Cycling’s bogeyman

There was a bit of a monkey fight over the nascent Cycling Embassy of Great Britain recently thanks to an article by Carlton Reid on (since rebutted by Jim).  Given that the organisation in question has only had a preliminary meeting and has not even launched yet, I don’t think it’s worth responding to any of the speculation and fantasies that have been flying around.  But the episode revealed something fascinating about the way the minds of veteran British cycling campaigners work.

They are all constantly in a state of abject fear that cycling is just about to be banned.

I found it very difficult following all of the comment threads on and about the articles.  Cycling Embassy supporters kept being accused of wanting cyclists to be banned from the roads, but I could never trace the accusation back to anything relevant that the accused people had actually said.  And then I stumbled upon a fabulous forum thread that started with a very simple two sentence post, and it all fell into place:

‘Cycling Embassy of Great Britain’ have it VERY wrong
IMO. Their way will lead to cyclists being banned from Britain’s roads.

The Embassy folk and other onlookers were as baffled as I when it came to the origin of this “ban” theme in the comments.  But I now realise that many of our venerable vehicular cycling campaigners are thinking about cycling bans every second of the day.  Everything they see and do, the first question they ask themselves is: will this lead to cycling being banned in any way?  They can’t get out of bed in the morning without first contemplating what effect such an action might have on the likelihood of a cycling ban.

It’s difficult to blame them: you really do get the occasional powerful nutter who genuinely does do something to try to get cycling banned (and when it does happen, every cyclist I know, whatever their colours, will be there fighting them and mocking them).  The most widely known story in British cycling campaigning is the legend of Daniel Cadden, convicted of inconsiderate cycling because he rode on a Telford (horrible 1960s new town designed entirely around a network of fast driving routes) B-road, when he should, so the citation goes, have been riding on the inadequate (and, being British, presumably badly maintained) cycle path, that ran alongside.  By reaching a conviction, that case demonstrated an alarming combination of powerful people who agreed to ban cycling: the policeman, the CPS case handlers, and the judge.  Another example currently going around the cycling campaigns and forums is the man whose response to his son, while cycling on a Uttoxeter dual carriageway, having been killed by a texting trucker, is to call for cycling to be banned from the road.

But, with the help of the CTC’s legal fund, Daniel Cadden’s case was easily overturned in an appeal heard by a sensible judge, and even the Daily Mail called the original conviction bonkers and laughed at the judge in the case.  While there genuinely are a few people out there with the motivation and maybe even the power to get cycling banned, there is a massive force of cyclists that can easily be manoeuvred against them.

So vigilance against these occasional loonies is important.  The problem is that many of our more hardened cycling campaigners seem to be in a state far beyond vigilance: they are absolutely paralysed with fear, too afraid to do anything at all that might fix any of the massive problems faced by cyclists and would-be cyclists just in-case doing so might somehow trigger cycling to be banned in some way.  There are cycling forums out there that seem to be nothing more than an echo chamber for Chinese whisper re-tellings of the legend of Daniel Cadden.  And it all leads to the most spectacular absurdities, such as that anybody who thinks cyclists deserve proper infrastructure must be working for the car lobby.

Vigilant cycling campaigners are important.  The paranoid ones are safe to ignore.  If in conversation one raises at random the spectre of a cycling ban, you’re probably talking to the latter.