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.

Weekly War Bulletin, 14 Aug

A slightly delayed one, as I just caught up with the newsfeeds after returning from Beijing — of which more later this week.

The justice system’s response to killing somebody by driving a car over the speed limit in a residential area as an unsupervised learner driver?  Eight weeks curfew and £85 legal costs.  A curfew.

It’s alright, though.  A car insurance company tells us that all our transport problems can be solved if everyone on the roads just shows each other a bit of respect.

The Chief of Cambridgeshire Police agrees: driving offences are the middle classes’ anti-social behaviour of choice.  I propose reforming the legal treatment of anti-social driving such that motoring offences come with a simple easy to assign ASBO that indefinitely bans the Motorist from going within one mile of a motor vehicle.

But the hundreds of pedestrians killed by cars?  Pffft.  They were probably listening to iPods, so they’ve really only got themselves to blame, shows research by Motorist lobby group.

Anti-social Motorists caught by the dwindling traps are electing to sit through re-education programmes to save themselves from points.  But the ultimate natural alternative traffic calming has now been discovered: carefully positioned trees.

I have no interest in cycling as a competitive sport, and apparently a competitive sportsman cyclist who I’m informed is accomplished in the field has no interest in cycling outside of the velodrome, preferring to race around in his jag without looking where he’s going.

More farce on the tube as failure to follow safety procedures leads to a runaway engineering train chasing panicked passenger trains for four miles.  And boss Peter Hendy jokes that tube staff haven’t got enough to do: ho ho ho, look at you all, nothing to do, he he, I may as well have you all fired.  Hah.

With record passenger numbers, Heathrow is clearly full: the T3 drop-off had a 5-car crash.

Spoilt brats play smash the toys in Knightsbridge; charged with dangerous driving.  It’s alright, just a bit of fun, don’t worry, we’ll pay somebody to clear up afterwards.

Allegedly more people are cycling.  Or they’re cycling a tiny bit further.  Or they’re buying new bikes, at least.  The CTC are celebrating this historic victory.

Where have all the hire bicycles gone?  Try this map.

Careful with these hire bikes, though.  After they arrived in Denver, the Republican candidate for state governor uncovered the bikes’ role in an internationalist anti-American plot.

Posh South Bank restaurants want riff-raff on bikes banned from the riverside.

While the train operating companies want to know if you’d be interested in hiring a bike from their stations…

There’s a bug in the oyster system: TfL don’t seem to have worked out quite why it’s double charging some customers when they top up — and don’t seem all that bothered about finding out.

Finally, while I’d usually hate anything that came out of a marketing department on principle, I’ve been suckered into giving free marketing to the creators of this ad.  Your moment of zen…