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How to make space for cyclists and de-stress

Author: John McKenna

Photo: Jim Killock

How to make space for cyclists and de-stress

Which is more important - wearing a cycle helmet or wondering why we have to do so in the first place?

I always wear a cycle helmet when on my bike, and take it for granted that it is something I just have to do.

Like a modern-day prophet, British Olympic cycling champion Chris Boardman has challenged my assumption and forced me to question why I feel compelled to wear body armour every time I ride my bike.

Boardman prompted an angry reaction from BBC Breakfast viewers in November after riding without a helmet during an item about cycling in cities.

Many accused him of being irresponsible as a role model by encouraging unsafe cycling practices.

In response, Boardman pointed to cities such as Copenhagen in Denmark and Utrecht in the Netherlands where cycle use is as high as 50%, but helmet use is as low 0.5%.

Despite this, their accident rates are far lower than in the UK. How is this possible? Because in these cities they have made space for the bicycle - watch this video to see the lengths they have gone to in Copenhagen.

In the video one of those speaking about Copenhagen says that in his native America, he often feels like an “outlaw” on his bike, wondering if he can find a tiny space on the road to move in to.

Space race

This desire to find space, the feeling that life becomes a competition with all those around us to secure even just a little part of this world for ourselves, isn’t limited to inner-city road users. 

What about the rush hour squeeze on the train? Or finding a parking space during the morning school run?

It’s so easy to see everyone around us as rivals with whom we are competing. 

What if, instead, we looked at those around us as our neighbours? 

What if, instead of considering it our right to have access to those public spaces, we considered all spaces and moments we share with others as a gift?

Grateful attitude

The old “penny” catechism of the Catholic Church said that when we went to bed we we should occupy ourselves with “the thoughts of death”, treating each night as our last…imagine how grateful that would make you when waking up in the morning.

Maybe if we can be grateful for each morning, we can start to treat each rush hour less as a competition and more as a gift and opportunity.

And what is a gift? It is something that has been freely given. Perhaps we could start to see life as a series of freely-given gifts rather than a battle for what we are entitled to - a battle where, in the case of road use, cyclists are forced to wear body armour. 

If we adopt this grateful attitude, life becomes much more enjoyable and less stressful. It becomes a party full of gifts rather than a rat race.

A grateful attitude might also make us more willing to share the free gifts that we have received with each other. 

We might even, if we saw the roads as a gift for all of us, be willing to share a bit more of it with cyclists.

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