I'll hold my hands up here - I often cycle on the pavements of Portsmouth rather than on the roads. And what's more, I'm going to carry on doing it.
This is why - The News recently revealed that cyclists were involved in 422 near misses with cars on city streets in just a six-month period. That figure surprised me, but only because I presumed it would be much higher.
Almost certainly, of course, the true figure IS much higher.
Let's be honest, as social media clearly shows, we live in a society where large percentages of the public have little tolerance for other people's opinions.
That intolerance has seeped onto our motorways, our main roads and our side streets. I've got eyes, I've seen it myself - car drivers increasingly annoyed with cyclists, cyclists furious with car, van and lorry drivers getting too close to them, and pedestrians annoyed when cyclists pedal past them on pavements.
But I bet cyclists attract more angst and bile than any other set of road users.
I've had some near misses on two wheels - literally inches on occasions. On the other side of the coin, I've never been close to knocking a pedestrian over while cycling on a pavement and no-one has ever knocked me over either. Life on two wheels, therefore, is safer riding where cyclists shouldn’t be than where we should.
No way am I cycling on the roads around the motorway bridge at Hilsea, or any of the approach roads to it, in rush hour. Not when I can cycle on a pavement and stand a far higher chance of not ending up in QA.
This much is patently obvious - most people always presume they are in the right. That is simply a human trait. But there are always two sides to an argument, and always two views of a cyclist involved in a collision with someone driving four (or more) wheels.
I’m guessing most motorists would admit to thinking they should take priority on our roads over cyclists. I know some believe cyclists should pay the equivalent of car tax just to rub shoulders (though hopefully not literally) with them.
I’m also guessing that most cyclists think they are treated with casual disdain by a large percentage of motorists/lorry drivers. I know I do.
Look, no-one’s perfect. I’m as guilty as most motorists. I get annoyed when I’m driving and I see a cyclist ahead causing the traffic to slow down, and I’m even more impatient when I see two riding side by side, or when I see someone at night cycling without lights and wearing dark clothes. While driving, I’ve seen cyclists - generally youngsters with a death wish - cycle (without lights) straight across my path, forcing me to brake quickly. I know full well why motorists curse cyclists, because I’m one of those motorists at times. We all want to get to where we’re going quicker than we, don’t we?
It’s easy to be impatient when out and about these days, and it’s not just motorists that frustrate me when I’m cycling. Pedalling through Foxes Forest the other day, a group of dog walkers were taking up the whole path. Not walking, just chatting to each other. They could see me coming on my bike ON THE PATH, but made no attempt to move out of the way, to show good manners.
Similarly, while cycling on a shared path - half for cyclists, half for pedestrians - I’ve lost count of the number of people who walk up the bit meant for two wheels, or dog walkers who walk on the pedestrian side while letting Fido amble along on his lead on the other half. The cycling half. On politely asking if they could move Fido out of the way, so you can get past, invariably you won’t get a polite reply.
Ditto mums with prams. They annoy me too, as they generally take up the whole path - even the bit meant for cyclists. They also scowl if you ask if they can move so you can get past.
That’s half the problem - we all think we own the roads, the pavements, the paths. The other half of the problem is all-too-simple - there are too many cars on roads that are not designed to take that many cars.
And there are no easy solutions to solving that problem either. Yes, encouraging people to take public transport is commendable. But (unless you qualify for discounted travel due to your age) almost certainly it will be cheaper (and/or quicker) to drive than to take a bus or a coach or a train, even if factoring in petrol and parking costs.
The other day I was looking at the cost of getting to Bath. I reckon it would cost about £40 petrol-wise. Train tickets, for my partner and I, worked out at over £80, while a coach trip from Portsmouth to Bath somehow took over five hours - one way! It’s a no brainer - I’ll take the car.
I’m fortunate enough that I can cycle 15 minutes or so to Lakeside, where The News is based. Prior to moving to Portsmouth, though, I commuted from Southampton. It cost me around £140 petrol a month (driving around 1,000 miles in the process and spending well over the equivalent of a day each month in the car) - but if I’d caught the train it would have been around £11 per day. Over £200 a month easily. A no brainer to take the car, really, even if it meant the M27 twice a day. And that’s without the time spent walking too and from Southampton and Cosham stations to home and work.
I’m sure many people would like to use public transport more - reducing their own carbon footprint etc - but the car is king for many good reasons. That’s not going to change, not today, not tomorrow, not next week - not ever.
So we cyclists had better hope that attitudes towards us soften, that tolerance levels reduce - especially those shown by fellow road users - in the weeks, months, years and decades to come.
I am not holding out much hope, though. In fact, I’m not holding out any. Which is why I will continue to cycle where sometimes I really shouldn’t ….