Would you rather; get hit by a car while cycling or have motorists shout abuse at you on a regular basis as you ride past?

Verbal Lashings vs a body crumpled; Dublin’s dangerous streets

By Krystal Sweedman

Would you rather; get hit by a car while cycling or have motorists shout abuse at you on a regular basis as you ride past?

It sounds like one of those questions you ask someone you’re dating to get to know them, where you expect the answer to be the actual violence – getting hit, because surely it’s scarier to feel your body collide with a car, than to receive a verbal lashing you could easily brush off.

As a woman who cycles into work every day, who has experienced both, I can hands down say the verbal abuse I’ve received, while doing the right thing, was far scarier than the time a driver mistakenly drove her car into me.

I was travelling straight, cycling to uni. The motorist came down the hill opposite and turned right across my path, hitting the side of my tyre with the front of her car, causing me to roll up onto her bonnet, my helmet colliding with her windscreen. She then braked, and I rolled off. Remarkably, due to the reasonable speed she was turning (and a lot of luck), my injuries were minor; bruising and a very broken bike and helmet. Nothing her insurance didn’t cover.

While I was in the right here, the event happened so quickly, there was no time to feel anything other than grateful that I hadn’t been seriously hurt. The incidents of verbal abuse, on the other hand, stay with me, influencing my decisions on a daily basis. This can mean breaking the road rules on occasion to prioritise my safety. Especially since every time I’ve been abused, it’s been when I’ve been following the road rules, rather than breaking them.

Imagine you are occupying the right turning lane and two cars come up behind. You know that as soon as those lights go, you’ll be pedalling as fast as you can up the remainder of the hill, staying to the right because you’ll be turning right into a driveway in a matter of metres. You know you are legally allowed to do this, but the drivers who pull up behind you don’t. In the 45 seconds it takes to stand up and push your way towards your driveway, where you wait for the traffic to clear, indicate with your right arm and turn in, you are beeped at and then the danger escalates.

As you enter the driveway of your apartment block, the two cars pull in behind you, their windows down. You are screamed by the first one “stick to the left you stupid bitch” and given the finger by the second. You are shaking as you scream back at them:

“I’m allowed to occupy the lane!” but they drive off, and you are left trembling with a flood of adrenalin that takes almost half an hour to subside. The threat of physical harm aside, you know part of your reaction is being wrongly told what to do.

A similar indignation had swelled up when you were cycling on a shared path. A car was parked beside the path, the passenger sees you coming and refrains from opening her door onto you, at the same time as you sincerely thank her for seeing you, she takes to telling you that you aren’t supposed to be riding there. You cycle off, wanting to go back and tell her that it’s a shared path, for pedestrians and cyclists, that she could tell because of the symbol on the path, that you had slowed down, just in case she didn’t see you and that what could have been a lovely interaction was ruined by her self-righteousness, but you hold your tongue, you fear the escalation of conflict.

There are many more situations, some better and some worse than this, that happen regularly on my commute. As a result, I change my behaviour. Instead of staying on the road, where in Ireland, I’m legally supposed to be, I now cross from the road to the footpath, for the last section of my ride home. In Queensland, Australia, where I’m from, I’ve never had an altercation with a motorist, mostly because we’re legally allowed to ride on the footpath, which means, all of the danger and pinch spots, can be avoided.

There are intersections in South Dublin, that when you cycle regularly, you flag as danger spots. Spots where you know drivers are more likely to do the wrong thing. There is one intersection on my commute where I was yelled at by a BMW driver who had edged forward, hoping to whizz across the stream of traffic going forward, so he didn’t have to wait for it to clear before he could turn right. When I proceeded on the green light (which I am legally obliged to do), rather than going with the pedestrians (which is legal in other European countries), he took great offence, because it meant he had to wait for the other cars to pass before he could turn, and didn’t he let me know how annoyed he was? His behaviour and the fact that cars regularly do cut across this intersection, just as I’m approaching, means I’ve changed the way I cycle here; going on the green man instead of my green light. My lane is parallel to theirs, so mostly my cycling with them doesn’t make a difference, it does mean that I have to be hyper of last minute dashers, who may run across the road late to the signal. I take the responsibility seriously.

There’s another two intersections where the cycle lane goes straight but the road has a left lane; proceeding here takes extreme caution, as at least once a week a motorist, concerned they’re going to miss their green arrow, will speed up behind me, and cut across my path, inevitably leading to me press my brakes to avoid the back or side of their vehicle. I often see motorists running red lights for the same reason; impatience; they’ve just missed the yellow and chance speeding across the intersection so they don’t get stuck in a whole light cycle. These are the motorists who will beep you if you are in the way of their misdeeds and who self-righteously judge you for yours. I was very surprised at how often I see motorists running red lights here, and I think it’s because there is a lack of red light cameras at intersections in Ireland – In Brisbane, you’d never risk running a red light as getting snapped would lead to points off your licence and significant fines. Motorists, also don’t face any backlash for the abusing cyclists out their windows, and so the culture continues.

An “RSA expert” wrote an article recently that helped reinforce the culture of hating cyclists; dehumanising the men and women who ride bikes by likening them to a swarm of bees, deliberately breaking the rules to annoy motorists. The article, and many others that focus on the rule-breaking of cyclists while ignoring, the overall rule-breaking culture in Ireland (ah we’ll just chance it, won’t we?), is contributing to the problem of abuse cyclists face on Irish roads. These unbalanced articles, are dangerous because they reinforce attitudes and perceptions that road users already have, making them feel it’s acceptable to abuse cyclists. Why aren’t we talking about the road rules failure to protect the most vulnerable road users? Why, when in other countries alternatives have been found, is Ireland not considering whether the road rules might be part of problem?? As car insurance and the cost of living continues to rise in Dublin more people may opt for the savings cycling brings, putting pressure on the current infrastructure. It will take time for enough cycle ways to be built to catch up with the demand.

What we can change in the meantime, however, is how we treat each other. Motorists can choose to take a deep breath when they recognise they’re feeling impatient and instead of giving into road rage, remember, that while a cyclist/s may delay you slightly before you can overtake at the 1.5m safe distance, or turn left or right at an intersection, by cycling in, there is one less car on the road, thereby saving you time by easing congestion. As cyclist’s we can ensure pedestrians feel equally safe and seen, as is our responsibility because they are the more vulnerable party. Similarly, we can lookout for our fellow cyclists. I almost caused a four bike pileup recently, when I stopped on an orange-turning red light, unaware that there were three men close behind. I was too busy, watching the light, and car ready to emerge, to notice them. One skidded around me, and the other two stopped by my side, laughing good naturedly about how I was the only one who was going to obey the rules. But by me stopping, they did too. One of the riders mentioned something about signalling that I was about to brake. But he didn’t harp on about it, and it wasn’t until later that I realised this is something I could have done better in this situation, and no doubt they reflected as well.

The motorists, who do see me coming, who reverse if they’ve gone out onto the cycle lane, while exiting their driveway, or do wait for me to pass before turning left, always get a big smile and thanks from me. They make my day, and these positive experiences are one of the many things that keep me cycling. Verbal lashing, aside, I love cycling, it keeps me fit without having to think about it, gets me to work fast, and connects me to the city and its people. I just hope that the RSA and other media outlets can be mindful of the culture they are creating, because it directly affects us on the streets.

Article sent into us by Krystal. Would you like to publish an opinion piece on cycling in Dublin? Please send it into us

Friday, 18 January 2019 (All day)

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