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.

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11 responses to “Collective punishment and the bottom half of the internet

  1. 3rdWorldCyclinginGB

    The Foster artilcle was posted at 12.25 pm. EGriff’s comment at 12.37 pm. The speed suggests they are just another sad, poorly-skilled, wannabe troll, searching the web for a magic word like “cyclist” (or maybe “Emma Way” in this case) to appear so they can post their inane and ignorant stock phrases to put the boot into a vulnerable group without saying anything constructive. It’s pathetic.

  2. Brilliant post!

  3. Its true – it seems that the actions of a single cyclist are taken as representative of *all* cyclists. This doesn’t seem true for other groups, and I wonder why it is. As you rightly point out, it wouldn’t be considered relevant to report that a burglar was “on foot, wearing trainers” as if that was somehow tarring all wearers of trainers, and yet the fact that a criminal was on a bike is reported as if it is just adding to theie ***eeevil**** nature.

  4. I think this is largely a function of numbers. That, plus power. Minorities or those with less power are generally held to be collectively responsible for things in a way that majorities or powerful groups (the two are sometimes the same, though not always) are not.

    Groups with power are all individuals, groups of less powerful people are generally seen as being interchangeable with each other.

    Incidentally, as someone who was a pedestrian for decades before becoming a ‘cyclist’ (yet still a pedestrian) I must have missed the meeting where all us pedestrians elected EGriff to speak for us (and also the one where we agreed to merge with the motorists to form a single body – when did that happen and why wasn’t I told? Am I not on a mailing list somewhere?).

  5. Stuart Helmer

    Massive heh. I was involved in a frank exchange of views with EGriff under that same article. He or she is an utter moron.

  6. Mike Chalkley

    Last night’s Bournemouth Cycle Forum spent 10 minutes discussing one letter of complaint from a tourist who saw someone riding recklessly across Bournemouth Square. The forum drafted a response stating it was not supportive of careless cycling. I did ask if I wrote to the transport planning dept complaining about a careless driver I would get the same response.

  7. The problem I have with your post is that actually, up to a point, I do think that members of a class of road users should indeed be held responsible for what members of that class in general tend to get up to. It’s just that I’m thinking of motorists.

    After all, they have chosen a form of transport where, at some level, they know that they pose a threat to others far greater than that of cyclists.
    Their 3rd party insurances are far, far higher than those that members of LCC, CTC or BC have (not that you should have to have 3rd party for cycling, it’s just an indication of the potential damage actuaries assess); they wear seat belts and use other “safety” devices because they think they or their fellow motorists are going to be responsible for getting into crashes, most of them admit to breaking the law on speed, etc., etc. And if they are not aware of this level of potential (or actual) violence – well, they should be.
    And I am not even talking about pollution, congestion, damage to local and global environments, just the rule and law breaking.

    Once motorists can accept responsibility for what members of their group do and agree to some kind of genuine accountability and control of the threats they pose to others, then we can have a talk about rule breaking by pedestrians and cyclists (and pogo stick users for that matter). Until then, frankly, there is no conversation.

    Apart from that, excellent post.

  8. While I assume your comments about pedestrians are intended to be facetious, there is in fact a serious point to be made about pedestrian and cyclist interactions, and pedestrian casualties in general.

    A while ago I asked the City of London Police for their stats on injuries (all levels) to pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists, following a remark minuted in a City Police Community Liaison meeting with the residents around the Barbican area. The remark was along the lines that 28% of all pedestrian injuries in the City were caused by cyclists.

    The stats showed, unsurprisingly, that this was completely untrue – just some old fart sounding off – and in fact the number was around 5% – 15 out of about 320 in a three year period were considered by CoLP to be the responsibility of the cyclist. Out of a closely similar number of cyclist injuries, 20 were considered by CoLP to be the “fault” of pedestrians, stepping out unexpectedly into the street. In other words, pedestrians were more danger to cyclists than vice versa.

    The same data showed that, in CoLP’s view, about two thirds of all pedestrian injuries were down to the pedestrian’s own actions, a small number of cases being inebriation by drink or drugs but mainly inattention, largely due to phoning/texting while walking. I’ll refrain from moral judgements here, eg the motorist should take more responsibility for the lethal weapon they are wielding, because there is a valid point here about inattentiveness which cearly afflicts all mode-users, whether it is dangerous only for themselves or for others as well. (Of course, the stats mainly showed that the principal cause of injury to cyclists and motorcyclists, and to the other third of pedestrians, was actions by motorists. Pedal and motor-cyclists were each “responsible” for about a quarter of their own injuries, and virtually none of each others’, leaving over two thirds put down to motorists)

    I understand that Westminster Council has done a similar analysis quite recently which made a story in the Standard. From what was reported in the article, the profile in Westminster is very similar to what the CoLP found – not surprisingly, I guess.

  9. Pingback: Leeds welcomes careful drivers. | Life and bicycles in the….

  10. I think we have to be careful about dismissing any criticism of the riding habits of any cyclists. This does not mean that we have to go round in sackcloth and ashes, flagellating ourselves, but that an admission that some cyclists do occasionally ride in an antisocial or dangerous fashion would at least refute the anti cycling lobby’s view that all cyclists are arrogant, law breakers.
    Having said that, I agree that it is absurd to link the behaviour of a small minority of any class of road users together.

    Having

  11. EGriff is a notorious troll on the Guardian comments. Pretty sure he/she has got a google news alert set up for the Guardian website to email him whenever an article appears with cyclist / cycling or various other keywords appears

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