Black and blue

This article was written for the Londonist.  The pic was taken in Berlin on a hire bike – it’s the only one I could find of me riding.  Cycling in Berlin is a pleasure by the way – proper cycle lanes.

It was last Monday evening.  Well it was late afternoon. I work for myself and was heading home early, because when you’re your own boss you can. I was daydreaming about dinner, but I was also concentrating on the road, cycling as safely as possible and keeping an eye out for wayward drivers.

On Holloway Road I was knocked clean off my bike by a car door that opened in a queue at red traffic lights. One minute I was making my way to the front of stationary traffic for a safe getaway on the green light, the next minute I was in an undignified heap on the pavement, hit off the road and into oncoming pedestrian traffic.  I admit I swore at the passenger who decided to leap out without looking, and then burst into tears.

Lots of kind people stopped. The car pulled over. Someone took the driver and his passenger’s details as I sat on the pavement in a hopeless haze. Once I’d proved I could stand up and didn’t need an ambulance, a kind gentleman and his mum helped me and my beloved bicycle hobble home.

The passenger insisted it was an accident, which of course it was. The kind gentleman told him that accidents like this would be prevented if people only took time to look. Home, I inspected my wounds, made a cup of tea and got into bed. The gloom set in, thick and heavy. There’s nothing like being reminded of your own mortality to make you feel morbid. But I also felt angry. I still do.

Over the last week I’ve watched a forest of bruises bloom along my right leg and arm. A week on, my lumpy knee is painted all the colours of the rainbow and dotted about with tiny scabs. I’ve struggled to get back on my bike. It’s funny how random incidents like these can feel so personal and prophetic. I need to take action and I also need someone to convince me to start cycling again.

I’ve been talking to Kathryn King (Bikeminded), Andrew Tobert (Climate Rush) and Andreas Kambanis (London Cyclist), all passionate about city cycling and campaigning in their own ways to make cyclists safer. I’ve been wondering whether a safety awareness campaign about ‘dooring’ might help, or if being ‘cyclist aware’ should be part of the driving test. Andrew says us cyclists deserve protection not posters. I think perhaps we deserve both.

1. How to avoid a good ‘dooring’

“Spiderman-like reflexes help. A slightly slower pace is a good idea and well serviced brakes in case of an emergency stop. Also, crucially, where possible you shouldn’t ride too near to parked cars or the gutter” – Andreas

“We advise cyclists to cycle at least a metre away from a parked vehicle. This means that you’re more visible to another road user, but also that you are out of the danger zone in which you could be hit by a vehicle” – Kathryn

“The best thing you can do is to campaign to remove on-street car parking. Replacing parking spaces with bike lanes or bike parking has been shown to increase everything from house prices to money spent in nearby shops” – Andrew

2. Teach drivers to take care

“Perhaps the best step forward we could take is to assume that, in an accident between a driver and a cyclist, the driver is always at fault. This has been implemented in other countries successfully and means drivers are always very cautious around cyclists” – Andreas

“Cyclists are vulnerable – they deserve protection. Segregated cycle lanes in the Dutch style would do far more to protect cyclists than any safety campaign” – Andrew

3. Demand change

“We want London to be a vibrant, habitable city, not a congested polluted one. Climate Rush organised a Cycle for London protest last week and our demands were car-free and car-light areas; 20mph as the norm throughout central London; and a democratically accountable TFL. We’ll be carrying on our protests. If enough people get involved, change isn’t just possible, it’s inevitable” – Andrew

4. Why cycle?

“The bicycle gives a great feeling of freedom. Seeing new sides of London and experiencing the world, rather than being stuck on an underground train. It means less pollution and congestion. London Cyclist is about everything an everyday cyclist could need” – Andreas

“Research from across Europe shows that when levels of cycling increase, the rate of cycle collisions drop. So more cyclists means safer cycling. Bikeminded offers advice and inspiration to get people cycling” – Kathryn

“Cycling is fast and it’s free! It’s gets you fit and it’s the most enjoyable commute you’ll ever have. Cycling will change your life” – Andrew

Enough said.

But please please please look before you swing open a car door. Dooring can and does kill.

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