My usual commuting route into work has been out of action for the last few weeks as a group of workmen sip tea, read The Sun in the front seat of their transits, wolf whistle and ogle at attractive young female students and piss into a hole that has meant that Upper Brook Street in Manchester is closed to inbound traffic.
As a result of the other alternative routes being particularly unfavourable, I have been running the gauntlet along Europes busiest bus route, Oxford Road. The irony in this is it actually has a pretty good provision for bikes in the form of a dedicated bus lane that runs from the top of the Curry Mile in Rusholme right into the city centre. Unfortunately this route is for quite large sections shared with buses and runs through heart of the University campus.
This means as well as dealing with mobile alley ways between buses and cars there is the added thrill of taxi drivers taking ‘shortcuts to nowhere’ and students in various states and combinations of being: high on drugs/drunk/hungover/ipod’d/late for lectures. This of course means that each year there are generally at least two fatalities and many other serious injuries as people discover the implications of being hit by several tons of Magic Bus. NCAP tests for pedestrian safety don’t seem to extend to buses, least not the diesel belching death traps that shuttle the nations finest to our World Class institution. If you get hit by one of these bad boys you’re not going to be getting up.
Over the last few weeks even riding the white line between the two lines of traffic hasn’t been enough to escape near death experiences. I have discovered that:
1. The exocet missile properties of taxis in relation to taking out cyclists is that they think they rule the road and that everyone should get out of their way. Even if you’re in the right, by their book you’re in the wrong. Even if you do catch them up at the next set of lights you have to face the language barrier of communication, be it Polish, Afghan or Mancunian.
2. You can’t trust anyone to watch where they’re going. Ever. It’s every person for themselves.
Onwards to today. Coming down to the Precinct Centre next to Manchester Computing heading into town. Line of about five buses in the bike/bus/taxi lane dropping people off at a bus stop and a queue of stationary traffic in the other lane. I’m gunning it down the outside of both on the white line and a pedestrian emerges from in front of a van, doesn’t look and steps out into my path.
It’s amazing even when you’re on the hoods how much ground you cover before your reactions let you hit the brakes and you start to sloooowwww doooowwwwwnnnn. Weight back off the saddle. Front brake is full on and the steering is going squiffy. The call of “Whoa!” sounds like it’s being said over the space of a minute, The girl turns, possible clocking a blob of bright orange out of the corner of her eye hurtling towards her. She turns, stops, starts to step back…
It’s all too late I’m right next to her. Lean to the right outwards into the oncoming traffic. Catch her with my left arm. Feel it run over her, then ‘Thwack!’ Folowed by ‘Ooomph!’ and the sound of teeth as my shoulder makes contact with her chin and sends her head sideways.
A quick look back over the shoulder and she’s still standing. A call of ‘Sorry’ follows from her and is responded to with an ‘Are you okay?’, but she’s already turned and started to make her way across the road to the otherside. That was close.
I often wonder what goes through people minds as you over take them as they sit there in their cars in nose to tail traffic. The fact that you see the same people sitting their day after day as they burn petrol (read money) and inhaling diesel fumes seems odd. Maybe they enjoy it? Am I missing some perverse thrill?
Clearly the fact that they’d get where they’re going a lot quicker if they were on two wheels, might actually benefit from it health wise and would be part of the solution – not the problem – hasn’t quite registered yet. Maybe they need some education Cars’R’Coffins style.
And don’t get me started on the number of people who are in the cars on their own. Bring on congestion charging that’s what I say. I think the general understanding of the term ‘car pool’ isn’t the socially responsible act of sharing transport with friends and colleagues, rather the conceptual movement led by Keith Moon and more recently Clarkson.