Tuesday 17 November 2015

Is how we're treated based on the bike we ride?

I should start this by saying I've never, for a moment, believed the idea that close passes of cyclists are due to inattention. The very idea that a motorist is accurately judging a close pass at speed is farcical - its just not a feasible claim. Close passes are intentional, aggressive acts.

So I'm somewhat predisposed to believe that observations based on how I'm treated on different bikes are genuine rather than all in my head. And I'm finding that on my funky chunky new bike I'm getting rather more dodgy overtakes than I do on any of my others.

I don't commute on that one every day of course - its great fun to ride and can take a hell of a load, but I'd rather commute on something with a bit more zip to it unless I'm getting shopping - and yesterday I wanted to indulge my clementine habit with a couple of boxes from the market at lunchtime, so off I went to work on the bike with the big baskets.

There were four crazy overtakes on the way home. The most frightening for me was this one:

So I'm apparently not a bike, I'm a gap in traffic.

But its worse (for others on the road) than that - it would seem I'm big enough and slow enough to make it necessary to squeeze past at a junction and try to throw your taxi into a bus.

Now I get silly motorists no matter what I ride, but its so noticeable that if I'm on a 'typical' bike I get the occasional close pass or some hostility sometimes, whereas if I'm no the chunky bike I'm getting almost no verbal aggression but NO END of bad passes. And if I'm on a road bike I get no end of anger.

Much has been written on driver behaviour and how the drivers perception of the rider is important - but I've seen less attention given to what kind of bike we're riding. It seems likely to me (from my own observations) that motorists pay enough attention to what we're riding such that how they act towards us is significantly influenced by this - its more evidence that the way motorists act around us is not just one of those things, the dodgy passes aren't accidental, and that the negative experiences that put many people off cycling are caused by direct, intentional aggression of motorists. Its not just how we ride or what we wear that influences what form this hostility takes - its what we ride. 

Why ought a moton give a shit about what we ride? That's something to discuss another day.

Bidwells? Cambridge Police? #Badlyparkedbike? The plot thickens.

So you'll remember #badlyparkedbike, our police services comically inept social media campaign aimed at shaming cyclists into not locking their bikes in perfectly out of the way spots to divert attention away from the fact that most suburban pavements in this city are entirely impassable due to parked cars? You'll remember their clinging to that sinking ship no matter what was shown to them? And you'll no doubt recall how this escalated to the point where a cycling journalist was threatened with arrest for taking a picture of a police car obstructing a cycle lane?

Well, @cambridgecops twitter feed (from which a number of vocal but polite critics have been blocked) has stopped yammering on about it. Initially I assumed this was probably because the tag was hijacked by a gloriously sarcastic deluge of car-blocked pavements and perhaps someone at the constabulary had finally got the point - but then things seemed to be turning sinister as Bidwells (the owner of one of the sites chosen by the Police to hi-light this - not that you can readily discern this, it looks like a public space) threatened to remove bikes locked there. With very little notice. 

Well, they went and did it. 

And, quite understandably, I would expect the bike owners furious. And one of them has been digging to find out whats happening and is pursuing a complaint to get her bike back.

Now it would have been hard to accept the claim (in the link above) from someone at Bidwells that they've been collaborating with the Police to remove bicycles. But lets be frank, Cambridgeshire Constabulary have made a complete pigs ear of things with cyclists recently and it would surprise none of us were the same anti-cyclist elements at Cambridgeshire Constabulary who so unflinchingly backed #badlyparkedbike were to have given tacit approval for this - especially as this was the location for the first shared image of a bike allegedly thus parked.

Its obvious from this that both Bidwells and Cambridgeshire Constabulary have questions to answer if anyone from our police service is reading this, think about how you'd react were the person from Bidwells to have implicated any other organisation but yours. You'd be suspicious too - especially after #badlyparkedbike. 

To remove bicycles that (in this instance) had been in place for less than a day with only a few notices that are rather hard to find in the dark (and commuters at this time of year are arriving in the dark both in the morning and the evening) and give them to a charity isn't a proportional response to those bikes being on your property, and its certainly not good publicity. I urge the folk at Bidwells to sort this out and make things right with cyclists whose bikes they've taken, and to do so as quickly as possible. Guys, we're not just folk on bikes, we're a demographic that spends money and who make decisions who to work with. Right now do you really think this is good business? 

And in the mean time, if anyone has had their bikes grabbed, I wish you all success in getting it back. Keep us all informed how you get on - and if you've any information to add to whats in the complaint letter linked above then please share it. 

Monday 16 November 2015

Roadside damage - who pays?

It always seems to the the case that another car ploughs through another hedge or wrecks another sign, and once the cars are dragged out backwards (causing more damage) its the rest of us footing the bill, if its public property, or a farmer/landowner if it isn't. Its like wrecking everything by the roadside is considered just one of those things - so I wonder, can we change that by embarrassing our highway authorities into giving a damn?

I mention this because after this rather shocking bit of road carnage I've just put this FOI in. My bottom line is that whoever did this should pay, and I (as someone who pays council tax) shouldn't. I wonder how far I'll get with it?

And I just wonder, if we ALL put in FOI to find out who pays whenever we see some road carnage caused by yet another motorist who 'lost control' etc. could we get to a point where its normal for motorists to pay for their damage?

Are the Police colluding with developers to remove bikes?

Some strange happenings in Cambridge have led me to ask the paranoid sounding question in the title of this blog post.

What started out with the badly thought out, disastrously naive #badlyparkedbike campaign (which backfired spectacularly, leading to cyclists taking pictures of cars blocking pavements across Cambridge and beyond, with one even threatened with arrest under protection from terrorism laws for doing so) has now taken a more sinister flavour with one of the first locations targeted by Cambridge Police being the site of a controversial bike removal scheme. The stubborn refusal of our police service to admit error, followed by blocking many prominent critics, has rather made a mockery of their claims to impartiality - are they colluding with the developers to remove these bikes?

Its not obvious down there near the station which parts of the development are public space and which are private. Indeed its a total pigs ear - there are insufficient bike spaces for commuters and residents, resulting in people locking bikes up all over the place. Such is the nature of Cambridge though - its not new, its the way things are and pretty much always have been - if something is not obviously private property you've really got no excuse for being angry at people using an out of the way location that won't block access to lock up their bikes.

The close proximity of Cambridge Police talking about #badlyparkedbike in the context of this? That takes this past obvious coincidence into suspicious. 

If I were to remove a car parked on my property and dispose of it I'd be breaking the law. But if its a bike? Well, it seems no one at our police service gives a monkeys about you. 

Friday 13 November 2015


I've gained just a modicum of grudging respect for Ray Brown at the Cambridge News. A modicum.

He's picked up one of my youtube vids and built a nice little news story around it. This vid here:

I was riding out that way on Monday and I couldn't quite work out what had caused that kind of damage - a car or van must have rolled over or through the tree somehow, clipped the fence, hit a fence post (a big, solid, brick pillar affair) and come to a stop on a muddy verge. Must have been going at a hell of a lick - and it struck me as odd that it wasn't in the news so I uploaded a video asking what had happened. Turns out there'd been a police chase which ended thus - quite a dramatic event and I'd have thought newsworthy in the bloated fenland village of Cambridge.

And best of all its a simple, clear exemplification of why having rules on our road matters - there's a bus stop not far away on the other side of the road, and had it not been for a tree and a solid brick post the van could have ended up in a house - not all the homes along Mere Way are as well protected as this one was.

Rules on our road matter. I'm not saying slavishly follow every letter of every regulation, but the lesson here is very simple - motorised vehicles pack a hell of a wallop and handling them is a huge responsibility requiring attention to the detail of the rules.

But right next to that story in Cambridge News is this one. Its a bog standard 'cameras catch thousands of motorists blatantly, knowingly breaking the law and fine them for it, isn't it all so unjust 'affair. Claims that the 46,000 drivers who've hurled £700,000 in fines down the bog aren't throwing themselves like lemmings down the bus lane or are just making mistakes and not trying to queue jump the traffic are absurd - its well sign posted and its very easy to avoid these fines by not driving in the bus lane. I suspect many motorists there decide they'll chance the fine because they want to get where they're going a bit faster. 

Same journalist, two consecutive stories, one giving a graphic demonstration of what happens when motorists don't obey the rules followed by a exemplification of motorists breaking the rules - and this is tens of thousands of times - which has a very blatant 'its so unfair' slant. 

Same journalist. Same paper. Consecutive articles.

Raymond old chap, I've misjudged you. You've got brass. But I do wish you'd apply some more brain power to this - can you not see that the slant you put on article (b) is part of the problem that leads to the problems portrayed in article (a)? Or do you understand this, and you don't care?

Monday 9 November 2015

Taking a picture of a police car? Terrorist?

Nothing much can be added to this direct account.

But if true, it would appear that our police service has gone completely mad.

We shall await results of FOI requests and complaints but, in the mean time, it really pains me to suggest being cautious around Cambridgeshire Constabulary.

Sunday 8 November 2015

Complaint to Cambrideshire Constabulary

What can you do when faced with this kind of recalcitrance?

Copy of the email I've just sent to the city centre police team and to the PCC. Why the hell has it come to this?

Dear Sir/Madame,

I must complain about the way your staff have acted on twitter recently. May I ask that you log this as an official complaint please?

In response to your widely mocked #BadlyParkedBike campaign, many people (including myself) have been sharing images of badly parked cars - the alternative suggested by your staff later, which was to use #DaftParking, came too late, and 'daft' doesn't have the same connotations anyway. I think that members of the public this sharing images of cars blocking the pavement with you is a very positive thing - this is surely precisely the kind of interaction you want with us? Isn't it good that people are sending you images of antisocial and dangerous parking, regardless of what hashtag they use? Why are you treating this as a failure and not a resounding success?

I posted just such images on Saturday, one of them linked here. From here you can see the main body of tweets in reply, showing the behaviour I'm complaining about.


You can see that the response from @CambridgeCops was petulant - an outright refusal to look at evidence of cars illegally blocking the path purely on the basis of the wrong tag being used.

It is inappropriate for anyone working for the police service to refuse to look at evidence of criminality on such spurious grounds - that your social media campaign has been lampooned to the point where it has backfired badly is not an excuse to ignore dangerous and obstructive car parking. #badlyparkedbike has become, more or less in its entirety, a catalogue of bad car parking, whether you like it or not, and #daftparking barely shows up at all -and your desire to reverse this trend not only seems fruitless, but it is clearly getting in the way of good policing and is bringing the police service into disrepute.

I asked for the badge number of person tweeting on multiple occasions, and was first directed to phone 101, then to email you, then finally told to 'mark it up for the attention of collar no. 440. I still do not know from that comment whether thats the person making these tweets.

I do not believe it is okay for a police employee to tweet anonymously and make it such a huge deal out of being asked identify themselves when interracting with the public, and I believe it is flat out wrong to refuse to look at something because its got a hashtag that annoys you.

Please, for the good of the reputation of Cambridgeshire Constabulary if for no other reason, reconsider how you handle social media. You've got some superb, hard working, competent police officers, and they are being entirely failed by how electronic communications are handled. Please process this as a complaint as described above.

Yours sincerely,

Friday 6 November 2015

Time for Cyclists to Snipe Back?

And the response to these hate pieces is ever more jaded, its like cyclists are so used to being beaten about the head with this crap that they just give up. And its interesting that many of those who were most vocal years ago are now amongst the most jaded, and while there's a steady stream of new people sharing outrage there's a sort of progression, a seral succession whereby members of the online community move from enthusiastic outrage to thick-skinned via. tetchy, cynical and jaded. 

So another whack-a-mole trollumnist comes along, is hammered, will no doubt feign offence at how these aggressive cyclists have treated her, and we go back to square 1.

Something thats really hard to get across to activists in other areas is that for the most part, if you ask someone who cycles who or what they are, they don't say 'cyclist'. Yeah, we get about by bike, but we don't usually identify as cyclist. That identity is in other peoples minds. And that means that most cyclists aren't up for a fight about this stuff - it makes cyclists one of the softest targets for this kind of hate, because we're a demographic that doesn't mobilise behind the same banner. We don't recognise the banner that they believe defines us. 

When I look at articles like this I'm particularly reminded of how media have turned on other social out-groups in the past, particularly gamers, and their response was both simple and, initially outstandingly successful. By complaining en masse to sponsors of sites that they perceived as overtly critical of them, those gamers very quickly achieved most of their goals.

Their five-step approach - consult a list of those who've posted 'hate', define whats offensive, pick articles or related postings that exemplify this, plug this in to defined emails sent to the publication itself and to sponsors who advertise therein, and keep doing it ('be an annoying little shit') worked on their own press, but had far less impact on the broader media (which still loves its gamer stereotype).

Can we go one step further? We're a broad demographic - can we succeed in the wider arena of the mass media where gamers failed?

Can we go further than inept twitter outrage and consolidate the cycling community behind a campaign to change how we're portrayed?

Wednesday 4 November 2015

Is our housing designing-out cyclists?

I was sitting on the old fountain in the market square yesterday, while tucking in to lunch from of the excellent Cambridge Paella Company. I got talking to a chap who'd leaned his bike on its kick stand next to me - a sweet, ancient shopper with a sturdy metal basket on the front. He sadly related that he's going to have to lose it because he's got nowhere to keep it any more, having moved in to a place on Orchard Park he and his wife have just got nowhere to store bikes. 

But they have a car. Of course.

My partner and I are rather lucky in that we've got somewhere to store our bikes - we're not tripping over them in a narrow hall on the way in and out. But such is becoming vanishingly rare in this City, as the population expands but the pace of housing growth remains resolutely sluggish more and more people are living in small flats, studio apartments, shared houses or bedsits. Much has been written elsewhere by folk who are far more knowledgeable about our housing crisis than I am, so I shan't add to that - but from a cycling perspective the problem is very simple. You can't just leave a bike outside on the street all the time (and battles to get on street bike storage take years and, even when successful, don't deliver enough), you need somewhere to keep it, and that's an increasingly big ask unless you've got more than just a rented bedroom in a shared house.

So back to the chap I was talking to yesterday. He's keeping the car because he can park that on the street. He can't always get it close to his house but there's always somewhere within a hundred yards or so, he said. 

Free on street parking doesn't just facilitate car ownership and use, it actively discourages active transport. From making roads hostile to cyclists due to intermittent parked vehicles requiring us to swerve in and out as aggressive motorists squeeze us into the parked car zones, pedestrians who increasingly find it hard to walk down pavements littered with cars, right through to the issue of free parking in home zones versus the difficulty of storing bicycles, giving people free access to public space in which to store a very large item brings with it social, economic and environmental problems. This matters - but not sufficiently to those who want to drive to meetings to make planning decisions.

Cambridge is currently Britain's top cycling city, but central London is catching up. The two places share some features in common - nowhere to park a car for most people at work being one of them. But I wonder, as we fail to address cycle storage as one of our housing needs as Cambridge grows, will we remain the most cycled city?

Monday 2 November 2015

#BadlyParkedBike - A failed opportunity for Cambridge Police

Its been hard keeping up with the #badlyparkedbike campaign from Cambridgeshire Constabulary - but as an abject lesson in how not to use social media, I think it is worth a quick re-cap.

What should have been among the least controversial social media campaigns in history (to paraphrase, 'don't park your bike like a div, make sure you lock it securely and don't block the pavement') has backfired on our local boys and girls in Blue. It isn't that the basic message there is a bad one (be excellent to each other, as a wiser man than me once said), the problem is that the examples given, followed by shambolic responses from the force, have brought this campaign further and further into disrepute.

It all got a bit too much for them when responses to this tweet sparked a backlash - cyclists across Camnbridge and then the rest of the UK started getting shirty because, fundamentally, a bike being chained half way up a tree guard and not blocking the path is neither illegal nor is it in the way. Or in other words, if you've taken great pains to find a bike locking space thats physically out of the way and not illegal, our local coppers will still 'out' your bike parking.

This made it to the local newspaper (because this passes as news in Cambridge) and other news feeds, and its just sort of spiralled from there.

It became embarassing when the police tried to defend this by saying it was getting people talking about road safety - it isn't, its got people mocking their use of social media. Then the local police commissioner tweeted out in support and explained to us what the hashtag means (and was corrected). A frequent refrain from the police feed, when faced with criticism that they're not dealing with the cars vans that completely block pavements in this city on a daily basis, is that they're 'primarily an emergency service'. So why are they so keen to deal with bikes locked to trees? Whats the emergency?

If @CambridgeCops were to take a step back they'd realise that that the response to this has been superb, but it doesn't fit with their goals. They've had no impact on cyclists, the hashtag has entirely gone away from them. No one is discussing road safety, they're laughing at the Police force, and I don't think thats ever a good situation. But they could snatch success from the jaws of defeat here by taking the multitude of images of cars illegally blocking pavements across Cambridge and taking action to stop it happening - go talk to the motorists who regularly make our pavements impassable, ticket them for it if you must. They're getting an ever-increasing catalogue of of images of genuinely nasty and entirely obstructive pavement parking - but is #BadlyParkedCar as important to them as #BadlyParkedBike? So far, it doesn't look like it.

So what are you waiting for guys? You've got the evidence. When does #BadlyParkedCar get the attention you know it deserves?