You might be forgiven for thinking that there are two tribes out there on the roads, motorists and cyclists, given the ‘war on the roads’ rhetoric that we keep being treated to by apparently reputable media outlets (as its sometimes pointed out, if it’s a war, it’s a tad one-sided). The rhetoric is, of course, false. For a start, 80% of cyclists have driving licenses.
Including me. Shit, I’ve even done a speed awareness course…. :$
Yet the rhetoric persists – when it comes to cyclists, apparently ‘they’ all run red lights, ride in the centre of the lane for no reason, fail to have insurance, ride headlong on pavements at OAPs, etc. But then, don’t some cyclists just reciprocate and commit the same error? Look at the image at the top of this post: ‘the drivers are at it again’. So isn’t the same injustice committed against people on bikes constantly being committed against people in cars too? If we don’t like all cyclists to be tarred with the same brush as the rule-breaking ones, isn’t it equally unfair to associate all drivers with the one million or so who don’t have insurance, the 600000 who drive without a license, or those who kill/injure over 24000 people on the UK’s roads every year….OK, sorry, this is starting to sound partisan again.
Isn’t it ultimately just some individuals who are the problem? Aren’t these guys the individuals who would act like plutonium-powered pricks whether they were driving a car, piloting a helicopter or riding a donkey? If the tribal war on the roads rhetoric is to stop, shouldn’t those of us who who ride bikes and keep banging on about ‘the drivers’ wind our necks in, particularly given how conscious we claim to be of what it feels like to be ‘othered’?
Nope. It makes perfect sense to talk about ‘drivers being the problem’. And I speak – as I pointed out above – as an occasional driver (and occasional speed awareness course attendant). Actually, that’s not right. It makes perfect sense to talk about ‘the Driver’ being the problem. What does this mean?
Certainly there are spots which inevitably attach to themselves an atmosphere of holiness and goodness; it might not then be too fanciful to say that some houses are born bad (Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House)
Or roads, Shirley. Some roads are just…evil.
Lake Road West is one of them. Running parallel to Allensbank Road, north from Fairoak roundabout, it’s another vital link from the Roath and Cathays neck of the woods to north Cardiff. For cyclists, it’s another commuter route towards the city from the north and has the advantage of running alongside the endlessly wonderful Roath Park Lake. It’s also the quickest way to get to Worley’s Hardware and to Lendon’s Model Shop from where I live. Those are some positives, which are sadly quickly overshadowed, once you get to know it, by the bad. The very, very bad.
Way back in the mists of time there was something called the Enfys Network.
This was Cardiff Council’s plan to develop a cross-city cycle network, using mostly paint-on-the road cycle lanes, of the kind that runs alongside parked cars on Cathays Terrace (which was part of this network). Fairoak and Monthermer Road in Cathays were also to be part of this network. You can spot the roads which were intended to form part of the network by looking out for the jolly children’s paintings of cyclists which adorn the BT/Virgin cabinets on the streets thereabouts.
One of the streets that rejoiced in being recruited for Enfys is Shirley Road. Along with Fairoak and Ninian, this road takes a lot of commuter traffic – cars mostly – and has a generally ignored 20mph speed limit. It also has in common with them the fact that it meets Fairoak Roundabout, one of the busiest in this bit of Cardiff, and one of the worst blackspots for collisions. So why is it so dangerous?
The trope of ‘sharing’ comes up a lot in the road safety industry. Way back even before the embarrassing and actually borderline insane Niceway Code, this has been the established way of framing messages on road safety. Share the road. And above all, share responsibility. We all have a responsibility to each keep each other safe on the roads, so this messaging goes: car drivers, lorry drivers, horse riders, cyclists, pedestrians. Immediately this answer to road safety raises a whole lot of questions. What responsibility does a horse rider have to a lorry driver? What responsibility does a pedestrian or a cyclist have to a car driver?
Given that most media reports of collisions between pedestrians, horse riders or cyclists and drivers tend – after detailing the carnage inflicted on the vulnerable road user involved – to end with a sentence along the lines of ‘the driver of the vehicle was uninjured’, it’d be surprising if horse riders, pedestrians and cyclists were being asked to take responsibility by not maiming and killing drivers of motor vehicles.
Now, it’s common for the logic of ‘they’, of sterotyping and generalisation, to enter discussions about road safety. ‘Drivers always do this….’, ‘cyclists, you know what they’re like…’, and so on. But one generalisation is valid here: every driver, every single one, is operating dangerous heavy machinery in a public place, and so has a special responsibility to do so in a way which does not harm others.
Allensbank Road runs up from Whitchurch Road through the Cardiff suburb of Heath, all the way to Heathwood Road, which runs west to the A469 and A470 and then on to Merthy Road through Whitchurch. Travelling south from Heath it’s a major transport link to the city centre via Whitchurch Road and Cathays Terrace. So it’s a significant commuter route, and this is no doubt a reason why Cardiff Council has been recently consulting on a new kerbed bike lane [PDF] running from Heath Hospital along Allensbank down to Whitchurch Road and then onto Cathays Terrace to join up with the kerbed lane on Senghenydd Road.
However, north of King George V Drive East, where the cycleway will begin, there is not currently any provision planned. This will need to be sorted out – one of the vital developments that will be needed across the city if the Council wants to open up cycling in Cardiff to households located north of the A48.
Sometimes the problem with cyclists is not that they are invisible. It’s rather that they stand out all too much. Actually, that’s not right. Let me clarify. It’s that they stand out all too much and yet are completely invisible at the same time.
Hmm, this isn’t really working, is it? Pictures are worth a thousand words, though, right?
When I was a kid, I remember very vividly seeing this public safety ad on the telly. And being disturbed by the bit of smashed tail light at 0:31, which I and my mates were convinced was the biker’s kidney or something.