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Road to nowhere - shadows of echoes of memories of songs
Road to nowhere
The other day I posted about cycling, and included a fairly content-free gripe about the stupid things I see other road users do. Now it sometimes seems to be assumed that when cyclists say "other road users" in that tone of voice they mean car drivers; in fact, I meant exactly what I said: other people who use the roads. That's car drivers (and bus/lorry/milk-float/whatever drivers), cyclists, motorcyclists (though as mentioned I don't see many of those actually), walkers, joggers, pigeons (a very real hazard on Cornmarket), and anyone or anything else that has occasion to stray into the road (if the towpath counted as the 'road', I'd have to include dogs, ducks and geese). All of them do stupid things sometimes. Especially the pigeons, though they have the excuse of having a brain the size of a pea.

Sometimes I feel as though I resent the car drivers most: they're handling a more dangerous vehicle so they should be paying more attention; they're using up fuel and polluting the air as well as doing idiotic things on the roads. Other times I feel more angry with the cyclists, because by doing stupid and dangerous things they're giving the car drivers more reason to be annoyed at "those bloody cyclists", which makes them more likely to treat me badly and/or assume I'm going to do stupid things. (Some days I just resent everybody for existing in my airspace, but that's not so much to do with what they're actually doing, more to do with being a morning-hating grouch.)

I don't have a long daily commute, and most of it is on the towpath rather than the roads, and other than that I only potter around town a bit, so you'd think I wouldn't have time to see much idiocy on the roads... but I do. I don't want to make this into a series of ranty anecdotes about individual incidents, even though that would probably make a more lively blog post: those sort of incidents just make me angry (both at the time & when I remember them), and recounting them generates more ranty anecdotes from other people, and I'm not convinced that's healthy (particularly after reading in 59 Seconds about studies showing that actually letting all your rage out increases your anger rather than dissipating it). However, here's a list of things that I encounter often enough to annoy me:

All road users:

* going through red lights
* failing to signal
* failing to look before pulling out in front of people
* overtaking too close and/or cutting back in front too soon
* overtaking on blind bends
* cutting the corner when turning into side-roads, so they're on the wrong side (i.e. my side)
* texting while driving/cycling
* tailgating


* going far too fast for the conditions
* honking their horns unnecessarily
* going into box junctions when their exit isn't clear, & blocking the junction
* reversing onto main roads
* parking in cycle lanes
* parking on double yellow lines
* parking on pavements
* opening doors into traffic without looking
* flashing their lights to say 'go ahead' when they can't actually see if it's safe to do so


* squeezing past cars/buses on the left when there is clearly no room
* overtaking cyclists on the left when they're approx 1m from the kerb
* cycling on pavements
* not using lights after dark
* using misleading lights (orange/red on the front)


* not looking where they're going AT ALL, EVER
* ... and also not listening, because they've all got headphones on
* pressing the button for pedestrian crossings and then running across in traffic anyway

The response to this sort of list is often along the lines of "oh come on, nobody's perfect"; but a lot of these things are really not difficult to avoid (e.g. it doesn't require some kind of saintlike disposition or superhuman willpower to decide that you're going to stop at red lights). Some could be attributable to lapses of concentration, which we're surely all guilty of from time to time; on the other hand, I don't think of myself as a particularly focused person, & I still don't forget to signal -- it's habit, it's just part of what you do when you're changing lane/direction, it doesn't require "concentration" as such, it just requires me to have my hands free (not e.g. texting, smoking, drinking coffee, holding an umbrella, doing my hair, holding a handbag, or putting my hands in my pockets). The majority of these things seem to boil down to not thinking about other road users: sometimes that's a lapse of concentration, but often I think it's more of a general attitude.

I feel like a blog post should have a punchline or a moral or some kind of conclusion, but the main conclusion I can draw from this, really, is that people do dumb things.

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uitlander From: uitlander Date: November 14th, 2010 08:17 am (UTC) (Link)
I frequently have this sort of debate with a colleague who's very active in the cycling campaign. In his books cyclists are always right, and others (especially drivers) wrong. I keep maintaining that part of the role of the campaign (of which I am also a member) should be to educate cyclists on subjects such as lights at night, red lights, one way streets, pavements, and signalling as they are also part of the problem. He's much more interested in taking photos of lorries unloading on double yellow lines.
damiancugley From: damiancugley Date: November 14th, 2010 09:27 am (UTC) (Link)

Sharing the road

I stop at red lights, because that is the law, but I don’t entirely blame other cyclists for crossing when there is no motor traffic—it is safer then than waiting for the cars to be following you across the intersection.

I am somewhat bewildered by the sketchy or absent lights I see on many bikes around town—if you can afford the trendy jeans and iPod, surely you have enough cash to afford basic working lights that attach to the bike? On the other hand, from what I know of the circumstances of cycling fatalities in Oxford, none would have been saved by having bike lights on.

What annoys me most is unhelpful road layouts and cycle-hostile traffic-calming measures—which in Oxford should have been dealt with decades ago, but I guess gold-chased alabaster litter bins have higher priority.
damiancugley From: damiancugley Date: November 14th, 2010 09:32 am (UTC) (Link)
Oxford has an unusually high level of pedestrian entitlement syndrome, with students striding out in to the street magisterially expecting traffic to flow around them. But you have to assume pedestrians won’t be looking out for you anyway—because pedestrians includes children and people with impaired vision or movement.

A similar issue is bell-ringer entitlement syndrome, where ringing your bell entitles you to be on the wrong side of the road going around a blind corner at speed. This is much rarer because most bikes don’t have bells.
jinty From: jinty Date: November 14th, 2010 09:53 am (UTC) (Link)
I want to put a bell on my pram to encourage people to stop blocking the pavement through incautious loitering on what should be a thoroughfare.
katstevens From: katstevens Date: November 14th, 2010 10:51 am (UTC) (Link)
* not looking where they're going AT ALL, EVER

YES. I know the world is an interesting place to look at but DUDES please point your head in the same direction that you are travelling, just for a second. This also applies if you are pushing a trolley around Sainsburys. If people would just look in the same direction that they are moving instead of barging into stationary objects (ie ME) that would be LOVELY. See also: people casually walking backwards at crowded bus stops. The mind boggles.
naath From: naath Date: November 14th, 2010 01:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Pedestrians, I think, have more excuses. For instance it is allowed to be a pedestrian whilst blind, but not to drive a car...
j4 From: j4 Date: November 14th, 2010 03:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
Being blind is a good excuse for not looking where you're going, yes. :-} But turning round to talk to someone while you step out into the road is a lousy excuse. And stepping off the pavement into the cycle lane to overtake other pedestrians without first checking there are no bikes about to run into you is just foolish!
monkeyhands From: monkeyhands Date: November 14th, 2010 02:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think we have a culture of bad behaviour on the roads, and I believe this culture could be changed if there was the political will to do it.

In the meantime, I guess I'll carry on trying not to behave like a dickhead myself. My "One Less Dickhead" T-shirt is in the post.
j4 From: j4 Date: November 14th, 2010 03:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
I believe this culture could be changed if there was the political will to do it.

I'd like to believe that that was true, but a) I really don't know how they'd do it, and b) I don't think there will ever be the will to try. I am bitter and cynical, though.

My "One Less Dickhead" T-shirt is in the post.

Fewer! :)

But, yeah, me too. I do try not to be a dick. I genuinely don't do any of the things on the lists above, and I am also trying to refrain from shouting at other people, or at least only to shout purely factual things ("That was a red light!" or "Your lights aren't working!") rather than rude things.
celestialweasel From: celestialweasel Date: November 14th, 2010 08:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
I am convinced, and this is not, sadly, a joke, that road behaviour (not just cars, and not just speeding more 'cos of the speed cameras being turned off) has got significantly worse since the change of government.
j4 From: j4 Date: November 15th, 2010 02:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
Can't say I've noticed that myself... it does seem to have got worse over the last 10 years, though. OTOH maybe I've just got more intolerant of idiocy.
bjh21 From: bjh21 Date: November 15th, 2010 01:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
The Pelican crossing problem is one that always gives me ethical problems while walking. If I arrive at a crossing and there's no visible gap in the traffic, I'll press the button in the hope that this will allow me to cross the road. It seems to me that this must be ethically OK, since if people weren't allowed to press the buttons the crossing wouldn't be very useful. Once I've pressed the button, the lights will change whatever I do, so the traffic hold-up (if any) is now inevitable. Given that, it's hard to see why crossing in a gap in the traffic before the lights change is wrong. Waiting for the lights won't help anyone else, and will hold me up, but somehow it still feels like the right thing to do.

Of course, if I'm going somewhere for work I'll always wait for the lights -- to do otherwise would upset the safety office.
j4 From: j4 Date: November 15th, 2010 02:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
it's hard to see why crossing in a gap in the traffic before the lights change is wrong

Because it's really effing annoying for all the road users who will have to stop at the red light anyway for nothing now that you've pressed it?

I dunno, I honestly don't find it that hard to wait the extra few seconds (and it really is never even as much as a minute).
crouchinglynx From: crouchinglynx Date: November 15th, 2010 02:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've tried to rationalize why some road abuses are worse than others, but my annoyance at particular groups is usually down to selfish reasons:

When I'm cycling, I aim more scorn at the car (van/bus/lorry/taxi) drivers because of the extra protection they get. Not just from accidents, but from the weather - whenever someone's stupidity/lapse in judgement causes someone else to be delayed, at least the driver gets a warm, dry chair while they're waiting for the lights. The pedestrians I can make allowances for, and when another cyclist is doing something wrong, it usually results in them not being in my way.

When I'm on foot, it's the inconsiderate cyclists that bother me most, because motorists don't tend to use the pavement. But I dislike the other pedestrians too, because I'm quite a fast walker (and occasionally personal space comes into it).
(Deleted comment)
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