Here’s why we should not ignore self-proclaimed “cyclist haters”

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: Media figures painting all “cyclists” as criminals is like an incitement to hatred which polarises some motorists. This clearly does not add to road safety. It should not be tolerated by any right-thinking person, regardless of what mode of transport they happen to use.

“Everyone hates cyclists. Even cyclists hate cyclists,” writes Sarah Caden, a columnist for the Sunday Independent. This was followed by broadcaster and radio presenter George Hook who, when interviewed on TV3’s Ireland AM last week, repeated that he hated cyclists because he hates criminals.

The idea that only “bad” cyclists are in danger is nonsense. A polarised motorist stuck behind the best-behaved bicycle users on a narrow road or street, or while making a right hand turn etc, will not distinguish between law breaking and law abiding bicycle users.

“I hate cyclists with a passion,” said Hook when on TV3’s Ireland AM. Asked why, he said: “Because I hate criminals, and they break the law routinely.” He claims that bicycles users are a danger — like no other danger — to pedestrians.

On Irish roads last year 42 pedestrians, 79 motorists, 39 passengers of motorists, 23 motorist cyclists, and one motorcyclist passenger were killed. In all of those road killings, there was zero bicycle involvement.

So, why does Hook not hate motorists or pedestrians? Both groups break the law routinely. Pedestrians regularly jawalk and regularly injury people on bicycles by walking onto the road without looking or not caring because it’s not a car or a truck coming.

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child deaths

Motorists are the road users with the ability to inflict the most harm to themselves and others, yet 80-90%+ of motorist break the law when it suits them. The last RSA ‘free speed’ survey published shows that 82% of car drivers surveyed exceeded the 50km/h limit on urban national roads and other surveys show 90%+ motorists exceeding 30km/h limits.

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But it’s not just speeding: Parking in cycle lanes and on footpaths is rampant. Surveys from the AA and other motoring groups regularly have around 50% of respondents admitting holding their phones while driving.

It’s a this point that that some readers will skip to the comment section below to interject that the mentioning any breaking of the law by other road users amounts to the great Northern Ireland phrase “whataboutery“, which is responding to criticism by accusing one’s opponent of similar or worse faults.

The thing is, I’m not justifying law breaking by people on bicycles. I have no issue with condemning people who break the law: I think people on bicycles should wait at red lights and adults should not be cycling on footpaths. I agree with fines for cycling offences. But some people’s views are a distortion of the problem.

As Matt Cooper said on Ireland AM, by Hook’s own standards, Hook is a criminal. Hook has a string of road traffic road offences for speeding. Hook said he had to pay a fine, as if paying a fine forgives his law breaking. Worse still, when asked by Cooper if he was reformed, Hook said: “I don’t think you reform at 74.”

So, get this: Hook was up in court for speeding before motoring on-the-spot fines came in, he has had an undisclosed number of penalty points since, and he does not believe in reforming his dangerous and illegal behaviour because he is too old to change his ways. And people on bicycles are the criminals?

The self-proclaimed cyclist hating has little or nothing to do with any kind of reason or logic. A answer may come from Dr Ian Walker, a psychologist at Bath University who focuses on traffic research seems to have the answer. In a recent Guardian article he explained: “It’s exactly those things that used to be done about minority ethnic groups and so on – the overgeneralisation of negative traits, under-representation of negative behaviours by one’s own group, that kind of thing. It’s just textbook prejudiced behaviour.”

Back to Sarah Caden, who writes today that “Everyone hates cyclists. Even cyclists hate cyclists.” Caden is pictured with her bicycle which is equipped with a child seat.

She has written before about cyclists being a hazard while she was using a pram in Dublin, and she again mentions it today. However, I also used a pram for 6 months straight in the same city. While cyclists were an annoyance and sometimes dangerous, motorists surpassed this by a long shot. This writer encountered motorists in cars and trucks blocking or edging forward on pedestrian crossings long after they got their red light; footpaths were often impassable because some drivers think it is their god-given right to park where they want to.

Amber to many motorists does not mean stop if you can do so safely, to them it only means go faster. In at least one case a motorist broke an already red light at speed when the pram with my son in it was half way across the road. Rampant speeding — the kind where cars end up on footpaths if they crash — was common place outside rush hour.

Are we all to believe that Caden nevers sees motorists endangering pram users? Or is it a case of blinkers? As Walker points to, it looks like classic textbook prejudiced behaviour. Caden using a bicycle herself may not be enough to get her mindset past this.

Don’t take our word for the non-cycling dangers out there, in this post we’ve included a small sample of examples from the Garda Traffic Twitter account, they have many more.

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Garda traffic

We have previously written how when drivers view cycling and motoring as “them vs us” this could be linked back to why inattentional blindness occurs even when the person cycling as has high-vis on and bright lights on their bicycle. It’s part of the same effect we see in overhyped newspaper articles and on radio shows — this feeds into the minds of the drivers who see a “them vs us” split. It’s a vicious circle.

Caden claims that “A more cycle-friendly city has, however, fostered a sense of self-righteousness and aggressive self-entitlement on the part of many cyclists.” This is unsubstantiated nonsense. There has always been some people who self-righteousness and aggressive using all modes of transport. The only things which are changing is that cycling has become more popular and this makes it worse for those who previously overstated the issues. Some objectors also don’t like changes planned for Dublin City.

With more than 90% of motorists breaking urban speed limits, it is clear that there are not a dispositional amount of people on bicycles breaking the law. Everybody needs to stop acting as if there is and the dangerous rhetoric needs to be toned down.

WATCH: Hook vs Cooper on Ireland Am
READ: Terrors on two wheels finally shown red light
READ: High-vis can’t solve drivers’ inattentional blindness and its promotion has failed
READ: Sabotage and hatred: what have people got against cyclists?

 

12 Comments

  1. Well said. Not to mention rampant light-breaking by motorists themselves. Only not worse because drivers following CAN’T go through the light once one driver stops.

  2. Kevin Sweeney July 6, 2015 at 10:23 am

    As a rural cyclist I never break red lights, cycle through pedestrian crossings or cycle on the footpath. I might if I cycled in cities or towns but there is no opportunity to do it on the rural roads I ride. Yet still I am still the victim of regular dangerous overtakes by motorists.

  3. Sounds like you are in that big river in Africa!

    Personally speaking I can only form an opinion on experience and in my experience as a pedestrian in the city I see far more cycling transgressions than motorist transgressions. (maybe 60:1 – 70:1).

    As a motorist in the city it’s a similar story albeit with a lower ratio (maybe 10:1 or 15:1).

    That tells me there’s a problem!!
    I think that cyclists who care should be using their forums to encourage better cycling practice rather than fostering the “us versus them” divide which I agree is useless in improving things.

    For the record I have nothing against cyclists. I cycled regularly when I lived abroad. I would like to cycle here however I think it is way too dangerous particularly in the city and on country roads.

    I fully appreciate that many motorists do not give due care and attention to cyclists however some of the stuff I’ve witnessed in the past year or so from cyclists is quite frankly Kamikaze like. There is plenty that the cycling community can do to encourage careless cyclists to take more responsibility for their own safety.

    Writing off peoples genuine concerns on this issue as “just textbook prejudiced behaviour” is in my opinion very short sighted.

  4. @Paul — there’s a big difference between blind self-described hate and “genuine concerns”.

    Your comments seems might be ok if I had brushed anything off, I have not, there’s 1,200 words above explaining why the hate is wrong… If you want to try to debunk that, you’ll have to try addressing what I’ve said. You have yet to do so.

  5. “There is plenty that the cycling community can do to encourage careless cyclists to take more responsibility for their own safety.”

    We in the cycling community are not doing anything until the driving community take responsibility for killing Diana.

  6. “Personally speaking I can only form an opinion on experience and in my experience as a pedestrian in the city I see far more cycling transgressions than motorist transgressions.”

    Since there are more uninsured drivers on the roads (1.2m) than regular cyclist commuters (1m) I would take your claims with a pinch of salt. If you assume that every single cyclist breaks the law then law breaking by drivers is STILL much, much more common, and that’s before you even start counting speeding, drunk driving, drugged driving, driving using a mobile etc etc etc.

  7. Cyclists on the footpath are a darn nuisance that most people will see at some point in their day in a city or big town, though not life-threatening (except in sad extreme conditions).

    Cars, on the other hard, are _actually_ life-threatening, but thankfully the difference is that most people only rarely get their lives threatened by cars (unless you’re legally commuting by bike!). In the event of a car/car collision, drivers are on a relatively even playing field in terms of the forces and passive safety mechanisms involved. Although the consequences of a pedestrian/cyclist crash are of less significance than car/car collisions, pedestrians and cyclists can be much more mismatched in force when they collide, leading to faulty risk calculations. That means the perceived risk is far out of proportion to what actually happens.

    In summary, thanks for publishing good numbers of the reality, not the perception.

  8. I see a load of Motorists speeding up to break the Yellow to red lights on countless occasions. I have seen a few nearly smashing into Cars already beyond the lights after they had sped through just as the lights turned to red. I see loads of Motorists using Mobiles while Driving all over the City of Dublin.

    Two days ago I seen a motorists going through the red light on Amiens st to access Talbot St ,this is happening on loads of occasions. This when the lights have already changed to red after 15 seconds.

    A few days ago I was starting to turn from Pearse ST to go up Tara St when a Taxi driver roared at me to get off the road. I roared back that I was entitled to be on the road, I got the rude Hand gesture from him. I was in the correct position to turn, he passed by to my left. Lots of dangerous road rage motorists out there that think they own the road.

  9. Publicly expressed hatred of a group of people in our society who cycle as part of their civil status in unacceptable. I believe it to be actionable in law. I have put on notice the five key parties to seeking a resolution: Ministers for Transport & Justice; Garda Commissioner, the head of the Road safety Authority and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commissioner.
    Let’s be quite clear that drivers breach road traffic law. It is not just cyclists.
    As a driver and a cyclist I flinch when I come to a halt at traffic signals on orange/red phases for fear of being rear-ended into kindom come by motorised drivers who are intent on running the lights. [I stop for red in both modes.]
    I regularly use Dublin Bus in the evenings when free-speeds are likely to be higher and the extent of speed limit exceedances I experience is unacceptable in a LPSV. Ditto for taxis.
    The number of motorised drivers using mobile devices when in control of their vehicle is extremely worrying and goes effectively undetetcted. There is no proper deterrent to this behaviour. The fines are far too low.
    The extent of motorised vehicle fly-parking in cycle tracks and clearways during period of operation is massive and goes essentially unpunished. Again the fines are far too low.
    The extent of dangerous overtaking of cyclists in bus lanes, cycle tracks and general vehicle lanes is rampant and unacceptable. It is an offence that doesn’t seem to register with AGS.
    But let’s have some perspective on the kinetic energies inherent in a bicycle weighing say 15 kg and a SUV weighing 2,000 kg. The latter kills and maims (It can travel legally at 100 km/h); the former rarely.
    The over-arching road safety issue is poor driver/cyclist adherence to existing traffic law coupled with a failure of deterrence, detection and enforcement.
    But publicly expressed hatred of people, yes people, who cycle by commentators or on vox pops, by drivers, is no longer acceptable. It has to stop.

  10. I was leaving the Dublin Flea market by bike. I was turning right onto the wide and fast (4-lane) Cork St. There was a large 4×4 queued behind me. To my right in the bike/bus lane were several parked cars. Possibly legally, it was Sunday, blocking my view on oncoming traffic. I stopped, weighed up my options and decided since I could see reasonably close to me but not the middle distance I would edge out slightly into the bus lane and look down the road; a not unreasonable action and one that would necessarily be practiced by the waiting 4×4 and any motor vehicle wishing to make the same right turn.

    Upon edging out I saw a car making reasonable progress towards me in the general traffic lane and suddenly a taxi dive into the taxi lane to undertake at speed before taking avoiding action around the parked cars. Upon seeing me with the front wheel of my bike in the middle of the bus lane attempting to make a legal and safe turn the driver of this taxi made a face that can only be described as hate-filled, with considerable animation pointed accusingly at me, accelerated and steered his car to an aggressive line towards me. I froze, I thought he was going to hit me, I turned me wheel perpendicular to my bike, the car passed as close to me as it could without colliding with me. A short distance up the road the taxi driver stopped at a red light. The car he dangerously undertaken pulled up behind him.

    I was too anger and he looked like too much of an unstable element to attempt a confrontation. In my bubbling anger I even failed to photograph the car or note down the number. I wish I had reported him but I see this type of hideously dangerous bullying occur all the time.

    Another time not too long ago I was standing at the front of a Dublin bus coming into Heuston Stn. A good distance ahead (indeed within the grounds of Heuston itself) three women hurried across the road. The bus driver saw them. If he had lifted his foot from the pedal they would have been safely across before he even arrived at their location but instead he accelerated towards them, aimed for them, waiting until he was a close as he could get without hitting them to blow his horn heavily and frighten them as much as possible. I complained to Dublin bus about this horrible example of a professional driver and received simply the usual meaningless reassurances.

    Roads are now seen as the domain of the motor vehicle and some human beings think lesser intruders (as they see them) are fair game to be bullied in the most dangerous and risky manner. These are assaults and they are encouraged and validated by the nonsense unbalanced hateful rhetoric of the media.

  11. Interesting to see the responses to this sort of analysis. There’s always someone who says “but I’ve seen more the other way around” without hard evidence. I just don’t understand why academic researchers can never verify these claims – when they get out there and actually count the numbers objectively (rather than relying purely on what their personal filters allow them to see and then react to with outrage and hence remember), the results are startlingly different.
    Absolutely time to stop the prejudice and remember mummy’s instruction – play nicely children and share!

  12. @Paul
    You’ll probably never read this as it’s being posted many months since you posted your comment. Anyway, you say that cyclists break the law much more than motorists in your estimation in the ratio of approx 70:1. Well, consider this Paul – how many people have been killed or injured by bikes? And how many have been killed or injured by cars? Just look at the numbers Paul and see how utterly preposterous your prejudice is.

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