Monday 25 November 2013

Maybe dangerous roads are not inevitable?

It strikes me that recent campaigns to tell cyclists to ride safely, especially in the wake of catastrophes we've seen in London, aren't only a reflection of our innately victim blaming road culture. They're also a symptom of conservatism in road design and management.

There's an inevitability to traffic, at least people think there is. To congestion. To the fact that you've got heavy goods vehicles and busses 'competing' for space with cyclists (what a crazy notion, that such a complete mismatch should be viewed as a competition). There seems no other way than to adapt cyclists to the hostile environment they're in, and maybe just accept that some of them will die as an unavoidable consequence of them just being there.

The logical conclusion to this is that we tell the police to go out and warn them. We target cyclists with road safety advice. We tell them to be more responsible, ignoring the fact that riding responsibly is not measurably less hazardous than most of the 'irresponsible' riding being targetted.

So the truth of road statistics we have, of course, doesn't back up this action. But we can't persuade motorists to drive more carefully - how people drive is just how they drive, bad motoring is a constant against which cycling has to be viewed. And we can't make the roads safer, there's not room what with all the cars and everything. So cyclists will just have to be told. And pedestrians? Well we'll put up railings to keep them safe, and we'll direct them on longer routes to walk to get them where they're going. A detour of 50 yards to get to a crossing isn't a problem, its safer. Why would they want to cross where its dangerous, why are they putting themselves at such risk by crossing in the wrong place when a detour would only be a few minutes at each of the six junctions they've got to cross. Whats that? Victim blame? Okay, its a small percentage we're talking about, but surely saving ANY life is worthwhile?

The problem with this argument is that its horseshit. By which I mean its thick, smells bad, and surprisingly spreadable. Everyone just believes it without question - very few people look at our road network and say 'hold up a moment, if we managed this route for pedestrians then these rounded junction corners would be squared off and they could cross right here - we could also have a cycle route across it, so then people wouldn't be in such danger. Then there would be fewer cars, so less congestion, cleaner air, safer streets...

Brits are innately opposed to big changes. We're suspicions of people telling us to change how we do things - and we're slow to question our own priorities - we'll just ignore thousands of deaths if that doesn't fit in with how we see the world being. Apply that 'logic' to our roads and look what you get. 

Our problem is that what we require for safe cycling is just a little bit different to what we have. It requires change in how we look at and use our roads. Its change for the better - but 'change' is never viewed as a good thing in Britain, especially on our roads.

Changes in road management are few and far between - we have to grasp the nettle each and every time another road, junction, crossing or resurfacing happens and require that this one is as good, for us, as it can be. No more half measures, anywhere, at all. Time to show people that change isn't frightening. There is no alternative.


  1. "Brits are innately opposed to big changes". That sounds like a terrible stereotype but I think there's something in it. We seem to be the same in Australia. The attitude seems to be related to the "not invented here" philosophy. And it seems to be peculiar to English-speaking countries. I can't work it out.

    1. While I might flippantly argue that you Aussies haven't spoken English for as long as anyone can remember, I entirely agree that there this kind of conservatism is a British export - just look across Europe at those countries that don't have presumed liability laws for road users, and its abundantly clear.

  2. That of course doesn't explain Romania appearing on that list - that is probably down to Nicolae Causescu