I’ve seen a few blog comments and comments on newspaper articles recently (and yes, I know, it serves me right for reading the bottom half of the internet), suggesting that cyclists should just find another route that avoids King’s Cross, or Bow Flyover, or any of the other horrible, fatal junctions that cyclists and pedestrians are being mown down on with depressing and frightening regularity.
I wish I could.
The problem is that for me, and for many, if not most, female cyclists, there is another consideration, and that is that from the time we were tiny we have had it drummed into us that we do not go alone to unlit places after dark and you certainly don’t make it a regular habit to do this.
The only route that avoids Bow Flyover goes over the Greenway, a route which, yes, you’ve guessed it, is unlit. At this time of year, I would be extremely reluctant to take that route, especially as it fetches up at Old Street roundabout, so you’re swapping one lethal junction for another one, with the added bonus of not knowing what’s lurking in the dark until it’s on top of you.
Likewise with the route that avoids the worst of the Mile End Road. It goes along the canal towpath down to Limehouse Basin. It’s lovely in the early mornings, and watching the swans glide towards you through the mist is a joy, but the towpath is unlit and who knows what is lying in wait for you under the towpath bridges?
And there is always a danger that if you are taking the same route at the same time each day (and, let’s face it, commuters are creatures of habit), anyone who’s up to no good can probably figure out that if they’re lurking under that bridge at that time then there will be a lone cyclist along any minute now…
There have also been incidents of bored kids lying in wait for cyclists with sticks or lengths of 2×4 and jamming them in to bike front wheels. Call me odd, but describing a graceful arc over Zephirine’s handlebars and landing in a heap on the path doesn’t appeal. One broken member of the family is enough to be going on with, thank you*.
So I have a choice – I can take a dangerous but well-lit route, or I can take a quieter but unlit route and risk my personal safety that way. Speaking as someone who was sexually assaulted on her bike in broad daylight, I’d rather take my chances with the bus drivers who think they’re doing the le Mans 24 hour, rather than driving a double-decker along the Mile End Road.
*Dad fell down the stairs a few days before Christmas and broke his leg. Unfortunately, this was after my brother bought him a cycle helmet for Christmas. Snort.