Friday, 7 December 2007

About work and cycling

I recently changed my job - although I am still based in the same office and surrounded by the same people, I now work with a different manager with different responsibilities and a different role. I am really enjoying my new job - though I had quite a steep learning curve as my new boss went on holiday two weeks after I started (it had been arranged long ago so I didn't take it personally!).

I work in local government and everything is driven it seems by the ubiquitous "target". Some targets are good - to achieve more or to get better are good goals to strive for. However, we have been working towards a really unpleasant and negative target that makes me feel quite uncomfortable. We have been counting down to the end of the year the numbers of people killed and seriously injured on the roads of Essex. The aim was for the number to be lower than last year - and although we did manage to reduce the overall numbers from last year, unfortunately we didn't quite achieve the figure set for us by central government. It's been horrible to see the number posted on the office wall, gradually rising every day. Christmas and New Year are both very bad times for road casualties, and the most dreadful ones are those that involve young people or children. I have always loved that song by Chris Rea, "Driving Home for Christmas" but it is always tinged with a horrible thought that nowadays we make so many more car journeys at this time of the year, and at at the same time there will be lots of people on the roads who are on the way home from a drinks party or a night out. The floral tributes that you see on the roadsides are a dreadful reminder of the lives that have been wrecked and so often drink driving is responsible. I personally believe we should adopt a zero tolerance to drink driving in this country as they do in some other European countries.

I'm also very conscious of safety as a cyclist. I always wear a cycle helmet, reflective/fluorescent gear and have lights front and back (as well as assorted reflectors). You wouldn't believe the number of drivers who still don't see me (or perhaps choose not to!). I don't cycle on the pavement, and always stop at traffic lights, yet the number of times I get abuse, both from pedestrians and drivers, is unbelievable. My worst problem is with the dog walkers. Part of my route to work is along a shared cycle/footpath which is wide enough to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists but the problem is the dogs - I don't dislike dogs, but the dog owners who walk on one side of the footpath with their dog on the other side with the lead across the width of the footpath really take the biscuit. Oops this has turned into a rant - sorry! Pedestrians who step into the road just because they haven't heard a car coming are also a real hazard. I don't set out on my journey to mow anyone down, but pedestrians are always astonished that cyclists can't stop dead. In the Highway Code they give the stopping times for cars travelling at different speeds, and most people are aware that the faster you are going the longer it takes to stop but a cyclist travelling even at 3 or 4 miles an hour (which is slow) will need a few yards of stopping distance.

This is one of the government's Think campaign posters - it is aimed at drivers to make them more aware of motorcyclists, but cyclists are also very vulnerable. I have only been involved in one accident as a cyclist when a driver opened their car door as I drew alongside - I was very bruised and shaken but it was lucky that it was on a quiet road as I was thrown across the road - if anything had been travelling in the other direction it would have been much worse.

PS - the posting date for this is showing as 7 December - I started it then, but didn't get round to posting until today - 5 January 2008!