Monday 28 July 2014

Bloody pavement cyclists... Negative reinforcement in cycling behaviour.

Cambridge is almost defined by how much people complain about cyclsits. Cyclists on the pavement, on the road, stopping at a light that has barely turned red so you can't get through, going through the light they should have stopped at, ninja cyclists you can't see, out in the middle of the lane (where you can see them), going too fast, going too slow... You get the picture. There is no way we can ride that insulates us from criticism - we can be legally in the right in every way and STILL get abuse. We can ride safely and be criticised, if we break rules to stay safe we're criticised, if we don't we're dangerous cyclists. We can't win. If we ask for better cycling facilities to segregate cycling such that we can't inconvenience anyone, we're extremist whingers. There is no position to take that does not face apoplectic criticism.

Humans are just animals, really, and we respond to stimuli around us just like other animals. Bad behaviour that is punished sets of one kind of response, good behaviour that is rewarded sets off another. So I wonder, what does this constant rain of derision mean for cycling?

What does it mean if you're punished for being in the right more seriously than you're punished for being in the wrong? So, for example, if you're riding on a pavement you'll get some cold stares, the occasional telling off or perhaps the police might issue you with a fixed penalty notice. If you're riding on the road you'll suffer close passes (from people who think you shouldn't really be there and those who do it to liven up their days), aggressive driving, motorists cutting you up or, worse, even assaulting you with their vehicles. In short, you'll suffer numerous incidents that feel like near death experiences. Which is the greater disincentive, being tutted or facing what feels like a death risk?

Likewise, for red light jumping, if you stop at a red light you'll very often have motorists trying to out-accelerate you and pass on the junction. You might have a driver give you an earful (or even ram you) for stopping him when he could have got through at the tail end of amber or red. If instead you go through the red light (cautiously watching for danger) the most likely risk will be a strongly worded letter to the local newspaper.

In short, if we treat good cycling more harshly than we treat what we see as bad cycling, why ever would we expect cyclists to behave 'properly'?

It transpires that cyclists are, for the most part, pretty law abiding - but why ought we be? We're dealing with roads designed in such a way as to make safe progress to our destinations almost impossible and we face hostility, even aggression in return for just trying to get where we're going.

And, more importantly, does getting angry at cyclists who break the rules even make any sense? We see regular 'crackdowns' on cyclist rule violations here in Cambridge - but where is the crackdown on drivers passing too closely or driving an inch from our back wheels? Where is there evidence that our police forces understand why cyclists sometimes don't act within laws that make our daily rides unpleasant or even dangerous?

Until we acknowledge the fact that motorist aggression is the key cause of cyclists breaking the rules in ways we consider antisocial we won't prevent it. How we should solve the problem of aggressive motoring is another question - I favour both separate cycle infrastructure and policing motorist law breaking. But we're so far from this because there is simply no acknowledgement that this is the problem. We will continue with pathetic crackdowns on cyclists who merely want not to be bullied by motorists. And this will continue to fail.


  1. "Do I hate cyclists? No. But I'm sick to death of being knocked down by them "
    I have never been knocked down by a cyclist. If anonymous demonstrates the same level of awareness of his/her surroundings driving a car as when a pedestrian God help us!

  2. I have read and reread the posts above and have failed to spot where the original post justifies any inconsiderate behaviour. Yes there are inconsiderate cyclists, indeed there have been times when I have been annoyed by pavement cycling but this is not pavement cycling because of fear of the road, it is laziness and bad behaviour.

    As someone who walks in the area of the Devonshire Road/Mill Road corner on a regular basis, I have never had to jump out of the way of a cyclist on the pavement there. Perhaps my twelve years living in Cambridge is not enough to have been hit yet?

    I don't know what the time scale is for the four incidents you describe but to me it seems excessive, even for someone without a, "high level of awareness." For the record, I also wonder about the level of awareness of cyclists who tell me they have been knocked off their bike by cars several times in a year.

  3. Further comments from 'anonymous' deleted on failure to identify him/her self.

    If you want to post here, feel free - but if you're going to say something offensive or contentious then at least be so good as to do so with some identifier of who you are.

  4. I think there are two different arguments which are thrown in together here:

    1. “The real problem is danger from the motorised. “

    You are absolutely right here, in my view. It is a scandal of gigantic proportions that the ability of the motorised to hurt., kill or just endanger others is not taken seriously. It doesn’t have to be significantly wilful (what you call “aggressive”) for it to be important as dangerously anti-social although that should make it more serious when it comes to sentencing policy.

    My view is that is enough as an argument when pavement cycling, red light jumping etc. come up in the conversation. If someone is prepared to fight hard against the far greater threat posed by the motorised to pedestrians and others, then if they suggest that there is something (albeit far less) wrong with pavement cycling etc., OK then they can be talked to. If not, they have no case to make which a civilised person should listen to. They are simply discriminating against cyclists, and are against real safety for all road users, but particularly pedestrians. Double standards, etc.

    2. “Cyclists are on the pavement etc. because of danger from the motorised”.

    Frankly, I don’t see the point of even going here. The argument 1. above is enough. Also, I’m not sure it is true. Cycling on the pavement is often more dangerous than being on the carriageway. A lot of people seem to cycle on the footway (or jump red lights on bikes) because they are just in a hurry or don’t care about others. And expecting an elderly pedestrian who has had an unpleasant experience to be sympathetic to why you are on the footway in the first place isn’t really good enough – whereas if you push argument 1. you are on more solid ground.

    So I would suggest sticking to argument one alone. And the solution(s) are essentially going to be ones which are based on reducing anger at source – from the motorised – to cyclists and other road users.

    Dr. Robert Davis, Chair Road Danger Reduction Forum (to give full identification)

    1. I get where you're coming from Robert.

      I don't agree with you re. pavement cycling - the roads where this is most prevalent here are (1) terrifying to ride on, or (2) bamboozling to ride on with a complex on/off pavement legal route. And while I don't expect the older folk who see cyclist on the pavement to immediately become allies (in fact I've argued in my 'codger' blog post that we should be sympathetic) I'm also aware that here in Cambridge many of the pavement cyclists are in fact the same old timers and young children who we'd be accused of endangering if they were pedestrians. Its very much the same demographic endangering as being allegedly endangered.

      When I talk to folk in Cambridge who admit to riding on the pavement, fear of the road is invariably why. And on routes like Arbury Road I entirely get that - I can't point out to them that their fear is ill placed when roads like that feel terrifying, such an argument doesn't trump terror. Nor does telling them that they might frighten pedestrians - while two wrongs don't make a right, what we're saying if we condemn them for riding on the pavement is that they can't ride those frightening routes at all - and when they rationally retort with the statement that the pavement is just as wide as it is on many shared use routes, they've also got a point.

      But ALL of this misses the point - my article here isn't about how cyclists should act or where they should ride. Its about he impact of negative reinforcement on whats meant to be 'good' behaviour. Its about punishing legal riding relative to illegal riding. I only see two ways around that - punish illegal riding far more (disproportionately!) harshly, or find a way to stop punishing legal cycling. Imho its a no brainer :)

  5. First of all, I said "reducing anger at source" when I meant "danger at source" - sorry.

    On your reply, I guess I just think that argument one is the stronger one (than argument two).

    Driving a car too close to a cyclist when overtaking is wrong because it is, well, wrong. It endangers them and intimidates them. It's wrong. The fact that someone may be more likely to cycle on the pavement as a result is a secondary issue.

    But I see the point about punishing cyclists for cycling on the road legally and properly.

    Dr. Robert Davis

  6. 2016 and worse especially as a female I have male cyclists move me on the path on purpose as a game they find it funny. ha dit done today they play chicken to see where you will move to laugh then ring bell then go past and yell well fucking move then! had it done every day as a pedestrian. females do it too but mostly men who want to mess around like they have only just hit puberty and irritate women. somehow they thinks it makes them attractive. Oh the other kicker ive had them then grab my arm and laugh in my face side on like I did today.

    2016 100% worse and very scared as female wandering cambridge on own. someone gift me a bicycle so I can repay the favour and cycle behind men and go nice BUM hey luv hey darlin! sorry should have moved and then cycle past look them up down as I creepily slow down then go faster, and stare at their groin. hard, laugh then ride off.
    yes they now stare up down boobs behind you at bum and go off slowly, its very un nerving. im not meat. its sexual harassment.