Stop, get angry and disrupt

Many people are retweeting and liking the Frankie Boyle piece on causing offence and free speech (and it is worth reading), basically arguing that we should just get over ourselves and have our own ideas rather than being spoon-fed by the entrenched media interests. If Peter Oborne’s resignation from the Telegraph tells us anything that we didn’t know about journalism and the mainstream news media, it’s that any news source should be read with the thought “why are they telling me this now?” rather than “oh, how terrible about “.

Meanwhile, I’ve finally got around to reading this article about why we’ve pretty much just stalled on technology, innovation, even politics, when compared to the 25 years after WW2. The author here is suggesting that we’re just coasting on minor incremental improvements, rather than generating genuine disruptions to the status quo.

It seems to me that the two perspectives are just two sides of the same coin – that we’ve got to a point that we’re just navel gazing and skipping from one release of a gizmo to the next, trying to find things to be angry about apart from the major issues that we just ignore because our minds can’t deal with them. “Go back to bed America, here’s 56 channels of American Gladiators.” – Bill Hicks.

We should be able to solve cancer, climate change, transport, power consumption, but we’re too busy playing candy crush and trying to be nice to everyone.

Or as Douglas Adams, still very much the sage of our age, put it, “Orbiting [the Sun] at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.”

That some of the best commentary about global affairs in 2015 can be summarised by rehashing comedy routines from writers who’ve been dead for decades is not ironic in the slightest.

Maybe we do just need another good global conflict to kickstart some real conversations and progress and, thanks to the party boys in the Kremlin, we might just be on our way.

We all deserve better

Another day, news of another fatality, the fifth in just nine days and another at Aldgate, on or near CS2. I’m genuinely speechless about this. I’m upset. I’m angry. I’m frustrated.

It doesn’t have to be like this, but the hollow promises of the ‘Go Dutch’ and similar campaigns cannot be allowed to continue.

For years I’ve laughed off talk from friends and family of the dangers of cycling; I’ve always thought of myself as road aware, decently savvy on the streets, that the thousands of miles I do annually, the tens of thousands of miles I’ve cycled on London’s roads over the last couple of decades have given me a few extra senses. To a significant extent, that’s true. I’ve had many close calls but very few collisions, the last time I had unintended physical contact while riding – with the road or another vehicle – was several years ago and even that was a minicab running a red light, so I’m especially conscious of those complaining about the ubiquitous red-light-jumping cyclist.

We can generally ignore the inane witterings of Rod Liddle, most reasonable thinking people see cycle commuting in London for what it is – just ordinary people trying to get to work.

For me madness is being crammed like sardines into the tin cans of tubes and trains when there’s (mostly) fresh air and exercise to be had on your bike. It’s cheap, it’s quick, it doesn’t contribute to the crap air quality of London, it frees up space on public transport

The roads might not have been built for cars in the beginning, but they have certainly been redesigned for them in recent decades. Our 21st century road system is increasingly unfit for its cycling purpose.

There are junctions in London right now, like Blackfriars Bridge, where the majority of rush-hour traffic are bikes. Why are HGVs even allowed there at the same time? We need segregation at major junctions, not being asked to dodge 3 lanes of motorised traffic so we can turn right, not having to share what provisions we do have with illegal motorbikes. I’m sure the HGV drivers don’t like the bikes swarming around where they can’t see them, either.

I’m off to make another donation to RoadPeace and to apparently count myself lucky that I made it to work in one piece again.

If five pedestrians had been killed in the last nine days there’d be questions in parliament and front page headlines, special programmes on the TV. But because it’s the roads, the carnage out there is just something we’re expected to tolerate and put up with.

This isn’t about red light jumping, whether to wear helmets and hi-viz jackets, or some smug sense of middle aged lycra clad entitlement. This is just about making London – and the UK – more pleasant places to exist. A city choked by motor vehicles where the inhabitants travel around feeling physically intimidated and consistently let down by the elected (and unelected) powers that be.

Cyclists deserve better. London deserves better. We all deserve better.

The reality of “cycle superhighways”

The reality is that cyclists have to look out for themselves. As Danny points out:

[we] need to keep tipper trucks and people on bikes apart from each other.

It’s more than just tipper trucks, though. Look at this footage and count the number of tourist buses, in the rush hour, in a bus lane, on top of the cycle lane, with no one on board.

To Tfl, the Mayor and Londoners, cycle provision means a little bit of blue paint:

This, to me, does not mean safe. This is not a stretch of road I want my kids cycling down on their way to school.

Casual Prejudices

After yesterday’s news of Margaret Thatcher’s death and the inevitable programmes and news articles reminiscing about her time in office and the conditions in the UK that led to her election in 1979, it occurred to me on my ride into work this morning that there are still places where the 1970s exists.

I don’t mean avocado bathroom suites, orange juice as a starter, kipper ties, the Bay City Rollers and the trades unions dictating the political agenda but in the casual way discrimination was so much a part of every day life that most people didn’t even notice it. Be it racism, sexism, he’s-not-from-around-here or just not trusting any Irish voice, there were countless ways that not being a white man born within a few miles of the spot you were standing really did impact on your existence because you were different and that matters.

We still see that on our roads on a daily basis.

The casual way cars turn left across bikes with barely a glance. The way motorbikes fill the Advanced Stop Zones with many of them not even aware that they’re committing an offence (or, more likely, they know they are, yet are doing it anyway). Moped in the ASZ The relaxed attitude with which lorry owners treat the safety of other road users. The unfathomable leniency that the law extends to drivers who kill and maim, in spite of the rules which they’ve transgressed. The canards from white van man about paying road tax.

I’m struck with the parallels to Apartheid in South Africa: the natives (cyclists) were suddenly invaded by outsiders (vehicles), who rapidly decided to make rules that were previously unnecessary (e.g. traffic lights, one-way streets), quickly deciding that the best land should be solely theirs (explicitly with dual carriageways, implicitly with many town centres) consigning the original inhabitants to shanty towns and the worse land (circuitous ‘cycle routes’, crap cycle facilities and acres of ‘cyclist dismount’ signs), meeting resistance with officially sanctioned violence (for all the deaths on the roads, very few result in genuine punishments).

In yesteryear, we knew that the South African way was wrong, but the politics of those times took a very long time to catch up with popular opinion. But times have changed in southern Africa and times are changing on our roads.

While I was pondering on this post I listened to the first episode in the new season of The Bike Show on London’s excellent Resonance FM. (The podcast is available here.)

Jack Thurston, the host, gets the wider meaning of cycling, but he also gets people to talk in meaningful ways – and his interview with Cynthia Barlow and Bill Chidgey was another example. Both long term campaigners, the former lost her daughter to a lorry and the latter was a cycle courier who has seen too many colleagues die on London’s roads.

Please, go listen to the episode, (and then go donate to Roadpeace) but I was struck in particular by the point made about the Health and Safety Executive. Lorries, in particular around construction sites, are subject to many rules and safety requirements when on site. But as soon as they’re off site, bang, normal laws apply and suddenly the rest of the users of the road are open season.

Our roads are not fit for purpose, our 21st Century discrimination should not be allowed to continue.

Sticking up for the vulnerable road user

When bloggers aren’t ranting, they’re apologising for breaks in transmission. Quite a break.

I’d been meaning to mention the early day motion EDM 407 for a while and the other day, after reading this, I finally wrote the following to my MP:

Dear Stephen Hammond,

As one of your constituents who cycles, I am wondering if you are planning on supporting EDM 407? It attempts to raise the profile of victims of road accidents, in particular, that cyclists are often not given enough support by the justice system.

I would be interested in your opinions on the related concept of ‘strict liability’, where vulnerable road users are automatically considered the innocent party unless it can be proven otherwise. Obviously there are numerous road users, whether cyclists, pedestrians or motorists, who flagrantly disobey various traffic laws and the Highway Code on a daily basis, but the majority are law abiding. For every uninsured, speeding motorist, red light jumping cyclist or headphone-wearing pedestrian crossing the road without looking, there are many more normal people just going about their day.

Over 80 cyclists have been killed on Britain’s roads this year. If a terrorist group had been that ‘successful’ the country would be in uproar.

I’ve cycled nearly 5000 miles in the last year (and driven a similar amount) and I can assure you that the UK’s roads are not fit for purpose. To many times cyclists and motor vehicles are forced together: many cycle lanes just disappear moments before a junction, in shared bus lanes motorbikes zoom past a few inches from your ear and every advanced stop zone is so full of mopeds that cyclists can rarely get a look in.

Cycling is cheap, convenient and healthy, but when my wife would rather drive the half mile to the butchers on Leopold Road rather than take one of our our young children on the back of a bike because of the danger, it has got to change.

I want my children to be able to cycle safely in London – to go to school by bike, to think that cycling is normal, to not have to be driven everywhere and contribute to the problem.

The current situation is untenable and successive governments have failed us all. The roads are crammed with cars – either parked or in queues – because most people can’t imagine an alternative. They would rather get in their car and exacerbate the problem than risk their life and the lives of their children on the roads of Wimbledon, Merton, London and the rest of the UK.

Yours sincerely,

See you next year, probably.

Life in the slow lane

For a couple of mechanical reasons I had cause to travel a little slower this morning, nothing too major, I just wanted to be able to stop more steadily (a small bulge in my front tyre and a desire not to clip it with the front brake blocks mainly).

So I was taking things a little more leisurely, cutting a few mph off my cruising speed and letting the speed fall a little earlier approaching junctions and hazards. Life in the slow lane, if you will, and it’s a different place! Normally I bash along passing most people, grappling with the burn from the lights and generally mixing it with the cool fast kids at the front (beating more than I lose to, natch – there aren’t many non-RLJs who’ll stay ahead of me 🙂

The manners back there were awful. Now, I’m not perfect, but when I get to some lights, I won’t queue jump. I might go to the outside, but I won’t go around and then push in, or go up the inside (or go on to the pavement). On the plus side, at least people were stopping, but the manners at the lights just seemed so much worse to me today. I was cut up and undertaken way more than I would consider polite. Maybe some of it was that I will have been taking my normal (fairly aggressive) road position and wasn’t necessarily then punching my weight, but that didn’t excuse all of it.

Well, maybe it’s about seeing the world from a different viewpoint, walking a mile in another man’s shoes (which is always a good idea, because if you realise that he was right, he’s a mile away. And you have his shoes.) I’m sure that the minor infractions that other user groups complain about cyclists is because we can, but that’s a reason, not an excuse. Just because you can do something doesn’t always mean you should.

Reclaiming the Road Space

Last year, TfL launched an experimental scheme to extend the ability of motorbikes to use bus lanes. In other news a few months ago the industrious James Randerson of the Guardian managed to unearth a few facts about Advanced Stop Lines (ASLs), basically after much digging he discovered that actually, yes, it is a fixed penalty for deliberate flouting of them.

Together with the eye-wateringly blue cycle superhighways, which many cabbies, motor cyclists and assorted other ne’er’do’wells assume that cyclists MUST use, London’s roads are becoming increasingly confusing; who is allowed to be where, when and who’ll you’ll be sharing the space with when you get there.

The cycle lanes are particularly open to misinterpretation: parked cars, mopeds, motorbikes, the unwitting and the deliberate. You might forgive the poor motorcyclist, they’ve been let into bus lanes (which are normally also cycle lanes), so they assume (incorrectly) that now all cycle lanes are open to them too. It seems like every day I’m being overtaken on the inside by a motorcyclist along CS7 – and when I’ve pointed out the dangers, almost exclusively the responses are that they believe they’re allowed to be there (normally in fewer words).

iBikeLondon is advocating cyclists reclaim the ASL box. That doesn’t go far enough; we need to reclaim the cycle lanes, too. But as the cyclists in the city point out, all this is highlighting the conflict that marrs our roads: we’re just none of us very good at sharing.

London just isn’t very good at going beyond some PR fluff and spin. The boris bikes have helped get a few more non-specialists out there, but as the nights (and mornings) draw in, the roads will return to their more natural state of being populated by the generally more hardy, experienced and, dare I say it, more militant cyclist. If you’re out there week-in, week-out, rain and shine, cold winter dark mornings and balmy summer evenings, you’re less likely to put up with grockles invading your space.

Fighting back doesn’t really help anyone, but where’s the balance between deliberate obstruction (e.g. Critical Mass) and meekly submitting to being weaker and happy with it? The police shouldn’t be needed to enforce every last nuance of the traffic rule book, we should be adult enough to work these things out but when everyone’s rushing about, desperately trying to make it through the lights, being higher and mightier than thou (we are all each individually right, after all, it goes without saying that you, as the other guy, are implicitly wrong).