Vehicular Cycling Propaganda of the Week #2: “Give Me Cycle Space”

One of an occasional series offering a satirical look at VC propaganda.

There’s something about this long-running campaign by Cycling Scotland that really irritates me.

The original 2012 advert is a pathetic plea to drivers, imploring them to follow rule 163 of the Highway Code. Unless I’m sorely mistaken, it hasn’t improved cycling conditions in Scotland one bit.

Thank you for giving me this much cycle space.” Ugh. Pathetic. “Thank you for not endangering my life.”

The biggest lie is how they pretend that children cycling to school is a normal thing nowadays, and that the cherry on the cake would be if they were given a vague amount of space on the very rare occasions that an automobile is encountered.

Note the holes in the wool they’re trying to pull over your eyes though: The car-sick housing estate the children are on their bikes in at the end, including a car parked on the footway. I expect that normally this street is full of parked cars which would prevent such a textbook overtake, and that the producers of this advert had to ask people to move their cars for the filming. More propaganda.

The 2015 version goes even further, suggesting that cycling is a normal and common way for anyone of any age to get around in Scotland:

To the Dutch this advert probably looks like a normal everyday scene. But anybody in Britain knows that this isn’t based on reality. Perhaps there’s a couple of places that vaguely resemble this, but they’re few and far between.

Doesn’t even do what it says on the rusty old tin

Though for me the oddest thing about this campaign is that it doesn’t even communicate its message clearly. The outstretched arms seems to suggest that drivers should make sure to give an arms’ length gap when overtaking, but we know that’s actually far too close.

No actual passing distance in feet or metres is given, the message “give as least as much space as you would give a car” is open to interpretation. Some drivers would happily overtake another car – or a bin lorry – with only a few inches clearance. They might see this advert and assume their driving is just fine.

So in short, it’s wasted time and wasted money. This sort of thing has been tried again and again for decades, with nothing to show for it as far as I can tell.

A large billboard with the words 'You can never give a cyclist too much room. If you want to keep casualties down, keep your distance'. It has a hugely stretched bike on it. Cars speed past in the foreground.

“You can never give a failed idea too many tries.” (Source: YouTube)

But unfortunately there’s a whole industry that’s been built up around this kind of crap, whole armies of people whose jobs rely on the continuing failure of their dismal propaganda, so we can expect more of the same.

There’s that saying, usually attributed to Einstein, about how repeating the same thing but expecting a different result is the definition of insanity – but when people’s wages depend on the repetition of failed ideas, perhaps that’s enough of an incentive to be cynically insane.


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12 responses to “Vehicular Cycling Propaganda of the Week #2: “Give Me Cycle Space”

  1. davidhembrow

    Did the guy in that 1985 video really say that “100 cyclists are killed on the roads every day” ? If so, it’s hardly surprising that there are few cyclists left in the UK now… Seriously, though, you’re right. These dress brightly / watch out for each other messages have been around forever. The LCC bloke was right then and remains right now: The infrastructure needs to change to make cycling safe.

  2. Tim

    Of course “rule 163” is only guidance rather than any kind of legal requirement, and I hate the ambiguous wording. Is “as much room as you would when overtaking a car” relative or absolute? Basically, does it mean to leave as much room between my car and the bike as I would between my car and the other car, or to move right out of the lane for a bike leaving over a car’s width in total as I would have to for another car? The photo would suggest it means the latter, but that could just be a driver giving a cyclist lots of space.

    Why not just “always leave x metres between you and the cyclist when overtaking a bike”? I would love to know other people’s interpretations.

    But yes, back on topic, infrastructure rather than “play nice” messages.

    • I also hate the ambiguity, but the problem with “x metres” is that it really depends on the situation. For example, 1 metre is perfectly fine if mini passes you in a quiet residential area at 15mph (although of course they could stay back and wait…), but absolutely terrifying when it’s an articulated lorry at 50mph on a country road. It also depends on the person who’s cycling (a child may need much more) and the road (potholes? double the distance!).

      You could do something like “maximum speed divided by 20” as minimum distance (minimum 1 metre in 20mph zones, 2.5 metre on 50mph roads, but advise always as much as possible), but there are practical issues. In the end I don’t really think you get around teaching drivers to understand the perspective of people on bikes and make reasonable judgement how much space we need, depending on the situation. And, most importantly, get into drivers’ mind that you don’t HAVE to overtake, you can also stay back and wait until it’s safe.

      Of course the video doesn’t do any of that.

      • Tim

        “you don’t HAVE to overtake” – Amen to that. The number of drivers who overtake me accelerating blindly towards the oncoming traffic, forcing other drivers to brake sharply to avoid a head-on crash. Overtaking on principle because I’m on a bike – you seem the same with drivers overtaking learners. Of course it should be obvious – “if you don’t have room to overtake, then don’t overtake”.

        I take your point regarding “x metres”. Maybe “Give a cyclist the whole lane when overtaking”? I take your point that it’s less scary on lower speed roads, but if a kid hits a pot-hole and comes off you still want to ensure there’s a big gap between you and them, because a car is pretty heavy at any speed.

        • Yes, you’re right 1 metre isn’t enough if a person comes off the bike. This is actually another thing the video completely fails to explain: WHY do we need more space than many drivers think? Even in good conditions you often can’t cycle in a perfectly straight line, and then there are potholes and gusts of wind, and the turbulence from the overtaking vehicles.

          • Tim

            In the recent overtaking video by Carlton Reid featuring Chris Boardman, Boardman talks about the cyclist’s “dynamic envelope”. Cyclists need to lean to turn. And of course bikes get wider towards the top unlike cars. I’m not sure everyone appreciates all this. Easier just to give dedicated space.

            • Mark Williams

              Yes, the cyclist might well turn. I have previously pointed out elsewhere that these adverts show the cyclist indicating to turn both left and right at the next junction.

              The absence of a specific distance might be fine for those with 3.7m long arms—and a D-lock to hand as a reminding device :-/. But the implication that it is OK to operate a motor car apparently <0.2m from the short-armed schoolgirl’s handlebar really boils my piss! Still, at least she’s got a helmet on…

              But where are the ASA in all this? They were previously furious about the very notion of depicting a motorist having to cross onto the `wrong’ side of a road to overtake a mere cyclist and went about banning adverts on this basis.

  3. Most “safety” campaigns don’t seem to communicate any useful message. Besides not explaining how much space people need, it also totally fails to mention the obvious advice: Why overtake at all? If the road is too narrow, just stay back and wait. The cyclist may turn at the next junction, or you get to a wider main road where overtaking is easier, or you just end up at the next traffic light where the cyclist then passes you again.

    In my experience, most drivers will actually give me plenty of space in all the situations in the video when the road is empty and wide. The problems start when the road is narrow, or a pinchpoint coming up. Then you have roughly two types of drivers: some don’t care and don’t want to be held up by cyclists and bully you deliberately. But I think the majority of drivers just don’t really know what to do and also feel that they have to drive at the speed limit so that they don’t hold up other drivers, and then they run out of space and try to squeeze past.

    It’s just another version of the “respect”-type campaign, which spectacularly fails to achieve anything. The minority of drivers who really don’t respect or even hate cyclists won’t change their mind after watching such a video. But the majority of drivers do respect others and don’t want to harm anybody deliberately, but lack knowledge or perspective, and the campaign doesn’t provide this insight to them.

  4. Depressing that the 1985 Newsround package could have been filmed this year. But the presenter would have been kitted out in hi-viz and helmet.

  5. Those videos had too many helmets for my taste. Children on bikes without helmets is a very normal thing in the Netherlands, which David can attest too, probably by looking out the nearest window.

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