Thursday 18 June 2015

Cambridge - The Reality Bubble, Cycling and Campaigning

Cambridge is a bustling little city. Many weekends in summer there's some kind of event on, sometimes there are several - and this was the case a couple of weeks back when we had both the Town and Country festival and Arbury Carnival.

I was surprised not to see folk from Cambridge Cycling Campaign with a stall at either - there were many other local groups at both events and they're such regulars at these things that its always odd not to see them. I'll confess I was also a little relieved the Campaign weren't there - I always used to be nervous I'd run in to (then) Councillor Rosenstiel at the Liberal Democrat stall, but I think he kept his head down in this part of the city after putting his foot in it once too often - and I worry rather that the disgraced ex-councillor will turn up at a Cambridge Cycling Campaign stall and I'll end up being one of those too disgusted to stop and talk. As it was, I ended up having a lively discussion with the LibDems at the Carnival, when they made the quite unlikely choice to defend Rosenstiel after I expressed relief he wasn't there. I remain contemptuous of anyone not willing to distance themselves from him.

But this got me thinking about the Cambridge Reality Bubble. Jokingly its referred to as a student thing, but Cambridge is a strange city in many other ways too. I wonder, is a bland acceptance of people acting in ways that would get them ostracised in other cities also part of the same phenomenon, allowing us to have a broad based cycling culture? Is Cambridge Britain's only cycling city not just because of the influence of the University, but in part because this city is, by UK standards, barking mad? Do people cycle here because they're not negatively judged, because you can identify as a 'person who cycles' without that being a negative? 

I've touched upon Cambridge Eccentrics before. Several times, in fact. Its not a city where there are a few eccentrics to be aware of, its a town where you just don't bat an eye if a chap walks past dressed as Russian doll, where performance art meets parody on the streets of the city and no one really cares. A town where if you cycle throuh with a giant dragonfly scultpure on your back the only comment will be 'Quick, somebody call an entomologist!' So is Cambridge unique as a cycling city in Britain because fewer people feel the need to 'perform' socially? Is Cambridge a cycling city because its somehow less prone to people worrying about people judging them on appearaces (whether they drive, WHAT they drive, how they dress etc.) than other cities? Free of the social imperative to be judge on what they drive, do Cambridge residents more often than not freely choose to cycle because its a more practical option? And as such, is the problem we face in getting the rest of the UK to cycle not one of identity rather than infrastructure?

The Cambridge 'reality bubble' certainly goes way beyond Reality Checkpoint  these days - both spatially (encompassing the wider city and surrounding hi-tech industrial sites) and conceptually (its not just the University now - if it ever was). Do we simply have to accept that this city will remain an outlier both for cycling uptake, and for accepting a range of behaviours that just wouldn't be condoned elsewhere? I don't like either possible answer to that.

Wednesday 3 June 2015

Sickening Road Rage Incident

Well, if you keep up with cycling news in the UK you can't fail to have heard about this incident. If by some miracle you haven't come across this, here's what everyone seems to be talking about - its not pretty, and it sure as hell is NOT SAFE FOR WORK. 

There is little I can add to this story that has not been extensively said elsewhere.

But lets step back and ask whats really happening - passing a cyclist that closely is an aggressive act - if you nearly kill someone with a car you need to expect them to be pretty full up with adrenaline. So, yeah, the cyclist responded with some profanity - not unreasonable considering he was under attack - the driver saw the cyclist and knowingly passed very close, pulling in ever further in response to the cyclists angry, terrified shouting before getting out of the car to remove any uncertainty we may have as to his intentions - he says himself that he'd break the cyclists neck if there weren't witnesses.

But look at the guys face as he gets out and approaches the cyclist - to my eye this isn't just fight or flight response, and his initial insistence that the cyclist should be in the cycle lane isn't just aggressive, its dismissive. He's not taking the risks to himself in this situation seriously - he's disgusted by the cyclist who has, from the outset, been the victim of his wrath.

We need to look further than this guys anger, we need to get past this simple act of aggression and view this as what it really is - status and entitlement. He's better than the cyclist just because. His seriously threatening behaviour is justifiable because its a cyclist. In his mind we can act that way to cyclists because they're cyclists - you can do that to cyclists who are not breaking any rules or giving you the slightest problem, cyclists are already in the wrong. Look, he's not alone. 

Bluntly there are two things we need to see to stop this happening. Firstly, if there are cycle facilities (and there really should be) they have to be good enough to use - even lethally bad cycle facilities get us bullied for not using them (in Cambridge we call this the Milton Road Effect). But its not jut about cycle facilities, its about hate.

This guy was aggressive to the other guy because he was on the road, on a bike. Bluntly, the cyclist had done nothing wrong, the aggressor initiated this with his ridiculously dangerous overtake and compounded it with truly threatening driving and a brutal tirade of threatening abuse - all because the other guy was a cyclist. We must put pressure on our MP's and the Police and CPS to treat these as what they are - hate crimes. These incidents must be prosecuted in the same way we'd prosecute crimes based on ethnicity or sexuality hate - they come from the same pit of human psychology, and until we treat them as such we'll see no reduction in their frequency.

£90 fine, apparently. Not enough. Not nearly enough. 

EDIT: Had to change the source for the video, the original had gone. Huff Post still have it, so I've swapped to that one.

Tuesday 2 June 2015

Resigned from Cambridge Cycling Campaign

I've got to look the guy in the mirror square in the eye.

And if I'm a member of an organisation with this guy on the committee, I can't be.

I joined the Campaign only last year, specifically to vote for their Space for Cycling document

Not assaulting a child in the street is a more important ethic for me than campaigning for better cycle infrastructure. Call me weird but that is how I'm built, if I can help it I won't put my name to something Colin Rosenstiel runs - even the Liberal Democrats wouldn't have him as a councillor any more, but Cambridge Cycling Campaign don't share their weeding criteria.

I've been pondering this for quite a long time, and I've become sickened at my own inactivity. No more.

So, membership card destroyed and email sent resigning membership.

I don't anticipate a cascade of membership resignations from an organisation which, like most, is made up of members who mostly don't get involved - this isn't about them. Its about the accusing looks from the guy in the mirror who knows better than I do that you can't betray your conscience and still be a good man.