My daily commute in Belfast is a leisurely activity pottering up and down the Lisburn Road. There is a bus lane going into town which cyclists have to share, and a cycle lane (marked on the road in paint, rather than sectioned off) for my homeward journey.
This is in marked contrast to my previous commute when I lived near Brixton, London. There I felt like some sort of kamikaze warrior cyclist doing battle with the motorised forces of evil. Well, not always but I definitely needed to hang tough. Sheer volume of traffic created a mania among commuters fighting over every inch of road. Cyclists jumped lights, went the wrong way up one-way streets and got a bad reputation with car drivers.
At a pub near the BBC I would sit outside and overhear cycle couriers swapping stories of road accidents, near misses and other badges of honour. This was before Boris bikes and the increasing popularity of cycling in central London. Critical Mass gathered on a regular basis to remind their fellow road users that cyclists have a right to travel safely on the public highway too.
News footage showed clips of cyclists bringing London traffic to a crawl as they arrived en masse at famous crossroads. I remember watching as they went round and round the roundabout at the southern end of Westmister Bridge. Other road users were becoming impatient and the message wasn’t getting through, but the publicity was widespread. I didn’t feel the need to show my solidarity with the protesters, but had a sneaking admiration for their efforts.
The cyclist I spotted on a regular basis with one of those sticking out flags to warn off cars, and a sign that said something like ‘cars are filth’ was another form of protest – if a bit flakey. I always thought the flag was a red rag to a bull.
Belfast has its ‘ghost bike’ to commemorate the death of a cyclist near the Ormeau Road bridge. A white cycle frame chained near the spot where the accident took place is a fitting reminder of how vulnerable cyclists are on the road. More should be done to provide separate cycle paths, making cycling safer and encouraging commuters to leave their gas guzzlers at home.