Sunday, January 19, 2014

The last Pumpkins of 2013

I still strongly believe in the benefits of cycling at a personal, social and economic level.  But because I have been writing fewer posts although I still read other blogs and news items I have not written about the iniquities that puts off people wanting to cycle.

Crap shared-use paths  and drivers who believe that cyclists must use such crap facilities are two things that I reckon put people off from cycling. Why do some drivers feel such a high level of entitlement to the road?  I reckon that part of the problem is the way we use money.

Somehow or other people with lots of it are looked up to, regardless of their morals or behaviour or actual contribution to society. It is a bit like the idea that in a neighbourhood a flash car is a sign of status.  We have to keep up with the Joneses.  I guess it is one aspect of human nature. However as humans we have also created the abstract concept of money as a way of enabling co-operation in society. Having money (and the converse) has become a proxy for our social standing.

The extension of the idea of the ownership of money is that we reward people with the gift of money and punish people by taking it way (by way of fines). The latter approach is done in the hope that it might change and individual’s behaviour or put off other individuals from behaving in the same way.

Some might also say that fines are a way of compensating society for the wrong that has been done – with others seeing such fines as a tax. The idea of using a fine to “punish” not just bad behaviour but also failure extends the concept further. So we now see reports like this one – “East of England Ambulance Service fined £2m for failing to meet response times”.  Which seems kind of mad – why do we think that the best thing to do with a failing organisation is to take away some of the money that it needs to run.  I wonder out of what budget does the money get taken – the individual’s that run the organisation or the “rank and file” who are probably struggling already because of the “mismanagement”?

This is reminds me of the approach you see where a parent threatens a crying child by saying “if you don’t stop crying I’ll give you something to cry about”. Conversely we also have organisation such as Motability where the CEO is reported to have been paid about £850,000 in pay and perks – he must be doing an excellent job then. Although this seems to be a public funded body with a well-defined role so are such rewards appropriate.

I guess that part of the problem is that fines are easy to implement, even if they don’t make much sense. Here in Cambridge there has been a crackdown on cyclists. Why? well it would seem because that is what Sir Graham Bright our PCC wants. The interesting thing about having an elected PCC to oversee the Police is that he seems to feel less accountable to the elected councillors. Mind you the Cambs Councillors are trying to redress the balance (see the comments).

So it would seem that we end up with a populist approach to crack down on “rogue Cambridge cyclists” or “danger” cyclists. Judging from the report the emphasis is on numbers rather that real safety issues. With statements like “1,000 cyclists were caught without light in the city”. Now don’t get me wrong I don’t particularly like encountering cyclists without lights – whether driving or cycling. But the more fundamental question of how dangerous is it really needs to be asked. Yes cyclists should obey the law, as should all of us in all walks of life. But many drivers conveniently forget that the speeding laws in the UK have been modified by a private body ACPO.  We have speed limits and then we have  ACPO Speed Enforcement Policy Guidelines.  Which add a significant leeway (in my view) to the legal limits.

Now, to be fair, in Cambridge there is a scheme called Lights instead of Tickets which does seem to be a more effective way of getting cyclists to change their behaviour. The same more “enlightened” approach does not seem to be in place for cyclists “caught” on pavements.    Yet official guidelines show that cyclists on pavements because of  “fear of traffic” should not be fined.  The if you consider that many cycle routes are in fact shared-use and sub-standard (DOT Guidelines  October 2008). I have also found that the signage that is supposed to indicate shared-use paths is not well maintained in Cambridgeshire and neither can you easily find such information on maps/Council websites.

I reckon I know the cycle routes around parts of Cambridge pretty well and the signage of the shared-use paths has confused me.

However I reckon what really matters is what is the real level of danger created.  The CTC provide some data here – Cycling and pedestrians.  In the period from 2003-2012 23 pedestrians were killed by CYCLE and 585 injured by CYCLE, whereas 4,917 pedestrians were killed by all vehicles and 56,515 pedestrians were seriously injured by all vehicles. So 1% of all pedestrians killed or seriously injured were caused by a cycle. So the question is whether we are using the right level of police resources to target cyclists and motor vehicles?  Are we getting value for money in saving human life/suffering by cycling crackdowns?

Interestingly motorists often talk about cyclists not being above the law of the land – and indeed I agree. I would like to see a change in cyclists behaviour, but I would prefer to see a reduction in road casualties even more.  This article in the DM seems to pain cyclists as the villains of the peace – “More than 11,000 cyclists caught running through red lights and riding on pavements in just one year”.

Yet the DM pains a picture of hard-done by motorists when it comes to the Police taking a tougher stance on tailgating or hogging the middle lane. The same article indicates that 12,000,000 motorists (29%) admit hogging the middle lane.  In 2012, apparently 48,000 drivers appeared before magistrates for breaking the speed limit. But the speed limit is not the speed limit because of the ACPO guidelines, certainly the level at which a motorist would appear in front of a magistrate.

The world is changing – yet we seem unable to see cars in anything other than a most favoured transport light. They create noise and pollution, they congest city centres, they take up valuable land space for roads and parking. At the same time we are worried about an Obesity epidemic on the UK. Yet our approach – crackdowns on cyclists, poor cycling infrastructure.  We need to see cycle transport as the solution not the problem.  Well after getting that off my chest the last of my 2013 pictures – apart from one.

Sugar beet is an important crop – here is an introduction to Sugar Beet. Whilst looking for that link I found this – Farming Life in the Fens – how it used to be.

Sugar Beet Clamp – Factory Road
Long shadows

Pumpkin Cannibalism – Swaffham Prior

My Pumpkin 2013

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