London needs to readdress its anger towards city cyclists, says writer and cyclist Hollie Richardson.
“I hope you get hit by a bus!”
These were the words that a woman shouted at me in the street while I was cycling home from work earlier this week.
Why? It took me a delayed moment to hit my brakes when the traffic lights turned red. It was a hard brake, I admit, and I stopped just before the pedestrian crossing. So, I understand that the woman – who, incidentally, stepped out on a red man without checking both ways – was startled when I stopped a metre away from her. And I totally get why she was a bit miffed (even though, technically, we were both in the wrong).
“You need to look where you’re going,” she told me, a sentiment which I readily accepted. As I tried to regain my focus and started to cycle away, however, she hurled that abusive comment at my back: “I hope you get hit by a bus!”
Shocked, I braked again and asked her to repeat what she said. Unabashed, she once again repeated that awful comment to my face, adding: “If you can go around nearly hitting people, you deserve to be hit yourself.” I continued my cycle home that day shaking like a leaf. At one point, I pulled aside for about 20 minutes to have a cry and ring my friend. Nervous cyclists do not make good cyclists, and my nerves were completely shot. The following day, I chose to take the bus to work instead – because I’d rather ride one than risk the stranger’s wish that I be hit by one come true.
The incident was upsetting, but sadly not surprising. And it serves as a firm reminder that there is a real hatred towards cyclists in London… particularly when those cyclists are women. In fact, a 2015 report found that female cyclists are twice as likely to be abused or harassed on the roads than men.
Look, I totally get why I might annoy you as a cyclist. I’ve definitely been the reason your bus has moved at a glacial pace on a long road during your morning commute. And I’ve perhaps seemingly pulled out of nowhere during one of your Uber journeys, causing the driver to cuss and toot their horn. I also know how much it irks you when two of us cycle alongside each other on a narrow road.
But what’s with the hate?
Believe me when I say: I’m not cycling to piss anybody off. I cycle because I’m a skint millennial with such financial guilt that I begrudge paying £3.00 every day for two buses (that’s £720 a year). I cycle because it’s good for my mental health, letting me switch off on the way to-and-from a busy day at work. I cycle because it’s better for the environment than getting public transport or driving, and aren’t we all meant to be fighting against climate change together? I cycle because, during the four years that I’ve lived in London, I’ve loved discovering the streets and parks of the city by bike.
I cycle because I’m a cyclist, and I’m fed up of worrying that people find that “annoying”.
It’s not my fault that London’s infrastructure development is yonks behind compared to cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen. I would love my whole commute to be one big super cycle highway, but the city just isn’t there yet. I dread roundabouts, but I also refuse to let such a small part of my commute stop me from cycling altogether.
And you don’t need me to tell you about the amount of terrible car drivers on our roads. The difference is, they can easily shut themselves off from abuse thrown at them by pedestrians.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t call out a cyclist for making a wrong move – accidents do happen, after all, and cyclists are 15 times more likely than drivers to be killed on UK roads. But please, please think about the language you use: not just because we are all human beings and we should all be kinder to one another, but because an abusive comment could shatter a cyclist’s nerves. Indeed, it might just be the reason that an actual accident does happen.