Tuesday, 8 December 2009

The contraflow lane and the angry pedestrian

In all my years of cycling I’ve never had an altercation with a pedestrian. But then I’ve never collided with one, or jumped a red light in order to force my way through a line of people walking over at green.

No altercations until the end of last month, that is. I cycled east along Adelaide Road E10, which forms part of the signed cycling ‘quiet route’ to Leyton. I paused at the end to take this photograph, which shows traffic on the A112, and on the other side the start of the cycling contraflow lane on St George’s Road, which is a one-way street. Needless to say there are no crossing lights here for cyclists – you just have to wait until there’s a gap in the traffic.

I then crossed over and took this photograph of what Rob Ainsley would call the Great Gates of Kiev.

I then pedalled a short distance up the contraflow lane and paused to photograph this gas guzzler (below) in its own reserved disabled parking bay. I'm always intrigued by the vehicles which display blue badges. I'm particularly impressed by all those East End builders who have bravely managed to come to terms with their disability and manage to climb ladders, fix roofs and build extensions, even though physically unable to walk more than a few yards from their white van.

Incidentally, if you look very carefully you'll just be able to make out a car tucked in right behind the 4X4 in the foreground. There is no way an unaccompanied driver in that concealed car could see an approaching cyclist in the contraflow lane when pulling out of their parking space. This design is lethal:

Just before the junction with Beaconsfield Road I paused in the contraflow lane to take a snap of this lorry driver (below) who steered into St George’s Road with one hand, while chatting on a handheld mobile phone. This photo shows the lane I’d just cycled up. It raises the question of what David Hembrow calls subjective safety. How many people want to cycle up a lane this narrow, particularly when a lorry driver on a handheld mobile phone is thundering towards them? Not a lot, I suspect. St George's Road is a rat-run for drivers going south on Leyton High Road who are heading for the A106 Eastway. They can shave a minute or two off their journey by cutting through the residential side streets, thereby dodging several sets of traffic lights. The Council has assisted them in this endeavour by making several streets one-way "to ease traffic flow".

By now I'd registered a pedestrian coming down St George's Road on the far side, beyond the junction with Beaconsfield Road. An elderly Asian man. I was stationary on my bicycle and about to put my camera away, when he hurried over and, to my amazement, approached me shaking with anger and launched a ferocious verbal attack on me. I was stupid and I deserved to be run down.

Why? I gasped, stunned by this unexpected turn of events.

Because I’d just cycled down a one-way street the wrong way!

But I’m allowed to, I retorted indignantly. This is a contraflow lane. See the sign? See the markings? Cyclists are allowed to ride this way.

No you’re not!

Yes I am!

No you’re not!

Yes I am!

(repeat twenty times)

As he angrily walked away I took a snap of him. He was presumably a local resident. Plainly the concept of a contraflow lane was beyond his understanding. I just hoped he wasn’t also a driver. But then I remembered the van driver I met while using the new contraflow cycle lane on Pretoria Avenue E17. He melodramatically threw up his hands in a gesture which I think was supposed to signal his despair at my madness in cycling at him the wrong way down a one-way street. He evidently hadn't noticed the road markings or the contraflow signs on poles.

What, in retrospect, I find interesting is that this elderly man felt emboldened to give a cyclist a good telling off for a perceived piece of misbehaviour. I’ve never seen anyone telling off a driver for entering an Advanced Stop Line at red, or for chatting on a handheld mobile phone. But cyclists – why, everyone knows they are the biggest menace on Britain’s streets today. "They have little regard for their own safety and that of other road users”. They need to be reined in and brought to heel. It’s time to get tough.

(Below) My verbal assailant walks off down St George's Road, right by the cycling signs he doesn't understand.