makes me rather angry :-@

  1. 1 Pedestrians and velocity « Dominic Sayers Trackback on August 8, 2008 at 12:32
  2. 2 Walking to work - the victimless crime « Dominic Sayers Trackback on February 12, 2008 at 09:29

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