Life in Brussels, Belgium. Friday night, I was sideswiped by a car pulling out of the parking lane. Pushed me out into oncoming traffic. I screamed and shouted to get some space, hitting her side window. She gave me the finger and mouthed, “Fuck off”. I shouted back to “Give space, watch for cyclists”. “Fuck off,” and again the finger. I shouted back to “Fuck off and learn to drive”. … Police were there.
I get stopped and warned about shouting in a residential area. The driver was sent along without so much as a question about what happened. This is everyday life for cyclists. Cars act with impunity. Cyclists are intimidated, threatened – and if you have a natural reaction of fear and anger, then you have no control. The police officer told me she did not see the incident. Apparently police in Brussels are not trained to ask questions. They have to eye-witness every incident in order to act. And another driver heads off, smug that they do not have to care about cyclists.
It is an event like this that adds to the growing militancy amongst cyclists as they struggle to hold onto their rights on the road. In the UK, a growing number of cyclists wear helmet camera to document their aggressive interactions with drivers. And they are growing in presence in Australia, New Zealand and the USA. Go to YouTube and search fort bicycle road rage and see some horrific exchanges that go without police action. It is slowly changing as the videos are adding to the pressure on police to act. Even the Critical Mass monthly, friendly, promenade is part of the attempt to strike out and create sone visibility for cyclists and their presence on the road.
Police add to this. Every day, cyclists see cars parked in bike lanes, stopped in the bike safety lane at red lights, squeezing cylists as they ride in safety lanes. And police do next to nothing about it.
In London, over ten cyclists are killed in London every year. Heavy Goods Vehicles are a constant and they are often found to be poorly arranged for mirrors or safe driving. Courts that can always find a way to fail to convict drivers for their behaviour. My favourite, in recent years, was Suzette Davenport, head of roads policing for the National Police Chiefs’ Council who said the roads in London were so unsafe, she would not ride a bicycle. This was a person in the perfect position to effect a change, but chose to continue with the miserable state cyclists face every day.
Reality is, change will only come through cyclists as they pressure authorities, judicial institutions, media, traffic developers, city planners, to create a safe space for cyclists. But I have given up on the idea the authorities can get their without pressure.