We hear lots about the worst road incidents involving cyclists: collisions that leave bike riders dead or fighting for their lives in hospital. But there are vastly more unpleasant minor incidents that don't result in injury: inadvertent close passes; deliberate 'punishment passes'; 'Sorry Mate I Didn't See You' near-misses; abuse; harassment; and many many more. At worst, these leave cyclists shaken and fearful. At best, they're a dispiriting part of urban cycling that helps deter potential cyclists who aren't young, fit, brave and confident.
The Near Miss Project aims to document the size of the problem and find out what effect it has on cyclists. Westminster University researcher Rachel Aldred and laser-projection front light maker Blaze are looking for cyclists to document their riding experiences for just one day.
The researchers say they suspect the constant background noise of near-misses really affects the way people ride — if they choose to ride at all. They hope to use the findings to brief policy-makers, planners, and driver training organisations, calling for a reduction in incidents.
"If we can prevent some of these incidents, we could dramatically improve the cycling experience and potentially reduce the likelihood of more serious incidents," say the researchers.
Dr. Rachel Aldred, Senior Transport Lecturer at Westminster University said: “We’re asking as many cyclists as possible to contribute to the Near Miss Project and sign up to share any cycling near misses they encounter during one day between Monday 20th October – Sunday 2nd November.
“Although research into near misses is commonplace in other areas of transport — such as rail and air — it’s near absent when it comes to cycling, which is what compelled us to launch the Near Miss Project.
"We carried out a small pilot which revealed the average person experienced three near miss type incidents in just one day. These occurrences can’t be ignored in thinking about what puts people off cycling.
"I’m interested in not only how regularly these incidents are happening, but also the emotive elements involved; how do they leave people feeling: threatened, angry, ashamed, frustrated? What’s more, minor incidents can be viewed as an early warning signal; they may indicate a risk of more serious incidents.”
“We want the research findings to be used by planners and policy-makers and to help drivers better understand near miss type incidents from a cycling perspective.”
Emily Brooke, founder of Blaze said: “Safety is undeniably still a massive barrier to people cycling. While a near miss may not feel like more than a frustration or irritation at the time, the potential ramifications could be massive. Our belief is that these incidents - the ones that happen on a weekly, if not daily, basis - are in fact the ones which influence the way we cycle, or if we choose to cycle at all.”
Brooke says that while she was developing the Blaze light she realised how regularly she was experiencing near misses and how easily they could have turned into something more serious.
"I think we condition ourselves to forget about them almost as quickly as they happen," she said, "but we shouldn't have to just accept them as part and parcel of cycling. In one day I think I counted as many as seven near misses including everything from a scooter getting dangerously close to my inside, to a pedestrian glued to their phone stepping out in front of me without looking.
"We genuinely believe this study will reveal insights to improve the safety of fellow cyclists on our roads and I'm personally impatient and fascinated to see what we learn."
To participate please visit: www.nearmiss.bike and share your stories with #nearmiss
The pilot study
Researchers ran a small pilot on Tuesday, September 30 2014.
The study involved usable data from 25 respondents travelling a total of 250 miles.
People experienced on average 0.8 incidents per trip stage (part of cycle journey). This equated to average 3.2 incidents per person on the day in question or one incident every 3.1 miles.
Respondents were asked to rate incidents on a scale of 0-3 for how annoying and how scary they were.
Incidents involving no motor vehicles (just other cyclists or pedestrians, or for example potholes or in one case a squirrel!) scored an average of 1.7/3 annoying and 0.7/3 scary.
Incidents that did involve at least one motor vehicle were twice as scary and scored 2.2/3 annoying and 1.4/3 scary.
Negative feelings reported by people experiencing an incident included — as well as fear and annoyance — shame, frustration, embarrassment and guilt.
Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.