To Bang or not to Bang?

This article was published in 1996, in Newsletter 9.

As a commuting cyclist with some twenty years experience (over ten in Cambridge) I cannot remember how many times I have slapped my hand on the roof of a car although it may only have been a couple of times a year. It is not usually done in anger, more in frustration at the inconsiderate motorist. I know ringing my bell will not even be heard, that is only of use as a friendly warning to pedestrians and other cyclists on ‘shared use’ foot-paths and I rejected the use of an air horn as too aggressive.

The usual location is the Shelford Road in Trumpington which has formed part of my journey to work for over ten years. Here, a cycle lane, which for the past three years has had a ‘solid’ line, is frequently blocked by cars trying to take a short cut left. Cars often try to drive for over 400 metres in this lane, and I have seen vehicles drive down the pavement or grass verge when the cycle lane gets blocked !

I often tap on the window glass of the drivers door and say ‘Excuse me but you are blocking the cycle lane which has been marked to ensure the safety and free passage of cyclists’. Usually I am ignored, sometimes people are apologetic and sometimes I am met with abuse. If I cannot get to the drivers side I have sometimes banged with the flat of my hand on the roof, not hard, just to attract attention. Then I stop in front, point and call out that they should not obstruct the lane. Last year I wrote to the Police and they came and warned drivers.

Last Tuesday I had the usual problem, some 300 metres from the junction a red car obstructed the cycleway. There was no safe and legal way round. Either I went into the opposing traffic or I went down the footway. I went down the footway, banged (not in anger) on the roof of the car and stopped in the road in front of the car with the intention of telling the driver they were obstructing the cycleway.

A man got out of the passenger door and swore at me. I (think) I tried to explain they were blocking the cycleway. He was obviously getting aggressive so I decided to cycle away. I was in a high gear!, he chased me and grabbed my rear carrier. The next thing I knew I was down on the road having been punched in the back.

Two other cyclists came to my aid, we exchanged names and noted the car registration number. I have subsequently made a statement to the Police who are investigating it as a case of Common Assault

Now the question: Is it wrong to bang on a car roof? I know others do it, it is often our only ‘defence’ when squeezed or abused by inconsiderate motorists. I also know that road rage is not new (I have a book on my shelves ‘Aggression on the Road’ dated 1968). I know I could have avoided the incident, but was I to blame for the incident?

I shall try not to bang again, but what do I do instead?

I shall write to the Police again about lack of enforcement at this location. I shall write to the County to suggest ways of preventing cars using this section of cycle lane. I hope these actions may mean the source of my (and other cyclists) frustrations at this location will be reduced.

I have written this to promote discussion and to try and find what other active cyclists do.

Jim Chisholm