Tuesday 28 May 2013

So near, and yet so far Cambridge News.

I was happy to report here last week that Cambridge News have softened their normally hard-line attitude towards cycling stories (usually there to troll for anti-cyclist hate) with a series of reasonable news reports fairly and even-handedly covering cycling stories.

The story here is simple enough. There is a heavily used cyclist and pedestrian route on Stourbridge Common, on which there is a bridge. Cyclists are encouraged to use such routes here - in fact they can and should be a pleasure, they are after all free of motorised traffic. The County Council installed a new supposedly non-slip surface on this bridge that was awfully unpleasant to ride on - cyclists have reported feeling unwell, sore, even shaky and dizzy after riding across it. Obviously the County made a mistake - it should never have been installed, it was hazardous and unpleasant, and its installation encouraged cyclists to use more hazardous road routes instead. I would be unsurprised if it meant that some cyclists just gave up riding.

Don't believe me? Then believe RadWagon.

I don't know about you, but I can see how to pitch this story such that its very much supportive of cycling. Lets report it as 'County Council forced into embarrassing, expensive climb-down over bridge surface as they finally removed much lambasted rumble strips. The strips have been reported to cause numbness, discomfort, even nausea by cyclists who regularly use the bridge. Count Council plans to make the route safer using the 'anti-slip' surface have spectacularly backfired, and the cost of this error will be borne by the taxpayer.'

Seems fair? Seems reasonable to put the blame for this mistake where it really lies, at the door of those who did this without first making sure its an appropriate solution on a cycle route? 

Well you're not thinking like a Cambridge News reporter.
Taxpayers’ will now have to bear the cost after the non-slip surface laid down by Cambridgeshire County Council was torn out and replaced.
The move came after a raft of complaints from riders who were “shaken up” when they crossed the Stourbridge Common bridge.
Hang on... Cyclists were 'shaken up' and taxpayers will come to our aid?

Oh, bugger off Cambridge News. There needs to be no intimation that cyclists are at fault for complaining about something we've every right to complain about. We didn't install this surface, we haven't created the cost. 

I guess expecting the News to really 'get' why trolling for anti-cyclist hate is a real problem is just too much to ask. They don't understand that this contributes to the climate of hate we experience on our roads. They don't get why fostering such a negative attitude towards cyclists is a bad thing.

And after a run of fair reporting. So near. But still, so far. 

Wednesday 22 May 2013

The Brat - Revisited

One of the most frequently linked to articles here is Type 1 Cyclist Hater - The Brat.

It has perhaps become more relevant over the last few days with the widely reported alleged Tweet and Run incident.

In case you've been living under a rock, someone claimed they'd hit a cyclist on the road in a tweet, justifying this by saying the cyclist doesn't pay road tax. This got a lot of people very upset - and it was reported to the police and widely re-tweeted. Somewhere along the way the police asked her to contact them,  a cyclist who was knocked off in round about the right area by a motorist who drove off appeared, the motorist deleted her twitter account, and a bunch of earlier photos were found in her tweets where she was taking images at the wheel, criticising the drivers in front for being too slow or simply to show off her how far over the speed limit her speedometer proved to be.

The resulting witch hunt on twitter was cruel; many argue that it was cruel but fair. I don't know - I think if you claim to have done something like that in a public place you've earned all of the public criticism you get.  But any witch hunt should really end when you've caught your supposed witch, and that didn't happen here. Whether she's the one who hit the cyclist or not almost doesn't matter in this light - you can't just claim to have done that and think that'll all be cool. It won't. Its in the hands of the Police - its their business. Its not my job to lay it on worse for her.

To my mind this is the rational end point of Brat mentality. If we normalise hate against cyclists, if we just ignore the reams of really very cruel hate hurled at cyclists, we make events like this more common.

I'm not saying one mean tweet is a crime. I'm not saying that one insult leads to an assault - but the comparison we can make with the crass, offensive racial and homophobic humour of the '60s and '70s is easy enough. No one Bernard Manning joke got anyone killed, but the endless tirades of cutting comments from his ilk led some to believe that they can act out their own depraved, violent fantasies with impunity. One use of the 'N' word does't get anyone killed - allowing such terminology to become the norm, sitting back and letting the racists get on with it, we know from history thats a mistake.

It should be taken as read that those who perpetuate what is very simply a form of prejudice are also the least likely to accept thats what this is. This is prejudice 101 - its a bed-time story that sociology teachers would come up with to drum an important moral lesson into their children. This is not controversial or cutting edge psychology, its basic human herd behaviour. People who display prejudice are always 'not a racist but...', or have many 'best friends who are homosexual', or are 'keen cyclists themselves'. 

I guess where I'm leading to with this is that this whole topic matters way more than you'd immediately imagine. Yeah, one teenge brat bragging about winging a cyclist, its not the big picture. But that big picture is made up of a multitude of little events, lots of people mouthing off, abusing, passing too close, threatening, assaulting... We let each one go because individually these events don't seem worth it. The result? Cyclists regularly bullied off the road, punished by motorists using their vehicles as if they're merely a teachers cane, or even assaulted, and failed by the legal system that is stacked against them.

Time to draw a line in the sand? Is that even possible?

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Cycling Bestiary and Type V Cyclist Hater

Just a quick note to say I'm pondering a Bestiary of Cyclists within this blog. Rather like my types of cyclist hater - the aim is to send ourselves up. Sometimes I think we take the whole schebang too seriously. So any suggestions for categories would be welcome.

Secondly, looking for a minor celebrity raining hate down on cyclists for the Cyclist Haters articles. Any good recent examples please?



Monday 20 May 2013

Cambridge News - are you becoming cool?


I mean it.

Three cycling stories in Cambridge News in a row, none of them dripping with the usual derision or troll-bait we've come to expect of that paper.

Ride to raise awareness of safety of cyclists on the A10. Fairly and reasonably covered.

And as I've already blogged, we've had a small victory, which CN has reported fairly and decently.

It may be that the CN has turned a corner and really wants to engage constructively with cyclists to get news out there. I hope so. Or it could be that Raymond Brown is oh holiday? Either way, I'd like to urge the other journalists at the CN to keep up the good work.

The fact is no one wants blindly positive reporting. No one wants a newspaper to just keep waving the flag on behalf of cyclists. We want fair journalism that isn't just trolling for cycling hate. Where cyclists are targeted by the police for whatever it is next, can we have some fair analysis of the risks cyclists may be avoiding, and of the impact whichever assumed danger is being policed actually has? Can the level of decency and intelligent journalism on display here extended such that it is the norm for cycling stories? 

Come on guys. You can do it. You can abandon the trollbait. Question now is, will you?

Sunday 19 May 2013

Small Victories

Its a rarity for Cambridge News to publish a cycling story that doesn't suck. Its rarer still when that story reflects on a victory for cyclists over the generally anti-cyclist organisations that run Cambridge and Cambridgeshire. And I genuinely can't remember the last time such a story was fair, well written and not dripping with anti-cyclist sentiment. Never thought I'd say it; well done Cambridge News!

As you can see, the article tells us that in Cambridge North Area we've got the local police priority of dealing with anti-social cycling dropped. In part I think thats because Police here are concerned that the previous priority was  increasingly getting them seen as anti-cyclist. I could well believe that they're embarrassed about the lunatic anti-cyclist ravings of the commissioner. I'd given up on reporting even the most serious incidents of being threatened with violence by motorists to the police here, but recently they've been reaching out to try to fix things. I feel that I must once again point out that when I've not been cycling all of the dealings I've had with Cambridgeshire Constabulary have been pretty good - the local police constables and sergeant are good chaps. But until recently I can recount no example of the police giving a damn even when being brought video evidence of insanely dangerous driving. I think that maybe, at last, they're wanting to correct that. I'm hopeful. We'll see.

I think we're getting through to them (the work of Cottenham Cyclist has been invaluable here). The acknowledgement from our local police officers that a cyclist using the pavement to avoid a terrifying road junction designed in such a way that we're likely to die if we obey the rules perhaps oughtn't be targeted is a small victory. It means that fixed penalty notices for cyclists will instead be used as intended when they were introduced. They weren't created to punish cyclists for trying to stay alive, they were created to deal with cyclists who pose a danger to others.

Its a damning indictment of Cambridge and the institutionally anti-cyclist attitudes taken by City and County Councils and usually the Police force that we have to campaign for the law to be used as intended and not in a way that is hostile to cyclists to the point where we've had the choice of risking our lives or being punished. But that small battle has, for the moment, been won. Now I wouldn't go so far as to say we're on a roll, because putting this in context its clear that what we HAVE won is merely that a specific law enforcement is no longer misapplied. But its also clear that now we've got a shoe in the door - its time to intensify efforts to change things for the better. 

The approach needed here is simple enough - not prosecuting cyclists for going on the pavement to avoid a possibly lethal junction is a damn good start, but this is Cambridge - why are there any junctions where confident adults (let alone children or pensioners) fear to ride according to the law? Why is it ever seen as better to ride 'antisocially' than, well, 'socially'? 

Its time to stop accepting bad design and half measures. Its time for us to demand what we deserve - we're supposedly the top cycling city in the UK. When will we get facilities to match? We've got allies on the County Council now, and in principle even the head of the Tory group ought to be pro-cyclist - Councillor Curtis was (still is?) cycling 'champion' at the County Council (although his bland support for the Catholic Church junction re-design tells us winning him over will still be a fight).

Bottom line? Its easy for out Councillors and Police to magnanimously stop using the law in a way in which it ought never have been used. Are they going to go further and start making our roads more cyclist-friendly, or is this just hot air? 

Monday 13 May 2013

Pinch Point - by Bradley Stearn

A short documentary about cycling in Cambridge and the conflict between cyclists and motorists. Take a look...

Not bad, eh? Decent point, well made. I especially like the bits about how and why cyclists might break the rules.

I don't want to use this video to launch a discussion on the merits of the vehicularist versus infrastructuralist phoney war. But this thought provoking little film does rather demand that we consider it a moment.

One of the things (pointed out in the video) that makes cycling popular in Cambridge is the network of routes into the city centre across Jesus Green, Midsummer Common, Coe Fen, etc. A lot of the tedious ring-road jostling that typifies commuting cycling in much of the UK isn't quite so bad here - even if you're coming from routes that aren't bypassing the edge-of-city rush there are some half decent cycle lanes to be used. As a result, and due to the fact that Cambridge is flat, dry, and as a city culturally dominated by the University and companies attracted to the University hub, Cycling is a big deal here.

But we're hated as much, probably more (due to our numbers) than on most places. I've been yelled at elsewhere, only ever spat at or assaulted here. Giving cyclists a warning nudge at a junction is just a thing her. Make no mistake - our road system is run for motorists, by motorists, and on the actual roads we're fair game. 

We aren't going to get any further in Cambridge or anywhere else by telling cyclists they have to be bold. Sorry folks, we've been doing that across the UK for generations now and we're at historic low levels of cycling (the recent seemingly stellar increase in cycling is from such a low base - a massive precentage rise from feck all is still next to feck all). I ride in primary cycling position whenever appropriate, but I don't expect the retired old lady down on the allotments to do so  (she recently bought a POLITE vest because, purely for kicks, motons will even bully an old age pensioner). It is futile to suggest that this is the answer. A minority of folk like me will do it, but I'm a bolshy, stocky, Northern bloke who only a complete nutter or serious hard case would start a fight with - are we really saying to children who want to ride their bikes that they should go and play in the traffic? Would you be telling your Gran to mount a Pashley and assert her presence of the road among bin lorries, cement mixers and Beamers who'll scare the crap out of her to relieve the monotony of their worthless existences?

Assertive cycling is a survival tool we need because our road planners, despite making encouraging noises of late, still want us to eat shit at junctions. But don't lets pretend its the answer. The answer is that we spice safe cycling into the very DNA of our city; every key route, every hazardous junction. Anything else is just stamp collecting.

Does obeying the rules matter?

I think I should clarify something in this blog, something that may not be apparent from either the tone or content of what I've been writing - mostly I don't care if people obey the rules of the road.

I mean, I DO care if folk endanger others - or themselves, for that matter. And I care very much when people are quite obviously lying about what is or is not safe. And I do care if people are breaking the rules in a way in which they increase the risk of causing harm.

But if you're on a motorway, at night, alone, with good visibility, and you want to speed, I really don't care. Thats your business and, frankly, whether you get home at 60mph or 80mph, just don't ask me to have any opinion on the finer details of what you're doing. I haven't got one. Likewise, if you want to ride your bike downhill with your hands off the bars, fiddling with your earbuds, its not my business. If you have an accident doing either of these things, thats your own problem. I'd rather you didn't, but hey, its up to you. Your choice.

I guess what I'm saying is that I don't get why folk get angry about some breaches of the rules but not others - I have never heard anyone who drives making sweeping generalisations about other motorists always speeding, always parking on the pavements, etc. even though the overwhelming evidence is that such crimes are so common places as to be ubiquitous. Yet I frequently (every day, in fact) encounter such generalisations regarding cyclists. About us going through red lights or going on the pavement or whatever else we all do all the time (apparently).

I could spend yet more time 'putting things in perspective' by reciting yet more data showing that the proportion of cyclists who break the law isn't that great, and certainly isn't as great as the proportion of motorists who speed, drive on the mobile phone, etc. But that isn't the point.

I could bleat on yet again about how this portrayal of cyclists as law breakers demonstrates that motorists are for the most part delusional in their prejudice against us. But thats also not the point.

My question here is a simpler one; does it matter if we break the rules of the road? It doesn't matter, to me, when done in a responsible context. But thats my subjective judgement call; it actually will matter to other people that someone is doing 90mph on the motorway at night. And, to many, doing 40mph past a school is considered okay, while others would happily shoot you through both lungs with their rifles of parental rage. Before impaling you on their nimby bayonets.

Lets take this to the extreme. You see a child molester crossing the road. You know they're a child molester, they've escaped from jail having been convicted for it, you know them personally, they're right there. No one could argue that this person is of any value or worth; they're a bad person who deserves to be punished. Now it would be absurd to suggest that you can validly drive your car over this person, because murdering people is wrong. The rules of the road do not suddenly get suspended because someone deserves, from your perspective to get run over. Or, in other words, the law is not subjective - we've got a set of rules that matter because if we all obey them we'll get along just fine.

I'm not going to argue that all law-breaking is the same - thats clearly stupid. But thinking this through, I can't make a case that we should further the cause of endemic lawbreaking by furthering the attitude that its okay so long as we're not doing much harm. Surely as mature adults we must accpt that with our right to criticise those who break the law because, in their subjective judgement its okay, we must just accept the same criticism when we've done similar? We can fairly suggest that the level of critisim, the severity of the action, may not be the same, but we have to accept that the concept of said criticism is fair.

Which brings us back to the criticisms regularly levelled at cyclists. We all jump red lights, we all go on the pavement, we all ride around at night without lights on... Even were these assertions true (and of course they're not) there is an inherent hypocrisy at play here. But its an hypocrisy so common as to be entirely un-noticed; its such a commonly shared anti-cyclist stance as to be one that most are blind to. 

Does it therefore matter if people break the rules of the road? Of course it does. Does it matter which rules they break? Clearly. Does it matter what vehicles they're using at the time? Well the bigger and faster the vehicle, the more it matters (or so it seems to me). No other way of prioritising road user infringements makes a great deal of sense; base it on harm caused, or you're pissing in the wind.

Make no mistake - you don't care either. You don't believe everyone should slavishly follow the letter of every law. You don't want that any more than I do. But I hope you DO care about the potential each of us has to cause harm - so why do we blandly stand by when those with least capacity to harm others are the ones so regularly demonised for breaking rules that carry the lowest risk to others?