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.

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