CYCLISTS: BEWARE OF THE MUM
She used to think cyclists and pedestrians were on the same side, but it’s war for Sarah Caden if they threaten her child
I’m thinking of getting a bicycle helmet. One for me and one for the three-year-old. Not that we cycle. We walk. But one of these mornings, after many close shaves, the cyclists will get us. And if she or is sent flying into the air by a metal machine moving at high speed, we will need all the protection we can get. I might get a loudhailer, too. Just one for me, for now, but if this continues, the little girl is getting one, too.
Every day, after walking the older daughter to school, I push the younger one in her buggy to creche, crossing three perilous Dublin-city junctions. They’re not perilous in themselves. Each has a pedestrian-crossing function and she pushes the buttons and I explain to her that we can’t go until the green man comes. And then he comes and we go and, oh, so does everyone on a bike. From four directions at two of the crossings and from six directions at one of them.
Because there’s a cycle lane at the last junction and no matter what that green man says to the pedestrians, and no matter what the signs in the cycle lane say to the cyclists about yielding to the pedestrians, they don’t. Not only do they not stop, but they don’t even slow down. Add to that the fact that some cyclists don’t like to be restricted by the nanny-state cycle lane, so they persist in cycling on the road. And they don’t stop or slow down, either. So as we cross — yes, dear, the green man means go, really fast and with fear in your heart — I am looking out for four lanes of cyclists, all of whom, it seems, are out to get us. And, one morning recently, they almost did.
We stepped, cautiously as ever, into the cycle lane and a speeding two-wheeled vehicle came, as they say, out of nowhere. He was going very fast, flying past the pack of other approaching cyclists, and he almost hit us. When we get the green man, you see, the cyclists get a flashing yellow bike, which means ‘yield to pedestrians’, and in case that’s not clear to them, there are large signs along the lanes, spelling this out. I was prepared, as I am most mornings, to roar at the pack if they got too close. This has an effect on about half of them, I find. You can see it in their eyes, because their eyes are near enough to see. About half are just swept up in the group mentality of moving forward without slowing, oblivious to traffic lights or human obstacles. The other half just don’t care. Though their machine may be more environmentally sound than a huge sports car, their mindset is exactly that of a big, obnoxious bully driving a big, obnoxious sports car. And such a master of the twowheeled universe came out of nowhere and forced us to retreat into the cycle lane going the other direction, where another cyclist ignoring the traffic light nearly ploughed into us. Oh, and the original guy kept going, obviously.
In my naivete, once upon a time, I imagined that cyclists and pedestrians were on the same side. As a kid, I cycled to school, and loved it. As a young adult, I cycled all over the city, until I got the fear after hearing about one too many bike-versus-motor-vehicle accident and gave it up. I didn’t become a motorist until I was in my 30s and, at heart, I always fancied myself as on the side of the cyclist. Until, as a pedestrian, survival instinct forced me to accept that the only side the cyclist is on is their own. As it stands, they have a potentially lethal metal machine, high speed and whizzy cycle lanes on their side. While it might seem that I have only the impotent green man on my side, the cyclists underestimate the Mother-Bear protective instincts that come into play when one’s small child is threatened.
Every morning, the wheeled-along child and I face a range of inevitable confrontations. The best-case scenario is that, as I cross, a pack of cyclists will pedal towards us in tiny, threatening movements, impatiently willing us out of the way. I cross slowly in this instance, allowing them to creep close as I stare them down and mutter at them.
The next best case is that they cycle on through the light without dropping speed. In this instance, I get out of their way, but shouting loudly about it being my turn and how I’ve waited and so should they. OK, I’ve roared that I’ll knock them off their bike a couple of times. Worst case is that they come at high speed, flying at me and my child as though we are nuisance to be obliterated, and if they’re not careful, I could start fighting back. For now, however, I’m the mad, roaring woman, my shred of faith in human decency keeping me from buying the helmets just yet. Maybe I’ll invest in the loudhailer first.