Drivers and cyclists' mutual loathing must end - Alastair Dalton

Of all the different groups in transport I write about, drivers and cyclists seem to be the ones who cause each other the most aggravation.

Police Scotland stages regular Close Pass operations to encourage drivers to overtake cyclists safely. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
Police Scotland stages regular Close Pass operations to encourage drivers to overtake cyclists safely. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

I’m not saying this to further stir things up between them.

Quite the opposite – speaking as both a cyclist and a driver, we need to get this disharmonious relationship sorted.

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And with significant changes to our urban road space in the pipeline, prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic, there’s an extra urgency to improve the situation.

One of the new cycle lanes, on Clyde Street in Glasgow city centre.

A story in The Scotsman last week about one third of drivers not giving cyclists enough space when overtaking them prompted an overwhelmingly anti-cyclist deluge on some social media, such as Facebook.

There was criticism that some cyclists passed cars too closely, rode on pavements and through red lights, while other readers argued that riders should have insurance, and be made to wear hi-vis clothing and helmets.

By contrast, when I’ve written about this debate in the past, the social media reaction has often been very different on Twitter.

Mutual respect

Angry cyclists have pointed out that some drivers also jump red lights, with far graver potential consequences, and others have crashed onto pavements, injuring and killing pedestrians.

My suggestion that mutual respect might be improved if cyclists obeyed the law was met with disbelief if not hostility by those highlighting the unequal impact of being hit by a bike and a car.

But it would surely be beneficial if everyone on the roads didn’t ignore a red light.

I’m sure I’m not the only cyclist waiting at a red to fume when, all too often, another rider blithely pedals through it.

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I bet most drivers who have witnessed that will have done.

This is becoming an increasingly significant issue because of the extra cyclists on the roads since lockdown and the reallocation of street space to encourage that trend to continue.

Councils across Scotland are embarking on more than 60 projects as part of the Spaces for People project to provide more room for walkers and cyclists, and to help distancing.

But in many cases this will mean fewer lanes for other vehicles and reduced parking.

Where pavements are widened and there are no cycle lanes, that could bring riders and drivers closer together.

New or widened cycle lanes, some segregated, will be established in areas such as Argyll & Bute, East Ayrshire, Edinburgh, Fife, Glasgow, the Highlands, Perth & Kinross, South Lanarkshire, Stirling and West Lothian.

Many inexperienced riders

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The more such measures are introduced, the more people will be attracted to cycle, and that will increase the visibility of cyclists on the roads – a virtuous circle that should improve safety and encourage more to join them.

But there are likely to be many inexperienced riders among them, considering many bike shops have sold out of all but the priciest models amid an apparent widespread shortage.

They – along with other fair-weather riders – must be encouraged to continue cycling when the weather gets cooler and the days shorter as we head into autumn.

That’s especially vital as it may coincide with a shift back to offices and other workplaces, schools and colleges, if the lockdown restrictions continue to be relaxed.

What we absolutely don’t want on newly narrowed streets is mounting congestion if people just take to their cars instead because of the shortage of space on buses and trains.

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