Gina Davidson: Declare a truce or more will die

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LYNNE and Ian McNicoll heard the news that Lanark Road was closed because of an accident on their morning radio on January 5.

An hour later they were on their way to the Royal Infirmary, where Ian’s son and Lynne’s stepson, Andrew, had been taken after being knocked from his bike. The 43-year-old keen cyclist died that day.

Andrew was one of four cyclists who have died on Edinburgh’s roads in the last 12 months – the latest being 40-year-old Bryan Simons, who was in collision with a taxi on Corstorphine Road a fortnight ago.

In April last year, 32-year-old Craig Newton died after being hit by a council bin lorry outside Broughton Primary School, and Audrey Fyfe, 75, died after a collision with a car in Portobello Road last August.

Their deaths as the result of accidents are tragic for their families – but they should serve as a warning to everyone who takes to the roads in the Capital: the roads are a battleground whether you’re in a car, on a motorbike, a pedal bike or even just trying to cross a road on foot.

According to statistics from Transport Scotland, in 2010 there were 2262 road accidents in Lothian and Borders – 17 of them fatal, 307 severe and 1938 “slight”, although those involved would probably argue regarding that definition. Lothians’ roads are also apparently the most dangerous in Scotland for cyclists, with around 165 people a year being hospitalised.

There are all sorts of statistics about how accidents happened – was it when a car was turning left, was it when a bike jumped a red light – but there are no statistics for how many accidents happen as a result of anger.

It seems that whether you’re in a car or on a bike, angry righteousness is not far from the surface when getting about Edinburgh – and a quick look at the debate between drivers and cyclists on the Evening News website proves the point.

There is a real fury about just who should have priority on roads, who is the more responsible when on wheels, who jumps lights, who rides on pavements, who endangers pedestrians more, and ultimately whether or not the paying of road tax should give drivers a bigger priority than cyclists.

Not being a cyclist in Edinburgh I can understand the anger of car drivers. The road system works against them, leaving them hugely frustrated when trying to get anywhere. So to see a cyclist get ahead because of special lanes can be seen by some as a challenge.

And there are many cyclists who do not ride safely, cutting through red lights, going up and down pavements. I know of one very mild-mannered man, a keen cyclist himself, who was so incensed by a cyclist’s behaviour trying to squeeze between parked cars and queuing traffic at lights when there was no room, that he ultimately knocked him from his bike by clipping him with his wing mirror. The moment of triumphalism soon turned to shock when he realised how appalling the result of such action might have been.

However, drivers who do not use their mirrors, who don’t check their blind spots, who don’t consider cyclists to have any right to space on a road, who park inconsiderately, forcing bikes and pedestrians into the middle of roads, are just as bad – worse, in fact, as they are the drivers who can cause fatalities.

This apparent “them or us” attitude has got to stop if Edinburgh’s roads are going to get safer.

Yes cyclists need more training before they should be able to cycle on roads – a proficiency test at primary school is no longer enough – but drivers too need to accept that cyclists have rights on the roads, and that with the move to get more people on their bikes for health reasons, there will be more two-wheelers on the go. Since 1999 the percentage of trips in Edinburgh made by bike has risen by an eighth, although that still accounts for less than two per cent of all trips in the city and there are around 75km of off-road and the same again on-road cycleways.

But the council is determined to get more people on bikes, investing £1 million in cycling infrastructure over the next year.

There will also be 20mph limits on more than 50 per cent of the city’s residential streets, and a university bike corridor from the city centre to King’s Buildings at Blackford opens soon.

Things should improve for cyclists. But also for motorists, as the Pedal on Parliament organisers campaigning for better road safety understand that the roads are to be shared, rather than adopting the same old angry adversarial stance: two wheels good, four wheels bad.

Anger is a waste of energy. It won’t get you anywhere quicker. Let the cyclist go past, let the pedestrian cross, let the car overtake. The message for all road users should literally be live and let live.