Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Cycling caste? You're disgusting.

I rode up past a lorry to the ASL (advance stop line - the little red box at the front in some junctions, with a bike painted in it, to give cyclists a head start) on Gilbert Road this morning only to see that the lorry was also filling the box. So I joined the cyclist who was already in front of the ASL, and another two folk on bikes joined us there. I looked back and up at the driver to make sure that he'd seen I was indicating right, and he met my gaze with a cold, visceral look. Like he'd just put his hand in cold jelly or something - his gaze was past hostility and distaste and into pure, undisguised disgust.

The disgust response is, psychologically, a fascinating phenomenon which gives us a clear physical cue to show its happening - a curled lip, the wrinkled nose, something hard to avoid showing when you're truly disgusted. Go on, open the lid on a stinking wheelie bin on a hot day and tell me how you react - you may even feel the urge to vomit, there's a real, physical response there. Because you identify it as unclean you are disgusted by it - and this is true in social settings when talking about human beings too. The disgust response is a visceral human response and it is how social groups justify excluding outsiders - it is a fundamental part of how the caste system worked (and, sadly, sometimes still works) - its part of racism, of bigotry of nearly all kinds. That dirty things disgust us tends us to view things that disgust with unease, often as if they are dirty - this is an unavoidable association, its conventional, uncontroversial psychology. 

And this is what we're up against as cyclists. Its not about us being 'different' or just a social out group - I put it to you that in a car obsessed society, where we're judged not only by what we drive but whether we drive, by making the choice not to drive somewhere we're seen as worse than social outliers - we're seen as having a lower status, as a lower caste of people fit for derision, for hate, even as fair targets for violence. Or, at least, people you can get away with threatening.

The results of this are varied, but include the fact that the death of a cyclist isn't often treated seriously, and even paper thin excuses will be seen as credible when assessing what went wrong. That the other guy on a bike acts to dehumanise - he's different, its therefore partly his fault. 'Well if you hadn't been riding a bike it wouldn't have happened'. It is considered fair and reasonable to defend horrific hate speech against cyclists with 'but they deserve it' or 'thats just my opinion', in the same way that homophobic or racist language used to be used. Groups who 'disgust' us are seen as broadly representative of each other - they're stereotyped by bad actions of even a tiny minority - and the only difference between this being viewed as prejudice or 'just an opinion' is how widely this disgust is shared.

Look over your shoulder from the advanced stop lines. Look at the driver behind you, as you signal which way you're going try to make eye contact. Yeah, most of them don't mind, most of them pay little attention, but just look out for the odd ones who snarl, who curl their lip and sneer at you. We disgust them because, in their eyes, we are disgusting.

The answer to this isn't to sort our own lot out - it isn't us creating this problem. We could ride like saints nearly all the time and we'd still disgust them. The answer? We need to be what the politically correct movement was. We need to humanise cyclists by not accepting any attempt to do the opposite - it must become socially unacceptable to 'other' cyclists.

Where to even begin?

Friday, 17 April 2015

Fair and Proportionate Road Safety

Motons portray cycling advocates as somehow unbalanced in their view of road safety and, from that, imply that our joy from being on two wheels somehow unhinges our minds. Far be it from me to state that unlike them our brains are far enough from our arses to not be thus influenced, even when riding on cobblestones, but I would like to address 'fair and proportionate.

Lets keep it simple - lets assume that the attention given to cycling and motoring should be proportional to how people are killed by cyclists/motorists. 2,000 people or so are killed by motorists, per year, in the UK. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but its a good round figure to start with. While each such death is an unmitigated tragedy, statistically this pales into insignificance against the number of people killed by the air pollution, which largely results from our road traffic, estimated to be 60000 or more per year.

There are numerous articles linking obesity to driving, I shan't bore you with endless links, but this is a phenomenon visible across the developed world. The less physical activity we take, as a society, the fatter we collectively get - and the most direct correlation is found in motoring. More than 30000 obesity related deaths occur in the UK every year - but lets be generous and say that despite the evidence of a direct causal link between driving and taking next to no exercise, we'll only blame 25% of those deaths on driving.

So driving costs us, give or take, 69,500 lives. Per year. In the UK. Yeah, I know you're going to say 'but some of that pollution comes from Europe!'. It does, and much of ours blows over there too, and the balance is absurdly in our favour with the prevailing wind in this part of the world. 

Now on to cycling. It transpires that cyclists kill so few people you can barely find them - its something in the region of 1 per year. 

So just in terms of body count, if we're going to take a proportionate view of people dying as a result of road transport, we should pay 1/69,500th of the attention to cyclists. And the rest to motorists. To put that another way if we put out a message about road deaths, once per day, every day of the year, then we should talk about the harm cyclists do once every 190 years, concentrating on motorists all of the rest of the time.

The truth is that anyone asking for such a discussion to be 'proportionate' while insisting that we talk about cyclists is an idiot, a bigot, or both. Don't be suckered in to accepting that 'there are faults on both sides' or 'yes we should be more responsible'. If they drive, and you cycle, you have the moral high ground.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Cambridgeshire Hates Cyclists.

Two things prompted the rather provocative title above.

At lunchtime, I was on Fitzroy Street. Its pedestrianised from 10-4, but you do get some delivery vehicles and the odd cyclist there. Two PCSO's walked right past a van coming down the road towards them, making a beeline for a cyclist who was well behind the van, stopping him and making him dismount.

I've got to ask, in what universe is it worthwhile Cambridgeshire Constabulary ignoring a van driving through a pedestrianised area and instead targetting a cyclist? Had the cyclist been careering down the road bowling babies out of the way they'd have had a point - but he was going more slowly than the van. It wasn't even particularly busy - the cyclist presented no risk, to anyone, even himself. I can only assume that they've been specifically tasked with dealing with 'antisocial cyclists', and that they'll continue to ignore cars on the pavement and in pedestrian areas, as they always have. Cambridgeshire Constabulary have some great folk doing hard jobs, but both institutionally and culturally they are a barrier to safe cycling. And their commissioner, an old-school Tory foisted on us by fendlanders who now seem to veer from Tory to UKIP in the political spectrum, is right at the heart of this.

The second event requires a brief history of the finest example of Cambridgeshires near-legendary clusterfuck attitude to transport.

We used to have a railway line, to St. Ives, and while it closed to passengers in the '70s it was still intact and used for freight until the 1990s. More recently its been dug up and replaced with a pig ugly concrete gutter through which buses can travel more slowly than trains did even in the 1800s, averaging a slower speed than the parallel A14, but at the cost of over £150 million. As a result it hasn't particularly lowered journey times and hasn't reduced traffic on the A14 at all. More recently, because transport thinking is so progressive and joined up, we've seen approval to open a new railway station at one end of the old railway route - so we've got a train line ripped up and replaced by a bus, with one end of it having a new train station. Naturally they're making sure that cycling or walking to this station is as shit as possible, although Cambridge Cycling Campaing made some suggestions for improving this. As of last update, it looks like any concessions to anyone not in a car amount to polishing the turd of an access route rather than flushing it down and starting again. Make no mistake, if you want to get to this station by bike our planners aim to punish you for it.

Still with me? They built a vastly expensive gutter for buses to go more slowly than they can on the road, instead of a train line, and they're opening a train station at one end of it so having a railway line there would clearly have been a dreadful idea. Best of all, they did it like circus trained monkeys. It was done so badly that 5 minutes after ploughing an ugly ditch down the route, they've got to do it again. Yes, thats right, its been built so badly lots of it needs digging into and fixing, at another massive (tens of millions of pounds) cost, because it seems that its getting dangerous.

There is one saving grace to this insanity - the cycle track alongside it. This ought to be a truly brilliant facility - and it is, for the 10 months or so per year that its not flooded, and so long as we ignore the chicane barriers across it that exist to stop motons ruining it. Yes, thats right, sections of it are under-water for a significant amount of time. Yes, it was designed that way rather than with raised sections on stilts because its only cyclists and we don't matter. No, that wouldn't be acceptable for any other mode of transport. They wouldn't even consider that for a road, or any kind of pedestrian access route.

But its busy when its dry. Except of course that they close it with little notice, no signs before you get to the closed bits, and no diversions of any sort. I suggested via. twitter that signs were needed, that diversions should be put in place, but no. Our County Council only view this now as a 'maintenance track' - why would you tell cyclists you're going to be closing a maintenance track?

Bottom line? Even when they sell us a facility like this, they don't look at it as transport. To argue it was built for cyclists would be to tell a bare-faced lie. They view it as an add on, an inessential thing you can close at short notice where the users time doesn't matter enough to provide advice on alternatives, where there's no need to signpost to users that they should get off the route and go a different way. I met cyclists lost at the closure in Histon on Saturday, not sure where to go and with no knowledge of where the route would open again, and I'm sure there were riders coming in from the other side also finding that there was no notice given for any kind of detour. 

Bluntly, Cambridgeshire County Council is run by and for motorists who do not believe that cycling is a real form of transport - you wouldn't close even a quiet suburban route without signs being up for weeks warning people. So why is it okay to close a major cycling route like this? I accept, closures can happen on any facility - but this was planned in advance, and a clear decision was taken to ignore requests to signpost this in any way.

I conclude that Cambridgeshire County Council don't give a tuppenny toss for cyclists. And this is the irony of cycling in Cambridge - UK's cycling capital is at the heart of a county that is hostile to cycling. 

Enough of this. I put it to you, Cambridgeshire County Council and Cambridgeshire Constabulary, that we'd all be better off if you were just honest. Enough of pretending you're on our side - you're not. You never have been. Be open about that and we can discuss what we all really want to change. But at present we're all involved in a valueless debate because while you don't respect our views or our mode of transport, you're not open about this, you pretend to listen while ploughing on with an evidently anti-cyclist agenda. Enough. Stop wasting our time and out yourselves as what you really are - then we may be able to make progress.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

'Antisocial' Cycling - is it even a thing?

Politicians like branding things 'antisocial'. From the local town or parish Concillor all the way to the Prime Minister, 'antisocial' is a really handy term for them to use.

The thing about 'antisocial' is that it is marvelously non-specific, to the point where if someone is using it you can fairly question whether they mean to convey any kind of specific acts at all. What it means varies according to who you are and what your priorities are, and 'antisocial behaviour' has been used for everything from children playing ball games through to assault. Definitions that rely on how a 'victim' may feel (such as the Cambridge version which defines it as behaviour that leads people to feel alarmed, harassed or distressed) are so broad as to be completely valueless - unless someone in the chain of command you're reporting to shares your personal unease you have no hope of getting anywhere. Have you repeatedly felt harassed or endangered by motorists on a particular road passing you too close? Is it the same subset of drivers every day? Go on, report it as antisocial behaviour, see how far you get.

This subjective term is both meaningless and useless unless the organisation handling your complaint shares that subjective viewpoint. It is also an ugly, insidious meme that has spread through our society, masquerading as a respectable position that merely allows a geriarchy to impose their values on those who don't have the time to turn up at endless local political fora and fight them.

Which leads me to 'antisocial cycling'. What the hell does it even mean?

Well apparently it means riding in pedestrian areas. Which is sometimes, but not always, illegal, but also encouraged by the guidance that came from the home office minister who first imposed fixed penalty notices. It also means trying like mad to stay alive or just unable to work out where the hell you're meant to be riding when the cycle routes aren't labelled in any meaningful way. Or, as often as not, it means cyclists riding on shared use routes they're both entitled and encouraged to use. Maybe it means cyclists who are just riding perfectly legally on the road. Ironically it also means riding socially. In fact anti-social cycling means whatever the feck whoever the hell wants it to mean, and the terminology is chosen specifically to demonise cyclists who are, at very worst, a minor annoyance in comparison with the un-policed trouble caused by those using nearly any other form of transport.

Even by the rather strange definitions by which our police service defines 'antisocial' behaviour cyclists are responsible for almost no antisocial behaviour. Actual 'antisocial' cycling is a myth. Its a fairytale. Its not a real thing.

'Antisocial' just means we've irritated them - this is something we do every single time we saddle up and go out for a ride. And you know what? If someone uses this term, they're as likely to follow it with venomous anti-cyclist sentiment as anything else.

Whenever you encounter this phrase, challenge it. Don't accept it. Require that the remit of what it means be specified - and if that isn't forthcoming, in detail, then you know you're dealing with a common or garden hater. 

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.

Monday, 9 March 2015

The problem is cyclists not respecting others?

With City Deal money and other cash to be dished out on cycling projects in Cambridge, where do I begin catching up with this news?

I think I might begin by looking at the flagship cycle route of Cambridgeshire, the Guided Bus route. You see, this fast, direct route built to cycle on (when its not flooded which, quite unacceptably it was designed to do)  is just far too convenient to cycle on and we can't have that. So we're about to spend £4k or so on signs like this. 
The issue is that some cyclists apparently don't respect others, so we're going to put some signs up and it'll stop people getting hurt when the cyclists who don't show respect will have to do so because there are signs. Well that'll work then.

There are some junctions on the Guided Bus route that don't make sense - specific places where pedestrians might step out on to it and neither be visible to cyclists nor be able to see bikes coming. The solution to that is, of course, to fix the design of those junctions - and until that can be achieved put specific signs in place warning people what the specific risks are. But the above sign? What does it even mean? Respect? I know we're meant to respect each other and look out for each other, why would that sign affect me? And if I didn't respect others on that route why would that sign make the slightest difference? Green and white image with green text? What the heck does that mean?

Paint, whether on the road, on the cycle path or on a sign is always easier than fixing deficiencies in infrastructure, but that doesn't make it a sensible expenditure. Signs don't make people respect each other - they reinforce the false (frankly prejudiced) perception that cyclists not respecting others is a major problem in our transport system without in any way dealing with a minority in any mode of transport who don't respect others.

But thats okay, we're going to have piles of cash to spend on cycling. On things like this... Oh, actually that was an epic bank raid on cycling money to renovate a roundabout for cars. No, I meant things like this. Oh crap.

The problem with getting enthusiastic about 'improvements' for cycling is that they so very rarely are. Roll on Huntingdon and Hills Road improvements, but please let them be up to scratch - it would be a genuine first for Cambridge.

Monday, 23 February 2015

The Girls and Boys of Cyclist Hate

Its interesting when a video like this one emerge. What does it tell us?

So, in a nutshell, a lady is walking her bike along and a stranger, a sneering man who hates cyclists, starts joking about cyclist deaths and for no reason gives the woman a hard time. He's a classic cyclist hater, probably a type 2.  He is unremarkable - on his way to do a job he thinks important but which almost certainly isn't, and willing to give the vast experience he's had thinking about cycling (about 5 minutes) to a total stranger. No doubt he has considered his hateful rants at greater length than he has the veracity of any claims he may make therein. He thinks he is funny - he isn't. Well, not funny ha-ha, but perhaps funny peculiar.

You get these sometimes as a cyclist - they'll wind their windows down and yell at you. They'll step off the pavement and walk straight in to you as you wait at a red light, then rant that you hit them when you weren't even moving. They'll corner you in a pub because you've got a bike hat with you and yell at you. They're normally men, they're usually not young chaps, and they're almost invariably got a self important air about them despite the fact that all they've ever done is sell crap to idiots or shuffle papers around that make everyone elses life harder - they matter more than you do, or so they believe, despite never having contributed a single original thought to the world. 

But online the picture is remarkably different - we do see these type 2's (and type 3's who are also normally men). But by far the most common online hater is the type 1 - the Brat. And more often than not this hater is a woman. 

Now I've talked about various types of cyclist hater before, and I don't especially want to go over this again. But I wonder whether I've been missing something pretty fundamental - why is it that the 'real life' haters who are, mostly, the guy above (whether he's yelling from the cab of a scaffolding lorry or from the faux superiority of a man educated beyond his intellect due to social class and privilege - its the same species) whereas the online haters are, to a great extent, younger women? Are we seeing the same hate phenomenon merely playing itself out differently, or are we addressing two very different phenomena?

Simply put, the question is are the older blokes hating cyclists for the same reason the younger lasses are? And are they merely expressing this differently? Or is the fairly well characterised 'othering' phenomenon I believe to be at play among the younger women not the same as the superiority complex men 'of a certain age' tend to display?

I dunno. I merely post this tea-break philosophy as food for thought. What do you think?

UPDATE: Is this the chap?
UPDATE 2: He denies it being him (see comments section in that blog). He's still a pretty standard cyclist hater though - basically a type 2 with unrealisable aspiration to be a type 5.
UPDATE 3: He's deleted his denial that he's the guy in the video. And the question. And a whole lot more comments too. I have no idea whether its him or not - the comments he's made are very like those in the video, and I am in no position to question his denial - for the moment this merely stands as another example of off-the-shelf cyclist hate.
UPDATE 4: He's deleted the post, and as far as I can tell other posts relating to cyclists.
UPDATE 5: After seemingly admitting it with some kind of strange justification thus he's now deleted all the contents of that blog. We've got another video showing what happened to provoke his response - nothing. Nothing at all.