Thursday, December 6, 2012

Cyclists–good or bad citizens?

Now that is a rhetorical question – but I recognise that society has its share of good and bad people – indeed they cover the spectrum from very good to very bad.

We humans are also prone to categorising groups because they share some common trait and then assuming that all members of that group share all sorts of other traits because some do it.  What do I mean, well there is a common cry that cyclists jump red lights – therefore all cyclists jump red lights lodges in people’s minds as a truth.

What has brought on this chain of thought – well the BBC One program War on Britain’s Road. A program purporting to offer a new perspective of Life on Britain’s roads – a view from the cycle helmet camera. (Here are some video excerpts on the Guardian site). I watched it with my wire and son’s girlfriend, neither cycle much, although my wife used to and we did honeymoon in Holland umpty years ago with bicycles, car and tent.

My overall assessment of the TV program was that it “must try much harder next time (if there is a next time)”. The perceptions of the non-cyclists (wife and son’s girlfriend) was that there really are some dangerous idiots out there driving motor vehicles – cycling is not safe. To be safe there need to be better and more dedicated segregated cycle paths – like in Holland (of umpty years ago said my wife). (Not the sort that are shared and interrupted by drives and turnings – they were considered dangerous – perhaps coloured by the fact that we know a couple of cyclists who have been in collisions with cars at one of  those interruptions.

So despite the fact that cycling has health benefits and the benefits outweigh the risks (substantially), and is safe for kids – there is a real perception that it is dangerous. The two people I watched the program with were horrified by the wanton disregard demonstrated by motorists for cyclists and their rights. The program seemed to exacerbate the perceptions of the dangers on the roads for cyclists in the minds of the two non cyclists.

Is that really what the BBC is set up to do – entertainment above education? It seems that others also share this view (Independent newspaper article) . Why indulge in scare-mongering? why depict the situation as a war on Britain's roads? 

The only person that came out of the program with real credit was the lady (Cynthia Barlow) who tragically lost her daughter in an accident with a cement lorry. She campaigned for change and the company (or its successor) responded and changed.  Actually I rather liked the cop on his bicycle – that’s a job I’d like – whistling my way through London at all transgressors. The guy who videoed stuff and then left a card so the transgressors could see it once it had been uploaded was ok as well Magnatom also came across as having a more reasoned view.

I should say though, that although I found the program frustrating and annoying the two non-cyclists I watched it with both had their eyes opened – so maybe it will start more sensible conversations.

If I am honest i would also have to say that the first cyclist whose footage was used did not really help – he came across as somewhat arrogant. Whenever we saw any red-light jumpers the conversation turned to Hills Road where apparently there are lots of RLJ cyclists. The program did not mention the data gathered on the subject in London that shows that the vast majority of cyclists at the places surveyed did not jump the lights. Why let the facts get in the way of a good story.  Near the end of the program they also showed a sequence of cyclists racing on the roads with a complete disregard for the law – why didn’t they show some motorists also racing illegally. They also didn’t refer to the source – why not. Would that have wakened the story.

There was also no mention of the fact that the potential danger when in a collision with a bicycle is much less, due to the lower speeds and lower mass.

Only in Cambridge – The cycle that defied authority

Finally one last bugbear of mine – there seems to be an arbitrary approach to making pavements shared use for cyclists and pedestrians. So I was disappointed to see that a cyclist was taken to court for riding on a pavement. It would seem there was ambiguity about where a shared-use path ended.  In a bit of “doublespeak” Cambridgeshire County Council were quoted as saying:

“Shared use footpaths are clearly marked and our advice to cyclists would be that unless the footpath is clearly signed as such they should not use it as a cycleway.”

Urr – but they ain’t always clearly marked and how long do you wait before you consider a path no longer clearly marked – get off your arses and sort out the marking please CCC.

Clearly marked shared-use path NCN51 heading into Bottisham

Very narrow shared-use pavement
NCN51 between Bottisham and Swaffham Bulbeck

Now I know that I am as bad sometimes with my links to selected headlines – Salesman did 104mph but escapes driving ban.  However as I cycle about my business I really do not feel above the law and take no  comfort for the response that such articles can lead to – I find the article menacing.

Roll on the “no death” car  (if it really works)– let’s hope it will leave the car locked if any passenger has been consumed with road rage.

I still think that the problem is that many motorists are frightened by the idea that motor vehicles have a huge anti-social element to them. They burn money, they kill and injure people and they pollute the air. It is estimated that 4,300 die each year as a result of nitrogen dioxide pollution. Although climate change seems to be in dispute in Cmabrideg

If it was really a war then the casualties are pretty much all caused by the motorists – with significant numbers being self-inflicted.

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