On an unusually popular blog post (and more on visibility)

Not many people read my blog, I have to admit. I started it mostly after some persuasion from some people on the City Cycling Edinburgh forum, with a bump on the head being the last straw. I think most of the people who read it come through the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain blog round-up. However my last blog post got lots of comments; I think because the CEoGB twitter feed decided to re-tweet it, and then a couple of people with a lot more twitter followers than me had a conversation about it, and so people came to see what the discussion was about.

It is interesting, though, that a subject like hi-vis which I would have thought has been discussed over and over again would still provoke discussion. My thoughts and practice on this have changed – when I started to cycle regularly again I got a hi-vis tabard with reflective bits on it which I’d throw over whichever office coat I was wearing at the time. However I’ve come to believe that cycling around looking like cycling is dangerous does not actually help the general perception of cyclists, and so these days the tabard lives in my pannier. Most of the time, that is. If it is very, very rainy I sometimes put it on, because I accept that everything is more difficult to see when it is raining hard. The rest of the time I rely on good lights, two at the front and two at the back.

A while back I came across these – little capes/jackets in hi-vis colours with reflective bits that would go over your usual coat but look rather more feminine than my tabard. Part of me thought that they were a nice idea, but I wouldn’t wear one myself.

The trouble is that we seem to be caught up in a situation where everything has to be brighter than everything else (apologies to Meat Loaf). I’m against daylight running lights on cars for this reason – while it might make a car more visible, cyclists and pedestrians become less visible in comparison – the lights I have on my bikes are fine for the dark but only one is powerful enough to make an impact in daylight. (That light cost nearly £100 and is the one I got to see where I’m going when I do my long commute, where some of the roads don’t have streetlights. In flash mode, I think it is too bright in the dark – but I’ve used it on flash a couple of times in early morning light, just to make myself more visible to someone coming the other way who might be considering an overtake. I don’t think one should have to spend £100 on a light to cycle in urban streetlit areas.)

To be honest, if you can’t see a car in broad daylight, you either have very poor vision indeed or you were not looking… I’ve “not seen” cars a couple of times (I describe one incident here) but it would have made no difference if they’d had their lights on or been painted bright yellow – I didn’t see them because I didn’t look. If people don’t look for bikes, if people don’t think that there might be bikes to look for, then people on bicycles are not going to be seen, not matter how many lights or how much hi-vis they have. All of us, as road users, have a responsiblilty to look, look, look, and look again. And yet a lot of the defensive road use that is taught to motorcyclists and bicycle riders is to do with making yourself visible to people who are not looking for you. If, as a cyclist, I could assume that all drivers would treat me in the way I want to be treated, I would actually be a lot less agressive with my road use. As it is, I have to assert my position on the road, because I have to assume all other road users are idiots.

When we get to hi-vis for everyone, what do members of the emergency services wear so that they’re easier to see? Lights on their heads? How do you pick a marshal out of a group of runners all wearing hi-vis? I wonder, too, what the mother of the little boy who I often see walking along with his Mum when I’m heading for the station thinks she’s protecting him from when she gives him a hi-vis tabard to wear. He looks (to my untrained eye) too small to go out on the roads on his own, so she’s going to be supervising his road crossings, and if a car is going to crash onto the pavement the driver is hardly going to spot and avoid the small boy in hi-vis if they’re not in control of their car in the first place…

From all of this, I conclude that what I would like to do and what I actually do are two different things. We talk about and campaign for the roads that we would like to have, while dealing with the roads as they actually are. So I’ll continue to wear hi-vis sometimes, and run my bike lights in daylight sometimes, while hoping that one day there won’t be a need to do that any more.

(Oh, and thanks to “disgruntled” for the link to the Dutch campaign on bike lights. Even that, I noticed, comes phrased in a positive way: “I want to see you”, not “Protect yourself” or “Don’t be foolish” or whatever. No, I as another road user, want to be able to see you on your bike.)

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2 thoughts on “On an unusually popular blog post (and more on visibility)

  1. Glad it was helpful (I’m ‘disgruntled’ because I used to be Disgruntled Commuter back in London and WordPress stuck with it – now more commonly known as town mouse or sallyhinch on twitter)

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