Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Why can't Cambridgeshire Constabulary make things easy?

Below is a copy of the email I just sent to Cambridgeshire Constabulary, the PCC (Graham Bright, about whom I have been less than complimentary) and to Cambridgeshire Constabulary complaints department. How do you think this'll go down?

With bewildering advances in technology allowing people to commit quite new crimes, in new ways, I don't find it quaint or endearing that Cambridgeshire Constabulary want me to do the equivalent of shout in a tin can on the end of a bit of string to report an incident...


Dear Sir/Madame, 
Firstly, I would like to draw your attention to what I believe may be evidence of the use of a mobile device while driving, in Cambridge, in a tweet. This can be seen here:  

https://twitter.com/DrBrie/status/525266164436729857

For convenience I have also included a scree-grab.
Obviously it is illegal to use a mobile device while driving, even if the vehicle isn't moving at the time. The tone and content of the tweet show a certain aggressive tone, which for me makes this seem really rather sinister. The perspective from which the image is taken appears to be the drivers seat. 
Could you please investigate this, and respond with an appropriate incident number and a rough idea what (if anything) you plan to do.
Secondly, I have to comment on how silly your procedures for reporting such things are. I initially tweeted a link to @cambscops, which I would hope ought to bring this to the attention of police staff to make a decision on whether it should be pursued. I was directed to phone 101, which would of course necessitate reading a long URL down the phone, a procedure likely to result in errors and a waste of time. After waiting around 5 minutes to get through first time, I was then cut off, and the second call took 14 minutes to get hold of someone, who took a long time to find an email address to make the report to. Said address (xxxx@xxxx.xxx.xx.xx) could very easily be shared on your website to facilitate rapid, easy communication but it is not. 
Bluntly, if I report something I think is illegal to the Police by any means, at all, it is surely beholden on the police to take that report and do something with it, rather than respond that it is being reported in the wrong way? It appears that you are trying to minimise the number of incidents that are reported by making it needlessly hard to report. 
I have copied in Cambridgeshire PCC, Cambridgeshire Constabulary Complaints department.
Yours Sincerely,
My name
My address

Monday, 20 October 2014

Perne Road and Cambridge Cycling Campaign

Reams of blogroll devoted to this awful new scheme are already being flushed down the information supercarsey. Many of us predicted it would be awful. It is awful. It is already the site of people getting hurt.

So I don't need to add much in the way of criticism to a scheme that was obviously bad from the outset and which has entirely lived up to our low expectations - the blogs listed above already adequately rip this to shreds.

But I do want to remind everyone that Cambridge Cycling Campaign quite inexplicably gave grudging support to this scheme. It appears that doing 'something' was seen by them as sufficient reason to support yet another crap installation at enormous expense to the cycling budget. They supported this to demonstrate that 'Dutch' geometry is right, that its not dangerous, despite the fact that dreadful off-road shared facilities would undoubtedly make said geometry dangerous to cyclists as we're squeezed off in less space than we were previously, with confusing on/off road signs putting us and motorists in each others collective blind spots just where we'd all like to accelerate away. Its almost like the campaign thought Perne Road was taking one for the team so we get a better facility later - despite there being no evidence that this would be the case.

And Camcycle have been tetchy with the way bloggers and cycling journalists have covered this.

Guys, I know, there are some good folk at the Campaign. But you need to chill out and accept that you got this wrong - through your irritable criticism of those covering this story you look like patsies for the County Council, apologists for hazardous infrastructure.

You never, ever answer the simple question - if cyclists don't hold out for genuinely top quality cycling infrastructure here, in Cambridge, right now, then where and when will we? If you keep supporting schemes like this then we will keep getting schemes like this

Bluntly, when will you learn?

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Victim Blame (again)

Its that time of year again. Nights drawing in, a new academic year, and we're bombarded with messages telling us to have bike lights, hi-viz, helmets, etc. All the stuff we get every Autumn, ignoring the reality that every safety measure we as cyclists can employ won't add up to a hill of beans next to the carnage wrought by motorists - and many of us will be asking ourselves how much victim blame amounts to an acceptable word of caution, and how much is too much?

Again, this coincides with the emotive subject of victim blame in rape being in the news, this time from Judy Finnegan. I gather she's a daytime television presenter married to Alan Partridge.

We'd all agree that suggesting not getting so drunk you're vulnerable to assault (of any kind) is good advice. And minding your drink so no one slips you anything you don't want is a wise precaution. We might go so far as to recommend not wearing something or acting in such a way as to send a message you really don't want to send while at a location in which you may be exposing yourself to risk. But I also hope we'd all agree that none of this is in any way a valid excuse for a rapist - while its fair to advise taking care in a hostile world, we don't any longer absolve the criminal from responsibility for his or her actions based upon the behaviour of a victim.

Ms. Finnegan rather made a mess of things in her brief foray into the area. She's not the first and she won't be the last  to try to say something uncontroversial (rape is always wrong, punishment must reflect the specific crime) and make a pigs ear of it due to brevity/language/no brain buffer between the idea and vocal chords. I get why people are offended by what she said, and from the rapidity and tone of her apology so does she.

So lets compare that with how journalists and 'celebrities' regularly cover cycling. Here in the telegraph for example:
From what I observe, a fatal combination of poor riding skills, a complete disregard for the Highway Code, and the temptation of turning a gentle ride to work across Battersea Bridge into the final stage of the Tour de France, are just as equally to blame for the number of accidents on Britain’s roads as careless drivers.
Of course, we know this isn't true - cyclists are not to blame in 93% of their deaths or serious injuries on the road. That means if we changed our behaviour and got nothing wrong, ever, we'd see very little change in cyclist injury in the UK. The above statement from the Telegraph is an example of horrifically wrong victim blame - and this is a paper with a strong pedigree of vile cyclist hate. 

Lets turn to the good old Daily Mail. Well, lets give a link where one of the articles therein is dissected. I wouldn't wipe my arse on that piece of shit 'paper', I'd feel dirtier afterwards. Noreasoned thought there - the article contains collective blame, stereotyping, 'some of my best friends are...', etc. Prejudice based wank without a any sense or integrity to it.

Maybe local journalists, with a penchant for communities being better places by being quieter, less polluted, cleaner, fitter places might be less obviously frothing at the mouth anti-bike loonies? Oh. Maybe not. In fact we see the victim-blaming mantra writ large, trollumnism with the entire focus being on cyclists. 

How about the 'quality' peridicals? No? 

Stereotyping, and blaming cyclists for others harming them, is so common as to be unremarkable. No one challenges it. You can start a conversation with 'bloody cyclists'.  It has perfused every part of our culture and society. It infects our legal system (I refer you to the Cycling Lawyer blog for all too many examples of people killing cyclists and getting away with it because the cyclist who was right in front of the driver 'came out of nowhere' or 'the sun was in my eyes', or even 'because its a dangerous road').

As a society we try to have it both ways, and we fail - either victim blame is bad, or victim blame is good. We can't sub-divide based on whether the victims are doing something that we don't do - if they're acting within the law (or even outside of the law) and get hurt or killed due to the actions of others, which is the case with the vast majority of cyclist injuries, then this remorseless victim blaming has to end. And we'll only get there if we make all of the crass, lazy, downright offensive stereotyping of cyclists that we see in our media a thing of the past.

By all means, advise cyclists to have lights. Spend about 2% of your effort or bile relating to cyclist safety on this, about the proportion of deaths and serious injuries this causes. Anything more? You're victim blaming scum.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Telegraph vs. Cyclists?

The cycling twittersphere is rather in a tizz about this article here, followed by the events described in this rather one-sided version here

To summarise - the Telegraph opinion piece didn't get past basic trollumnism. I can pretty much  (and cruelly) paraphrase the entire article with 'as a cyclist myself, with no reference to recorded accident cause statistics, I'd like to associate with negative, stereotype based generalisations about cyclist behaviour being the cause for their untimely but deserved deaths at the hands of more virtuous drivers - how DARE any of them use helmet cameras to record incidents where they're forced from the road and waste police time on those who intimidate them with their cars'.

There was, understandably, quite a bit of online response to this ugly, victim blaming, clumsy anger-piece. I've covered victim blame before, and little more needs to be said other than that Critchlow is both demonstrably wrong and indefensibly lazy in his portrayal of cyclists. His article will be interpreted by those who already hate us as an endorsement of mistreating cyclists on our roads, and I can't condone any part of it. It doesn't even make sense - does he think helmet camera riders have some sort of death wish, that they go looking for trouble to have some kind of confrontation to post online? Does he believe that cyclists seek to encourage motorists to use their vehicles as weapons against us? Its very hard to dismantle his article without feeling that his writing comes more from prejudice than rational, impartial observation. And he's not just a trollumnist, he's a cyclist himself. Two unremarkable kinds of cyclist hate rolled in to one unpleasant mess.

The Telegraph is rather robust, on occasion, with how it discusses cycling. Or, to put it another way, it occasionally revels in irrelevant, petulant cyclist hate, and while there are some decent articles this kind of pandering to moton-angst is the baseline to which the this rag tends to return, and this encourages precisely the kind of behaviour that cycle helmet cameras are worn to protect us from. Bluntly, the Telegraph encourages anti-cyclist hate with this kind of writing.

Considering how low these blows strike, its rather a surprise to me that John Stevensons comment was taken so to heart - especially as coverage of the incident in the Telegraph seeks so hard to stress how fearlessly their man has served his country and reported from war zones. I wouldn't condone Stevensons tweet - but come on Telegraph, sort your life out - can you not put more effort into resolving this and asking that the two gentlemen shake hands? You need to accept that this kind of article, inciting hate against any group, including cyclists, is flat out unacceptable, and that even people who ordinarily show impeccable judgement may not strike a good balance in responding to this kind of pathetic slur. You need to raise your standards above basic rabble rousing.

So, gents, on the remote chance either or both of you read this, can you call truce and settle this? Here, now. Accept that the article was misguided and offensive and that the response over the top. Both of you apologise and move on?

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Are Motorists Sociopaths?

I was out riding my bike the other day, up through Histon, back home through Milton. Nice ride for the time of year, by which I mean that I can enjoy the magnificent golden East Anglian evening sun that turns early Autumn in these parts a stunning mix of green and amber. And I've also got to deal with the carnage motoring plays on wild animals that are mown down in vast numbers while foraging through the litter of the close of summer, killed en masse, in their prime while trying to fatten up for dark months ahead.

After I'd swerved around a flattened hedgehog I slowed down to negotiate a badger who had car tracks through his midriff, before stopping to neck a pigeon who'd been winged by some motorist or other and who wasn't going to survive the resultant wounds for long. Indeed, on my short (urban) commute home I know I'll see the same three desiccating wild beasts on the tarmac that I saw on the way to work. The crime for which these animals paid the ultimate price? Being in the way of motons.

I'm not okay with this. It isn't reasonable to kill a wild (or domestic) animal because you're in a hurry - and that is all that is happening here. Imagine the following conversation.

"I ran over a fox on the way to work, couldn't help it on the main road it just stared at the headlights."  you say to your colleague as you hand over her morning cup of tea.
"Oh, I know, its terrible isn't it?"  She replies, taking the cuppa with the kind of smile that tells you tea really is the solution to all of your woes "I hit a pigeon at the weekend, I was sure it would fly out of the way but I was picking feathers out of my radiator grill later on."

Now re-phrase that a little.

"Travelling fast is important to me, so I drive such that I won't be able to adjust my course or speed to avoid killing innocent wild animals. As a result of that I killed a beautiful animal, a fox in fact, and I am in no way going to accept any responsibility for having done wrong".

Or lets put it another way.

"I punched a fox to death. I was out cycling and it risked slowing me down a little so I killed it in a way that is completely unsuitable for ensuring a clean painless death. Heck, it might still be suffering now, I've got no idea, why should I give a fuck?"


Does your colleague take the tea and share a Tea smile with you now? No? You mean because you implied that we are (or should be) responsible for our own actions you've broken the moton omerta and become outcast from their secret animal death cult?

Millions of animals are killed on our roads every year - estimates vary, but because we're in a society where mowing down creatures is considered just one of those things no one is keeping count. Whether its a vegan driving to work in his stereotypical Prius or a confirmed carnivore in a predictable Land Rover, each is guilty of being part of a culture that puts animal welfare at the bottom of their priority list. But its worse than that - around 6% of motorists go out of their way to kill animals with their cars. Yes, that does include you, 'animal lover' driving the dog for a walk in the country park.

Killing animals, voyeurism of harm... These are often thought of as early signs of psychopathy. So I'm forced to ask - are motorists, through being basically okay with activities that brutally and messily kill animals in vast numbers, collectively or individually sociopaths? Quite seriously, you're okay with killing warm blooded animals not to eat, or to have some useful product from, but merely as an inevitable side product of a daily activity that you could readily change such that this isn't the case any more? What the fuck is wrong with you?

UPDATED: Are motorists sociopaths? Exhibit A.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Not the Judean Peoples Front!

I can't take it any more.

Let me paraphrase what I'm seeing a lot of right now. 

What the hell is WRONG with all these cycling campaigners, getting all uppity with each other and not seeing that they need to do things MY way?

If its not dissing each other over whether sport cycling is a good way of getting people interested, its fighting over whether a fairly harmless seeming television program about cycling is any good for us. And if its neither of those they'll just diss each other for no good reason. Here. Look.

Guys, for fucks sake. Chill out. 

Is it just that cyclists in the UK are, by their nature, willing to be a bit fighty else they'd never be happy braving the roads? Or  is it more that the few people who are willing to discuss cycling online have been beaten and battered in to their positions by years of never ending negativity from cyclist haters who want to berate us for no readily apparent reason? This goes further than 'being a cyclist myself' - it seems to me that so many folk who talk about cycling fail to grasp that we have a slowly emerging UK cycling culture, and its got its own shape, its own way of doing things - and that any argument failing to address this as part of how we further the cause of cycling (whatever that cause is - there isn't consensus!) fails at the first hurdle.

Sometimes, you know, its just a telly program. Or its just a bike. Or its just a race. And maybe, just MAYBE if so many of those in to cycling campaigning in the UK weren't lost up their own arses we'd all do a lot better.

Stop taking yourselves so seriously. Stop infighting. Or fuck off and stop pretending you're helping any cause other than your own ego. There aren't enough of us for it to be worth having tribes.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Bloody pavement cyclists... Negative reinforcement in cycling behaviour.

Cambridge is almost defined by how much people complain about cyclsits. Cyclists on the pavement, on the road, stopping at a light that has barely turned red so you can't get through, going through the light they should have stopped at, ninja cyclists you can't see, out in the middle of the lane (where you can see them), going too fast, going too slow... You get the picture. There is no way we can ride that insulates us from criticism - we can be legally in the right in every way and STILL get abuse. We can ride safely and be criticised, if we break rules to stay safe we're criticised, if we don't we're dangerous cyclists. We can't win. If we ask for better cycling facilities to segregate cycling such that we can't inconvenience anyone, we're extremist whingers. There is no position to take that does not face apoplectic criticism.

Humans are just animals, really, and we respond to stimuli around us just like other animals. Bad behaviour that is punished sets of one kind of response, good behaviour that is rewarded sets off another. So I wonder, what does this constant rain of derision mean for cycling?

What does it mean if you're punished for being in the right more seriously than you're punished for being in the wrong? So, for example, if you're riding on a pavement you'll get some cold stares, the occasional telling off or perhaps the police might issue you with a fixed penalty notice. If you're riding on the road you'll suffer close passes (from people who think you shouldn't really be there and those who do it to liven up their days), aggressive driving, motorists cutting you up or, worse, even assaulting you with their vehicles. In short, you'll suffer numerous incidents that feel like near death experiences. Which is the greater disincentive, being tutted or facing what feels like a death risk?

Likewise, for red light jumping, if you stop at a red light you'll very often have motorists trying to out-accelerate you and pass on the junction. You might have a driver give you an earful (or even ram you) for stopping him when he could have got through at the tail end of amber or red. If instead you go through the red light (cautiously watching for danger) the most likely risk will be a strongly worded letter to the local newspaper.

In short, if we treat good cycling more harshly than we treat what we see as bad cycling, why ever would we expect cyclists to behave 'properly'?

It transpires that cyclists are, for the most part, pretty law abiding - but why ought we be? We're dealing with roads designed in such a way as to make safe progress to our destinations almost impossible and we face hostility, even aggression in return for just trying to get where we're going.

And, more importantly, does getting angry at cyclists who break the rules even make any sense? We see regular 'crackdowns' on cyclist rule violations here in Cambridge - but where is the crackdown on drivers passing too closely or driving an inch from our back wheels? Where is there evidence that our police forces understand why cyclists sometimes don't act within laws that make our daily rides unpleasant or even dangerous?

Until we acknowledge the fact that motorist aggression is the key cause of cyclists breaking the rules in ways we consider antisocial we won't prevent it. How we should solve the problem of aggressive motoring is another question - I favour both separate cycle infrastructure and policing motorist law breaking. But we're so far from this because there is simply no acknowledgement that this is the problem. We will continue with pathetic crackdowns on cyclists who merely want not to be bullied by motorists. And this will continue to fail.