Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Battling the bike rage
This month’s Guardian bike podcast has a piece on bike rage. I suspect that there aren’t many regular cyclists who don’t know exactly what the guy is talking about; when drivers appear to be willing to risk your life out of their thoughtlessness or lack of attention, it is very hard not to take it personally no matter how hard you try to rationalize it. The Guardian’s commentator talks about self-loathing cyclists – those who are embarrassed by the aggression of angry and self righteous cyclists and his battle to find his place between the two extremes, something I understand well. A few days ago, for the first time ever in maybe 10,000 kms of riding in Helsinki I hit a pedestrian.
In retrospect it wasn’t really anyone’s fault and fortunately my mountain biking skills paid off, and when this woman suddenly stepped into my path I just managed to brake and jump sideways giving her shopping bag a good whack but thankfully neither hitting her or knocking me off my bike. But once I got past the shock of how close to being a nasty accident for both of us it had been, I managed to avoid feeling either guilty over my riding or too angry at her actions. The street at that point is an undifferentiated cycling and walking path. The lady had as much right to be walking there as I did to be cycling. The lack of logic and changing basic assumption of the Helsinki cycle path system means there is no ‘natural’ feeling of who should be where on such as road. The road also has some patterned bricks in it, purely for aesthetics I guess, but that are enough to loosen the fillings of cyclists riding over them and meaning you tend to make you look down rather than forward. And finally half the road was being dug up pushing everyone into an even smaller space. I do get annoyed by pedestrians who walk on the cycle paths and I get annoyed by cyclists who ride on the walking path, but the lack of any consistency all across the city is clearly a major cause of this. It is a structural problems with Helsinki’s cycle path system that actually “empowers” inattentive cyclist and pedestrians – and we can all be one of those at times - making accidents more likely to happen.
On the way home I rode through the forests of Central Park and out into the countryside around Ylästö, on the quietest roads and cycle paths that I could think of, and that was much more mellow.