Let It Flow

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The road system is a lot like our circulatory system. It has red blood cells, and white; platelets and plasma; each with their individual characteristics and modes of behaviour.

For our body to be healthy, things must flow smoothly, free of disputes and blockages. Each part works together, to create a harmonious whole.


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We all like surprises, or so the saying goes. But on the roads, surprises lose their appeal.

Broadly speaking, motorists know what other motorists are going to do, thanks to universal rules that govern their behaviour. Inasmuch as everyone sticks to these rules then a critical amount of order is maintained. We all make mistakes - and occasionally someone will be wantonly reckless - but by and large we strive to follow the rules and be transparent to one another.

Can the same be said for cyclists?

There are many instances in which cyclists' behaviour becomes largely unpredictable. Certain situations provoke this more than others, chief among them being whenever a cyclist sees slow moving or static traffic.

As cyclists, we have the option to 'filter' whenever we see traffic ahead. This is in essence a pass to the front of the queue, presumably awarded as either a congratulatory or condolatory pat on the back, depending on your point of view: either 'good on you for choosing to cycle instead of drive' or 'we know you keep getting overtaken by everyone else, but you can get your own back now.'

Filtering creates confusion and anxiety because it is risky and unpredictable. Motorists cannot anticipate when we are going to move up their left side, or their right; or cut in front of them. They do not know what we are going to do when the traffic starts moving and we are stranded on either side of them; whether we will attempt to speed up or slow down. They are surprised as we spring from one blind-spot to the next. They do not know whether we will even choose to filter at all.

Not only do they not know how we will behave, they also do not know what we expect from them.

There are a great many unknowns when it comes to cyclists. And this is because we currently have a great deal of freedom. There are no laws that say we must or must not filter; or that dictate how we must filter if we choose to do so.

Filtering - or queue-dodging as it is known to other road-users - is tacitly encouraged by the presence of advance stop lines, which entice the cyclist to assume pole position. Whilst these measures have been put in place to help cyclists, it is my view that, in encouraging unpredictable and risky behaviour - that zig-zag squeeze to the front - they are a detriment to all road users.

Cyclists frequently cite the ability to queue-dodge as one of the benefits of cycling; yet if we are honest with ourselves, we know that cycling has much else to advertise it besides the opportunity to act like prima-donna VIPs whenever we see a line of traffic.

We have great freedom, and yet we, as a community, continually abuse it. We run red lights; we hop from pavement to road to cycle lane as and when it suits us; we ride two - or more - abreast, holding a conversation on the road; we flagrantly queue dodge. We ask to be treated like a car, and in the next moment take advantage of the fact that we are not.

We are a schizophrenic presence. We make people nervous.

As cyclists we generally do not see the turmoil we cause; partly because we are concerned with our own plight; and partly because such turmoil may often play itself out in undetectable and subtle ways. We do not know how disgruntled we have made someone; or whether we have added another black mark in someone's mental logbook, another straw that may one day break some cyclist's back.

We may think that filtering is 'fine', that no damage is done; but even a cursory survey of a handful of motorists would lead us to see otherwise.

Motorists want from us what all road users want from each other: predictability.

Filtering is an inherently unpredictable activity - now I'm here, now I'm there; now you see me, now you don't - and is fraught with uncertainties. It is that point at which the friction between cyclists and other road users becomes especially intense.

We may protest that cycling takes longer and that car drivers are able to get to where they are going quicker, therefore why shouldn't we be allowed the odd advantage? But this is an argument that uses sleight of hand to convince. It would have us believe that by filtering through slow-moving traffic we are, to some extent, readressing the balance between cyclists and motorists. It is a position that has at its heart a division - cyclists on one side, and motorists on the other.

If we want an equal place on the road, then we must accept this equality in all of its implications, good or bad. If motorists are to treat us as equals then we must behave as equals. This means queueing in traffic, and waiting our turn like everyone else.

A cyclist with a short-view argues that the traffic is caused by motor-vehicles, and so is the motorist's concern, not his; the long-sighted view shows that traffic is caused by road-users, of which he is one. Like it or not there are a lot of cars right now: all the more reason to endear ourselves as cyclists and to act against the unhelpful antagonisms that cause schisms on the road.

With the benefit of the long-view we do not act opportunistically, using our size to our advantage. We do not say "treat me like a car" at one moment, the next moment adding the caveat "only not right now."

We must act honorably. We must resist the urge to queue dodge. We must not filter. We must never undertake.

When we see traffic ahead, we must move into primary position and wait in the traffic. Through moving into primary we will be seen and will make clear our intention to move with the traffic. There is a beautiful simplicity in this stance: it is clear and it is safe. And more than that, it is honourable. The more we do this, the more it will become clear to cars what they can expect from us; and the more they will respect us for it.

If we, as a community, do not discipline ourselves - act responsibly, and honorably; with the well-being of all road users in mind - then we will be disciplined. A tipping point will be reached. Laws will tighten and our freedoms - those priviledges we currently have a tendency to flaunt - will be stripped from us.

It is my belief that all motorists should be educated about cyclists, so that they know what to expect from us and how to treat us. This could be introduced as part of the driving test, but I believe it would be much more effective to introduce it as a mandatory cycle-training programme for all teenagers, run via high-schools.

This way, we all start with the bicycle. It becomes our launching pad to the road. From this we graduate - if we wish - to the car. From having been introduced to the road as cyclists, we will subsequently be able to anticipate cyclists behaviour and act accordingly, and will be more inclined to treat them with respect. It will not be a cure-all solution to the kind of antagonisms we see on the roads at the minute, but it is a fine place to start.

To conclude:

Motorists must know more about cyclists; must understand what we do, and what they are expected to do around us.

Cyclists must act more honorably and with the good of all road users in mind; not just themselves or other cyclists. They must curb some of their more schizophrenic tendencies, including the urge to filter.

In essence, what we are suggesting is a coming together; a crossing of the divide between us and them. We must remember that beneath our labels of 'cyclists' or 'motorists', we are all road-users.

We must keep that image of the circulatory system in mind; and remember that for a healthy body, traffic must flow smoothly, with as few disputes or blockages as possible. But importantly, white cell or red, we are all part of the same body.

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Everything is Connected
A Healthy Body
A Higher Power 

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