Look at it this way; half of the population of Cambridge ride a bike. Not every day, but within the city itself that means something between a fifth and a quarter of the share of traffic is cyclists - we're somewhat worse when it comes to getting people across the boundaries of Cambridge, in and out of the city under their own steam, but by British standards we're a cycling city -THE cycling city
The other half of the population walk, drive, or travel by bus and/or train. Pretty much everyone in Cambridge travels by more than one mode, it would be stupid to assume that the city is made up of 'cyclists' and 'everyone else'.
But that 50% figure is just too tempting for our local paper, the Cambridge News Online (or Cambridge Evening News, depending on what you're used to calling it). They've got an issue that neatly divides the city, and boy, are they exploiting it.
Its not easy being a local paper these days - the once lucrative ads sections have long been under threat from an ever expanding stream of social media and sales sites online. Who wants to pay to advertise their car in the local paper any more when you can flog it more or less for free online? The formerly fascinating list of bric-a-brac you'd see for sale in the ads part of newspapers, the thing that many used to buy the paper for, is pretty much gone now. The small ads are sparse - the golden era of local papers prospering on such ads is a thing of the past.
To survive these papers have to have an online presence, one that generates a significant number of hits; if they can get people coming back time and time again to read the comments section (content that has real value to them, that their readers add for free!) then that is a bonus.
Bluntly local paper Cambridge paper has no financial interest in reasoned, level headed articles about cycling. They want to generate anger - they want bile from cyclists, they want anger from motorists. They want this to remain a divisive subject. Don't believe me? Lets look at one of their (many) recent articles on the subject.
Signs banning cycling on a Cambridge footbridge should be removed and measures put in to reduce tension between riders and pedestrians.That is the call from Cambridge Cycling Campaign, which wants the Green Dragon bridge, a key city route, properly opened up for shared use.
This refers to the most recent newsletter of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign - note that in said newsletter the Campaign (and my regular readers will know I'm no staunch defender of the Campaign - they do some things well, other things not so well) make it entirely clear that there is no ambiguity as to whether cyclists are 'bannned' from crossing. We're allowed to ride over that bridge, to do so is entirely legal, despite advisory signs asking us not to.
Bottom line - no one is saying that signs banning cycling there should be removed. The signs there do not ban cycling.
In fairness to the CEN, they go into this in a little more detail further on, but they then come out with this absolute howler:
But the move is unpopular with some. Ronan McLister, landlord of the Green Dragon, which is opposite the bridge, believes it should be pedestrian-only, saying only about one in 20 cyclists dismounts.He said: “The cyclists do not slow down and you’ve got parents pushing prams along there. The cyclists rule the highways, They want to rule the pathways too.”
From this of course we can immediately draw some conclusions - that 95% of cyclists don't think that this is a safety issue is one, or that as the 95th percentile have chosen its not an issue the signage should be made more clear to reflect that this 95% aren't breaking the law anyway. We could conclude that if its as dangerous as all that there will be plenty of data to support this claim; data on pedestrian injuries on the bridge. Data that is conspicuously absent from the article...
That the Green Dragon is no longer a pub worthy of the custom of cyclists in Cambridge is another (more obvious, in my view) conclusion you may reach. Seriously Mr. McLister? We rule the highways and want to rule the pathways? Are you listening to yourself? Have you ever ridden through the traffic in Cambridge? Wow. I'll be keeping well away from HIS pub if he's got that attitude towards 50% of the population of Cambridge! Guys, do you want to run a successful business in Cambridge? Start by not alienating half of the population. How is it that you don't understand that?
There are problems if you want to ride over that bridge when its busy - I was there on New Years Day with another two cyclists, and we dismounted to cross because of the number of pedestrians (95% don't dismount? My arse!). When its quieter I ride straight over - it is after all legal and safe to do so. When its frosty it can be hazardous, but my answer for that would be to grit it rather than close it to cyclists - and I'm sure pedestrians would benefit from gritting it too. Instead our local paper gives further credence to the same guy saying there should be barriers to stop us sliding on the ice because we end up in the road? How single minded do you have to be to not point out that gritting would solve this?
This is pretty typical fodder from the CEN - look at articles therein over the last few weeks. There isn't any analysis of whether the claims made against cyclists are accurate or fair - its a news source that is happy to repeat any anti-cyclist story - missing the real stories such as the fact that the police were staking out a junction were the end of the cycle route is completely unlabelled, the PCC spouting nonsense that is not supported by accident or injury data, and there is simply no analysis whatsoever of naff County Council pathos.
I'm not asking for the CEN to suddenly become the cyclists best buddy - I understand, guys, you've got to get hits on your site and you phrase articles, especially headlines, in such a way as to get them. But take a step back and ask whether you can achieve the same, or more, through applying better analysis to these stories before you release them? What would you rather have, a juicy article where the PCC is shown to be wasting police resources over issues that are responsible for a tiny proportion of cyclist injuries, or merely another one where people keep coming back to say they hate cyclists? Would you like an article exposing the poposity of county councillors (that'll keep everyone entertained for hours) or do you just want to troll for anti-cyclist hate?
It isn't (or shouldn't be) the job of journalists merely to report opinion - and as can be seen from the article on the Green Dragon Bridge they're not even doing that - they're seeking to perpetuate the so-called 'war on the roads' - why else would you start the article with the complete fantasy that cycling there is prohibited? Surely a journalist doesn't want to merely be a 'content provider' who generates 'hits' for revenue - you want to be someone exposing the truth. Come on guys, can't we have real journalism reflecting the real issues rather than this road-warmongering?