A death on the road

Or two deaths, to be accurate.

I was going to blog about the Cycling “Action” Plan for Scotland (which I’m going to rename the Cycling Inaction Plan, because that’s what it is), and I’ve got a few other things that I’d like to write about as well, but┬árecently we heard that one of the members of the triathlon club had been killed on the first day of a cycle from Lands End to John O’Groats. The two cyclists were on the A30, which is a fast and busy road, and the accident involved a large lorry. I followed a link to a local newspaper’s website which had photos of the remains of the bikes. Horrible.

First and foremost, condolences to the family and friends of both cyclists. In a way, when something like this happens to someone you know, it brings it home to you how vulnerable you and all your cycling friends are. Those two men died because one of the hundreds of motorists who passed them on that road failed to deal with their presence there. We don’t know the details of how or why (and if the outcomes of any inquest or trial don’t make the news, we may never find out) but I think it is reasonable to assume that the lorry driver didn’t actually think that cycling on the A30 should be punishable by death. That driver didn’t indend to kill anyone, yet two people died.

There was quite a lot of debate online about whether the two men should have been cycling on that road at all. Indeed, that is the conversation my boyfriend and I had, once we’d got over the initial shock. So why were they there? I don’t know any details of the planning of the route, but I know that part of the challenge my clubmate had set himself was to cover the distance relatively quickly – this wasn’t a tour, but a challenge. So it seems likely that they chose that road because it is the most direct route out of Cornwall.

People might argue that they should have used this route or that route, but the fact is if you don’t know the area then you don’t know what a road is like till you get to it. And a narrow twisty road might be no safer than a straight one, if the locals take it quickly without expecting anything much to be there (I actually make this choice myself on what I call my long commute – there’s a signposted cycle route which takes some back roads but I prefer to use a wider main road because there’s more time for drivers to see me and more space for cars to pass). Also, when you see a signposted cycle route (note that I have no idea if there is one around the A30 or not) you have no idea what you are going to get – it could be anything from some beautiful smooth tarmac on a disused railway line, via a dodgy potholed back road or a narrow pavement full of twigs and stones to a muddy path across a field, impassible unless you have a mountain bike and the skills to use it. Imagine what travelling by car would be like if, when you found a sign pointing you to your destination, you had no idea if the road you were going to follow would be a motorway or a Land Rover track…

In the time it has taken me to finish this blog, there have been four more deaths. By horrible coincidence, a cyclist who was killed by a lorry near Edinburgh was also associated with the triathlon club (I didn’t know him, but he was one of the founding members). And two cyclists have been killed by lorries in London. It is all very well for politicians to say that it would be nice if more people cycled more, and that we should all be nice to one another on the road. So long as the headines about cycling involve cyclists being hit by lorries, people are going to feel that it is not safe, and stay in thier cars.

Which brings us back to the cycling inaction plan. But that’s another blog post.