Tag Archives: campaigning

An open letter to UK’s cycle training industry

The Alternative Department for Transport emblem
The Alternative Department for Transport

Re: Government using cycle training as an excuse to sideline cycling

Dear TABS and other cycle training organisations,

Are you annoyed that the politicians use you to suppress cycling? This probably comes as no surprise, political figures spouting nonsense is nothing new, after all!

Personally, I would be very annoyed if my work was being misrepresented, and used as an excuse to ignore real cycling provision – and unfortunately that’s exactly what’s happening with you.

Time after time, we see those in power refuse to support proper cycling infrastructure – good quality cycling infrastructure, enabling cycling for all, regardless of ability, as can be found in the Netherlands – and one of the frequent excuses given is that cycle training is offered instead.

What they mean by this is that the government throws some money at the cycle training industry. I know it’s not much money in the grand scheme of things, not enough even to teach every child the basics, and yet some of those in power then consider it “job done” as far as cycling is concerned.

Here’s an MSP in Glasgow refusing to support space for cycling, using training as an excuse.

Doesn’t that make your blood boil? Here you are, trying to do some good, and these politicians are using that as a reason to wash their hands of responsibility!

Here’s another politician, in London, cherry-picking a very rare situation as part of an ongoing campaign against the type of infrastructure that’s proven to be safe for everybody.

Central government frequently trumpets the number of children who have received Bikeability training as if this is a goal in itself, ignoring the fact that very few children actually then put these skills to use by cycling for transport.

Surely this must bother you? I can see you being wary of biting the hand that feeds you – the (other) Department for Transport’s logo is on your website, I guess you must receive funds from them – but isn’t it time to issue a statement which will prevent the politicians’ divide-and-rule, infra-versus-training debate once and for all? I’m often told that training is not in opposition to infrastructure, and this is a good chance to prove it.

As an industry, you surely support the principle of investment in high-quality cycle infrastructure. TABS’ website states that their ultimate aim is “more people taking trips by bike more often and more safely” (and some of your most prominent people are in favour of cycleways).

As we all know, “more people taking trips by bike more often and more safely” will only happen when people feel safe and comfortable travelling by bike – which inevitably means not having to cycle amongst lots of motor vehicles.

Surely you’d much rather be teaching every child in the country the rules of the road on safe infrastructure? Perhaps, with your help, one day the UK will be a country where eight years old is considered late for independent cycling!

I don’t expect you to become another full-time campaign organisation, but silence on this issue is tacit agreement with those who abuse your work. It would help everybody if campaigners had something to show to the politicans to say “look, cycle trainers say you’re wrong too. Cycling needs standards and investment.”

So I’m asking you to issue a press release, or add a page to your website, to make clear that training isn’t an alternative to proper infrastructure, but is instead an adjunct to it. Let the politicians know that throwing a few quid at Bikeability isn’t enough to create mass cycling in the UK, and that they can’t continue to design roads solely for motor vehicles any more.

All the best,
S.C.

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Flailing limbs: LCC and its famously anti-policy branch

London Cycling Campaign is a funny beast. It seems to be the vague head of a loose collective of local cycling groups scattered around London, of varying sizes and levels of activity.

I call it a “vague head of a loose collective” because the local branch campaigns seem to be free to say and do almost anything they want, even if they go entirely against the campaign’s stated goals.

After decades of failure, LCC members have voted, passed the motions, and at long last the LCC has started to become a modern cycling campaign which is asking for the right things.

But isn’t it time to make sure the local branches are following suit?

Most famously – and I’m not the first to notice it by a long shot – the Hackney branch is known for its adherence to what might be called the Franklin and Forester view of cycling: The proper place for it is on the road, mixed with cars, lorries and buses (or at best meandering around the back streets) and anything else is pure namby-pamby devilment. They’ve been this way for many years.

Hackney Cyclists claim to support LCC HQ’s “Space for Cycling” campaign, yet at least three committee members are firmly against some of the campaign goals – co-ordinator Trevor Parsons, long-time LCC member Oliver Schick, former Hackney councillor Rita Krishna, to name the three whose public comments I’ve used in this post.

While the group does support the cycle-friendly intervention of removing through-motor-traffic from minor streets by means of modal filtering (a worthy and important goal), they adamantly refuse to support – and actually work against – the biggest single intervention to enable mass cycling: cycleways on main roads.

How does someone follow LCC’s democratically-approved AGM motions while describing bus stop bypasses as meaning “bus users being done over and having to dodge cyclists“? What sort of cycle campaigner considers cycleways to be “attacking bus users“, and London’s first half-decent attempt at providing for cycling as “the emperors new clothes“?

How is the Space for Cycling manifesto remotely compatible with the belief that that “cyclists and cars want to share” on a vast, fast, six-lane road? And how can a cycle campaigner believe that everyone who uses a bike should be held responsible for the actions of anyone else using that same mode of transport?

The belief that Dutch-style cycleways won’t work in central London is surely in opposition to “Space for Cycling”, which calls for far bigger road changes than merely insisting two-way streets are all that’s required to make cycling safe and inviting for all. (As if having cars and buses moving both ways at Aldwych would make me ride there – ha!)

Apparently “Dutch police shout at people for cycling on smooth, empty carriageways. We don’t want that over here.” That’s not my experience of riding a bike in the world’s best country for cycling. Hackney Cyclists don’t want “tokenistic, and in the long term potentially dangerous, engineering solutions such as cycle lanes and tracks.”

Instead of copying a proven method to gain a mode of transport which is safe and appealing to everyone, cycle training will solve all problems, as “a well-trained and assertive bicycle rider will in any case take the primary position when approaching a narrowing such as this pre-signal, to ensure that the driver of the vehicle behind him or her is not tempted to pass too closely.”

How is any of this compatible with the LCC’s policy of pushing for physical separation of motor and cycle traffic on busy roads?

I don’t see how the LCC can allow Hackney Cyclists to bear their name and logo when so many of the leading lights believe the very opposite of what the campaign stands for.

Hackney LCC also have close links with Hackney Council, not just former councillor and party activist Krishna, but also councillor Vincent Stops, who describes Hackney Cyclists as “the most sophisticated cycling campaign group in London“, considers Dutch-style cycleways to be “trip hazards“, and sees bus stop bypasses as “terrifying pedestrians“.

Councillor Stops also claims that Hackney Cyclists consider Kingsland High Street is “perfect for cycling” – though it has since been revealed that this was merely the personal opinion of Hackney Cyclists committee member Schick.

This is Kingsland High Street:

Kingsland High Street in Hackney, London. A bus is stopped, and a lorry is overtaking it. A cyclist dressed in high-visibility clothing follows the lorry, and a bus follows the cyclist.

“Perfect for cycling”

Does this road look “perfect for cycling” to you? Do you believe someone who said this really has LCC’s Space for Cycling principles at heart?

I don’t even want to debate the actual views held here – madly wrong as I consider them to be – everyone has the right to believe whatever they want.

And of course not everyone in the LCC is going to agree on everything. I’m not suggesting that the LCC becomes some sort of Stalinist one-party state which allows no dissenting voices. Open debate is good, there needs to be room for a wide range of views.

But when a local branch is dominated by beliefs which are clearly at odds with core campaign objectives, it makes no sense for it to be part of the campaign any more. London Cycling Campaign is now, in policy, a campaign which believes in separation of traffic modes along Dutch lines, yet one of its branches works against the LCC’s goals in their area.

At what point does LCC HQ decide that such views aren’t compatible with the campaign’s core objectives and take action?

For example, Special Resolution 3 was voted on at the AGM, committing the LCC to opposing discrimination on any grounds, which I have heard was introduced to prevent people with extremist political views from gaining positions of influence.

I don’t know the finer details of the matter, but it seems that if the LCC is willing to say that a person’s political views (which may be distasteful, but unrelated to cycling) are unacceptable, then surely advocating road designs that aren’t safely usable by less-able people is also discriminatory and unacceptable, and in a way that’s extremely relevant to the campaign.

I’m not even sure why these take-the-lane addicts and bus exhaust sniffers are even active members of the London Cycling Campaign any more, considering that the Dutch model of modal separation has been overwhelmingly approved by LCC members now. I wouldn’t want to be a member of a campaign that opposes everything I believe in.

I’m glad that Special Resolution 3 was passed, as I consider advocating Vehicular-Cycling-as-an-end-goal to be discriminatory (VC is fine as a danger mitigation method in car-sick areas, but it should not be a campaign target, and we shouldn’t be creating roads designed for it). Is a wheelchair or handbike user really expected to “take the primary position when approaching a narrowing” to control the bus behind them? Isn’t advice like that, offered as a reason why cycle infrastructure isn’t required in that location, discriminatory against those who don’t have that option? An anti-discriminatory cycle campaign needs to campaign for infrastructure which is accessible to all.

The London Cycling Campaign needs to either make sure that its Hackney branch is following the charity’s democratically-chosen principles, or it needs to strip the current group of affiliation and allow a new group to be formed – one that actually believes in safe, pleasant cycling conditions which are suitable for everybody.

31 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Cyclists, you have a language problem

Don’t worry, MAMILs, I’m not saying that you all have speech impediments! In this post I’m musing on what the English word “cyclist” means. This one word covers such a wide range of concepts, some of which might cause confusion or even hostility towards cycling campaigns, and I think it’s perhaps a toxic word which should be avoided. (If this all sounds a bit airy-fairy to you and you’d prefer to see photos of infrastructure and stuff instead, I can recommend my first ever post.)

What is a motorist?

The word ‘motorist’ is used to describe a person who uses a car for transport.

It isn’t used to describe someone who races cars professionally — that’s a driver. The word ‘driver’ is also used to describe other kinds of professional motor vehicle operators: lorry driver, taxi driver, limo driver.

Equally, it’s not used to describe a bad driver. Like the Eskimoes and their (apocryphal) hundreds of words for snow, we have many ways of describing motorists who break the rules. Boy racer, amber gambler, drunk driver, road-hog, tailgater – these people are never described merely as ‘motorists’ .

So the word ‘motorist’ is used to describe the large and disparate mass of people who drive a car in an acceptable way.

What is a cyclist?

In a recent BBC news item about a sign in a library in Australia, Lance Armstrong was described as a ‘cyclist’. (Okay, as a “disgraced cyclist” but still.) So perhaps the word ‘cyclist’ describes a sports-person who races bikes professionally? Like this guy:

A professional sports cyclist racing on the Tour de Suisse.

This person is a cyclist, just like you are! (Photo: Tambako the Jaguar)

But then we also have this article from the Eastbourne Herald headlined “Helmet saved my life, says cyclist” about 59 year-old grandmother Linda Groomes, who was hit by a car while she was crossing a road pushing a bike — not riding it but pushing it! (Hat-tip to Mark for that gem of an article.)

So a cyclist is anybody who rides a bike at some point in their life? Hmm. Seems a bit broad that, especially as Linda Groomes may well also drive a car, which she was also not doing at the time of the collision, yet they didn’t call her a ‘motorist’. I assume she was wearing a coat, but she wasn’t described as a ‘coat-wearer’ either. How often must one ride a bike to be a ‘cyclist’? Once a week? Once a month? Once a year?

So both Lance Armstrong and Linda Groomes were described as a ‘cyclist’ despite using their machines for very different purposes.

Well, Linda always wore high-visibility clothing and a cycle helmet, so maybe ‘cyclist’ means anyone who rides a bike seriously or responsibly? Like this woman:

A middle-aged woman riding a bike.

This person is also a cyclist, just like you are! (Photo: Richard Masoner)

But wait! What’s this? Plain clothes cops in Cambridge target cyclists riding through red lights or on pavements, and Hundreds fined as police launch crackdown on pavement cyclists.

Also Plea to new police commissioner to tackle problem cyclists, and if you’re still not convinced, Police warning over cyclists who ride at night without lights.

So ‘cyclist’ is also used to describe people who rides a bike aggressively or irresponsibly? Like these guys:

Two teenage boys ride aggressively along a busy footpath on a shopping street.

These two young men are cyclists too, just like you are! (Photo: Pete Boyd)

So, a ‘cyclist’ is a person who rides a bike sometimes — anyone at all, whether they’re riding it or not, whether they’re a professional sportsperson or a middle-aged grandmother or a youthful scofflaw — that is a cyclist. That’s a pretty broad brush if you ask me.

Bikes aren’t the problem, it’s those bloody cyclists

This causes a problem, as English doesn’t have an alternative word to be used for people who use a bike responsibly. This is very nicely demonstrated by an article in the Cambridge News which features this quote, which is so good I’m going to present it to you in burgundy, with a large, bold typeface:

“I am now anti-cyclist, even though I am a cyclist.”

What does that even mean? I was once mugged by two guys who walked up to me – am I now anti-pedestrian, even though I walk? My car was once hit by a car whose driver wasn’t looking properly. Did I become anti-motorist, even though I can drive? I was once insulted by a man. Should I become anti-man, even though I am a man? It just doesn’t make sense in any other context.

Note that the headline is “bike crash victim hits out at cyclists” – at cyclists. As the word covers people who ride a bike for sport, and people who use a bike responsibly and considerately, she is surely hitting out at all of them. Even you!

It doesn’t say she’s anti-bad-cycling, or anti-pavement-cycling, nor is the government blamed for failing to provide better infrastructure for bikes which would massively reduce pavement cycling. She blames all cyclists – even though she claims to be one herself. (And never mind all the people who are killed or injured every year by human beings using larger, heavier machines to move at speed when they should stop instead.)

I’m not having a go at her for being understandably upset about what happened to her (ignoring a stop signal and causing injury to someone is unacceptable, whatever the vehicle) but she’s fallen into the trap of blaming a whole group of people for the sins of a few. (She also goes on to say that it’s not “local cyclists” but “foreign students” who are guilty – people from other countries are another good out-group to blame if you’re angry and confused and don’t understand the issues fully.)

You cyclists are all the same

I’m reminded of a helmet-cam video (which I can’t find now) where the driver of a 4×4 cuts up the cyclist who is filming, and at the next red light the cyclist asks the driver to explain himself. The driver says something like “you bloody cyclists, I’m sick of you, always speeding around Richmond Park,” to which the cyclist replies “but I’ve never even been to Richmond Park!” It doesn’t matter though, says the driver “you cyclists are all the same.”

So the word “cyclist” is tainted beyond use, as when you use it you have no control over what the person hearing the word is thinking. They might be thinking of Uncle Frank who loves tinkering with gears in his shed, or they might be thinking of the yobs in hoodies riding aggressively along the high street. Or they might be thinking of Lance Armstrong. The definition is too loose.

A cartoon from Private Eye magazine. Two normal middle-aged people riding practical bikes for transport, one of them is saying "It's such a shame, Lance Armstrong has stigmatised us all."

A photo of a cartoon in the current issue of Private Eye, Britain’s leading satire magazine, read the news months before the papers get to it, available in all good and some bad newsagents, a bargain at £1.50, why not subscribe it’s even cheaper then, please don’t take me to court! The current issue has at least one more Lance Armstrong joke, maybe two, so go buy it.

(To go off on a tangent for a moment, I once read an article about Apple’s tight regulation of its App Store and someone had left a comment accusing Apple of being “socialist”. To me that sounded odd – Apple are definitely a very capitalistic corporation! What was meant was “Stalinist” as in the tight, unquestioning control which a powerful overlord might exert, but in the USA both words are synonyms. Marx has lost control of the word ‘socialist’, and it now means bad things whether he wanted it to or not.)

I would recommend that cycling campaigners – and, indeed, US socialists – to avoid the word wherever possible.

Introducing the bike user

Myself, I never identified as a cyclist anyway, mainly because it refers to enthusiasts and scofflaws. (Although I know that all those “cyclists dismount” signs are aimed at me when I’m riding a bike…)

I’m just somebody who uses a bike. A bike user. I use a bike for transport. That doesn’t make me one of those cyclists!

Example 1.
Q: “So you’re a cyclist, like Lance Armstrong.”
A: “No, I’m not really interested in sport. I just use a bike to get to work.”

Example 2.
Q: “So you’re a cyclist, a professional sportsperson who competes in bike races?”
A: “No, I’m Lance Armstrong. I just use a bike to get to my pharmacist.”

It doesn’t always work, but there is usually a way to avoid saying ‘cyclist’. I also like ‘person on a bike’ which although it’s more cumbersome than ‘cyclist’ as I don’t think it has quite the same negative connotations.

Maybe we could invent a new word – ‘cycler’ for example – which could be used to describe somebody who uses a bike casually. (I always think the ‘-ist’ ending makes any word sound like it’s describing a specialist.)

Cycling is not just for cyclists

Another problem with the word “cyclist” is that it is any new measures designed to improve conditions for riding a bike are said to be “for cyclists” or “to benefit cyclists”.

Even some of cycling’s most prominent ambassadors do this. (I’m not having a go at anyone here, this is constructive criticism, I love you all dearly!)

“We need better cycling infrastructure, improved safety on our roads for cyclists”Julian Huppert MP

“Boris Johnson urged to double spending on cyclists”The Times

“The Times has made it OK to talk about providing infrastructure for cyclists”Carlton Reid

Wikipedia describes LCC as “lobbying for better conditions for cyclists in London.” (LCC itself seems quite cautious about the word.)

And just so nobody thinks I’ve gone soft on Scotland since last week, here’s STV describing Pedal on Parliament: “Their hopes were simply to remember those who lost their lives on Scotland’s roads and to call for more provision for the nation’s cyclists.”

The problem with phrases like these is that they suggest that people who aren’t ‘cyclists’ won’t benefit from any of this stuff – and that’s a hell of a lot of people who will think they are being left out.

As everyone reading this blog will already know, improvements to our roads and streets will benefit children, parents, students, workers, the elderly, people with disabilities – these changes will make the country better for everyone, not just the irrationally hated, disparate minority of people collectively (and hopefully formerly) known as ‘cyclists’.

 


 

I also have my doubts about ‘segregation’ and ‘segregated’ used to describe a cycle path protected from motor-vehicles. It definitely carries negative connotations in the USA – very negative, I’d be surprised if it’s used there at all – and even though the UK never had the racial segregation like the USA or South Africa did, I think there’s still some stigma attached to the word. Perhaps separation/separated and protection/protected are better, more positive-sounding alternatives?

Update: In the comments, dedicated has been suggested too. I’ve heard this before, and it’s a good word which is probably better at getting the speedy commuters on board than ‘separated’. In the USA they also use ‘buffered’ to refer to a specific type of cycle lane which has a painted buffer between the bikes and the cars.

Also, while it lasts, check out this bit about the Lance Armstrong scandal on Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe – “the news asked anybody on or near a bicycle about it“, because everybody who rides a bike is into sports cycling, right?

 


 

After publishing this article, I was looking at my stats and saw a link from a similar article on a cycling website in New Zealand — it turns out someone down under was having the same thoughts as me, albeit a couple of weeks earlier!

 

29 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized