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. 

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