Cambridge is at war. Though it may not be as well known as town vs. gown or Johns vs. everyone else, it is a bitter dispute, raged from time immemorial by all who live here. There have been casualties on both sides (a pedestrian knocked down outside Little Waitrose, equalised when someone with right and the Highway Code on their side caused me to career into a fence); it is an war of attrition which will continue long after the Gardies vs. van of Life dispute is resolved. Everyone has a side, with spies for each front making occasional forays into enemy territory, only to return to the true path. It is, of course, the battle of cyclists vs. pedestrians.
For two long years in Cambridge, I was, resolutely, a sick-of-it-all pedestrian, tired of kamikaze mad-men; jumping red lights, treating zebra crossings with contempt and regarding the one-way system with the relaxed blasé attitude familiar to anyone clubbing the night before an 8am supervision. They mow down innocent walkers, hurling abuse at perfectly reasonable actions, such as walking down Rose Crescent (no cyclists allowed, not that seems to matter to the harried-looking, wild-eyed Johns medic leaving at ten past for a 9am lecture). They are rude, dangerous and seem to have only the vaguest of acquaintances with the rules of the road. They are a menace to the mild-mannered passerby. They are, in essence, awful.
But then the tables turned: my allegiance switched faster than a porter detecting someone on the grass. I became one of those I had previously despised; for two months over the summer, I became a cyclist. During this time, I realised quite how mistaken I had been. It is, in fact, pedestrians who are the most infuriating plague to roam this fair city. They step out without looking. They are blissfully unaware and ignorant of the difference between a ‘pavement’ and a ‘road’. They tell me to ‘read the sign’ when if they had, in fact read the sign, they would know I was actually doing nothing wrong. I was instructed by my Cambridge resident friends to gain some ‘Cycling Zen’, where you let the stupidity of pedestrians and other cyclists wash over you like a sad tide. But I had none: pedestrians are awful.
Now, as I tread an unsteady path, with a foot on both the pedals and the pavement, I can, at last, regard the argument with clarity which had before alluded me. The truth is that neither pedestrians, nor cyclists are, as a collective, awful: you just have a few turds who ruin it for everyone else. Now, it might seem hard to believe that at this point in term, when a flood of remarkably uninformed idiots have taken to the road (and, occasionally, the pavement), but it is true. The problem is that the current situation doesn’t improve fast enough: you are reliant on the shouts of ‘IT’S A ONE WAY SYSTEM’, maps of cycle routes and yells of ‘STOP AT RED LIGHTS DUMB-ASS’ gradually filtering through to those who have recently taken to the wheels. Safe cycling at this point is primarily the domain of those who bothered going to the cycling safety booth at the freshers fair for information, rather than a free bike seat cover.
But an end is in sight: there could be an armistice on the cards. The solution? Well, cycling safety courses should become a stalwart of every college freshers week (they are already taught to children at schools in the city). Cycling maps, which clearly demarcate cycle lanes, the one-way system and roads with a no bike policy, should be in every freshers welcome pack. A leaflet, which concisely summarises the relevant parts of the Highway Code, such as lights and crossings, should be placed in every pigeon hole, and a copy should accompany every bike sale in the city.
Cyclists should be aware and read signs (for example, the Jesus Green footbridge sign says ‘Cyclists Dismount’ not ‘Cyclists dismount if it pleases your majesty’). And finally, stop for pedestrians on the zebra crossing outside the Round Church. It’s the law. Happy cycling!