Thursday, 26 May 2016

Cycling and Gender part 3 - Are we missing the point?

Its been a long time since I went there. Oh, and there too. Although I've swiped past this en route elsewhere.

The thingy with Goodwill the other day has sparked some discussion on Twitter, so now seems like not a bad time to go back and lay out the rest of my musings on this. I've always meant to come back to this topic because I think there are some  obvious things we can conclude from the numbers if we just turn them around a bit.

Briefly (as discussed previously) there's a gender disparity across most of the UK in cycling - you don't see it so much in Cambridge but you certainly see it elsewhere. The question often put is whether we can change that, and how?

I've come across various stats for bike riding by men and women in Britain. They're of a lot more varied than you might imagine - but lets stick with the one for bike commuting - 3.9% of men cycle to work, 1.6% of women commute by bike. I'm picking the figures for going to work because thats the every-day use of a bike that I think we can really sink our teeth into, and maybe the once or twice a month hobbyist numbers are somewhat less important for peoples every day lives. Thats a big disparity if we just compare the two - nearly two and a half times higher proportion of men cycle to work than women. Sounds statistically significant - probably is.

But there's something that really ought to be nagging at you about this (if it isn't already) - whenever you're looking at small percentages there's always tendency to over-analyze and read far too much in to things. Twice nothing is still nothing. Flip this round - we're looking at 96.1% of men and 98.4% of women not cycling - yet we're asking the minister about the 2.3% disparity rather than the over 96% of either who don't ride? This is nonsense.

We could interpret the reason for this disparity lots of different ways of course, and I'd favour an evidence based approach over being a total dick and talking about helmet hair any day of the week. But lets say we could wave a magic wand and solve it and get the same percentage of women commuting by bike - we'd still be failing, almost entirely, to get Britain cycling.

The big message from these figures oughtn't be that more men than women cycle, it ought to be that damn near no one of either sex bike commutes - both sexes are put off cycling in the UK in similar proportions. As I said in an earlier post, we're failing women ever so slightly more than we're failing men. So the elephant in the room is we're failing everyone who might want to ride a bike every day in Britain - its not about our gender, its about our almost total lack of good cycling infrastructure. 

Now we can campaign on that need for infrastructure until the cows come home, but thats still a message not always getting heard. Often whenever we start talking about the people who don't ride, and what they need, however eloquent and well researched what we say is, what politicians (local and national) hear is existing cyclists saying what WE want, not what non-cyclists would require to become cyclists and why that in turn is good for everybody. Thats something we need to address, and while there are some good ideas around I don't think we're getting there yet. But thats a topic for another day.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Minister for Making Cyclists Die a Little Bit Inside.

Here in the UK we've got a cabinet government system, where the Prime Minister is sort of like the chairman of the board of directors, and able to appoint ministers to head each division of his government. They sit down and discuss shit and (depending on the Prime Minister) do what they fuck they want (Major government), what the fuck they're told (Thatcher government), what the fuck they can get away with (Blair government) or whatever the fuck lines their own pockets (Cameron). 

Beneath the level of the cabinet ministers (22 of them - with 8 more able to attend cabinet meetings without being cabinet ministers) are shitloads of junior ministers and pointless hangers on. Upwards of 130 listed here, drawn from the Lords and the Commons. 

Now the way this is meant to work for most of them is that each is part of a government department (Transport, Defence, Foreign Office etc.) or part of the business of government itself (whips etc.), and while part of their job is to deliver government policy as stated and to communicate the governments message to the people (and vice-versa) a cabinet system with devolved duties to junior ministers works by each making a case for their own areas within the wider government, each fighting their own corners for their areas of interest. It is, or should be, a good system, and a minister who's good at his or her job would expect advancement, and of course for whatever that area of interest is to flourish.

And this brings me to Mr. Robert Goodwill. Among his remit is cycling - although its clearly not one of the things he's interested in (click on his interests in the above link - it ain't listed).  He isn't taking the cycling part of his remit seriously - just read this and tell me I'm wrong. In fact he's taking it so lightly that he's making glib comments that women don't ride because they'll mess up their hair. 

Lets be clear - Goodwill doesn't give a fuck about cyclists, if he did he wouldn't be droning on about the perception of risk being worse because cyclists being flattened by HGV's hits the news, he'd be dealing with the haulage sector and demanding the addition of wheel guards on all such vehicles to save the lives of cyclists. If he cared about cyclists he wouldn't brazenly refuse to comment on the woeful (and falling) investment in cycling while road spending goes up - you're getting £86 spent on road transport per year if you're a Brit, but 76p spent on cycling. 

Goodwill isn't there to fight our corner - Goodwill is there for vanity road and rail projects, and like the rest of our current government he's a road-obsessive who'd render down the fat off the back of every cyclist for another litre of diesel. This man isn't interested in safe cycling, he's not fighting for investment for more cycling, he's not even respecting us enough to contextualise UK cycling spend within the EU. And when he does talk about cycling when not question dodging a parliamentary committee? Blah blah blah paint by numbers press release saying nothing but pretending to give a smeg.

He's Tory deadwood, and he's wheeled out in front of cyclists in the hope that eventually we'll be as dead inside as he is and we'll just shut up. That ain't going to happen though. 

Can I really be the only person to feel that his name is a brutal irony, considering how he's talked about cycling? Goodwill? Having a laugh, mate.

We haven't got a minister with any interest in cycling, and our parliamentary committee that is meant to be all about cycling can be fobbed off with ridiculous ease. Right, that approach hasn't worked then. What next?

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Stagecoach Buses are Unsafe

Two recent incidents tell me that Stagecoach drivers in Cambridge are not trained to be safe driving around cyclists. Or, in other words, they're taking unacceptable risks with the welfare of valid road users. 

Here's the evidence - this one I've talked about before:

And here's yesterdays. Same place, similar close pass, but at far higher speed.

I've left more footage after the overtake on this one, for two reasons. Firstly I want you to see the response of the driver to being challenged, which is lamentable. Yes, I've got the bus lane to ride in, but he's overtaken me in the same lane I'm in with inches to spare. I'm in a primary road position within that lane as recommended in adult cycling training to make it clear that should not be overtaking close within the lane, this is accepted as good cycling practice. You have no business using a close overtake as punishment regardless of whether you agree with the advice to cyclists in official UK department of transport documents. And secondly I want you to see that he gained nothing from this overtake - I caught him easily and passed him at the second red light. Thats what happens with a close overtake in city traffic, you always catch up and they've never gained anything.

I'd also like you to note what happens if instead of riding in a primary position in the bus and cycle lane, I'd chosen to ride in a secondary (or worse) position. In the second video you'll see that from about 20 seconds - the overtake of the cyclist ahead of me is almost as bad as the one I'd suffered. In the top video go forward to around 38 seconds and watch from there - see how close the driver is to the cyclist in front, its even worse than my overtake. This isn't just disregard for cyclists safety, its hostile, aggressive driving.

Road positoning isn't helping here - primary or secondary, the bus drivers are squeezing through the constriction (traffic island followed by solid white line) regardless of cyclist behaviour, and they're doing so with inches to spare at high speed.

As things are currently going this will only end when a cyclist is driven under the wheels of one of these buses.

Stagecoach, this has to change. It has to change NOW. Will you meet with me to discuss how to change it? Or are you going to back your drivers in bullying cyclists off the road?

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Cyclist Hater Type VIII - The Snob

Cyclist hate isn't about how we see ourselves, its about how the haters see us. This may manifest itself in many different ways, but the most potently unpleasant mechanism is 'othering'. 

Its not that we're really 'other' - I get off my bike and walk and I'm indistinguishable from a non-cyclist. If I get in a bus I'm the same as another bus passenger. But all too often personal identity is wrapped up in how we travel, because we view that as a microcosm of who we are - just look at how cars are advertised to see that its aspirational, selling an identity and a lifestyle (or, rather, an unrealistic identity and an unattainable lifestyle).

Where we see people who don't adhere to that same identity we've a tendency to view them as 'other' - and this fundamentally is at the root of many of the problems we see with discrimination around the world. You recognise this of course - go on, watch the nose crinkle up when you suggest to a committed petrol head that they might want to ride a bike. Just like they've sniffed the water dribbling out of the composting bin. Disgust response. Plain. Simple. Unremarkable.

A snob is just somewhere on the spectrum of haters against, well, whatever they're snobbish about. And we're seeing plenty of this creep in to popular culture with regard to cycling - many on the political left view cycling as a damning sign of gentrification, linking it to people with beards and no socks drinking craft beer and being paid more than they ought. Some on the right see cyclists as scruffy, workshy scroungers. There are those who see it as a white-mans thing, so why would we fund any measures to make things better for men? Bloody elitist cyclists.  

But really it doesn't matter what the basis of this snobbishness is, its all the same thing, its just 'othering' cyclists. Wherever you are politically cyclists are the opposite of that, because your position is for people like you so THEY aren't part of that. If you're a Labour bike hater cyclists are Tories. If you're a Tory bike hater cyclists are elitist liberals. If you're a feminist you hate cyclists 'cos things done for cyclists are purely done for men... You get the picture. Every one of those arguments is, of course, bollocks. You hate them 'cos they're not you and you're wrapping it up in your own sad little cesspit of personal identity politics - and its all because you aren't capable of empathy with people who look different when they're on a different kid of vehicle. Pathetic.

So in a way the Snob is just a sub-species of the Brat - merely with a slightly more rounded (but no less fucking stupid) rationale for hating us. And the best argument against them is the very diversity of things they accuse us of being - if they're all to be believed we're workshy high earners who hate women but dress up in fake ginger beards to attract them while making an area more gentrified and scruffy at the same time.

It doesn't take a genius to see what the Snob is doing - they're projecting their own insecurities at us. Worried about gentrification? Cyclists. Is the area going down hill? Cyclists. What they can't see, what they cannot possibly fathom, is that cyclists are just folk - a diverse, broad range of folk who get around on two wheels. 

Basically you can't fix a snob. They're broken - they're too set in their ways to see sense, too adamantly stubborn to grow out of it. A snob is a brat who didn't grow out of it - they're to be navigated around and pitied rather than engaged.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Cambridge Local Elections 2016 - Summary

From a cycling perspective its a bit of a blow out. None of the parties have a 'party line' that gets us anywhere near the kind of facilities we're seeing spring up in London and, at best, we can pick out the occasional candidate who doesn't suck.

UKIP are, of course, the worst - the two respondents to Cambridge Cycling Campaigns survey are crap.

The Tories barely responded - one candidate was great, the other one half filled the questionnaire. 

Likewise, the Greens were basically not entirely sucky - one great candidate, one sucked. But I feel on cycling we ought to hold the Greens to a higher standard than the other parties they'd collectively refer to as 'grey' and I must say they're just not good enough.

Labour veered from unimpressive to lackluster.

And the Libdems? Again, one good, one 'meh'. 

One would have thought that at least one Cambridge political party would see the sense in having a party line that is unashamedly in favour of active transport. After all these years you'd think that at least one bunch of local politicians would have realised that giving cyclists everything they need is also massively beneficial to everyone else too, that less congestion, less pollution, less noise would make the city better for every single person whether they cycle or not and would, unashamedly, make the case for cycling. One would assume that the City Deal financing is an enourmous opportunity for Cambridge to quit with its smug (and I think flawed) assumption that it'll always be the UK cycling capital and get some ambition to try to go world class. But, alas, no. We're still fighting for scraps.

When it comes to local politicians in Cambridge, its still 'them and us'. And I lament that we're making no progress in making 'them' into 'us'.

I'm spoiling my ballot.

Cambridge Election Survey - UKIP

Yes, I know what you're thinking, he's going to have a go at Burkinshaw again. I didn't want to, but only two 'kippers have responded to the Camcycle survey. And he's one of them.

A brief note on the election prospects of UKIP in Cambridge: They haven't got any. They will, as ever, crash and burn. They've as much chance of winning a council seat as Leicester City have of winning the Premiership.

So lets meander down to Cherry Hinton, and see what Richard Jeffs has to say. Does he support the Space for Cycling document?
I do not fully support the guide as I feel that there are more pressing issues for local authorities to address and space is already limited, especially in the city centre. Despite investment only being around £20 per head per year in Cambridge, the death-trap "floating" bus stops and overly generous new cycle lanes do not really help in an already congested city. I do agree that cyclists and motor vehicles should only mix at low traffic speeds and volumes.
Well thats shit then. The cycle lanes we have are overly generous, the floating bus stops (just like the ones we've had for decades out in Fen Ditton without, as far as I can tell, any safety problems) are a 'death trap' and stopping people dying is just too expensive. Well whoopee do.

Getting kids to school safely?
I feel that children are safe at the moment. We must ensure that the Green Cross Code is taught, cycling proficiency lessons are laid-on, lollipop ladies are employed at crossings and free school buses are provided to and from the Park & Ride sites.
Because its 1983, of course. I mean actually making cycle provision safe and reducing the problem of parents whizzing to school in Chelsea tractors? Naaah, thats just crazy talk.

Ok then Richard, what about your concerns as a cyclist and the concerns you've got for other people riding?
My concern is that cycling is not inclusive as it requires a certain level of fitness and ability. it could be described as a sport as well as a mode of transport and people should be discouraged from using the public highways as a gym for everyone's safety, especially elderly pedestrians.
Hasa diga eebowai, as I believe the phrase goes. 

Cycling is a facilitator for many with mobility issues, and a tool to prevent too many ending up so unfit they can't get around. But this also misses the point - no one, no one has argued that we must all cycle, merely that making cycling safer and more appealing has environmental, health, congestion, cost, noise and social benefits. Cyclists are threatening to you because you see them as 'other' - and the sooner you stop projecting your own petty insecurities our way the sooner we can all get back to ignoring you.

The remainder of comments basically suggest we should get off and walk and other such crap. 

Now I was going to go through Burkinshaws responses but, bluntly, whats the bloody point? Seriously, we know he hates us. I can't condemn him more than he can himself. As in:

 Or, for that matter:

With thanks to Richard Taylor for filming these.

So, how 'bout that UKIP then? I'm left with the impression of watching a political movement thats like a fart who's too-old to be out partying with kids in a night club, pissed out of its skull in the corner and yelling barely coherent abuse inbetween bouts of trying to hold back waves of nausea, and as you walk past all you can think is 'look at the state of that' A movement made up of people so inconceivably stupid that they think its a good move to diss cyclists, who are half of the population of this city, in a survey specifically intended for circulation to cyclists. A group of people so amazingly set in their ways that they can't and don't even want to imagine a world where respecting people who simply choose to travel a different way is normal.

Are you or have you ever not despised a cyclist? Then don't vote UKIP.

Cambridge Election Survey - Green Party

Continuing looking at the parties here one at a time, next in the list is the Greens. They've got one councillor here and didn't have such a bad showing in the General Election. 

Sadly their Kings Hedges candidate hasn't responded, so I'll go the other way this time and head straight towards town. Arbury is the next ward... 

Stephen Lawrence is their candidate, and he's a supporter of the Space for Cycling document - pointing out that routes should be complete which is good. But then when asked what he'd do for kids getting to school?
Practical "ride test" with Council workers and council officers, together with kids and their parents.
Well that sucks. And blows. At the same time. Is that it? No 'lets give them great facilities', no 'lets get them excellent safe routes'. No. Lets train the kids because nothing encourages cycling like teaching kids what they want to do is dangerous.

His response on keeping cycling facilities good during building works is likewise muddled, but he does understand the problems of getting big bikes through chicanes and he's picked out a cracker of a junction that needs improving with Arbury Road/Milton Road (without telling us how) - and his imagination re. how cyclists are impacted by residential/commuter parking goes no further than charging for parking. Lacklustre would be too generous here - and you call yourself Green. For shame.

Lets go back down to West Chesterton and see what John Bachelor has to say.  On 'Space for Cycling'?
I fully support 'Make Space for Cycling'. I think the key principle for West Chesterton is in the title - there needs to be space for cycling of a sufficiently quality and quantity. For example, the City Deal proposals for Milton Road suggest a cycle lane less than 2m wide, significantly less than the 2.5m recommended for a route of this type (allowing overtaking without disrupting the flow of vehicular traffic). There are better solutions which provide enough space for cyclists as well as pedestrians, vehicular traffic and plants.
Spot on. 10/10. Go to the top of the class.

Getting kids to school?
The plans for cycling provision need to provide wide lanes which must be separated from the road so that cyclists of all ages and abilities can feel safe. Ultimately measures such as improved cycling provision, a congestion charge and changes in parking restrictions would decrease the number of vehicles on Cambridge's roads. 20mph zones would also improve safety. These measures would greatly improve the safety of both walking and cycling to school.
Bloody hell. I mean, whats going on, two decent candidates in this city? In the same election campaign? 

I really don't need to go on - his responses (except perhaps regarding parking where I feel he's missed the point) are superb.

Now one would think its a no brainer, that greens would be good on cycling, but as ever they're a mixed bag. Look at your green candidates closely and question them closely - and you might have a cracker. Or you might have someone like this Stephen Lawrence chap.