Friday 28 February 2014

What makes a Motorist a Moton?

There are some areas where ignorance is widely respected - but not many. We can all name some of them - global warming, parking, bike helmets, etc.

I'm sure you've all come across the kind of thing I'm referring to - someone says something about global warming ('One of the things that'll be interesting is that the Dorset coast is eroding faster with stronger storms, so fossil hunting will enter a new golden age') and someone else will pipe up with some irrelevant shite ('Climatologists are part of a commie-green conspiracy, else how else would 99% or more of them say the SAME GODDAM THING!').

Now there are a lot of topics in which ignorance is understandable, of course, and I'm not talking about those ('No, sorry, I don't really understand what quarks are, is it like cheese?'). There are all sorts of areas of knowledge that are, rightly, considered specialised and where those who voice ignorant, prejudiced or downright stupid opinions are reasonably and fairly mocked or, politely, corrected. And if they persist with their crazy talk they're then ignored as the fringe-loonies they choose to make themselves in to. But I'm not talking about those areas. I'm referring to the things where sheer bloody minded irrational ignorance is cheered on by yet more ignorant loonies for whom reality, it seems, is problematic. Relevant to this blog would be cyclists going through red lights (they mostly don't), cycle helmets as invaluable safety equipment (this is arguable - probably untrue), high visibility clothing (no clear evidence of efficacy) and tangentially relevant would be issues like global warming, our nations obesity epidemic, etc. 

I don't intend to get sucked in to any of these, at least not in this discussion - I merely want to suggest that the is a theme that brings them all together. That theme is motoring.

The advice yelled at us for how we cycle (for not using the cycle lanes that are physically narrower than we are or, worse, covered in debris or simply designed to be deadly), for what we wear, for how we ride etc. can come from other cyclists, but we of course know thats not the case. Having a bike languishing in the back of your garage doesn't make you a cyclist no matter how loudly you proclaim 'as a cyclist myself'  - pulling your car out so you can get on the bike and ride it, that makes you a cyclist. The abuse we get from motorists if we choose not to wear helmets, or don't wear hi-viz etc.... Lets just not analyze it, lets not think about the content, lets only remember who its from. Motorists.

Then lets look at our other great problems right now - global warming (due to burning fuel, much of it in cars...) air pollution (due to motoring...), obesity (inactivity, largely because everyone drives everywhere...), social breakdown (loss of communities because our streets are uninhabitable habitats only for cars), etc. How do motorists respond to these things? Why, they yell that global warming isn't a thing. They say that its not their fault that there is air pollution, its not even polluted anywhay, what you talking about? And obesity? Thats not due to activity, its too much fat. No, its too much sugar. Its the food industry lying to us....

You can even look at things that primarily impact only on motorists - traffic congestion at rush hour, thats because of the cyclists/buses/slow drivers/bad roads (but never because of how many cars there are). Petrol prices, thats because of the govermnent (and not because we've burned so much petrol that its getting more expensive to extract more oil). Parking problems are because of mean local authorities putting stupid restrictions in place, not because too many people want to park in the same place meaning that the roads would be blocked.

If it were the case that these nonsensical arguments were rarely stated and fast forgotten that'd be one thing. But they're not - these are often yelled at us, repeated by 'celebrities' as if they're all proven fact, they're put forward in the media to 'balance' rational viewpoints, they're even voiced by MP's who ought really to know better. So I wonder, ought we stop battling each irrational point individually and ask what it is about motoring that makes morons of so many people? Why is it that motoring seems innately associated with a need to voice rationally indefensible viewpoints? I'll end on a simple question - is there something about the particular motorists who succumb to this stupidity that makes them stand out from other motorists? In other words, what is it that makes a 'motorist' a 'moton'?

Friday 14 February 2014

Close overtake on a blind corner

If anyone knows the identity of the cyclist here, tell him if he wants to take this to plod, the video evidence is right here. This happened shortly before 9 this morning, Stretton Avenue in Cambridge.

Horrible, awful overtake. When the cyclist rode past he stared daggers in to the window of the car, and I don't blame him. I can't see why you'd think overtaking on a blind corner is ever a good idea - I especially don't know why you'd think its worth doing so there, the lights WILL be red and you'll never gain much by it.

Tuesday 11 February 2014

Milton Road/Gilbert Road junction redesign

There are new proposals from Cambridgeshire County Council to upgrade the junction where Gilbert Road meets Milton Road - you may recall this junction from earlier near-death experiences such as this one, and this one.

Its pretty obvious that we need to fix this junction - if you click on the first near death experience up there you can stroll around it on Google Maps. Its pretty damned awful whichever way you come at it - the cycle path disappears either side of the junction on Milton Road, with two lanes of traffic heading in to the city stuffed between the island and the railing I always expect some poor sod to be cheese grated by a car against the metalwork. Coming the other way, if you want to go straight on you have to cross a left turning lane of traffic, which as you'll see from the second 'oh crap I'm going to die' moment above is a real barrel of laughs. 

Whats proposed then? Well we're losing the railings, which is a start. And we could see traffic reduced to 1 lane in each direction right at the junction - although I'm dubious about how that would work heading in to town where we already see cars illegally queuing back in to the bus lane, I don't get why they won't continue to do so. And we're getting ASL's with feeder lanes in both directions too, which will be handy in case we forget to hurl ourselves into the blind zones of HGV's without this handy prompt to do so. 

Gilbert Road/Milton Road junction plan - not entirely sucky.
Shamelessly lifted from Cambridgeshire County Council Website.
Coming towards town (right to left on the above picture) is going to remain awful. Right turning cars will, as ever, stop in the junction area to turn, and drivers going straight on will swerve around them into the path of cyclists. Or, in other words, just when we need it the most we lose all protection. It would be better to use the space freed up by removing the railings, with a small amount of the road space, to give us continuous armadillo protected provision across the junction. 

Coming out from Gilbert Road turning, it seems crazy that there's no direct route from the end of the on road cycle lane on to the shared use on-pavement facility. At present most kids hop off the road early, ride around the corner and on the shared use - if all the codgers seeing them had monocles you can be sure they'd all drop off in protest. So giving a drop kerb, losing a few feet of grass verge and a route on to the pavement here would make a heck of a lot of sense.

But just once in a while I like to pretend I'm a 'big picture' kind of guy. And thats whats missing from this plan - whats the big picture for Milton Road? It can't continue as it is, the shared use facilities are shocking, disregarded by most commuter cyclists - its a hostile, unpleasant route and we need a long term plan to turn the 75% approval for more road space for cyclists in Cambridge into a reality on key routes like this one. This doesn't take us towards fully segregated cycling on Milton Road. It arguably gives us a marginal gain, but I don't see it preventing the current issue of cyclists coming in to town bypassing the junction on the pavement. 

So lets take a step back and ask what we really want for all of Milton Road - surely what we're after is a fully segregated cycle route along the length of the road, with the same priority over side roads as the road does. I would argue that this new scheme is tinkering around the edges - lets not try to make bad provision more palatable by blurring the edges like this. Lets ask what the big plan for Milton Road is - and if there isn't one, lets make one. And lets make THIS fit in to THAT. 

Motor Scooter on the Pavement

I mentioned this on Twitter, now its reported to the Police and has been picked up by the local newspaper, I'll mention it here too.

Had my camera on last week. Just for a day or two. And on the way home on Thursday, a little early as I felt really grotty all day like I was coming down with a bug, and this is what I saw on the way home:

I uploaded it the next day, mentioned it online, and before long the Police and local press wanted to discuss it. I've since had national press sniffing about, but I've basically said all I've got to say on it already to the local paper. Gareth did a good job with the article, part of which is to cut down what people say to the good stuff. But here's the full text of the email I sent him, so everything I've said about it is now out in public:

This was back on the afternoon of the 6th, at about 3:00PM on the main road past Parkers Piece (Gonville Plaice)

I was waiting behind the moped, the car traffic was bumper to bumper and I wanted to filter around the outside. I didn't want to do that while the moped was in front of me, there was a chance he might pull out around the car in front at the same time as I did, and I didn't want to take that risk.

I followed the moped round when he started to filter, but I was surprised that it was driven on to the path - you can hear in the video I'm saying 'you've got to be kidding'. Its very likely to spook any pedestrians on the path - a moped doesn't sound so bad from inside a car but if one is ridden close past a pedestrian its loud and frightening. I didn't think he was likely to hurt anyone, its a long straight route and he had in front of him and there weren't many folk walking. I just didn't see any need for what he did - it was busy but the road traffic wasn't moving very fast, going on the pavement certainly wouldn't make his trip any safer.

I don't have a helmet camera with me most days, but when I do I can usually be sure to see something strange on Cambridges roads. I put this online because it seemed like a really bizarre thing to do. Cambridgeshire Constabulary contacted me about this one, I'll obviously go and make a statement tomorrow.

Now its great that the police are being proactive with helmet camera footage here now - makes me think I should use mine more often! 

Anyway, its not that complex an incident really - for no readily apparent reason a guy rode his moped down the path. Thats it. Lets see what happens when the Police find him.

Monday 3 February 2014

The next challenge - Combating Stererotyping

We're now beginning to see, in some places, the threats and intimidation we face being merely for being cyclists challenged, at least sometimes. Its a start - but we've got a long way to go.

As I'd like to live long enough to see cyclists in the UK treated as valued human beings rather than targets waiting to be killed I'm going to propose that we need to learn a lesson from the '80s 'political correctness' movement. We need to start coming down hard on those who seek to stereotype or apply any potentially damaging or divisive generalisations about us.

If you're old enough you'll recall that way back in the 1970's it was very common for folk to make jokes about black or asian people. While the individual jokes might have seemed harmless enough, the cumulative effect was shocking. For example, while no one would have suggested that seeing an episode of Love Thy Neighbour (ridiculed by Bill Bryson when he disparagingly referred to it as 'My Neighbour is a Darkie') made viewers racist, its certainly true that the jokes from it were repeated over and over again in schoolyards across the UK, creating a climate where kids from ethnic backgrounds could be made to feel crappy. Racism was treated as a bit of a joke, and well into the '80s non whites in the UK were expected to just laugh off what could often be very sinister, even violent humour - which created a climate where seriously unpleasant racism could perpetuate under the guise of humour. If you were witty enough to be funny too you could make whatever jokes about blacks (and asians, gays, whoever else) you liked. And make no mistake - in this climate of sick humour, the racists were able to make the lives of those from ethnic minorities very hard indeed, with the already blurry line between humour and abuse being easy to exploit, those who would carry that further on into assault did so.

Then the UK started to grow up. At least a bit. You can see this reflected in the more PC humour of the '80s (although it took longer for comedy to stop mocking gay folk so much than it did black folk) - and while only a fool would say that all of our racist problems disappeared, it became no longer fashionable to have black folk as the butt of humour just because of their skin colour. It was a long slog, but things got better - they moved in the right direction.

I would like to suggest that cyclists are, at least in terms of 'humour', where non-white folk were in the '70s. Is this linked to the fact that piss poor excuses for killing cyclists are routinely accepted by our courts? You can start a conversation with a complete stranger by complaining about 'bloody cyclists'. We're mocked, ridiculed, or just outright hated by journalists and columnists who think nothing about calling for our executions. I would argue that these are all just different parts of the same phenomenon - its cool to hate cyclists. Its easy to get a laugh by pouring hate on an acceptable social out-group. Yes, that would be us.

And no, I'm not suggesting that this is quite the same thing as racism - but when you read some of the articles directed at us, its not a dissimilar phenomenon. We need to change that. We need to oppose it. We need to counter it. We need to make hatred based on the fact that we're making a fairly harmless decision to use a bike to get around - a decision that isn't about anyone else, doesn't really concern anyone else, doesn't even impact significantly on others - a thing of the past. We have to stamp up and down on prejudice based on how we travel - we must make it unacceptable. Every. Single. Time.

And I know some will read this and say 'but you'll just make things worse, militant cyclists...' Yeah, yeah. Same thing was said by those who didn't approve of making racist humour a thing of the past. They were wrong too - prejudice is prejudice, and appeasing it never defeats it. Fighting it, at every opportunity, defeats it.

So this is my call to arms - next time you see someone harmlessly perpetrating an anti-cyclist stereotype, challenge them. Defeat them. Don't accept that you're being a 'militant cyclist' when you're quite reasonably challenging hate. And if you're a cyclist who goes along with this hate because its easier? You're our enemy too. In fact, you might be worse.