Sunday, 23 June 2013

Camridge News are the real Raving Loonies...

Cambridge News have taken to posting 'news' stories an old guy for using, within the law, the only route available for him to get out of his village on his mobility scooter. Thats the bottom line of this blog post - a guy with no reasonable alternative is the subject of troll-baiting ridicule in the local rag. He lives out in Bar Hill. That could be a really nice place, except for the fact you can't get in and out of it. Here it is, have a look at it.

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So you can see there's one road if you want to get to Cambridge, the A14. Okay, you could take a detour of tens of miles and go via Longstanton, Willingham, Rampton, Cottenham, Histon and Impington to get back to the A14, but thats a monumental distance by any means other than a car!

There is in theory another route - there's a footpath/bike route. And you can see from the entry way to it, its not inviting:

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Not an easy surface to ride on, at least on a narrow tired bike. But if you do decide to brave this track on a mobility scooter you're buggered - you're pretty much not going to get it through the barriers.

Although Bar Hill is only four or five miles away, so far as many people in Cambridge are concerned it may as well be on another planet. After all, do you want to walk or cycle a monumentally long route to get to somewhere that has a giant Tesco and very little else? No? Thought not.

Of course the A14 is an 'A' road, you're yelling. Just use it! You're only excluded from motorways, which this isn't... In name anyway. But in all but name, it really is a motorway:

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This is the main road in to the North of Cambridge. If you're coming from Bar Hill its the only road to Cambridge - you can cycle it legally or you can use a mobility scooter on it, but its terrifying. I'm a ballsy cyclist, but unforgiving, unremitting, rapid, hostile traffic with no escape route for cyclists terrifies me out of using it. You'd have to even cross the entryway to the M11 - there isn't even a safe layby to ride in, there is no route whatsoever to avoid a slanted crossing of lanes of traffic doing 70mph. And as for the 'clover leaf' junction... In what is allegedly the UK's cycling capital this monstrosity of a road is the most effective barrier to cycling we have. Live in Bar Hill? Then its very unlikely you're a cyclist - don't believe me? Here, go look. Pretty much no one cycles commutes from Bar Hill.

So there's your context. By any reasonable standards Bar Hill is right on our doorstep - but its almost completely inaccessible. You'd think any reasonable local newspaper in the cycling capital of the UK would be aiming to change that. You'd expect a campaign to make the place accessible such that you could walk, cycle, or use a mobility scooter to get from there to Cambridge. You'd assume that our local journalists would be on the side of the locals, especially of the older folk who might not get around as well as the rest of us. But no. Oh, no.

They've rather laid in to the chap who thought he might use the A14 to get to Cambridge by mobility scooter.  Not just once. They've done so twice. So two whole articles (one of them apparently using most dubiously sourced images unrelated to this event, which have subsequently been removed), without at any stage mentioning that Bar Hill is effectively cut off for this guy. No 'look how dangerous this is, lets get a safe route sorted', no good, solid campaigning to change things for the better. Not even a hint that there might be a better solution than just mocking the guy. Yeah, the guys a character. Yeah, he stood for the loony party. But you're headlining your article with 'Monster Raving Loony Man...'? Because he doesn't choose to be stuck at home due to hostile roads designed with the brief of excluding anyone not able to do 70mph?

I'm forced to ask why there is such a lack of empathy from Cambridge News journalists. Are they actually lacking in empathy for anyone who isn't a motorist? Does someone really only have to use the road in a way other than motoring to be worthy, in their eyes, of ridicule?

Or is this something even more sinister. Has the Cambridge News finally moved on from mercilessly trolling for anti-cyclist hate, and are they moving on to those with mobility issues? Whatever the reason, once again the Cambridge News has disappointed. Actually, no. They haven't disappointed me. They've sickened me. They've disgusted me. 

What next Cambridge News? Going to find a kid with learning difficulties and mock him for failing his exams? Maybe you'll find a blind person and ridicule him for crossing a road on his own. Or will you now try to make this okay? Seriously, why not actually cover this as an example of a bad road that demonstrates the need for us getting routes that people other than motorists can actually use? Or, in your eyes, are those of us who aren't motorists not really people?

UPDATE: I won't claim its because of this blog (it seems unlikely...) but I see CN are tempering their stance slightly with this (thanks for heads up Hesterkw). Doesn't change the fact that this snotulent rag laid in to a guy who used the only road available to him to make a journey on his disability scooter - come on guys, by all means temper the content of a ridiculous trolling article, but acknwledge your sickening error when you do so. Want to make Cambridge better? Want more readers? Then campaign FOR the people of Cambridge with articles that really get to the heart of our problems, in this case the fact that Bar Hill is effectively almost out of bounds unless you're in a car. Want to exist purely on the edge of decent debate in this city, visited mostly by those who want to reaffirm their own prejudices? Then keep on trolling.


  1. I saw this story after it was picked up by the BBC News Online, and agreed wholeheartedly with the story based on what I had been told (ie. that the blooke must have been -ahem- a bit dippy), but reading this post and the background to the story actually puts a whole new spin on it and I regret following the herd on it. I agree completely with you, and think that the media should be talking about how an area can be completely cut off like this.

  2. Take it the barrier to mobility scooters is the one at 2:24 on the video?

    1. Yes, although there's another at about 3 min which is probably worse.

  3. I don't know if you're aware of this, but the Dutch class wheelchairs, disability scooters and other disabled aids as "bicycles". No barrier with a gap of less than 1 m in width is allowed on cycle-paths because all disability vehicles must be able to fit through. What's more, the council hands out adapted bikes to families who need them so that cycling remains accessible to all.

    1. I didn't know that. I do now, thanks!

      Of course that only makes sense once you start treating cyclists well; to define disability aids as 'bicycles' in the UK wouldn't be doing their users a favour. Strikes me you've got to take cycling infrastructure quite seriously before thats worthwhile - Bar Hill as a satellite town of Cambridge (for pities sake, Cambridge!) demonstrates we're not getting it right here.

    2. The relevant law here is something like "drivers of vehicles for the handicapped may use the pavement/footpath, the cycle path or the (main) road"; in theory it should only have a positive effect, such as (as David mentioned) meaning that users have to be considered when (re)-designing infrastructure.

    3. Cab, you're quite right. It's no great help to let disability buggies use the cycle-path if the cycling facilities are awful.

      I used to quite often ride a loop out of Cambridge, out through Madingley and Dry Drayton to Bar Hill and returning through Longstanton, Oakington and Histon. Of course it was rare that this could be done without at least a few surprises on the narrow roads around Madingley and a few close passes around Oakington.

      Even though it's not a long distance, like many rides in the UK it felt like it was longer than it actually was. I think that's the stress.

      OTOH it's really quite a joyous thing to see how much disabled people in NL really do get out of their homes and travel independently because of this wonderful network of infrastructure. As a result you see such things as couples, one of whom has a disability, riding together and enjoying the countryside and fresh air a very good distance out of the city. Cafes expect it and provide charging points.

      This must surely be a LOT better than providing for people with disabilities by giving them no choice but to use the A14 !

      Disability rights groups should be allied with cycling campaigners. Both benefit greatly from the same infrastructure.