Be nice to the ASA

I am sure that if you have not already, you will soon be reading an account of the Advertising Standards Authority’s embarrassing adjudication on complaints made about Scotland’s “Nice Way Code” series of “won’t everyone just play nice on the roads?” adverts. Briefly, of all the things that the ASA could have picked up on in the Nice Way Code, the offending footage ruled to be irresponsible by the ASA are (a) showing a roughly realistic proportion of people riding bikes with and without helmets, and (b) showing somebody riding a bicycle more than 0.5 metres from the side of the road. Other people will give you the full story.

I’m not an expert on advertising regulation, but I guess the first ruling sets a precedent against any future advertising featuring helmetless cycling. Things like TfL’s Catch Up With The Bicycle campaign. A depressing but not entirely unpredictable result of the lazy fact-free assumption on helmets that seems to have put down deep roots in this country (and started growing the fearsome thorns of shouty emotional anecdote). The second ruling is the more interesting and hilarious of the two. This one effectively precludes any future advertising of the standard long-established government guidance on road positioning, as taught in the official “Bikeability” cycling proficiency training. Like the advertising TfL and the DfT (under the Think! brand) are currently running on buses and billboards in London and several other English cities. But again, others will have more time than me to explore the amusing implications of the decision.

No, I only really popped into the discussion to say one thing, in the spirit of the Nice Way Code: be nice.

Obviously someone at the ASA has made a spectacular cockup, and they deserve a day’s mockery and ridicule for such an achingly absurd, side-splittingly ludicrous joke of an assessment.

But, occasional slapstick stupidity aside, I’m sure the ASA are not bad people.

Clearly some junior adjudicator got out of his or her depth, read one document they didn’t entirely understand, and remained ignorant of the actual relevant research and guidance in the field. Sure, there should have been processes in place to prevent errors of such a preposterous magnitude from ever getting so far as publication, but I have no doubt that with the blunder now evident to all, the ASA will be working fast to fix the mistake, and will ensure all is put right before the DfT and TfL are forced to put their adverts on hold while more time and money is wasted formally challenging it.

I’m sure they’re good people, and I’m sure they’ll have this one under control in no time. So be nice to them.

By all means clog up their system with satirical reports intended to mock, and with serious test cases designed to force contradictions, but do be nice.

That’s the Nice Way Code, after all.

John Forester is an asshole

Despite journalists who talk of a cycling “community”, and those beneath them in the bottom half of the internet talking of cyclists and all the evil things that cyclists do, people who use bicycles are a diverse bunch with diverse styles and, as is frequently demonstrated, diverse opinions. But I hope there is one thing on which British cyclists might be able to agree.

John Forester says of The Times Cities Fit For Cycling campaign:

The whole agenda is nothing more than a mix of half-baked ideas. … Consider the emphasis on HGVs. Fit them up to prevent “cyclists from being thrown under the wheels”.

Well, the exact approach to dealing with trucks was an issue we raised with the The Times at the Street Talks brainstorming session. On entirely friendly terms, of course, and all are agreed that there were problems with trucks to solve — they are, after all, a disproportionate source of danger and contributor to the barriers to cycling. Where I think Forester can unite us is in what he says next:

Crazy, who or what is it that reaches out and throws cyclists under the wheels of HGVs? While I don’t know the statistics from detailed studies, and apparently nobody knows, I suggest that the main problem is that cyclists throw themselves under the wheels of such vehicles during turning movements.

Well the Americans might not know much about the problem with trucks, but we know plenty, both from reviews like Morgan et al, and from the cases which make all too frequent headlines.

via Crap Cycling and Walking in Waltham Forest

Eilidh Cairns, an experienced commuter cyclist, was killed in February 2009, when a tipper truck driven by Joao Lopes ploughed over her from behind. Lopes was fined £200 for driving with defective vision, but the death was ruled “accidental” and he was free to kill again.

Catriona Patel, an experienced commuter cyclist, was killed in the Monday morning rush hour in June 2009. Pulling away from the Advanced Stop Line as the lights turned green outside Oval Station, a 32-tonne tipper lorry driven by Dennis Putz accelerated into her. Witnesses had to bang on the side of the truck before the oblivious Putz stopped. Putz was a serial dangerous driver, was hung-over — 40% over the limit — and talking on his mobile phone. He denied a charge of causing death by dangerous driving, but was sentenced to 7 years for it.

Brian Dorling, an experienced commuter cyclist and motorcyclist, was killed in the morning rush hour in October last year. A tipper truck turned across his path at the Bow Intersection. They had to use his dental records to identify him.

Deep Lee was struck by a lorry from behind as the lights turned green; Svitlana Tereschenko was killed by a tipper truck whose distracted driver failed to indicate before turning and driving over her. Daniel Cox was run over by a truck which did not have the correct mirrors and whose driver had pulled into the ASL on a red light and was indicating in the opposite direction to which he turned.

Try telling Ian McNicoll that his son Andrew, well versed in cyclecraft as a road and commuter cyclist, should have known better than to throw himself under the wheels of the articulated lorry that side-swiped while overtaking him in Edinburgh. Try telling Debbie Dorling that her cycle and motorcycle-trained husband should have behaved differently at Bow. Try telling Allister Carey that the death of his daughter Eleanor under the wheels of a lorry in Tower Bridge Road was her own fault.

The cycling “community” in this country might not always agree about the most appropriate or desirable method for reducing exposure to danger and its role as a barrier to cycling, but I think at least one thing can unite us: anyone who, knowing little about the world beyond California, says that the problem here is all cyclists’ own fault for throwing themselves under the wheels of trucks, is an asshole who can keep his discredited half-baked ideas to himself.

Crap cycleways are the Franklinists’ legacy

Over at Transport Retort, clayliesstill covers the case of a death on a badly designed cycle track in Montreal, and extrapolates to a lesson on British cycle campaign strategy:

Advocates of quality facilities must acknowledge that a poorly designed cycle path can be more objectively dangerous, even if it is, in the long-term, beneficial because it increases the number of people using the route.

Isn’t that an odd thing to say? Like telling advocates of evidence-based medicine that they must acknowledge that pseudoscience can kill. Or like telling Nick Davies that advocates of good quality investigative journalism must acknowledge that tabloid rags can be harmful. The implication being that if you ask for one, you’ll probably get the other instead, so it would be better just to shut up about the whole thing.

Meanwhile, on a different subject, David says:

Yes, we all know about those “white line on pavement” cycle facilities, or, worse still, no white line on pavement “shared facilities”, but those are not what the campaign for proper cycle facilities is about. They are completely irrelevant. Nobody is asking for those, and talking about them is a diversionary tactic. The trouble is, in asking for nothing in terms of infrastructure, CTC actually contributes to the vacuum that allows these to come into being.

Hacks and quacks step in when there is a demand that can not be met by good journalism or good medicine, and when there are insufficient defences against the frauds. There is a great demand for a cycling environment which does not require mixing with large volumes of fast moving motor vehicles, and authorities are told in documents like The Way Ahead For Towns and Cities that they should be meeting that demand. To meet that demand, towns and cities have built crap cycleways, because the defences haven’t been there: the design standards are inadequate and there was little pressure to toughen them up; councillors and council officers don’t know how to do infrastructure properly, or lack the will to do it properly; and the few cyclists who were still left to join cycling organisations have been too busy talking amongst themselves about “effective cycling” and “right to the road” to hold anybody to account, leaving the few who recognised the need to get infrastructure right powerless.

Britain has not just been lacking an organised campaign for good cycling infrastructure, it has been lacking an organised campaign against bad cycling infrastructure. The mission of the new generation organisations like the Cycling Embassy is not merely to build up the will to construct infrastructure, but to develop the standards and the legislation that would ensure that only good infrastructure gets built — and that the crap cycleways, the legacy of the old era, get replaced.

For three decades cycle campaigning has been dominated by the vehicular cycling dogma epitomised by John Franklin, while calls for good infrastructure have been suppressed and sabotaged. It was under the anti-infrastructuralists’ watch that the crap got built. Anti-infrastructuralists must acknowledge that their strategy has failed to get people cycling, failed to defend the right to the road, and failed to prevent crap cycle lanes being built.