Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Helicopters and Hedges

I was working in Cambridge yesterday - which is both good - it is easy to cycle; and not so good - it means I don't get to cycle quite as far and wide as I might like. The other slight challenge yesterday was that the weather forecast implied there might be showers during the day - so what to wear. I made the mistake of thinking it looked cool and so cycled in the clothes I was going to be wearing for my meetings and finding out it was actually quite humid. I think in my case the saying is "you live and don't learn". (Or perhaps you can't teach an old dog new tricks.) Anyway my apologies to those who had to put up with me "glowing" yesterday.

A few cycling pieces of news have appeared in the Cambridge News: "Fresh debate over safety of cycle helmets". It reports on a city Councillor - Colin Rosentiel hitting out at a "supposed 'ban' on riders without headgear being depicted in publicity in Cambridgeshire". It also refers to Research carried out by Dr Walker from Bath University's Department of Psychology. Apparently passing motorists are likely to get twice as close to a cyclist wearing a helmet. Apparently motorists avoid cyclists who look less competent by a greater margin - perhaps they are worried about getting their vehicles scratched. What it suggests is that wearing a helmet increases the probability of being in an accident with a motor vehicle.

The trouble is that Institutions form views - which then get, well, Institutionalised and as such become highly resistant to the evidence around the problem. I think that part of the reason is that Employers have a duty of care for their employees - this can quickly escalate to the point where almost anything can be considered dangerous. One case in point is the Post Office who appear to have asserted that posties on bikes violate health and safety regulations. The CTC are running a campaign to over-turn this weird decision. My cynical view is that decision (to stop posties cycling) is a method for bringing in changes to their employment contracts - this is a battle for control rather than cycling.

In previous Posts I have compared the issue of cycling safety with the dangers posed by stairs - yes just regular stairs. They pose a danger yet if I suggested we should wear helmets and padding or perhaps strap on a safety harness it would be seen as ridiculous. However, tragically people do die falling down stairs. A tragic case here in Cambridgeshire was reported in which a young "Party-goer died after falling on staircase". We cannot and should not attempt to make life so safe it gets in the way of life. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents - RoSPA - which might be expected to promote safety to a large degree than most supports the approach of "as safe as necessary, not as safe as possible". Life is both about risk and about personal freedoms. It should certainly not be about one group (motorists) forcing another group (cyclists) to wear helmets because of poor driving by those motorists - lets focus on cause and effect and reduce the root cause not just mitigate the effect. (Another way of saying let's treat the cause not the symptoms.) I have a cycle helmet and do wear it on appropriate occasions if you were wondering.

On my way back home I detoured to get a few extra kilometres (miles) in. At first I was not going to - there was a little bit of rain in the air and I even put on my fluorescent, waterproof and lightweight cycling jacket. However it was too hot to wear it whilst cycling and the rain never really started. My plan was to cycle out towards Marshall's Airfield and back around down Tins Path. As I was cycling through Midsummer Common there was a helicopter buzzing overhead. I could not get a good view of it but thought it might be a Police Helicopter, perhaps I have been watching too many programs about traffic police catching errant motorists recently.

When I caught up with the news it turned out to have been a Police chase - a robbery in Fordham resulted in a car chase into Cambridge where the suspects got caught up in the traffic jams and abandoned their car - but were caught by the spy in the sky. So if this ever makes it to one of those traffic police shows - look for a cyclist in a bright yellow jacket cycling along Midsummer Common.

I did have my camera with me, the small pocket one, fully charged up but I tend not to take as many pictures when I am on a work-cycling-commute. I did stop on the way over to the Airfield though. A week or so ago I took a picture of this path overgrown by stingles. Well is is clear now - what is slightly depressing is the fact that so much rubbish gets thrown into the undergrowth - and of course it re-surfaces when the verges are cut.


One of the things I like about cycling is exploring - imagine cycling up here for the first time - where will that tunnel of green lead to? Yes it could be wider and please can the bl**dy dog owners clear up after their pets. But my priority would be longer paths like this one please - paths that invite exploration.


One final news report "City leave the other Place in a spin over cycling race" - there has been a Cycling Challenge to encourage more people to cycle and Cambridge has encouraged more people than Oxford (the Other place). So perhaps I won't stand out so much if the Helicopter chase ever makes it on TV!

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