I’ve been making a conscious effort to cycle more to university.
‘But this is a blog about running!’
I know, I know. But hear me out.
So I’ve been making a conscious effort to cycle more to university. It is about 16 miles each way and takes roughly an hour. So it’s a little bit of a slog and further than I’d want to run-commute in honesty. I’ve been doing it a couple of times a week for a couple of months, so I’ve racked up about 30 hours or so of cycling in rush hour traffic.
You encounter a lot of cars in 30 hours of rush hour cycling and these experiences have taught me somethings about driving. Now, this is particularly pertinent for me as I’ve also recently started to learn to drive.
‘But this is a blog about…’ I know.
Long-time followers of jographies will know that some of my work looks at the encounters between runners and pedestrians on the street. I am perpetually fascinated by how we share public space across difference, and particularly how space is shared by people of different mobilities.
Committing myself to cycling more, I was apprehensive about what such intense and prolonged encounters with cars would mean. Stereotypically, cyclists and drivers don’t get on very well. Just look at the Transport for London #sharetheroad campaign, or the TV show War on Britain’s Roads for example. If you’re particularly interested then check out this paper by Rachel Aldred.
However, my experience of cycling during rush hour has generally been positive. Sure, you sense that drivers are a bit impatient and annoyed with you, but most are considerate and tend to give you the space you need to feel safe.
That said, there are two scenarios which routinely give me the ‘f*ck, that was a bit close’ feeling at least a handful of times each cycle. They seem to be common situations which drivers are misjudging when overtaking:
Both situations bring me into much closer proximity with cars then I would ever desire. When they happen, an instant wrenching feeling in my gut appears and I immediately begin pulling on the brake, trying to create the room not given by the drivers. These are simple errors to make, lord knows how many other things to need to pay attention to when driving, but they have a big impact on my cycling.
As a cyclist, they scare me. They make me intake breath quickly. They make my butt cheeks clench. They make me close my eyes and hope all will be ok.
They make it easy to see how people can be put off cycling – and my experiences are generally positive. But however much I dislike experiencing them as a cyclist, they do teach me useful lessons for the driver (or trainee-driver) in of me. I know how it feels to be on the road as a cyclist, what I feel ok with and what I don’t. I know what I’d like drivers to do and not to do.
Empathy is an indispensable resource in the convivial sharing of space. Knowing what makes me go ‘o sh*t’ as a cyclist means I am more aware of what I can do as a driver to prevent causing that reaction in others.
I’m sure I could do a whole series about things cycling teaches me about driving and vice-versa. Perhaps I will. But my early experiences as a cycle-commuter suggests that being more aware and attuned to these scenarios are some of the most crucial lessons I could, and want to, learn.