Friday 30 May 2014

Motoring Tribes?

I've been pondering on how motorists view cyclists, and how its all too common for cyclists to be lumped in to a presumed homogeneous whole ("cyclists all go through red lights" "cyclists are all irresponsible" "well I don't mean ALL cyclists, but all of the ones I see are..." etc.) and while I and others have blogged extensively on the phenomena of othering and simple stereotyping as it applies to cyclists, I do wonder, ought we be considering whether the same applies among motorists?

I'm not talking about stereotyping of all motorists. Except where we're mocking the way cyclists are treated we don't typically see a motoring collective. I'm talking about how motorists, and indeed cyclists, will ascribe certain characteristics based on how we perceive sub-categories of motorist. And whether its fair.

You all know the sort of thing. Taxi drivers. BMW drivers. Bus drivers. Audi drivers. Boy racers. Flat caps and Sunday drivers. People who drive hairdressers (wtf?) cars. Each is ascribed certain stereotypical behaviours, each is presumed to drive, to act, in a certain way. As in "BMW drivers don't know what their indicators are for", "he's wearing a flat cap, you'll be stuck behind him all the way to Hull". Taxi drivers. Bus drivers. White Van Man. Indeed it seems almost as if motoring is sub-divided into an almost never ending mini-clades ('well of course he's driving like he's got no dick, he's only got a Boxter' - yes, I did hear someone say that - its a Cambridge thing).

One could be tempted to point and laugh at ALL of them - after all, isn't this portrayal of practically every other motorist as somehow lacking due to what or how he drives pretty funny? Actually, yes, it kind of is. But lets take a step back and ask what the smeg its all about. 

Any suggestion of shared identity among all motorists is viewed as offensive. Go on. Try. Next time someone complains about Focus drivers not being able to park try to blame -all- motorists. I await the response with glee - they'll probably start ranting about cyclists.

As I said at the top, I don't want to harp on about the obviousness of how unfair it is that cyclists are all painted with the same brush, like how members of any visible minority are often expected to share collective blame. Thats not the point I'm aiming at here. I just want to ponder what the reality of this motoring tribalism is and whether its got any basis in reality. Very likely, it does not.

Stand by a set of traffic lights at a busy junction - it doesn't matter the make and model of car that can stop at the tail end of a red light or start of a red, it'll go straight through - even if you've stopped at the light on your bike the car behind might still go through, and I've noticed no trends as to what brand of car that might be. Sit out on a bridge over a motorway - all makes and models are there breaking the speed limit. Walk down a street with cars parked on the pavement - who breaks the law about driving on the path isn't based on what they drive, if 29 cars are parked on the pavement on a street the 30th will be parked there too, no matter what kind of car it is. To a very real extent nearly all motorists break the law (more than 80% admit speeding - statistically speaking they're all law breakers), while perversely many seek to portray the other motorists (slow ones, fast ones, foreign lorry ones, delivery ones) as the key problem. 

Implying that its another subset of road users to blame seems to be a key part of denying an individual motorists own faults - which isn't as crazy as it sounds if you compare road-transport based prejudice with any other crazy kind of prejudice. Could it be that, deep down, pretty much all of the motorists who are keen to blame cyclists, BMW drivers, taxi drivers, white van man, flat caps, hairdressers car drivers (I still can't work out that that means), moped drivers, delivey drivers and any other sub-category under the sun are basically assuaging their own guilt? For most individual motorists, is knowledge that they themselves are frequently law-breakers reason for being so keen to blame everyone and everything else? And is blaming other 'tribes' of road users just a way of excluding ourselves from being worthy of blame?

What is needed is a wake up call - individual responsibility cannot be expressed by blaming others who are no worse than you are. Until that sinks in to the psyche of British motorists, our roads will never be pleasant.

Tuesday 27 May 2014

Huntingdon/Hills Road Cycle Schemes - Delayed by Councillors.

...or, possibly, it'll get canned alltogether.

Its not like it was the best imaginable scheme anyway, but all the same - it was the best we had on offer. If you recall I gave it a not entirely enthusiastic welcome back in March - here, have a look at it.

But why, you're asking, have councillors in Cambridge put back the decision on whether or not to build this improved route until the month after next? Is it because they've taken on board the criticism that maybe only improving small sections of ghastly roads might not be as revolutionary as all that? 

Have they bollocks. 

A minority of kamikaze cyclists will ruin it for everybody, apparently. Why, yes, now you ask, Councillor Jenkins of Histon did indeed say that there's a significant minority of cyclists who are 'kamikaze' - meaning that we really do intend to kill ourselves and significant numbers of other people. Yes, he really is stupid enough to compare cyclists with suicide pilots. 

Even those councillors who might be our allies see fit to appease critics by discussing what cyclists can do wrong rather than whether or not such routes will save lives. 

Piecemeal, partial implementation of good cycle facilities is hard in Cambridge. The result of this delay means we may see central government funds clawed back. Even facilities tried and tested in Cambridge with no ill effects to anyone for years can't be approved by councillors preoccupied with their belief that somehow this must all be a plot by cyclists to kill everyone else, skin them and render them down for chain oil. 

I despair of our county council.  And I despair of our county councillors. 

Tuesday 13 May 2014

Bus Lanes and Cambridge Cycling Campaign

Indeed, whoever was tweeting on behalf of Cambridge Cycling Campaign the other day was getting quite hot under the collar. And, incidentally Camcycle folk, you desperately need to start initialing your tweets. Its like dealing with a comic book multiple-personality disordered super villain. And I know you've got the spandex, but you ain't got the face mask.

Anyway, the gist of it is that we're going to see the County installing cameras to enforce bus lanes - basically to keep cars out. Hooray! I hear you all shout. About time. They'll make a bloody fortune by 'taxing' idiots who think they're above the law. Its a brilliant idea - charge selfish wankers more so everyone else benefits! YAAAY!

But no. Apparently the signage isn't right. Its probably not the case that guidelines say that it shouldn't be clear that cyclists are allowed in, the rules for signs probably don't even mention us. Out of fear that cyclists aren't mentioned in the signs the County is removing labelling from bus lanes, presumably so no smart-arse Clarkson worshipper can get all 'but those signs aren't regulation!' at them and dodge the fines. BOOOO! 

The counter argument to this namby-pamby over-zealous adherence to the rules is that such an appeal would be a load of dingoes kidneys. I mean, seriously, there's no magistrate in the land who'd take this kind of claim seriously, and upon appeal the uppity little tit of a moton who tried to pull this crap would simply end up paying ever more in fees. The correct answer to those who want to waste their money on this nonsense misuse of our courts is 'bring it, Bitch'.

We get a lot of hassle on the roads, merely for being on them, and bus lanes which we're allowed in to here are sometimes much needed refuges (most especially on routes like Hills Road and Milton Road - less so on the kill-or-be-killed Newmarket Road). The fear expressed by Camcycle and others is that its only a matter of time before bus and taxi drivers mistake the lack of signage for lack of right to access. Well, maybe - to be honest the sheer number of cyclists in most of the bus lanes here makes that seem unlikely. A greater concern will be a over zealous copper (and yes, we have those here, and everyone of our boys and girls in blue involved in that shameful abuse of democracy needs to face disciplinary action) will stake out and ticket cyclists who have no reason to believe they're in the wrong, as they've done before. Heck, I've been stopped and threatened with action for riding the 'wrong way' on a one way street, by a PC who didn't know that it was two-way for cyclists. This happens all too often.

But if I may, perhaps Camcycles rage is better viewed in light of how they've campaigned over the years. Isn't the need for bus lanes to be our refuge part of an admission that across Cambridge we've entirely failed to get good quality cycle routes on main roads? Don't we only need them because the roads themselves are gobsmackingly hostile to cyclists? And isn't the fact you've spent a generation rubber stamping crap that the County offer us a big part of the problem, Camcycle?

You've made better suggestions than that recently, Camcycle. Which is excellent. But your anger on this rather reminds me your hands aren't clean - you've consistently come out with 'we need (x)' while accepting complete crap like this. I've lost track of the number of times I've asked myself whether this might be the moment you spot the disconnect between what you say you want and what you blandly, passively, submissively offer your whimpering support for - is this the one where that changes?

Monday 12 May 2014

Dear Bury St. Edmunds

Dear Bury,

My partner and I got the train on Sunday to watch the end of the Womens Tour of Britain. I think you'll agree it was a great event, and quite a coup for your city to host the climax to such an exciting race. A great success. We really enjoyed watching it, but if I may I'd like to suggest a few things that might make future events better.

Firstly, getting to Bury is no fun. We don't drive - we considered cycling but neither my parter or I are as tough as the ladies in the race, and it was hellishly windy, so we got the train over from Cambridge. When we arrived at the station this major event wasn't signposted - at all. In fact signposting from the station to the City Centre is really very ropey. Then there's the crossings, or lack thereof - why do you consider pedestrians less important than every motorist on every single road? Where there are crossings they're very slow, and frequently set back a very long way from roundabouts. It genuinely feels like you're trying to dissuade pedestrians and train passengers from coming.

Then there's how you cater for cycling. Or, rather, how you don't.

Obviously the conclusion of any major road race attracts a lot of roadie cyclists. Great to see that of course, especially so many younger folk. But on arrival its fairly clear that few could find anywhere to store their bikes - the lack of bike locking meant many of them had to find places in the crowd to watch while keeping their bikes with them. Seriously, Bury, you've got to sort out bike locking points - or do you not want cycling trade?

Then there are the roads - lots of high speed junctions in and around the city centre with no cycling provision. Presumably you maintain such low rates of cycling intentionally such that you can then not have to provide anywhere for cyclists to lock up? I recall one very wide roundabout near the railway station where you've got acres of pavement covered in cobblestones - why not have acres of good pedestrian and cyclist routes?

I want to love Bury, its got a lot going for it - but I was surprised by just how many empty shops there are and how awful the roads are for anyone not driving. I won't be going back there for fun any time soon - sorry, but its not a pleasant environment to be in. Its telling that even on a day dedicated to the finest cycling in the world, few of the visitors to your city chose to cycle. We saw very few people daring to cycle near the city centre.

May I suggest that looking through retail and other attractions you've got that your current approach to getting people in and out of the city is demonstrably not working? You need to wise up to the reality that not everyone wants to drive, and that even those who do benefit from the vibrant, varied and exciting environments you get by having more diversity of access and transit?


Just some bloke who's been put off from coming back.

Incident on the Road this morning

I've just drafted this letter and emailed it off. Lets see what happens, eh? Names removed, of course...

Dear Sir,

I was in your shop this morning to complain about your driver on (x) Road. I'm copying Sergeant (x) in to this email because he's our local police sergeant, and a decent chap who I'm sure we both know, and although I don't think police involvement ought to be necessary here I'd like him to be aware.

To describe the incident, I was cycling Southbound on (x) Road towards the (y) Road junction at about 5 to 9 this morning. A van was rather too close behind me. The traffic was fairly heavy, and it was doubtful whether either of us would get thorough the lights. I felt rather intimidated by the closeness of the van behind, and I thought the driver revving his engine was needless and aggressive. I feared that he wouldn't stop at the first set of lights, it therefore not being safe to stop I went through at amber.

I stopped at the second set of lights - there is a short delay before the second one changes, but if the junction is busy its easy to be stopped by the second set and not the first. Shortly afterwards another cyclist stopped next to me, by the kerb. She anticipated the lights change rather better than I did and headed off a few moments earlier. I cycled on and remained in primary road position (about 1.8m from the kerb - appropriate to deter overtaking where there the road narrows due to a traffic island) to overtake the slower cyclist. I neither swerved out nor inwards, I maintained the same lane position.

The van driver behind, in your van, passed me while shouting a stream of abuse. This continued as he turned the corner to head to the back of your shop. So I turned in to (z) and went in to your shop to complain.

If you were there, will remember the rest of the conversation - after briefly appraising you of what happened the chap from the van came in and acted in a manner I'd call aggressive. His driving and his behaviour reflect badly on your business. You can't lean on someone yelling at them to step outside and expect that to be taken as anything other than a physical challenge.

I mainly talked to (y) in your shop - he (you?) remained calm and quite reasonable I thought, but the chap who drove the van was hostile. He really only backed off when got my phone out and said I'd call the police.

If you have security footage of the inside of your shop at this time I suggest that you review it, and if there is traffic camera footage of the (x)/(y) junction then feel free to request it - I promise that both sets of footage would 100% confirm my description of events. If you do have security camera footage in your store I'm certain that it will confirm his demeanor was unmistakably hostile.

I don't need to know the details of any disciplinary procedures against this gentleman but I do ask that you confirm that you have dealt with this. But I do expect an apology from the gentleman concerned. I'm local to your (z) store, in fact I'm a customer, I'll happily accept his verbal apology accompanied by a handshake.

I ask you to consider the reputational harm that will be caused if people driving your company vehicle act in this way towards cyclists. Around half of the people of this city cycle at least once a month - do you really want someone in your shop van acting that way towards us?

Thanks for your time,

Thursday 8 May 2014

Why shouldn't I ride on the pavement?

This morning I was out on Arbury Road again. I was passed my multiple motons who were well in excess of the 20mph limit. One went through the red light during the pedestrian phase by the Doctors surgery, presumably its double points for a sick person, another completely ignored the red light I'd already stopped at in front of him at the Campkin Road junction. Because cyclists always go through red lights you know. And three different drivers passed within 18" of me.

I also passed a cyclist on the pavement on my left. He was at no time endangered by close passing motorists. He wasn't at quite the same risk from speeding drivers. And at no point did a red light jumping motorist scare the willies out of him. In fact his ride looked pretty mellow compared with mine.

He caught up with me at the end of Arbury Road, where there are cycle routes on three of the eight path approaches, including one that inexplicably ends around 6' from the junction (we're meant to dismount there, I prefer teleportation), and a fourth that randomly ends without any sign so that people can drive cars all over the pavement. He went from the end of the cycle path on Milton Road at the pedestrian phase, so despite arriving after me he got go before I did.

I had to wait in traffic with the cars. The driver at the front was indicating, none of the others were - and all but the one at the front (who was indicating left) were turning right - none went straight on. Or, in other words, I kind of had to guess my best road position based on the assumption that the motorists were all lying about where they were going. 

Reflecting upon this journey, its fairly obvious why no one wants to ride on Arbury Road (and why this is one of the least visibly cycled routes in Cambridge). Its horrible. The 20mph speed limit should create a presumption that a cyclist travelling within 5mph or so of the speed limit needn't be overtaken merely to get slightly closer to the red light in front - but because its not meaningfully enforced the new speed limit has changed nothing. So because the Police aren't making my journey safer by enforcing the laws on motorists - all but one of whom were breaking the law today - why ought I be expected to obey the law and face greater risk from illegal driving?

This is not 'two wrongs make a right', its 'why should I be the only one not breaking the law when acting legally means I'm the only one at risk'?

Going to the North Area Committee this evening to plead the case for actually giving a damn about cyclist safety, no doubt to once again face off with people who want us flayed alive. 

Oh, whats the bloody point?

Tuesday 6 May 2014

Short note on a terrifying ride

Just got home to do some work in peace and quiet, but before I start I'll relate what just happened on the way home.

Riding up towards a roundabout (Queens Road/Northampton Street), looked, signalled, picked right hand lane, and approached to turn right. A car continued really very fast behind me, swerved in to the left lane, came along side, and the driver yelled at me to 'move over'. I didn't have anywhere to go as she pulled right towards me, making contact sufficient almost to take me off the bike. Had another car come on to the roundabout coming the other way, I'd probably have faced a combined 40mph head on collision or, worse, have been jammed between the two vehicles. 

I caught her up twice (you always catch up - they're never going to gain anything by their driving, ever, the roads are always too congested for that) and demanded that she stop - she'd hit me, checking over both myself and my bike before she drove off to ensure no damage is reasonable. She didn't - on the second occasion she sat in her car, gave me the 'watching you' stare (both fingers pointing at her eyes, then at me). I challenged her to phone the police, but frankly by now I was terrified of an old lady empowered to act in a violent way by being in her car.

I don't take a helmet camera with me every day. Are we at the point where road assault is so common that we need to film every last moment on our roads? As I didn't have my camera, I've got nothing to take to the police.

Now, she was probably terrified of me - she was an older lady, and having swerved her car in to me and seen me still there in her mirror, I can understand why at that point she's got no interest in stopping and exchanging details. I guess once the cyclist is no longer directly in your sights he's no longer such an easy target. I was both terrified and furious - as you might imagine. But without video evidence I wanted her to stop to make sure no damage was done, and I'd yell at her about that again.

I've often said that Cambridge is both the best and worst place to ride. Here's a good example of the latter. 

Policing 20mph is too dangerous?

I've criticised the policing (or, lack thereof) of our 20mph speed limit before

On Friday (the Friday before the May bank holiday) I got to see this policing in the flesh. 

Three Cambridgeshire Constabulary offiers were out on Arbury Road, near to the Manor School, clocking drivers with a speed gun. Two were on one side of the road, in bright yellow hi-viz gear, and a third (the one with the speed gun) was on the other side.

You could see them from Mars, probably. You could certainly see them from a couple of hundred yards away. And you know what? So far as I could see everyone was driving excellently - well within the 20mph speed limit, in a way I've not seen on that road before or since. I stopped to suggest to the two police officers standing together that their method lacked both subtltety and effectiveness, and they told me that they have to wear the bright clothes for safety.

Yes. Thats right. On roads that they themselves police its not safe, according to their rules, to stand on the pavement and point a speed gun at the road unless you're wearing dayglo yellow. Its hard to imagine a more obvious admission that they're not doing a very good job.

So they're policing a speed limit that they haven't really supported very badly - presumably with the aim of being able to just give up on it. They'll no doubt be able to report back to us at the next North Area Committee that it must be working quite well because they're not catching all that many breaking the rules.

And as soon as the Police have gone? Its back to normal hostilities. 

20mph is a great idea, but we're not yet seeing any cultural change in Cambridge. The Police are on record as saying they'll only really police it in exceptional circumstances, motorists are already boasting very openly that they don't obey this limit, they know full well they're not going to be caught. We've seen no structural changes in roads to make motorists more likely to obey the limit and there is no impetus from our police to create a change in motoring culture in this city.

Whats the bloody point of this if its not enforced and, on those rare examples when the Police put on a show of enforcing it they do it as badly as this?