I’ve been cycling to and from work for around 20 years now. Southampton has always been choked with traffic and the fumes it creates ever since I can remember, but recent years have been worse than I’ve ever known. The council kept stating “cycling is booming“, as did the local police, and we did have a small resurgence around the time of the 2012 Wiggins‘ win in the TDF and the Olympics. The data later showed that it hadn’t been as big a “boom” as everyone had been suggesting – more of a fart.
I gave up riding for around a total of 3 to 4 months last year. Not out of choice. Simply because every day I would be cut up so bad as to have to slam on my own brake to avoid going into the side or the back of some recidivist wanker. Sometimes I’d shout back at the abuse I’ve gotten (nothing like “wanna fight” shenanigans but more “whooahhh fucccck!” out of fear – which still nearly resulted in two bouts of fisticuffs last year alone).
I used to tell friends and family the benefits of cycling. 2/3rds of people here in Southampton actually live within spitting distance of their work place. They do like to whinge that they’re “too far away”, “there’s too many hills”, and “we can’t all be superhuman like you!” (I’m nearly 16 stone for fuck sake!) I no longer bother telling people where they can buy a cheap bike, or give them any cycling advice. I used to write a lot to the local paper to speak up for local riders rights, but with the paper willing to side with the local knuckle-biters I simply gave up. I really don’t wish to sustain any brain damage from the constant head-wall interface that results.
The reality is a city gets the traffic jams it deserves. If you’re not willing to fight for better then you have to accept a city of lung damage, cancer, heart disease, lack of real mobility, the fact the ambulances can’t get to you in time… it makes me sad that my city has become like this, so unaccepting of change, so willing to blame others for their own mistakes.
Which brings me around to why I started this little rant: the local paper, politicians and police have all recently run campaigns suggesting cyclists should all be wearing hiviz clothing. They seem to think that will make things better, fix the mistakes and curb the aggression. It wont.
Southampton has a history of cyclists dying and being seriously injured by driver’s sole actions. Almost all of these WERE wearing hiviz according to the local Police. Two weeks ago the Police stopped over 130 cyclists and instructed them to wear hiviz tops – for cyclists that were riding in clear daylight. This just seems like a ludicrous waste of public resources! The local paper ran stories on cyclists who have died in the past couple of years – even mentioning that they were wearing hiviz IN the article!
If this isn’t convincing you that something very wrong is being allowed to occur here then let me tell you my own experiences in more detail.
In 2008 as I rode into work and navigated across a roundabout I was hit by an inattentive driver. My personal feeling was that he had been holding a phone to his ear and in a rush due to the way he exited his vehicle with his phone already pressed to his ear and began grabbing at my legs. I was put on a spinal board and rushed to hospital for examination. They checked me over and thankfully I was just majorly bruised, cut and torn (I still would not want to see this happen to anyone else)!
Prior to that a few months earlier I had been intentionally buzzed and clipped by a van driver, forcing my hand off the bars/brakes as his wing mirror clipped my elbow and sleeve. How do I know it was intentional I hear you ask? Due to the rampant shouts of profanity from his open passenger window. There have been a few times like that where I’ve attempted to report these incidents to the Police, sometimes with video evidence. They simply weren’t interested. I only managed to get them to document the spinal board situation and a later threat of assault (now 2 years back, driver cut in on me to slam their brakes on deliberately, then sat there threatening to assault me).
It makes quite angry to see the Police near here have decided to do an Operation Close Pass. We’ve been asking for this for TEN BLOODY YEARS. Its too little, too late. Most of those riders have given up and gone back to their car. Hiviz wont bring those people back, and neither will someone who eventually gets recognised as “the Bobby on the bike who picks on drivers“.