I once heard someone on TV say that her greatest fear was “being hit by a cycle courier”. I wish I could have told her that a cycle courier’s greatest fear is actually pretty similar. We all dread that moment when a pedestrian steps out into our path without looking and we don’t have time to stop or swerve – because it’s going to hurt us just as much as it hurts them. Possibly even more.
I am far more scared of pedestrians than I am of taxis or lorries. There are so many more of them, they’re everywhere, and you often can’t see them coming.
I’ve collided with three people in my time as a courier. All of them admitted it was their fault and apologized, and on all three occasions my injuries were worse. Cycle couriers don’t want to hit you! And, because they spend 50 hours a week reading the body language of every single person on the pavement, trying to identify the one who’s about to dart out into the road two feet in front of them, and working out which way they’ll swerve if this does happen, over and over again, they’re also quite good at not hitting you.
And anyway, it’s really not in my interests to go around riding into pedestrians. If they end up getting hurt then that’s a huge blot on my conscience, as well as hours wasted waiting for the emergency services, and possibly even a court summons and a hefty fine. Not to mention running late on a job. And I doubt I’d be able to flee the scene. I even have trouble jumping kerbs, so it’s very unlikely that I could ride full tilt into a human being and stay upright. In fact, I’d be very likely to be badly injured myself. And this brings the inconvenience of time off work, not earning money, and not being able to pay the bills. And pain. And running late on a job.
I don’t jump red lights. Nor do lots of other couriers. (I know this because waiting with other couriers at red lights is when I do a lot of my workday socializing – the courier equivalent of the water cooler.) But, no matter what the rights or wrongs of it, the ones who do jump red lights know what they’re doing. In the split second before they hit the junction, they’ll have calculated the trajectories of every single pedestrian, cyclist and vehicle in the vicinity, written in a few contingencies, in case that car brakes suddenly, or that pedestrian changes direction, and plotted a clean course straight through the middle. Getting something wrong and hitting someone would be incredibly embarrassing.
I once went to a safety talk, given by the police, where they invite cyclists up into the cab of a lorry so that they can see the blind spots for themselves.
“Are you here to get a ticket written off?” asked the policewoman in the cab. (If you get fined for jumping the lights, or certain other misdemeanours, you can sometimes get the ticket cancelled by attending one of these safety talks.)
“Absolutely not!” I replied, with slightly exaggerated outrage.
“Good.” she said. “I never ticket couriers. Best cyclists in London!”
Not that this is an attitude typical of our friends in blue, I hasten to add. But I think she’s onto something.