Poynted remarks

IssueJune - July 2023
Comment by Claire Poyner

Two wheels good, four wheels bad. Or is it the other way around?

Depends on where you hear comments reflecting the belief that one is inherently better than the other.

‘Four wheels’ implies a motor vehicle which, even if it is electric, is not completely pollution-free (and certainly the production of electricity is not carbon-neutral). Evidence shows that electric cars still emit harmful PM2.5 particles. Yes, EVs are better, but not as good as reducing the volume of motor traffic on our roads.

‘Two wheels’, meanwhile, includes bicycles and motorcycles.

It seems motorists hate cyclists. At least, those who express extreme dislike of cyclists appear to assume that all other motorists feel the same. Motorcycles are disliked as well, but the most extreme opinions are reserved for those on pushbikes.

Now, I don’t cycle. And I have never so much as sat behind the steering wheel of a car. Rarely felt the need. If ever the need did arise, why there’s always taxis and a friend who is willing to hire a small van to transport a pile of old books to donate to Housmans.

So, I don’t have an axe to grind either way. Except that I do understand that a cyclist is a more vulnerable road user than a motorist, and a pedestrian is even more vulnerable. And, of course, bicycles are better for air quality, quieter, better for the rider’s health and so on.

Somehow, the Twitter algorithm has it that I am interested in stories about cycling and I guess I must be, which is why these tweets keep turning up alongside the accounts I actually follow (CND, WILPF, Green Party, you get the picture).

So, often a cyclist posts a story about being closely followed up the road by an angry young man in a car who keeps beeping at the cyclist in an aggressive manner. Comments range from ‘give him a cheery wave’ (cycle-friendly) to ‘why didn’t you pull over so he could get past?’ (cycle-unfriendly).

Responses seen lately include: ‘if he was on a bike he’d be able to overtake’ and ‘the 20mph speed limit is a speed limit not a target speed, if it were a car travelling at 10mph, he still wouldn’t be able to pass’.

Don’t forget the comments such as ‘cyclists pay nothing towards the upkeep of the roads’ (as if cyclists are exempt from income tax and VAT – who knew?) nor do they pay ‘road tax’.

Well, no one pays ‘road tax’, of course; the tax most motorists pay is vehicle excise duty which is linked directly to the vehicle. The cost varies depending on vehicle age and CO2 emissions. And that tax (which raises about £7bn a year) goes nowhere near the cost of actually maintaining roads (around £12bn a year).

So, yes, all of us contribute to that road and only cyclists and pedestrians are automatically entitled to use the road, motorists have to get a licence to use it.

No, I am not letting inconsiderate cyclists off the hook. After increasing the amount of walking I have been doing during and post-pandemic, I have become more and more aware of bad behaviour by motorists and cyclists alike.

I have become a grumpy old woman shouting at those who don’t think red lights apply to them because they’re on two wheels (even if, especially if, there are pedestrians on the crossing!).

As for cycling on the pavement, well, I’m against that too but, if you must, at least travel at walking speed and accept that we pedestrians have the right of way – and never, ever, expect us to get out of your way. But, preferably, don’t.

However, getting hit by a bike is one thing, getting hit by a car, another entirely. There was a correspondent in the Islington Tribune who wrote: ‘like most people, I would rather be hit by a car going at 15mph than a cyclist going at 25mph’.

Hmmm. The car is bigger, heavier (and unlikely to be going at just 15mph), and probably only professional cyclists can manage 25mph. It’s more likely to be around 10mph. Also, the cyclist is liable to be knocked off the bike as well, so you could always have words, whereas with a motor car there’s a risk they can hit-and- run.

My suggestion to end this antagonism towards cyclists? Make cycling proficiency lessons a prerequisite to learning to drive, unless there’s a physical reason making it impossible. And re-test motorists at intervals (every 10 years?).

As for making cyclists more pedestrian-friendly, not sure. More grumpy old women and law-abiding cyclists shouting at them, maybe?

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