A very British protest

I’ve taken some time away from cycle campaigning stuff these past few days, partly to get on with some real work, and partly because I was annoyed at myself.

I went to the Bow roundabout vigil/protest on Wednesday evening, after having written the article calling for civil disobedience at the event. But once there, I found I didn’t know how to start it. There seemed to be few opportunities to change the planned course of events.

The hundreds of people there rode around the roundabout (which had been closed off by the cops for us) and had a minute’s silence. Then after a few megaphone-amplified words from an LCC bod, we were asked to leave as quickly as possible to minimise disruption to the roads.

That really annoyed me. I should have shouted something then. I should have yelled out that I was not leaving. What’s the point in turning up to mourn and protest a needless death if we leave without making a fuss?

But the moment passed and the crowd was moving away. Looking back, I know I’d have got at least a few voices of support from the crowd. Hindsight is always 20/20.

I hung around afterwards there at Bow junction, living the 1960s dream for quarter of an hour or so. The traffic jams cleared within minutes and Bow junction was soon flowing normally.

The protest was a kitten’s meow, not a lion’s roar. Most of the drivers in the queues probably weren’t even aware of what was happening, or even that anything was happening at all.

It’s clear that I’m not the only one who feels frustrated by the polite meekness of these protests. Enough with the British reserve, at long last someone has organised a protest with some growl.

A die-in at TfL’s headquarters opposite Southwark tube station on Blackfriars Road has been organised for 5 to 6.30pm on Friday 29th of November.

The event page on Facebook already has over 700 people claiming they’ll attend. Even if half this number show up, it stands a good chance of being a successful and highly visible, headline-grabbing protest.

I am not a cyclist, I’m just riding a bike

I do think that the protest can be about more than just “cyclists” (there’s that toxic word).

In TfL’s world, everybody who isn’t currently in a motor vehicle comes second to those who are, and this movement could easily widen out to include people with disabilities, parents with prams and pushchairs, elderly people who can’t walk fast, people with asthma and other respiratory problems.

Do we want to live in cities where everyone drives everywhere, places where walking or cycling is dangerous and deviant? Or would we prefer pleasant communities with a wealth of transport options, breathable air and an absence of death-horror-crash stories in the newspaper?

It’s not just TfL, of course – our government is hell-bent on locking us all into our cars and forcing Britain to drive everywhere for everything, all the time. They are predicting that cycling as a mode of transport will stagnate, and will plan accordingly to create the conditions to fulfil their predictions.

Perhaps the Friday 29th protest is just the starter, a catalyst that starts a wider campaign off. I’d love to see a broad amalgamation of people who are angry at the way our cities, towns and villages are all subservient to the dictatorship of the petroleum.

I’ll be there, and I really do hope it’s the start of something big.


By the way, I’ve had nothing at all to do with organising the die-in protest outside TfL HQ, despite rumours to the contrary. I’ll be tackling the “Nazi” thing in a separate post, in case you were wondering.




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14 responses to “A very British protest

  1. Bravo. Meek protests led by an organisation which is simply too close to the government are not nearly enough to cause change.

    • I’ve been saying this for ages to people that the LCC does not have the will, nor the ability to influence any change whatsoever, and that their space4cycling campaign, as cynical as this sounds, is nothing more than a membership drive.

      Only through unrelenting ‘non-meek’ protest that causes disruption will anything happen. It will not come through non-disruptive 5 minute rides that even skip the 2 minute silence that the ride was meant to observe.

  2. Your paragraph starting “In TFL’s world,” strikes a chord. I’ve started thinking “we are all pedestrians – everybody (unless you are living with a mobility impairment) is a pedestrian – even the most committed petrol head or cyclist needs to walk safely but at the moment our transport planners can’t even plan for safe pedestrian access to many places or have made walking so risky that people don’t bother. If they can’t even plan for pedestrians (and therefore themselves) how can we expect decent infrastructure for cyclists? This (hopefully) is a link on Streetview to the road layout around Trostre Parc and Pemberton Parc in Llanelli, two retail parcs 200 yards apart – https://www.google.co.uk/maps/preview#!data=!1m8!1m3!1d3!2d-4.131785!3d51.680037!2m2!1f56.97!2f86.5!4f75!2m7!1e1!2m2!1sUtuIV6e5kwnK6PF8x9hWgQ!2e0!5m2!1sUtuIV6e5kwnK6PF8x9hWgQ!2e0&fid=5 sadly, Streetview must have filmed at about 6 AM because the normal traffic is 4 lanes of 30 MPH traffic coming off a roundabout.

  3. GareThugHowell

    Be safe cycle on the side walk . Campaign for de-vehiculization of the push bike when it is on the pavement. Class 2 marathon wheel chairs are curently vehicles when used by the disab;led and non-vehicles when used by the able bodied, so it should not be too difficult to devhicularise the pushbike on the side walk. It is only the DfT regs boffin who makes the decisions.

    That way there would be more space to create the superhighway in the first place and more safety of segregation.

  4. Let’s have an epic goal for the 29th November: 100,000 people, from all types organisations: road safety, air quality, civil liberties, etc.
    A clear objective: for TfL to drop its “smoothing traffic flow” mantra and adopt the following:
    Provide safe, healthy, fast and inexpensive transport options to all Londoners.

  5. Your paragraph “It’s not just TfL, of course…” is bang on, particularly for local authorities outside London.

    From 2015/16, government is giving a large chunk of the transport funding that previously paid for walking, cycling and public transport schemes to the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs).

    These undemocratic, unaccountable bodies are channelling their funds towards road building and the occasional flagship guided bus schemes, so long as they “support economic growth” (i.e. improve access for cars and lorries to new developments or increase capacity for cars and lorries on congested transport corridors). Walking and cycling are seen as incidental and are not getting a look in.

    While London is grabbing all the headlines in terms of cyclist deaths and protests, it does at least have a cycling champion and millions of pounds of investment earmarked for cycling schemes over the next few years. Your challenge is “simply” to ensure that it is spent appropriately and to increase the rate of spend if possible.

    Outside of London, cycling champions are few and far between. Investment in cycling is pitiful – it is seen as an eccentric form of transport to be indulged if there is spare cash and only if it does not affect other road users. The tragedy is that cyclists are being killed and injured up and down the land. If you want to check out the cyclist casualties in your local area then check out http://www.crashmap.co.uk.

    The problem is that local cycling groups are too small and timid to organise any sort of a meaningful protest. We need a national body to galvanise these groups and call for protests outside every town hall in the land to get the message through.

  6. Mike_prescott

    What’s the point of make a protest on the 29th November from 5pm, most of the DfT staff has gone home, better to do it on a morning to the staff can’t get into work

    • All protests need to be done like this.

      There is no point stopping people from getting home, theyve already generated the revenue for the day. You need to stop them getting into their places of work to have any kind of meaningful impact.

      Protesting at night is as much use as clicking “like” on a Facebook protest page.

      The one reason this protest was timed for that particular date is that it happens right before Critical Mass.

      • Michael J

        Which is a good reason of course, because it could help with a large turnout. Of course Critical Mass itself is on a terrible time to be a protest (I know it’s not technically a protest etc), since Friday night is when people probably most want to get home from work without delay, coupled with it being payday for many people so there are many people also trying to go out for the evening.

        Morning protests are unlikely to get much support – people are simply going to forget about them or not be able to be there for long enough to matter since they have to get to work.

        Not sure what the answer is – would a lunchtime protest work? Don’t even need a bike, just stand and block a junction somewhere for 30 minutes with some banners about road safety

  7. I felt very much the same way on the protest. We’d been waiting for a good half hour or longer before the actual protest ride started, and then it lasted just five minutes. I was thinking at the end people would stick around, but then someone suggested I start moving as an ambulance wanted to get through, so I left (purposefully riding in the middle of the lane to slow traffic and maintain some kind of protest back to Mile End).

    As someone who was involved in the student protests about tuition fees, the protest was incredibly disappointing in its lack of any militancy at all. Protest that don’t disrupt don’t get anything like the attention as still-peaceful protests that stop things going on as usual.

    I can understand why LCC doesn’t want to do anything militant. They do great work on all kinds of campaigns, and if it did break any police conditions of protest their officials would be arrested (as happened to a student union president last week who forgot to tell the police about a protest at his student union). So someone else other than the LCC needs to initiate this, even if at an LCC called protest. I genuinely think that the anger is there, it would just require one person with a megaphone and a few people they know near them to sit down in the road on signal. People are angry and would join a sit in and block the junction style action gladly.

    My wife tried to stop me cycling today because of the 6th death in Camberwell/Walworth. I eventually reassured her that I take back streets and don’t go through any of the dangerous junctions. But if we lived east of the Bow Roundabout (for instance) then I probably would have to be giving up cycling now in order to appease her. If we’re ever going to get someone like my wife cycling more than on a few quiet streets in summer then we’re going to have to do something more radical to make sure TFL pays attention and makes the right changes now.

  8. The LCC leadership is deluded in thinking that a vigorous protest will undermine their seat at the table with Boris.
    They don’t seem to understand that they have been given the corner seat to shut them up, so that TfL can continue with their smoothing of traffic flow.
    Appalling naivety.

  9. jimmy-j

    Isn’t it a bit naive making Transport for London the target for this protest? No-one at TFL cares about public opinion because their jobs are safe. It’s politicians who make decisions and worry about losing their jobs if they think the public are turning against them…

    I’ll probably go along if I can finish work early, but not convinced it’s been thought through very well.

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