Tuesday 31 March 2015

'Antisocial' Cycling - is it even a thing?

Politicians like branding things 'antisocial'. From the local town or parish Concillor all the way to the Prime Minister, 'antisocial' is a really handy term for them to use.

The thing about 'antisocial' is that it is marvelously non-specific, to the point where if someone is using it you can fairly question whether they mean to convey any kind of specific acts at all. What it means varies according to who you are and what your priorities are, and 'antisocial behaviour' has been used for everything from children playing ball games through to assault. Definitions that rely on how a 'victim' may feel (such as the Cambridge version which defines it as behaviour that leads people to feel alarmed, harassed or distressed) are so broad as to be completely valueless - unless someone in the chain of command you're reporting to shares your personal unease you have no hope of getting anywhere. Have you repeatedly felt harassed or endangered by motorists on a particular road passing you too close? Is it the same subset of drivers every day? Go on, report it as antisocial behaviour, see how far you get.

This subjective term is both meaningless and useless unless the organisation handling your complaint shares that subjective viewpoint. It is also an ugly, insidious meme that has spread through our society, masquerading as a respectable position that merely allows a geriarchy to impose their values on those who don't have the time to turn up at endless local political fora and fight them.

Which leads me to 'antisocial cycling'. What the hell does it even mean?

Well apparently it means riding in pedestrian areas. Which is sometimes, but not always, illegal, but also encouraged by the guidance that came from the home office minister who first imposed fixed penalty notices. It also means trying like mad to stay alive or just unable to work out where the hell you're meant to be riding when the cycle routes aren't labelled in any meaningful way. Or, as often as not, it means cyclists riding on shared use routes they're both entitled and encouraged to use. Maybe it means cyclists who are just riding perfectly legally on the road. Ironically it also means riding socially. In fact anti-social cycling means whatever the feck whoever the hell wants it to mean, and the terminology is chosen specifically to demonise cyclists who are, at very worst, a minor annoyance in comparison with the un-policed trouble caused by those using nearly any other form of transport.

Even by the rather strange definitions by which our police service defines 'antisocial' behaviour cyclists are responsible for almost no antisocial behaviour. Actual 'antisocial' cycling is a myth. Its a fairytale. Its not a real thing.

'Antisocial' just means we've irritated them - this is something we do every single time we saddle up and go out for a ride. And you know what? If someone uses this term, they're as likely to follow it with venomous anti-cyclist sentiment as anything else.

Whenever you encounter this phrase, challenge it. Don't accept it. Require that the remit of what it means be specified - and if that isn't forthcoming, in detail, then you know you're dealing with a common or garden hater. 

Friday 27 March 2015

Cyclist Hater Type VII: Concillor

I thought I was done with my series of cyclist haters years ago with The Codger, but ever more sub-species of cyclist hater slither from the primordial slime of our culture to gripe at us. And this one, the Concillor, is both one of the best camouflaged and one of the most damaging.

If you've ever involved yourself with local politics, even by turning up to local council meetings to hear cycling discussed, you'll have met these haters. They get elected to be local councillors, largely not on the agenda they put forward or even that of their party, but on the unpopularity of the other main parties at national level. To a great extent, being voted in as a councillor is almost independent of what they actually do when they're in - but that doesn't stop them from believing that they've got a real mandate for whatever hair-brained nonsense is on their mind.

They pose as normal, reasonable people. And for the most part they get away with it - they manage to sound 'reasonable' most of the time. But don't be fooled - the concillor is a dangerous beast. A wolf in sheeps clothing.

They want us to think that they're fair and considered and open to learning from the experience of others but, at heart, they're really just looking for affirmation of their own prejudices. Here's a typical Concillor kind of comment - if you hear any of these you're talking to one of them
No, I'm not anti-cyclist, I care about all of the people in the ward, and my concern is for pedestrians and motorists too, especially children. Won't someone think of the children? We have to be even handed in how we police and use space, so we're going to target anti-social cyclists because some of you cyclists are so ignorant, cyclists ride on the pavements and put everyone else at risks, and yes, I do know its the car drivers who cause most injury but I'm constantly being told by people in the ward that its cyclists causing the harm. Whats that, give you segregated cycle routes that aren't mixed with pedestrians? Well too many cyclists don't use the routes we've given them already... What you do you mean they're not good enough, we've got to think about everyone you know, not just bloody cyclists. We'll give you facilities good enough to use when you bloody well use them. Why aren't you paying ****ing road tax and wearing a helmet...
The basic problem is that its very easy to say to a cyclist you're pro-cyclist, but all too often politicians at all levels will fail to back this up with any kind of actual support - in fact they'll say they support cyclists and then knife us in the backs. They'll interchangeably pretend to back us while using gross stereotypes of cyclists as a whole to denigrate us.

The problem with their approach, that we should at every time consider every user of space in every location, is that they enforce the same strict hierarchy (motorists, then bus users, then pedestrians and then maybe cyclists, if we're considered at all) in every place. They consider this fair but in reality it means cyclists lose out in every location - and this plays well to the old fogeys who dominate local politics in the UK. Remember, many of them would render down their own great-grandchildren for a litre of old fashioned four star (in my day we had proper leaded petrol, you know, now these do gooders have ruined it...).

Make no mistake - these people are the enemies of everything that we need to make cycling a success story in the UK, and they are all around us, even getting to call themselves by grand titles such as 'cycling champion' among councillors while entirely failing to champion cycling in any meaningful way. By attempting to placate cyclists with crumbs from the table they'll strip away cycling funds and waste them on hostile infrastructure that is purely for motorists, hiding behind the fact that they've 'consulted', meaning they've ignored all input from individual cyclists or groups they've formed. Every time the government gives cycling money to concillors, it ends up being wasted for motorists.

How we should deal with them is a difficult question - when you encounter them they'll normally have arranged things so they're not easy to question (or, if they are, they'll listen and spout whatever prejudiced nonsense is on their mind anyway) - the kind of local council committee that exists such that you can ask a question with a short time limit and they can grandstand to the assembled codgers, the retired folk who've time to badger them to get things done to their satisfaction at the expense of everyone else.

I wonder whether we simply need to forget any pretence that most of them are in any way sympathetic, and while working with the very small number who are we should just be more open and honest that we know what the concillors are doing. Either way, appeasing them by not getting up in their faces about their hostility hasn't worked for the last, oh, generation or two, so its time to be more up front about it.

Monday 9 March 2015

The problem is cyclists not respecting others?

With City Deal money and other cash to be dished out on cycling projects in Cambridge, where do I begin catching up with this news?

I think I might begin by looking at the flagship cycle route of Cambridgeshire, the Guided Bus route. You see, this fast, direct route built to cycle on (when its not flooded which, quite unacceptably it was designed to do)  is just far too convenient to cycle on and we can't have that. So we're about to spend £4k or so on signs like this. 
The issue is that some cyclists apparently don't respect others, so we're going to put some signs up and it'll stop people getting hurt when the cyclists who don't show respect will have to do so because there are signs. Well that'll work then.

There are some junctions on the Guided Bus route that don't make sense - specific places where pedestrians might step out on to it and neither be visible to cyclists nor be able to see bikes coming. The solution to that is, of course, to fix the design of those junctions - and until that can be achieved put specific signs in place warning people what the specific risks are. But the above sign? What does it even mean? Respect? I know we're meant to respect each other and look out for each other, why would that sign affect me? And if I didn't respect others on that route why would that sign make the slightest difference? Green and white image with green text? What the heck does that mean?

Paint, whether on the road, on the cycle path or on a sign is always easier than fixing deficiencies in infrastructure, but that doesn't make it a sensible expenditure. Signs don't make people respect each other - they reinforce the false (frankly prejudiced) perception that cyclists not respecting others is a major problem in our transport system without in any way dealing with a minority in any mode of transport who don't respect others.

But thats okay, we're going to have piles of cash to spend on cycling. On things like this... Oh, actually that was an epic bank raid on cycling money to renovate a roundabout for cars. No, I meant things like this. Oh crap.

The problem with getting enthusiastic about 'improvements' for cycling is that they so very rarely are. Roll on Huntingdon and Hills Road improvements, but please let them be up to scratch - it would be a genuine first for Cambridge.