A Look At Life: Bring Back The Bell

5th August 2011

Bring Back The Bell…

Grace Fuller

Twice in the last week of the summer term I was nearly knocked over as I walked – quietly, minding my own business, no trouble to anyone – along the pavement. Out of nowhere from behind me came a teenager on a bicycle, far too fast, whizzing close past my ear without the slightest moderation of speed or intention. If I’d happened to deviate even an inch or two out of my line just at that point (turning to cross the road, say) the rider would have been straight into me – and we’d both have suffered for it.

It’s not the first time I’ve experienced this, either (pavements are dangerous places these days) – and the culprit is always way down the street, weaving in and out of other pedestrians, before I can gather my thoughts together to complain. In any case, I’m not sure I’d dare. They’re younger, fitter, faster and armed with a bicycle. Best not cross them.

I appreciate that many urban roads are busy and can be dangerous. As a child, much younger than these (and on much quieter roads, as it happens), I was encouraged by my parents to ride on the pavement for my own safety. I think I was reasonably cautious – and I always used that old-fashioned but highly effective device, the bell, to signal my approach. Came the day, however, when an elderly lady said to me (in the way of elderly ladies who weren’t afraid to discipline stray children back then): “You shouldn’t be riding that on the pavement.” I muttered an apology (in the way of children who wouldn’t dream of answering back) and set off for home, only to be intercepted by a neighbour, who said (in the way of neighbours who weren’t afraid to take a responsible interest): “Does your mother know you’re riding on the road?!”.

She didn’t, of course, and she didn’t like it when I told her. I carried on using the pavement, carefully, until I was ten or eleven.

Key word: carefully. The road safety dilemma hasn’t gone away since the 70s, but the concept of shared pavement usage and responsible riding seems to have vanished. The ego is the sacred cow of the modern age – and we appear to be raising a generation who can’t look further than their own desires, and don’t recognise any sort of social context. “I want to cycle at great speed along this pavement, so I’m going to. Oh, you’re in my way. Shame.”

It’s an unpleasant situation, and one I could probably pursue with the headteacher of the school concerned (which has a very distinctive uniform) – but there’s another element in the mix. Even if I dared, or had the opportunity, to admonish these youngsters, I don’t really want to be cross with them because, actually, I’m quite impressed that they’re out on their bikes, instead of being ferried to school by their families or queuing in an unruly smoke-ridden rabble at the bus stop like the majority of their contemporaries. It’s hard to be different when you’re growing up, and stepping – or cycling – away from the crowd takes guts.

I don’t want to discourage them from taking to two wheels and getting the exercise that we’re constantly told kids don’t have. I don’t want them to stop cycling; I don’t even want them to stop cycling on the pavements if they must – I just want them to share nicely. I hope it’s just on certain major roads or at nasty junctions that they take to the pavements and frighten the life out of the pedestrians.

As scary as it seems out there, though, there is one piece of good news: a recent Freedom of Information request to the Office of National Statistics revealed that there are very few deaths recorded as a result of collisions between bikes and pedestrians – only 14 from 2006 to 2010. The danger is largely in my head.

Bring back the bicycle bell, I say. And make Bikeability (the three stage course that has replaced the old-fashioned Cycling Proficiency Test) compulsory, for adults and children alike. Perhaps then we would a] see less cyclists on the pavement and b] be confident that we weren’t going to be mown down by those that were there.

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