Monday, 28 July 2014

Bloody pavement cyclists... Negative reinforcement in cycling behaviour.

Cambridge is almost defined by how much people complain about cyclsits. Cyclists on the pavement, on the road, stopping at a light that has barely turned red so you can't get through, going through the light they should have stopped at, ninja cyclists you can't see, out in the middle of the lane (where you can see them), going too fast, going too slow... You get the picture. There is no way we can ride that insulates us from criticism - we can be legally in the right in every way and STILL get abuse. We can ride safely and be criticised, if we break rules to stay safe we're criticised, if we don't we're dangerous cyclists. We can't win. If we ask for better cycling facilities to segregate cycling such that we can't inconvenience anyone, we're extremist whingers. There is no position to take that does not face apoplectic criticism.

Humans are just animals, really, and we respond to stimuli around us just like other animals. Bad behaviour that is punished sets of one kind of response, good behaviour that is rewarded sets off another. So I wonder, what does this constant rain of derision mean for cycling?

What does it mean if you're punished for being in the right more seriously than you're punished for being in the wrong? So, for example, if you're riding on a pavement you'll get some cold stares, the occasional telling off or perhaps the police might issue you with a fixed penalty notice. If you're riding on the road you'll suffer close passes (from people who think you shouldn't really be there and those who do it to liven up their days), aggressive driving, motorists cutting you up or, worse, even assaulting you with their vehicles. In short, you'll suffer numerous incidents that feel like near death experiences. Which is the greater disincentive, being tutted or facing what feels like a death risk?

Likewise, for red light jumping, if you stop at a red light you'll very often have motorists trying to out-accelerate you and pass on the junction. You might have a driver give you an earful (or even ram you) for stopping him when he could have got through at the tail end of amber or red. If instead you go through the red light (cautiously watching for danger) the most likely risk will be a strongly worded letter to the local newspaper.

In short, if we treat good cycling more harshly than we treat what we see as bad cycling, why ever would we expect cyclists to behave 'properly'?

It transpires that cyclists are, for the most part, pretty law abiding - but why ought we be? We're dealing with roads designed in such a way as to make safe progress to our destinations almost impossible and we face hostility, even aggression in return for just trying to get where we're going.

And, more importantly, does getting angry at cyclists who break the rules even make any sense? We see regular 'crackdowns' on cyclist rule violations here in Cambridge - but where is the crackdown on drivers passing too closely or driving an inch from our back wheels? Where is there evidence that our police forces understand why cyclists sometimes don't act within laws that make our daily rides unpleasant or even dangerous?

Until we acknowledge the fact that motorist aggression is the key cause of cyclists breaking the rules in ways we consider antisocial we won't prevent it. How we should solve the problem of aggressive motoring is another question - I favour both separate cycle infrastructure and policing motorist law breaking. But we're so far from this because there is simply no acknowledgement that this is the problem. We will continue with pathetic crackdowns on cyclists who merely want not to be bullied by motorists. And this will continue to fail.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

What do these hate videos tell us?

Another day, another bigoted rant about cyclists from someone with an over-inflated sense of importance. I'm not much interested in the specific nonsense espoused here, but if you haven't seen it here's a copy that hasn't yet been brought down due to copyright complaints:

Don't think so much about what she's saying -there isn't much brain activity evident at all in fact, its nonsense of the highest order. This guy she's talking to probably isn't going to assault a cyclist using his car for a dollar. What she's saying is dull, its not even a witty example of bike hate.

Think about how she's said it. With a cheesy smirk, she expresses an extreme hate of cyclists. She displays a confident, smirking demeanor. She 'knows' that the people she's talking to will share her view, because she 'knows' that she's being perfectly reasonable. Everybody hates cyclists, don't they? So it MUST be okay.

You'll see she's not trying to justify her rage against cyclists - she's merely picking up on the things that make them look different, for example with with her 'spandex' comments (spandex is the material more often in sportswear referred to as the brand name Lycra - spandex being used here in a supposedly derogatory way). She picks up on an perceived idea that cyclists must think we're better than she is with our 'my other car is a bicycle' sticker on the back of a Prius (ironically, in so doing she demonstrated that we are better than her). So she's sharing extremely hostile views supported solely by observations of a social outgroup being visibly different - its just prejudice. Plain. Boring. Un-extraordinary. Dull. Gosh I'll bet she's fun at parties, she's probably the one ranting about who she hates to a whole group of people standing in embarrassed silence, all waiting for someone to create an excuse to leave.

Consider what she doesn't do. She doesn't justify her hate, she doesn't question it. She's probably not even thought about it. She's not coy about anything - its sneering, happy, disgusting hate. Go back to the video again - move forward to 46 seconds. She yells at the cyclist for being outside of his lane, then for signalling to turn left, and THEN for signalling to turn left from the right hand cycle lane that she just chastised him for not being in - as ever with prejudice, facts don't matter. The other folk are in the wrong and we can state what we like to show thats the case.

She's an unremarkable example of a cyclist hater - closer to a Type 1 than to the Type 6 she aspires to be. Its the same kind of 'I hate cyclists' comments we see on twitter from mindless cycle haters every day, and its a symptom of living in a society where hate is respectable so long as you choose the right minority. She hates cyclists because thats what she's been told to do.

I'm reminded of the same comparisons of cyclist hate with racism that I've made before. It wasn't the sick old racist comedian in the working mans club who went out and assaulted people of other races, but this created the climate in which acting out on prejudice was accepted. So its good that this ladies police department suspended her from her duties - we need to treat this kind of hate like we would any other arbitrary hate, its not a direct incitement to aggression but it creates a climate where such is more acceptable.

So, ladies and gentlemen of the online cycling community - you spotted this video, you brought attention to it, and you reacted. Well done. We need your vigilance and your action to find defeat this kind of prejudice. Keep at it, and to quote Bon Jovi, keep the faith. Keep at it. And we'll win.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Cambridge Cycling Campaign - New Committee Member

Its been good news looking at new Cambridge Cycling Campaign committee members over the last couple of years - they've picked progressive, decent folk who really do seem to get what we need in cycling. That has slowly filtered down in to campaign policy and priorities, and while I don't support all they do they've been massively better.

So I was surprised when I saw that Cambridge Cycling Campaign had their new committee chap out on their stall for the Big Weekend it was ex-councillor Colin Rosenstiel.

He was more bizarrely involved in some kind of incident where he allegedly stood in the way of an ambulance on a 999 call, because driving an ambulance on to the grass on Jesus Green is wrong.

I need add nothing to last weeks news story (it has been extensively covered in local media) - other than that for all concerned we must all be glad that this is over. This story is related to the local Liberal Democrat party not supporting him in the recent elections - the whole sorry tale is recounted in a series of stories in the local media. Prior to apparently admitting to the charge Rosenstiel was quoted saying that he'd "strenuously defend" himself, and after losing the election following from the local Liberal Democrats withdrawal of support for him, Rosenstiel described said party behaviour behaviour as "brutal action".

On cycling issues we've got records of his views and statements in cam.transport (ye olde days of usenet haven't yet been forgottein in Cambridge). And its patchy. He's not always bad, but I wouldn't refer to him as an infrastructuralist. And while I don't for one moment accept collective responsibility for cyclists, I suspect I'm not the only one who groaned at the inevitability we'd all cop it in response to him losing his temper while with his bike on the train.

I was surprised that the Campaign (a politically non-partisan body) elected a prominent member of one of the local political parties their committee while the Liberal Democrats were waiting to see what happened with his court case. It seemed foolhardy. If I'm honest I don't get it - he brings 40 years of experience as a councillor but he's an easy target for those seeking to criticise the organisation. And I've got to ask -  if the Lib Dems were backing away from him, why is he good enough for the cycling campaign while the same legal process was ongoing?

I dunno, I don't get it, perhaps some of the Camcycle folk who turned up and voted him on to the committee at that meeting will come along and put me right - am I missing something fundamental that explains all of this.? It could be a mistake. The appointment of a prominent ex-councillor, a political figure in this city, and one who was at the time rather under a cloud seems strange, looks like a regressive step for the campaign. 

Thursday, 10 July 2014

And that is how we get policing wrong...

Just popped out of work for a bit to pick up some lunch and caught a little montage that, for me, encapsulates almost everything wrong with policing cycling in the UK.

Trinity Street was effectively closed - a demo was due along any minute coming the right way down this one way street. It was also pissing it down. The result was that almost no one was around, I could see a dozen pedestrians, a PCSO, and a lady winding her way slowly the wrong way down the one way street on a bicycle, with one child on a kiddie seat on the back and a second with one of those little metal scooters (you know the ones, like a scooter used to be but blighted with wheels so tiny as to make it crap).

Inevitably the PCSO yelled at the woman to stop. Not getting why, she did't stop, so PCSO got in the way and stopped her. Bike Lady had locked up and re-mounted in a place that she might perfectly feasibly have not seen the one way sign - and the street was empty anyway (both good points I have some sympathy with). Oh, and there was something about todays strike and having to have her child with her or something.

Anyway, PCSO wasn't to be budged, so off storms bike woman and children still shouting angrily - needless to say, this being Cambridge, there was an Old Fart Man on hand to join the fray, chastising bike woman for being rude and on the wrong side of the law. This new encounter ran the risk of dragging on - I could hear the demo coming from round the corner by now, and it would certainly be accompanied by 'proper' police officers - so I asked both to chill out. Angry Bike Woman wasn't having any of it of course, so I copped an earful - and now it was the fault of the striking demo folk who got a some stick (which I rather think they didn't notice).

Every single part of this was needless. No one gained anything, no one COULD have benefitted in any way. I'd argue Angry Bike Woman oughtn't be breaking the law, but it really can be hard to know where such restrictions apply - signs are terrible. PCSO ought to have handled that better - informing ABW that she was in error was fine, but not done well. I might also argue that policing such as this on an otherwise empty road seems needless anyway, but once ABW was stopped its really a fair cop and she needed to just get off and stay calm.

But then there's Old Fart Man. There always is one, quick to pass judgement on the slightest indescretion of a cyclist. No doubt he's penning his irate letter to Cambridge News as I bemusedly blog. He didn't help, his interruption was never going to help, but these cyclists need to be told, you know.

Its easy to police minor faults by cyclists, it both plays well to the Codgers and reinforces their false perception that cyclists are child murdering monsters - but its not a good use of Police resources if our main interest is reducing harm (I defy anyone to tell me how this lady could harm anyone riding at shit-scooter speed). In fact to police this way reinforces a negative cyclist stereotype and we should oppose it. But, you know, sometimes, it ain't worth having a fight over - ABW would be better directing her ire at City and County Councillors to get them to put signs up saying which way you can ride out from our bike locking areas. 

Everything about this yells out to me how badly the UK, even Cambridge, handles cycling. Such a small event, but such a clear message.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Rate Limiting Steps. Or, don't overtake and brake, you idiot.

I remember learning a really important lesson in kinetics in chemistry at school. Well, from my chemistry teacher rather than in class. 

It actually came in the corridor on the way up to the school dinner hall, where we'd always run up as a bunch of lads to join the queue, before hanging around waiting to be served and for a table to all sit at and eat. He questioned why we ran, explaining that its like in chemistry where you've got one step that governs the rate of whats happening. You can run up the corridor all you like, it won't get you sat down and eating any sooner. Rate limiting step. 

Now thats a good lesson in life, and its a good lesson in chemistry - there's no point fannying about with the steps of a reaction that don't govern the rate or efficiency of a process, its the rate limiting step that governs how quickly something will be produced. Of course later in education I encountered all sorts of reactions where, for example, because reagents are really cheap, or because you can recycle a reaction volume to re-use any excess you end up with some parts of a process being given way more feedstock or energy than they really require - or, in other words, despite the rate limiting step thing holding true, you still have 'too much' in the other steps because there's no good reason not to.

Yesterday I was riding along, catching up with a slower cyclist, when a car passed me and pulled in. The driver obviously had to then slow down for oncoming traffic, only to be stuck behind the cyclist in front as we approached the red light at the end of Carlton Way. She seemed most put out (to the extent of sounding her horn and yelling) when I passed her to get in to the cyclists box in front of the traffic. Of course, you always catch them. You always go past. Their average speed in traffic is way slower than ours - overtaking us never gets them anywhere.

The parallel between this and the lessons one would have hoped to learn at school are pretty obvious - gunning your engine and overtaking only to be stuck a little further on while a cyclist overtakes you again is just stupid, didn't you even go to school? But when we think further, what the car does is make speed effectively free. Might be a few pennies to overtake and slam on the anchors, but its no physical work and any financial cost is lost in the general money pit of motoring. Inefficient, downright daft decisions have no consequences.

Cars used on urban and suburban roads are capable of reaching absurd speeds, in moments, with no effort on the part of the motorist. In fact to avoid doing so is considered so strange that if you're driving behind a cyclist the next driver will very often be right up your exhaust telling you to get a shuffle on, mate, ain't you got nowhere to go? Its only a fucking cyclist. And it you hit the cyclist? The courts will understand.

We have made aggressive, pointless and downright dangerous overtaking morally, financially and legally free. As a result of this bad overtaking is the norm rather than the exception - to the point where we then tell cyclists to ride assertively in the middle of the lane and act all surprised when motorists bully us out of the way. 

Until we take this kind of dangerous, antisocial driving seriously in the UK we'll never really tame aggressive motorists. But how do we take motorists back to school and get them to realise the importance of rate limiting steps?

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Supermarkets aren't ignoring us. They fear us.

Those who read this blog regularly might remember that I've touched on the subject of shopping by bike several times. I want to come at it from a different angle this time.

Supermarkets are set up for motorists. Their PR folk will say this isn't so, while offering discount petrol for those en route to the 'free' parking we subsidise.  Supermarkets, especially the ever more dominant suburban superstores, are for motorists. 

Now we can make the (very valid) argument that this is all wrong, they should cater to cyclists because we spend more money than motorists (the theory being we make more trips, we're exposed to their marketing more, and as we've higher average earnings we spend more). That's all well and good but its missing the point. And, more importantly, the marketing folk at these gargantuan retailers know this, they've read the same studies we have. Simple economics dictate that they ought to be putting better bike locking in - but they don't.

I don't get all my shit from supermarkets. I get most of my veg from the allotment, I get most of my meat from the farm shops or the butchers, I get the rest of my stuff from greengrocers, wholefood shops, the market, and indeed some of it from supermarkets (or 'grocers' as I suppose they once were). I suppose that Tesco could install the best bike racks in the world or Asda could start offering free puppy play areas, but I'd still not really use them for the bulk of my shopping.

Supermarkets fear us. We're not tied to making one trip through ghastly, soul destroying traffic per week, we don't need to strip the shelves of irradiated, nutrient free sliced white bread and 28 pints of milk that have to last until next Saturday. We don't have to fill a car boot with plastic wrapped chemical sludge to microwave on high for 2 minutes before leaving to rest for 1 minute prior to puking in it and putting it in the bin. We. Are. Free. 

We can shop anywhere. We're not tied in to a lifestyle that necessitates living like a Walmart slave. For most products supermarkets offer us no advantage - we aren't their slaves like the motons are.

Its not that supermarkets don't want to serve us - they would love our custom, but anything they could do to make it apparent that you can live a different way is also directly threatening to their business. It isn't that they don't understand our spending power. The truth is that supermarkets fear our freedom, our capacity to defect from their system where consumers shuffle zombielike with a trolley full of drug laden ecological timebombs through a shop so dehumanised they've even removed the checkout staff for fear we'll eat their brains. They don't want to discourage us from shopping with them - they want to discourage us from promoting a lifestyle that they see as directly challenging to the abhorrence of their existence.

In an economy where getting a car, having kids, driving said kids to Morrisons once a week so you can have a sugar-fuelled family feud enacted in the sanitary products aisle is considered normal, doing something as radical as shopping by bicycle is an act of sedition. Viewed this way, the congested roads leading to the hypermarket become the arteries through which vampiric multinationals suck value from our local economies.

Lack of good cycle parking at supermarkets isn't an oversight, nor is it lack of consideration towards valuable customers. Its an act of aggression towards us, and the better lifestyles we represent.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Motoring Tribes?

I've been pondering on how motorists view cyclists, and how its all too common for cyclists to be lumped in to a presumed homogeneous whole ("cyclists all go through red lights" "cyclists are all irresponsible" "well I don't mean ALL cyclists, but all of the ones I see are..." etc.) and while I and others have blogged extensively on the phenomena of othering and simple stereotyping as it applies to cyclists, I do wonder, ought we be considering whether the same applies among motorists?

I'm not talking about stereotyping of all motorists. Except where we're mocking the way cyclists are treated we don't typically see a motoring collective. I'm talking about how motorists, and indeed cyclists, will ascribe certain characteristics based on how we perceive sub-categories of motorist. And whether its fair.

You all know the sort of thing. Taxi drivers. BMW drivers. Bus drivers. Audi drivers. Boy racers. Flat caps and Sunday drivers. People who drive hairdressers (wtf?) cars. Each is ascribed certain stereotypical behaviours, each is presumed to drive, to act, in a certain way. As in "BMW drivers don't know what their indicators are for", "he's wearing a flat cap, you'll be stuck behind him all the way to Hull". Taxi drivers. Bus drivers. White Van Man. Indeed it seems almost as if motoring is sub-divided into an almost never ending mini-clades ('well of course he's driving like he's got no dick, he's only got a Boxter' - yes, I did hear someone say that - its a Cambridge thing).

One could be tempted to point and laugh at ALL of them - after all, isn't this portrayal of practically every other motorist as somehow lacking due to what or how he drives pretty funny? Actually, yes, it kind of is. But lets take a step back and ask what the smeg its all about. 

Any suggestion of shared identity among all motorists is viewed as offensive. Go on. Try. Next time someone complains about Focus drivers not being able to park try to blame -all- motorists. I await the response with glee - they'll probably start ranting about cyclists.

As I said at the top, I don't want to harp on about the obviousness of how unfair it is that cyclists are all painted with the same brush, like how members of any visible minority are often expected to share collective blame. Thats not the point I'm aiming at here. I just want to ponder what the reality of this motoring tribalism is and whether its got any basis in reality. Very likely, it does not.

Stand by a set of traffic lights at a busy junction - it doesn't matter the make and model of car that can stop at the tail end of a red light or start of a red, it'll go straight through - even if you've stopped at the light on your bike the car behind might still go through, and I've noticed no trends as to what brand of car that might be. Sit out on a bridge over a motorway - all makes and models are there breaking the speed limit. Walk down a street with cars parked on the pavement - who breaks the law about driving on the path isn't based on what they drive, if 29 cars are parked on the pavement on a street the 30th will be parked there too, no matter what kind of car it is. To a very real extent nearly all motorists break the law (more than 80% admit speeding - statistically speaking they're all law breakers), while perversely many seek to portray the other motorists (slow ones, fast ones, foreign lorry ones, delivery ones) as the key problem. 

Implying that its another subset of road users to blame seems to be a key part of denying an individual motorists own faults - which isn't as crazy as it sounds if you compare road-transport based prejudice with any other crazy kind of prejudice. Could it be that, deep down, pretty much all of the motorists who are keen to blame cyclists, BMW drivers, taxi drivers, white van man, flat caps, hairdressers car drivers (I still can't work out that that means), moped drivers, delivey drivers and any other sub-category under the sun are basically assuaging their own guilt? For most individual motorists, is knowledge that they themselves are frequently law-breakers reason for being so keen to blame everyone and everything else? And is blaming other 'tribes' of road users just a way of excluding ourselves from being worthy of blame?

What is needed is a wake up call - individual responsibility cannot be expressed by blaming others who are no worse than you are. Until that sinks in to the psyche of British motorists, our roads will never be pleasant.