Five places I've almost been killed while cycling
In the hierarchy of respect in this country, I wonder sometimes if cyclists are viewed by society as somewhere around the level of a horse. Actually, even that might be optimistic, I’d be fascinated to read the reports of the public reaction to someone killing two horses and see how they compare. A year-or-so ago, I found out that even though Teddy Bears are more dangerous than cyclists, a Tory MP tried to enact a new law, specifically to punish dangerous cyclists.
To try and help change the view that cyclists’ deaths are mostly their own fault, I’ve put together my top five place in London where I was almost killed even though I was doing everything right. In every case, I was cycling responsibly, stopping at the lights, giving appropriate hand signals, staying in lane, carrying bright lights if it was dark, etc. I wasn’t being foolish, reckless, undertaking, getting in a lorry’s blind-spot, or performing sudden accelerations. I was Mr Responsible. Perhaps, if people read about one cyclist’s experiences, some of them might feel a little more sympathetic towards cyclists and the dangers they face.
Here’s my top five, in no particular order:
Almost died No.1: Opposite Hampton Court train station
This one took place at night. I was heading home at around 10:30pm when a car came across the road in the path shown by the arrow, while travelling at about 30mph. He saw me at the last possible moment, when his front bumper was about ten feet from me, and swerved to his left, narrowly missing my back wheel. As you can see from the road layout, the large expanse of tarmac gives drivers the ability to turn right without needing to slow down.
Almost died No.2: Opposite Hampton Court train station (again!)
This one, would you believe, is only about thirty-feet further on and occurred about two weeks after the first one. In this case, the driver was coming from the left. As I cycled towards this junction, I saw the SUV coming towards me on my left. I realised, with about ten feet to go, that he wasn’t slowing down at all. I braked hard, screeched to a stop and he went straight past in front of me, going at about thirty miles-an-hour. I was able to look in his side front window and see his face. He was still looking left as he drove by. He had not seen me at all. If I had kept going (as I was entitled to do), the first time he would have noticed me was when I flew off his front bonnet and bounced like a broken toy across the road.
After those two near-misses, I stopped cycling along that stretch of road after dark. Instead, I now cycle on the pavement on the opposite side. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than a trip to the hospital or the morgue. I think of cycling that stretch of road after dark as a little like befriending James Bond; adrenalin-fuelled, action-packed and very short-lived.
Almost died No.3: Kingston one-way system, Richmond Road turn-off.
This black spot is more a problem of road layout than careless driving. As you can see from the picture, the three-lane road curves around to the right; it’s part of the Kingston one-way system that orbits the town centre. On the left, a road turns off, heading for Richmond and Ham. If you’re a cyclist, hugging the left kerb as you normally do, you have the right to follow the road around. The only problem is, cars don’t anticipate that; they simply drives straight ahead down that left ’turn’. I was a lot younger when I had my near-miss here, I had the view that I shouldn’t back down if I had the right of way. After a car, travelling at forty-miles-an-hour, missed my front wheel by six inches, I changed my mind. Since then, I move right out into the middle of that lane until I’m past that junction. It’s a classic example of not being meek when you’re a cyclist in London. If you want to stay alive, there are times when you have to hog the lane and be assertive, simply to stay in one piece.
Almost died No.4: Portsmouth Road (near Long Ditton)
Most cycle accidents, in my experience, are T-bones; the car comes out from a side road or crosses the road in front of you or into you. This close call, by comparison, was a head-on. I was moving into the lane to turn right into Thames Ditton when I saw a white van coming fast from the opposite direction, at around 50 miles an hour. He was already moving to overtake the car in front. I realised that if I continued moving into the right-turn-lane, he’d hit me head-on. I pulled left and watched him go straight through my lane without slowing.
Almost died No.5: Ham Common
This one was shockingly simple; the driver didn’t stop at the red light. To be honest, it’s not that big a surprise at that junction, which is leafy and quiet. Many people would assume that the two roads in the foreground and background (leading to ham green and ham common respectively) would simply be turn-offs, but they’re not. This near-miss ended up as a swerve by both parties. Afterwards, as in all the cases I’ve mentioned, the driver drove straight on without an apology, leaving me in the road, shaking.
But I’m still alive!
I hope I haven’t put anyone off cycling by listing these near-misses. I’ve been cycling regularly throughout my life and the only injuries I’ve sustained so far are a lot of grazes, bruises and one dislocated finger. I love cycling; it’s a wonderful way to get around, but you do have to be careful. If someone new to cycling was to ask me for my advice, it would be: ‘I’m very pleased that you’re keen to cycle, but please don’t assume all the drivers out there will obey the highway code. Do expect some of them to do stupid things; turn without indicating or indicate one way and turn another. One or two drivers will sometimes not stop when they’re supposed to. Try, whenever possible to watch out for danger, to anticipate potential hazards. Don’t cycle with headphones or while using a phone; you need all your senses to be alert. Learn about your regular routes and if there’s a point on in that seems dangerous, don’t be reluctant to get off and walk. If you follow those rules, 90% of the dangers can be avoided’.
I’m a huge advocate of cycling; it makes us healthier and happier, doesn’t pollute the air, is harmless to others, creates no congestion and it’s helping to save the planet. As H.G.Wells said:
'Every time I see an adult on a bicycle,
I no longer despair for the future of the human race.'