A few weeks ago I noticed that the wheel rims on my town bike were looking rather mucky, and although I didn’t resolve to clean them at the time, today they are sparkling like new. However, this is not because my Virgo natured self could not live with such uncleanliness but because, in the space of two weeks, I was forced to replace both wheels following two separate collisions with motor vehicles.
These two incidents bring my total tally of cycling accidents since moving to Strasbourg to 5. Now, to put this in perspective – I don’t own a car so go just about everywhere on my bike and I’ve lived in the city since 2005. That’s less than one accident a year and, I reckon, about one every 1000 kilometres cycled.
Three accidents have involved cars, one – a fellow cyclist and one – a pedestrian (neither of whom seemed to have read the highway code). Each time, bar one, I have been forcibly dismounted; three of the incidents resulted in my head making contact with the tarmac/car at velocity (which is why I wear a helmet); and one has drawn blood (car door opening on me).
Now, here’s the irony for you: while I was living in London, cycling along it’s choked arteries regularly, I had precisely zero accidents over a period of 15 years. How can this be?
Perhaps it’s the fact that drivers in Strasbourg are not used to having to deal with cyclists (and vice versa) – because, normally, cyclists are separated from the traffic by cycle paths or lanes on the pavements. It’s only when cyclists have to use the road that accidents happen – and that’s is where all five of my accidents have occurred.
The rules state that cyclists are allowed to use roads but, conversely, motorists are not allowed to use cycle lanes. So you’d be forgiven for thinking that Strasbourg’s cycle lanes are a safe haven for cyclists.
But clearly, some motorists regard these rules as unfair and feel that they should have the right to drive and park wherever and whenever they like, regardless … and indeed, you can meet some such motorists in front of the Robert Schuman International School, on Rue Vauban, twice daily.
It is here that some parents (or assholes if you prefer) think that it’s OK to drive onto the pavement, cross the tram lines (with or without tram bearing down on them) and park in the cycle lane in order to be a few meters closer to the school gate. And before you mumble something xenophobic about French drivers … these assholes (or parents if you prefer) are not exclusively French – the array of diplomatic registration plates tells you that they’re parents (assholes) from across the international spectrum!
Therefore beware : you are not guaranteed safety if you only cycle on cycle paths in Strasbourg. I have seen a motorist hit a cyclist whilst driving down this very route (and berating the cyclist for not getting out of the way).
Happily none of my children have been involved in accidents yet – and I dread the day that it will surely happen. In the meantime I can only do my best to educate them about safe cycling, and help them to remember that, no matter how good a cyclist you become, there will always be an ignorant asshole just around the corner ready to knock you off…
…and Strasbourg is full of assholes.