Life and death in great English cities

[Much respect to Jane Jacobs for the inspiration for the title]

London is full of life. A wonderful diveristy of cultures, shapes (animate and inanimate), grit, urban regeneration and entrepreneurial spirit. It’s heart beats at a rapid pace.

And, can stop beating in an instant.

When in London in June, I was riding back from a great meeting, feeling good and eyes wide-open to possibilities and the vibrancy of the city around me. Then I saw a dead cyclist, a person lying under a sheet on the other side of the road. My heart stopped and my gut did cartwheels. Myself and other cyclists heading the opposite direction just stalled and almost caused accidents ourselves. I don’t know what happened, but it just brought home the reality that things change…fast. So I rode a bit slower, a bit more cautiously….for the next few kilometres.

I continue to ride quite cautiously on my old ‘city’ bike, but when I jump on Shirley I just want to go fast. This is not a good thing when there are so many traffic lights, other moving objects, and stationary objects to thwart your need for speed. The urge to take risks in the hope of getting a nice clean ride for a few kilometres is hard to ignore. Until you almost run a red light, almost head out into five lanes of accelerating traffic, and almost…test the skill of other drivers and the safety rating of your helmet.

Last night was another sickening example of death being an instant away. Riding from Victoria station back to Vauxhall bridge, again, happy after a group Vipassana meditation, a German Shephard dog bolted out across the road about 5m ahead of me. I saw it all. It’s joy and enthusiasm as it rushed towards the dog on the other side of the road, and then the sickening impact as a car coming the other direction slammed straight into it. The dog slid 20m past me back down the road and traffic slowed as did I, drifting past the distraught owners covering their faces down a side street. Looking back, the dog (as they seem to do) had got up and walked to the side of the road. Howling horribly, limping, but still alive. The owner’s uncovered their faces, people jumped out their cars…and I overcame the deep, complete, utter horror felt through my whole body and sort of wobbled onwards.

This morning, that idea arose again – death, I thought of slow death. I realised that I do not see many old people here. A few oler black guys hanging around the shops downstairs, a few dudes betting and drinking in smoky establishments, but no real elderly people like there were in Karlskrona. I think the pace and smog and cost (?) would be pretty hard for them to handle, but don’t know. I will let you know if I found out more.

Until then, if you were like me as a younger cyclist – thinking I was happy to die on the moral high ground in the battle to beat the evil, polluting cars with my antics….let it go. Just chill. Be careful, really careful if you think about ignoring the traffic lights (think of the image you want to portray as a cyclist too). And just…it’s better late than never, and choose the right time and place to express your energy, aggression and joy through your legs and a sprint around some obstacles. Maybe off-road : )

Be. Connect. Contribute.

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