In case you missed it…

…I made a little video with the incoming chair of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, who you might also know as the author of As Easy As Riding A Bike

Full story here.

Collective punishment and the bottom half of the internet

Dawn Foster writes in the Guardian Bike Blog of the case of poor Emma Way, who tweeted about having driven dangerously, hit another road user, and fled the scene leaving that person in a hedge. Way has since apologised profusely for having tweeted, so that’s not what I intend to write about today. We should all forgive and forget the fact that she tweeted. I mean, all she did was send a tweet. It’s not like she almost killed someone, or anything.

No, the thing that stood out about Dawn’s article was the marvellous opening comment from “EGriff”:

Before you get too righteous, consider the cyclist on Moorgate last night who went through a red light at speed, across a pedestrian crossing on green, with people on it then turned right through another bunch of crossing pedestrians. That’s the sort of thing pedestrians and motorists see daily, which is why the sight of a cyclist raises their blood pressure.

EGriff makes the excellent point that before we get too righteous about a specific event of dangerous driving in which the perpetrator gave the appearance of absolute disregard for the victim of her actions or the seriousness of what she had done, we must first consider a completely different kind of event, entirely unconnected to it, involving completely different people, at a different time, in a different part of the country. The event EGriff asks us to consider is of course highly relevant because the perpetrator of the latter had chosen to use the same mode of transport as the victim of the former, making them practically the same person, and definitely responsible for each-other’s behaviour.

Unfortunately, EGriff’s comment, posted on a newspaper website, is rather undermined by the fact that a reader named lili posted the following comment on a different newspaper website a long time ago:

Incest is just another word for Love, why can’t people understand this and just let people be?

And by the comments of Donna from Bristol, who posted this two years ago. And Richard from Islington who expressed this sentiment. And hundreds of others.

Before EGriff gets too righteous, he or she needs to consider the sort of things that his fellow newspaper bottom-dwellers do every day. The sort hateful, racist, sexist, and just plain stupid comments that get posted. I can tell you, defending incest really doesn’t reflect very well on EGriff. It’s racist, homophobic and sexist comments like Donna’s and Richard’s that are the reason the sight of a newspaper commenter like EGriff raises my blood pressure.

And it seems that newspaper website commenters don’t even know what they want. Are they against pavement cycling or in favour of it? Make up your mind, newspaper commenters.

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But even leaving aside their disgusting hateful racism, frequent incitement to violence, and plain stupidity, newspaper commenters like EGriff are undermined rather by their excessive concern for pedestrians. I should mention that I myself on occasions enjoy a little perambulating (this country has some fine landscape gardens and towpaths that are a delight for a pedestrian), and it certainly sounds like the incident EGriff witnessed in Moorgate was a frightening and reprehensible crime, and I am sure that the City of London Police will give it all of the attention that it deserves. But before we pedestrians get too righteous, consider the junkie pedestrian in Brixton a few years ago who threatened me while I was waiting for the N3 night bus, or the sexist pedestrians who harassed Dawn in the street as she waited at the traffic lights. Muggings, attacks, and sexist abuse are the sort of thing that folk have to put up with from pedestrians daily, which is why the sight of pedestrians so often raises our blood pressure.

And how much can we really believe EGriff’s story about the cyclist on Moorgate? Did this really happen on the green phase of the traffic lights? Every time I try to make a journey from the office in South Kensington to Bloomsbury or the City, crossing Regents Street from Hannover to Great Marlborough Street, I encounter dozens of pedestrians stepping out into the road right in front of me as they ignore their red signal. Isn’t it more plausible that scofflaw pedestrians were jumping the lights at Moorgate that night? Presumably the cyclist would have been unaware of their presence — one sees so many pedestrians who are totally invisible, dressed all in black without even a hi-viz vest.

And every morning, as I head over Wandsworth Common to Battersea, I encounter dozens of pedestrians — dressed up in those silly “training shoes” and watching their pedometers, or whatever it is they do, oblivious to the world — walking down the middle of the cycle path, either scattering the other pedestrians at 12kmph, or else wobbling all over the place at 2kmph. Usually with those pet dogs that pedestrians have, running out of control all over the place. Isn’t it more plausible that the pedestrians on Moorgate were completely oblivious to the fact that they were doing their hiking in the middle of a road or cycleways?

I should reiterate that I am myself often a pedestrian — I even once pedestrianed up Mount Snowdon in my youth. But if pedestrians want their concerns to be taken seriously, they first need to get their own house in order. Until these hiker hooligans stop mugging people and allowing their dogs to foul the cycle path, it’s hardly surprising that folk are hostile to the demands that pedestrians make for our streets — streets which, lets remember, they do not pay for.

The same goes for bus users — of which, as I have already mentioned, and am keen to reiterate, I am very occasionally one myself. Until bus users stop playing their rap songs out loud on their mobile phones, how can they expect their calls for better bus services to be taken seriously? And as for railway train users and their demands for lower fares and £30b investment in new high-speed lines, well… the less said about railway users the better. Lets just say, railway users have a lot to make up for before they should expect that kind of investment.

EGriff is far from alone in recognising that people should be held collectively responsible for the actions of others who happen to use the same mode of transport as themselves. And it’s hardly a new idea. Indeed, it is not only in those newspaper comment threads that it is recognised that investment in a transport mode should be conditional on the way that users of the transport mode behave.

So it’s good to see cyclists themselves doing the right thing and taking responsibility for the behaviour of total strangers — as Christian Wolmar and the Campaign for Considerate Cycling do. It would surely be wrong for them to instead put their efforts into, say, ridiculing the principle of collective punishment as absurd and illegitimate, and mocking the newspaper bottom-dwellers and occasional Tory councillors who propose such a dangerous idea.

You can find a more constructive look at this issue, from a very different angle, at As Easy As Riding A Bike.

An armchair seaside safari

As usual, for those who missed out on the latest infrastructure safari, here it all is in an armchair edition that you can ride through in Google Maps in the unlikely event that you’ve got nothing better to do:

http://goo.gl/maps/oD2di

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Reminder: a seaside safari

Don’t forget folks, it’s only just over a week ’till our nice relaxing bicycle ride to the beaches of Weymouth and Portland. On the morning of Saturday 18th we’ll gather in Dorchester ready to follow the 12km (7.5 mile)  Olympic cycleway to the seaside, and then perhaps have a look at some of the other infrastructure in the town.

The original plan was to meet at Dorchester South station for the 11:52 arrival from Waterloo, but due to requests from those with connections, we’ll hang around just long enough (and not a second longer — we’ve a lunch at the seafront to get to!) for those on the 12:04 arrival to join the back of the pack as we set off. That’ll also give loads of time for those travelling from Bristol/Bath to make the short journey over from Dorchester West station.

If anyone arrives significantly earlier than the meeting time, they’ll probably find me just around the corner checking what’s on offer in the newly redeveloped brewery… perhaps not the new flats, though: even with the excellent advertising line they’ve taken, I’m not sure who’s going to be paying £1.25 million for a flat in Dorchester… I mean… Dorchester

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A seaside safari, again

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Back in August, Jim led a successful seaside safari in Worthing and Brighton, on which we looked at the good, the bad, and ugly bits of south coast infrastructure for cycling… while, of course, having a nice leisurely bicycle ride beside the beach in the sunshine.

Despite the latest easterly’s feeble attempts at bringing us one last delivery of snow and ice, it can not be too long before we have to start thinking again about days out on the south coast. I am therefore proposing a seaside safari to Britain’s sunniest town and original seaside holiday resort: Weymouth.

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Weymouth could be an interesting little case study for infrastructure: a somewhat smaller town than those we’ve visited on previous safaris, with the inter-urban Olympic cycle track on the main road into the town and, like Bristol, a growing network of away-from-road multi-user paths, including the Rodwell Trail railway path. It also has some infrastructure on hills.

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I’m proposing Saturday 18th May (while folk at the other end of the island are Pedalling on Parliament), meeting at Dorchester South at 11:52, for the (6 full-size bicycles per train) arrival from Waterloo. Folk travelling from or through Bristol would arrive five minutes earlier a couple of hundred yards away at Dorchester West. We’d spend an hour or two — depending on how fascinated everyone is by the infrastructure design — covering the 7.5 miles / 12 kms of mostly traffic-free route to the sea front for lunch, followed by options for further rides (probably the Rodwell Trail out to Portland Harbour and Chesil Beach), ending at a pub near to Weymouth station, or else the option for folk to split off for their own family afternoons with the Punch and Judy shows on the beach.

But that’s only if enough people express an interest. Is anybody interested?

Update: I have had sufficient interest here and on twitter/email/etc to give the go ahead exactly as described above. And cheap advance train tickets have just gone on sale today. If you want to reserve bicycle spaces with your ticket, I’d buy from the East Coast website. Though those with railcards (including the Network Card) might find that a flexible walkup ticket is not a bad deal on the weekend.

Condensing all this cycling stuff into eight minutes

On Wednesday afternoon I spent an hour chatting with Rachel Aldred at the University of Westminster. You might know Rachel from the likes of the Cycling Cultures research project, or from the London Cycling Campaign policy committee, for which she has just taken the chair, or from her blog.

We talked about the importance of researching cycling, Cycling Cultures, the “Get Britain Cycling” parliamentary inquiry, including what the barriers to cycling in Britain are and the infrastructural and systemic changes that are required to enable cycling, and about Rachel’s latest research into the uses and abuses of transport modelling. We also chatted about cycling campaigning: her research into it, and the great effect that the internet is having on it, plus her own work for the LCC.

Among other things, the ‘uhms’ and ‘ahs’ and ‘oh, no, lets do that bit agains’ and ‘who would have guessed radio could be difficult?s’ have been cut out, leaving eight minutes to be included in The Pod Delusion, broadcast in London at 11am tomorrow (Sunday) on Resonance 104.4, or else podcasted here. A longer half-hour cut which includes the campaigning chat should also be made available to download there, or here, or somewhere, at some point.

I fear eight minutes chat might not have been enough to discuss the entirety a topic that deserves to have a book written about it (agents and publishers can contact me on the email address in the about page if they’re looking for suggestions for the person to write it), and that we were perhaps talking a little too much to our already well-versed blog audiences rather than the general Pod Delusion audience. But if you liked it, I might consider leaving the comfort of the word processor behind again in the future.

That’s if I can find a way to get over that whole horror of hearing how your own voice really sounds thing.

“All that blogging has achieved is ‘Go Dutch’,” and other flattering criticisms

I had a most entertaining conversation after the Street Talks just past. I was ambushed by a cycling campaigner of the old school, for want of a better set of words. He helps to run a national club for cycling and cyclesport enthusiasts. You might have heard of them from their occasional forays into matters of transport policy.

This gentleman and I knew each other from previous transport policy discussions, and he was keen to pursue a particular pet issue of his — the idea that for “cyclists” to have political influence they must resolve their differences and present a united front. (Why that idea is wrong is not for this post.) Specifically, the conversation concerned whether there is any appetite amongst representatives of those campaigns which I have been involved in or support to have meetings with him and his own club, with the aim of resolving those differences and producing that united front.

I explained why I thought that any appetite was unlikely to be a large one, given our experience of such talking shops and our scepticism of that “united front” premise. The entertainment began when I suggested a far better method of achieving progress than small groups talking for a couple of hours behind closed doors (usually at length about the pet issues of whichever person can talk the longest and interrupt the most often): blogging. I hardly need to explain the merits of blogging to you. Writing is an excellent method of disciplining and clarifying thoughts and ideas, something that my brain is usually otherwise unable to do fast enough in flowing live discussion. Writing publicly doubly so, for if you are going to announce adherence to an idea in a form that attaches it to your name for all to see, potentially permanently, you make extra effort to ensure that it is not a foolish one. Blogging is primarily a means of motivating oneself to research a subject meticulously, and think the issues through thoroughly. But of course it’s much more besides. It’s a means of getting those ideas reviewed, by others who might bring facts that you missed and perspectives which were unavailable — a much wider, more diverse and more interesting group of others, in my experience, than the men (for it is they) who invite each other to discuss cycle campaigning behind closed doors.

These are, of course, just the same old centuries old processes by which ideas have been developed and spread. Blogging is simply the easiest technology with which to do it these days.

But you know all this.

This gentleman, however — this fan of monocultural behind-closed-doors cyclist talking shops — has his own ideas about what blogging is, and he started by stating very bluntly that he will never ever participate in such things, useful, as they are, only for “preaching to the converted” (show of hands who was converted by the revelations of the likes of A View From The Cycle Path. OK, order, settle down again now everybody).* All that bloggers have achieved, he said, is Go Dutch — “a failed campaign”.

I believe that the London Cycling Campaign perhaps deserve some share of this most flattering of put downs — this backhanded criticism, if you’ll allow such a phrase — but he is certainly right that the campaign would never have happened without David Hembrow and Copenhagenize having shown us what we are missing; without the years of Freewheeler chipping away at the misunderstandings and misinformation of the anti-infrastructuralists, and the received wisdom of British cycle campaigning; without i bike london and Cyclists In The City paving the way at Blackfriars Bridge, drumming up protest on a scale that clubs and campaigning organisations had been failing to do; and without Vole O’ Speed putting the case for the campaign to LCC members.

Those people and many more must each take their share of the blame for Go Dutch. They must take the blame for the most significant shift in the direction, ambition and courage of campaigning in more than half a century. They must take the blame for a coherent campaign with clear vision and simple attractive pitch. They must take the blame for a campaign that people actually thought worth campaigning for, even in the dreich and drizzle, in their thousands. They must take the blame for a protest with a cause that was capable of motivating and attracting more than just the same old crowd, including a healthier-than-usual turnout of women, families and older people. They must take the blame for full-page stories exploring their campaign goals in the Evening Standard and national newspapers. They must take the blame for all of the main mayoral candidates feeling the need to debate the issue in public, and for all of the main mayoral candidates pledging support for their demands. They must take the blame for the first signs of the TfL supertanker turning: for the latest “Cycle Superhighway” designs being a world apart from the earlier routes.

If Go Dutch is all that bloggers have achieved, then in a few short years bloggers have achieved something far more exciting, far more concrete, and far more worthwhile than his club has achieved in decades.

But Go Dutch is a failed campaign, apparently. Because Boris won’t have turned London into Amsterdam by the end of his term. Or something. Luckily, this man and his club have just launched their own campaign, for a “cycling utopia”. So we can all look forward to the great success of that.

I am being unfair. I am judging someone by the ideas they propose in the middle of flowing debate immediately after describing my own lack of comfort with this medium for developing ideas. But there is a point to all this. Go Dutch is an appealing and popular vision. In addition to the thousands of cyclist and would-be-cyclist  supporters it motivated, the LCC campaign marches in step with The Times’ and Cities Fit For Cycling; with the academic community; and with the likes of the Cycling Embassy and dozens of local campaign groups around the country. And here it is being criticised by a man who believes in the utmost necessity of cyclists presenting a united front. I wonder whether he or his club have ever thought to check who it is that’s marching out of step?

* I’ve never really understood “preaching to the converted” as a criticism anyway. The Pope preaches to the converted, and he’s way more influential than the bloke who shouts about salvation on the pavement outside Brixton tube. Preaching to the converted is what motivates the converted to action.