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.