I know, as a committed campaigner for Dutch-style cycling infrastructure why I should hate ASLs, and that’s because they’re the sort of cheap token solution that makes life a little bit better for existing cyclists but which does nothing to encourage those who would like to cycle but find the idea of mixing with traffic (and having to explain to a scofflaw taxi driver why they shouldn’t be in their bit of the road) a bit unappealing.
And even if that wasn’t the case, I should anyway hate ASLs because they are the size and shape of a lorry’s blind spot and therefore can end up putting you in more danger than if they weren’t there, always supposing there wasn’t always a taxi in them when you wanted to use them.
And both of these things are true, although I will use an ASL anyway if it is there and there isn’t a taxi in it, and it gets me away from the danger of left turning cars, and there’s a way I can get to it without ending up in a lorry’s blind spot – but that isn’t why I hate using them
It’s just that, deep down, using one feels like queue barging. I mean, there you are, in your car, stuck in traffic. And someone on a bike – it doesn’t matter what they’re wearing or how carefully or legally or quickly they are cycling – just sails past you (which is bad enough) on the inside (which is worse) and then just plonks themselves RIGHT AT THE FRONT OF THE QUEUE with not so much as a by your leave (except for the dirty look at the taxi beside them). On a BIKE. In BRITAIN. Where queue barging is, effectively, a hanging offence.
Once, way back in the dawn of reality television some time last century, we watched some programme which was supposedly about exploring national stereotypes. They got a load of tourists from different countries and put them in a hotel, a different nationality each week, and used hidden cameras to film various scenarios – did the Germans bag all the sun loungers, would the Americans get angry if their flag was found burned,** that sort of thing. It was very silly but occasionally illuminating and the incident that really stuck in my mind was when they wanted to see how different nationalities would react if someone queue barged at dinner. They had various actors staging each situation and when it came to the Brits, we never did find out how they would react because the actors themselves couldn’t bring themselves to just barge in to the front of a queue. At all. Even for a setup. That’s how strong the taboo is.
Now I know that as a cyclist and committed defender of cycling rights, I shouldn’t let this bother me. After all, I’m doing it largely for my own safety, and I’m not really in the drivers’ way and even if I am I will get off from the lights quickly enough so that I’ll be gone before they’ve put their phone down and got going again. But I still feel that I’m queue barging, and it makes me uncomfortable. Not enough not to do it – there are limits, and getting stuck in a traffic jam not of my making is not helping anyone – but enough that when I was sitting at the front of a queue of cars the other day waiting for the lights to change all I could feel was the drivers’ eyes boring into the back of my head and I knew that the only mitigating factor would be to get off as quickly as I could the moment the lights went green.
And that’s why, when the lights did go green, it was a really really bad time for my back wheel to decide to jam itself up against the frame. I didn’t stop – I couldn’t, I had a car I’d just queue barged on my tail – so I just had to power along as fast as I could with my tyre crammed up against the chain stay until I could escape down a side road and sort it all out.
And that is why I really hate ASLs…
* For those not steeped in cycling infrastructure jargon, ASLs are advanced stop lines, or those painted boxes at the front of traffic lights usually containing a picture of a bike, and a taxi.
** as I recall, they were deeply shocked and saddened by this, and even took it home with them for a decent burial, so if you were thinking of amusing your American pals with a zippo and the stars and stripes, just don’t.