‘Dunkirk Spirit’ dates back to the Dunkirk Evacuation in 1940. It’s a phrase used to describe the British public’s ability to pull together and overcome times of adversity. It’s a dogged, backs-to-the-wall phrase requiring Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’ to be played whenever it is invoked. It is a phrase that I believe accurately describes British cycle campaigning over the last 30 years.
There seems to be an alarming increase in the amount of discussion regarding the compulsion of cycle helmets. Earlier on this year, Jersey voted to make cycle helmets compulsory for under 18’s. The same idea is being mulled over for Northern Ireland. As I have written before on this blog I am not anti helmet but definitely pro-choice. I wear a helmet on my 24 mile a day commute, partly to put my wife’s mind at ease and partly because of the real problem which is that driving standards are sometimes shocking. There is compelling scientific data to promote both sides of the helmet argument. It’s a massive debate that always throws up a lot of emotion, so for now I strongly recommend the website of the Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation.
However, my view is as follows; if we honestly believe that putting protective clothing such as helmets or high-viz tabards on people should be considered as the best way forward for something as simple as riding a bicycle then we have collectively failed. The Government has consistently failed to deliver on sustainable transport policy, Local Councils have consistently failed by installing infrastructure that is often a poorly designed, dangerous insult to cycling, Highways Authorities have consistently failed by upgrading main roads to the point that they become effectively unusable for cyclists and pedestrians whilst providing no decent alternative, Road Safety groups have consistently failed to address what the real issue is regarding road safety, motorists have failed with their scant regard for other road users in the self-important belief that they own the roads, cycle campaigners and campaign groups have all consistently failed by entering a protracted dog fight that is ultimately doomed to failure. The ‘War on the Motorist’ is already over without a meaningful shot being fired and yet still produces thousands of dead and injured. As I look at an AA road atlas, I still note that one can drive to all points of the British Isles without let or hindrance. Cycling to all points is a different matter.
When I worked for CTC as an Information Officer, I realised that we were very good at speaking to the already converted (as you would hope with a membership organisation for cyclists) but the wheels fell off when appealing to non-cyclists to consider it. There is a systematic failure to appreciate that we have lost maybe two generations to the pull of a more sedentary lifestyle with all it’s paranoia about everything Outdoors, computer games and snacks. They now perceive cycling as a dangerous activity and expect to be carted everywhere in a metal box, increasing their chance of ending up in a wooden one early. Cycle training and pushing for the right to the road is all very well but when the public sees cyclists in helmets and high-viz clothing, it’s not going to make them rush to the bike shop.
The point of today’s post is that I believe it’s time to let go. It’s time to stop doggedly hanging on in there in the vain hope of achieving parity with the motor car. We look to countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands where the benefits of cycling are not only fully understood but taken very seriously. And then we settle for a cheap, pale, despicable imitation that fizzles out when it requires thought from the designer, such as a junction or roundabout. We have websites and books laughing at these efforts, yet no-one is being brought to account.
Helmet wearing must be regarded as the benchmark of absolute last resort for the Government and highways engineers. We have to be effectively campaigning for a decent, segregated cycle network to Dutch and Danish standards that renders all protective clothing an irrelevance, and normal, stylish (in my own opinion) clothing a necessity. This of course, also means segregation from pedestrians (why can’t they have some quality too?). Let’s make cycling enjoyable again as opposed to a dogfight.
In conclusion, we have to Copenhagenize if we are to see any meaningful increase in cycling levels in this country, and to make our living areas more liveable. It can be done, contrary to popular myth and to find out how I recommend the blogs and websites below for bedtime reading on best/worst practice.
Please find below the latest Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club Highway Code update which I hope you approve of.
204 The most vulnerable road users are pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and horse riders. It is particularly important to be aware of children, older and disabled people, and learner and inexperienced drivers and riders, as they WILL hold you up. Always remind them that they need to pay ‘Road Tax’, despite there being no such thing since 1937 and motorists don’t pay for the roads.
205 There is a risk of pedestrians, especially children, stepping unexpectedly into the road. You should drive with the safety of children in mind at a speed suitable for the conditions. That means NOT driving everywhere like Tiger Woods after a tipple.
206 Drive carefully and slowly UNLESS you are in a hurry when
in crowded shopping streets, Home Zones and Quiet Lanes (see Rule 218) or residential areas or anywhere where other people just as important as you are trying to conduct their lives
driving past bus and tram stops UNLESS there is a puddle
passing parked vehicles, especially ice cream vans; children are more interested in ice cream than traffic and may run into the road unexpectedly which won’t help as you are more interested in ice cream than traffic.
needing to cross a pavement or cycle track; for example, to reach or leave a driveway. Give way to pedestrians and cyclists on the pavement if you can spot them at the speed you’re doing.
reversing into a side road; look all around the vehicle and give way to any pedestrians who may be crossing the road ONLY when you hear a yell or the sound of sudden braking or feel a thump on the roof. ONLY then put your mobile phone down.
turning at road junctions; give way to pedestrians who are already crossing the road into which you are turning ONLY if they’ve nearly made it to the other kerb. Otherwise they are fair game.
the pavement is closed due to street repairs and pedestrians are directed to use the road. However, there will be 20,000 cones out to show exactly where your lane is so you could speed up a bit.
approaching pedestrians on narrow rural roads without a footway or footpath. Always look surprised as though they are trespassing on your private road. Apply the brakes from 60mph and blame them and the road (signage/surfacing/sight lines etc) for being at fault.
when approaching a speed camera (that is still switched on). They are there ONLY to extract money from the poor beleaguered motorist.
207 Particularly vulnerable pedestrians. These include
children and older pedestrians who may not be able to judge your speed and could step into the road in front of you. At your usual speed (50mph+) your vehicle will probably kill any pedestrians it hits. At 20 mph there is only a 1 in 20 chance of the pedestrian being killed. But of course, it will NOT happen to you because your driving is perfect in every way.
older pedestrians who may need more time to cross the road. Be patient and allow them to cross in their own time. Do not hurry them by revving your engine or edging forward as they are probably a bit blind and deaf as well so you’re wasting your precious energy. Some may have been in a World War to fight for your freedom and liberty to drive like a privileged twat.
people with disabilities. People with hearing impairments may not be aware of your vehicle approaching. Those with walking difficulties require more time so drive up to them quickly and brake suddenly to emphasise who is in the greater hurry.
blind or partially sighted people, who may be carrying a white cane or using a guide dog. They may not be able to see you approaching. You can recreate this effect by tuning in your car radio or looking at the road atlas on the passenger seat.
208 Near schools. Drive slowly and be particularly aware of young cyclists and pedestrians UNLESS your children need to get to school. In some places, there may be a flashing amber signal below the ‘School’ warning sign which you may notice informing you that other people’s less important children may be crossing the road ahead. Act with incredulity that other people have also chosen to drive their children. Position your vehicle as close to the school as you can in the manner of a car thief fleeing a scene.
209 Drive at your normal carefree speed when passing a stationary bus and notice the ‘School Bus’ sign at the last second as children may be getting on or off.
210 You MUST stop when a school crossing patrol shows a ‘Stop for children’ sign but ONLY after you increased your speed to try and beat them (see ‘Signals by authorised persons that will diminish with Coalition Government cuts’ and ‘Signs giving orders to be Ignored’) [Law RTRA sect 28]
Motorcyclists and cyclists
211 It is often difficult to see motorcyclists and cyclists whilst tuning the radio or picking your nose, especially when they are coming up from behind, coming out of junctions, at roundabouts, overtaking you or filtering through traffic as they have a lot more freedom than you’ll ever know. Always look out for them before you emerge from a junction; they could be approaching faster than you think (INCLUDING Brompton riders). When turning right across a line of slow-moving or stationary traffic, look surprised at cyclists or motorcyclists on the inside of the traffic you are crossing or hide behind the hand you have raised to indicate ‘thanks, but I’m pulling out anyway’ (see hand signals). Be especially careful when turning, and when changing direction or lane (driving in other words). Be sure to check mirrors and blind spots carefully before getting distracted by the radio again.
212 When passing cyclists, give them plenty of room UNLESS they are wearing a helmet. If they look over their shoulder it could mean that they intend to pull out, turn right or that they simply don’t trust modern driving standards. Give them time and space to do so which in your expert terms means two seconds and 50cm.
213 Motorcyclists and cyclists may suddenly need to avoid uneven road surfaces and obstacles such as drain covers or oily, wet or icy patches on the road which the cycle lane runs through. Give them plenty of room and pay particular attention to any sudden change of direction they may have to make by sounding your horn, winding down your window and informing them that they should NOT be on the road (also see Rule 204).
Other road users
214 Animals. When passing animals, drive slowly. Give them plenty of room and be ready to stop. Do not scare animals by sounding your horn, revving your engine or accelerating rapidly once you have passed them IF you think anyone is watching. Keep your speed at bends and on narrow country roads as Mother Nature is clearly throwing you a challenge which you will accept as you’ve just wasted thousands that you can’t really afford on a Subaru Impreza to prop up your miserable life. If a road is blocked by a herd of animals, drive slowly at them like a large metallic goat herd until they have left the road whilst listening to your partner warble on about how nice it must be to live in the countryside. Watch out for animals on unfenced roads although the locals drive through National Parks as though they have just robbed a bank at gunpoint. If a badger is lying at the side of the road with its legs in the air it’s because a motorist has killed it. It is NOT trying to look cute.
215 Horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles. Be particularly careful of horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles especially when overtaking. Always pass wide and slowly. Horse riders are often children, and their parents will be Barristers or Magistrates, so take extra care. Take great care and treat all horses as a potential hazard, particularly when connected to a Romany carriage; both horse/driver can be unpredictable, especially with alcohol.
216 Older drivers. Their reactions may be slower than other drivers and they MAY be wearing hats. Make allowance for them by informing your occupants or The Jeremy Vine Show that there should be compulsory re-testing at retirement age.
217 Learners and inexperienced drivers. They may not be so skilful at anticipating and responding to events. This will diminish further after they’ve passed their test. Be particularly patient with learner drivers and young drivers as they haven’t realised how much of a hurry you always need to be in the ‘Rat Race’. Drivers who have recently passed their test may display a ‘new driver’ plate or sticker, especially if it’s their parent’s car, as they don’t want their insurance premium to rival the cost of China’s Space programme.
218 Home Zones and Quiet Lanes. These are places where people used to use the whole of the road for a range of activities such as children playing or for a community event such as the end of World War II or the Wedding of Charles & Di. You should drive slowly and carefully UNLESS it’s a handy cut through, in which case be prepared to swear and make a gesturing motion with your hands (see Hand Signals). Sound your horn to alert residents who may trying to load a child seat or unload shopping of your presence and that you desperately need to get through. Try playing loud music to amplify the sense of urgency.
219 Emergency and Incident Support vehicles. You should look and listen for ambulances, fire engines, police, doctors or other emergency vehicles using flashing blue, red or green lights and sirens or flashing headlights, or Incident Support vehicles using flashing amber lights. When one approaches do NOT panic, as they probably didn’t spot you suddenly dropping your speed or your mobile below windscreen level. Consider the route of such a vehicle and take appropriate action to let it pass, while complying with all traffic signs and ignoring everyone else. If necessary, pull to the side of the road and stop, but try to avoid stopping before the brow of a hill, a bend or narrow section of road so speed up to match the emergency vehicle to get past these places. Impress other road users or pedestrians by mounting the kerb in the same way that Starsky & Hutch may have detained a pimp. Do NOT brake harshly on approach to a junction or roundabout, as a following vehicle may also be tuning their radio.
220 Powered vehicles used by disabled people. These small vehicles travel at a maximum speed of 8 mph (12 km/h). On a dual carriageway where the speed limit exceeds 50 mph (80 km/h) they MUST have a flashing amber beacon, although they are ONLY there because they are hopelessly lost and just nipped out to buy some digestive biscuits for the snooker on BBC2. On other roads you may not have that advance warning. You’ll blame the road, saying it isn’t ‘engineered’ enough. You’ll even blame the disabled person for being there in the first place. Do NOT look in a mirror as you may finally realise where the problem really is. [Law RVLR reg 17(1) & 26]
221 Large vehicles. These may need extra road space to turn or to deal with a hazard that you are not able to see. If you are following a large vehicle, such as a bus or articulated lorry, be aware that the driver may not be able to see your simmering fury in the mirrors. Be prepared to stop and wait and make loud huffing/tutting noises if it needs room or time to turn, otherwise try and overtake them at EVERY opportunity.
222 Large vehicles can block your view. Your ability to see and to plan ahead will be improved if you attempt to overtake them at every opportunity. TRY and be patient, as you can when away from a steering wheel, as larger vehicles are subject to lower speed limits than cars and motorcycles. Many large vehicles may be fitted with speed limiting devices which will restrict speed to 56 mph (90 km/h) even on a motorway. If all cars were fitted with the same devices, there would NOT need to be as many rules or deaths or serious injury but society won’t discuss this for some reason.
223 Buses, coaches and trams. Give priority to these vehicles when you can do so safely. If they signal to pull away from stops, increase your speed and try to get round them. Look out for people getting off a bus or tram and crossing the road as they will clearly be poorer than you because they are NOT in a car.
224 Electric vehicles. Be careful of electric vehicles such as milk floats and trams as they will hold you up. Trams move quickly but silently and cannot steer to avoid you. If you thought they could than do NOT go anywhere near a car, or do anything involving thought.
225 Vehicles with flashing amber beacons. These warn of a slow-moving or stationary vehicle such as a Traffic Officer vehicle (non-important), salt spreader, snow plough (you’ll be bunking off work by that stage anyway) or recovery vehicle or abnormal loads or cheap wedding reception DJ, so approach with caution. On unrestricted dual carriageways, motor vehicles first used on or after 1 January 1947 with a maximum speed of 25 mph (40 km/h) or less (such as tractors or old people) MUST use a flashing amber beacon (also see Rule 220). [Law RVLR 1989, reg 17]
Road.cc reports this week on ‘crackdowns on so-called anti-social cycling, with initiatives targeting bike riders who commit transgressions such as ignoring red traffic lights and cycling on the pavement under way in cities such as Chester and Bath, while councillors in Middlesbrough are calling for police there to tackle the problem’.
As a cycle campaigner I certainly support such moves to a point. I passed my cycling proficiency in 1979 and have always carried the mentality that the safest place to be on the road is moving with the flow of traffic obeying all signs and signals. As soon as you break lights or hop on the pavement then in my opinion not only are you being selfish but you’re just creating more problems for yourself where you can be prosecuted (if caught by the law) or sued for damages. The Highway Code isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly a passport to relatively stress free cycling.
However, I wrote ‘to a point’. Many councils paint bicycle symbols on pavements, calling them ‘Cycle Infrastructure’. This conveniently gets cyclists off the roads and leaves those that persist with the roads open to abuse. The roads become more dangerous with fewer cyclists about and then everyone scratches their heads as to why novice cyclists would use pavements that don’t have cycle symbols on them too. I would class this as an irritant as opposed to something requiring such heavy handed levels of policing. My point is that if this level of policing is part of a wider clampdown in the name of road safety, then what is being done about the far greater problem of motorists breaking the law?
Not much, it would appear. In the same week, RoSPA (the organisation that originally set up Cycling Proficiency), along with CTC have issued a joint communiqué to councils that are considering turning off their speed cameras to reconsider.
We also read that Cycling England, a Government quango set up by Department for Transport with responsibility for Cycling Proficiency (or ‘Bikeability’ as it’s now known) may be abolished. The worst case scenario would see an end to cycle training in our schools with no-one able to administer it and a Government no longer wanting to support it.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State for Transport Philip Hammond is said to be “far from convinced that it would be a good thing” to reduce the UK’s legal drink-driving limit and is set to reject an expert review that recommended that the country fall into line with the lower levels found in several other major countries in western Europe.
I can’t help but feel a that there is a little bit of a smokescreen going on here covering the fact that no-one is prepared to tackle the really big issues that kill and seriously injure every day. Making an example of cyclists that break red lights and ride on pavements is all very well. But speeding, drink-driving or mobile phone use whilst driving creates far more havoc for our society and its emergency services. Yet it’s ‘Demon Cyclists’ or ‘Lycra Louts’ or, even worse, ‘Middle Aged Lycra Louts’ that hit the headlines. Or Jon Snow being trailed by that tabloid Ku Klux Klan, the Daily Mail. Road safety, particularly for its more vulnerable users, is clearly no match for the motoring and drinks lobbies!
Another recent example of victimising groups and creating a smokescreen is the surge of interest in ‘dole cheats’. These fraudsters are fleecing the innocent taxpayer of billions! That’s all very well, and £5 billion a year is certainly a problem. But what about the high level tax avoidance of the rich that’s costing the nation (it has been estimated) £50-60 billion a year? Again, the bigger issue disappears behind a smokescreen because it’s too difficult to face and the lobbying too powerful.
Think what could be done if that £50-60 billion went directly to cycling! A fully segregated cycle network could be created across the country linking villages with towns, children with schools, adults with shops and places of work. I have a dream, Brothers and Sisters. You’d have a lot of change out of that money too.
There’ll be a smokescreen though. With all the money snaffled by ‘consultancy fees‘ and used to plug other holes in Government & Council spending, so we’ll end up with this, this and this everywhere. Again.
I draw two conclusions; firstly, this country simply doesn’t know how to deal with something like cycling because we have been so primed for ever bigger roads and car use that we cannot get our heads around catering for something so blissfully simple as riding a bicycle. As a result, it will always be treated like a stubborn stain that won’t go away unless there is a culture shift. Secondly, and pardon the language, but self confessed motor loving Philip Hammond MP seems to be about as much use as tits on a bull. I hope the lobbying perks are worth it.
In July, the Government published its National Travel Survey data. It confirmed that cycle use has increased to the highest level in decades. What was greeted with surprise was that the key area for growth was the highest income bracket. What I personally found surprising was that people found this surprising. The highest income bracket has always produced keen cyclists, some of whom have represented cycling interests in the Houses of Parliament. Intelligent, well paid people have long known that the velocipede is a civilized, no nonsense form of conveyance and that the simplest ideas are always the best.
At about the same time, Mintel, a market research firm published its own report (Bicycles in the UK 2010). It points out what cyclists and other handsome, intelligent people have known for years; that most adult cyclists are motorists too. This creates a problem for mainstream media and marketing companies. It makes it more difficult to compartmentalise ‘Cyclists’ & ‘Motorists’ as they are essentially one and the same.
However they were instantly thrown a lifeline; the report produced a new type of cyclist and even gave them an acronym. Step forward the ‘MAMIL’ or ‘Middle Aged Man In Lycra’. This is a cyclist in the 35-45 age bracket that may own…wait for it…. two cars!! They are more likely to read broadsheet papers, shop at Waitrose and have a household income of £50,000 per annum. They’re twice as likely to be male as female (which was a surprise to me as I had no idea that a woman could be a ‘Middle Aged Man In Lycra’ but there you go).
As if by magic the two agencies of cyclist hatred (BBC News and The Daily Mail) leapt onto this, in particular the suggestion that this upsurge in higher end bike sales is a “noughties version of a mid life crisis” and is the modern equivalent of buying a flashy sports car. Only they could put negative spin on a person buying a bicycle. Focussing on this group conveniently sidesteps the bigger story which is that more people are cycling generally.
In reality there are many factors at play; the explosion in the amount of charity bike rides and organised events such as ‘Sportive’ rides has probably helped fuel this surge along with better coverage of events such as the Tour de France and the Halfords City Centre race series, both shown on ITV4. The success of Team GB and the escapades of Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish cannot have gone unnoticed. Women now have incredible role models in Victoria Pendleton, Nicole Cooke and Shanaze Reade on the BMX track.
If middle aged affluent men want to spend thousands of pounds on a new bike for sporting pursuits then good for them and even better for the local bike shop they buy it from. I’d rather they did that then get a new set of golf clubs or donate the money to UKIP. Welcome to the family. Other cyclists may sneer but if it means more people out and about enjoying themselves on bicycles (even if just on a Sunday) then that means less badly driven sports cars on our roads and increased road awareness.
The report adds that consumers like cycling because it gives them ‘health and wellbeing, a sense of community and environment’. I would add ‘a chance to reflect that The Daily Mail is just a middle class tabloid equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan’.
It also states that cycling “lacks some of the less acknowledged selling points favoured by car drivers: personal safety, comfort, style, convenience and speed”. The bicycle provides all that if used safely and correctly. A Stannah Stair Lift also provides all that if used safely and correctly but we’ll cover old age at a later date.
According to todays Independent on Sunday, cash strapped Councils are looking to innovative planting schemes to slow motorists down be changing their perceptions.
..”Norfolk County Council planted 200 trees in four villages – Martham, Horstead, Mundesley and Overstrand – in an effort to reduce average speeds by two to three miles per hour and cut accidents by 20 per cent. There had been 20 crashes in the rural spots over a five-year period.
Mr Hallett said the initiative, which supports carbon reduction and is the first of its kind in the UK, was about changing the environment to alter motorists’ perspectives. The planting of trees and hedges is designed to reduce speed “by playing with the driver’s peripheral vision”. One technique involved placing trees – at decreasing distances apart – on the approach to a village, tricking drivers into thinking they were speeding. “If you are staying at a constant speed, your peripheral vision [which takes in the trees] is giving you the impression you are going faster,” explained Mr Hallett. “People hit the brakes before they hit the village.”
Another method was to plant trees “so that it looks like the environment is closing in on the driver”, he added. The road remains the same width but trees are planted on a “lazy diagonal” that gets narrower towards the entrance to the village….”
I worked in commercial horticulture for five years and support this type of scheme wholeheartedly. Trees and plants can assist in all sorts of unusual situations. A Crataegus Prunifolia hedgerow, for example, can be planted as an excellent deterrent against burglary. The touring cyclist traveling through France will be familiar with the beautiful avenues of Plane trees along the roadside and further planting on exposed roadsides over here could act as an unwittingly good windbreak and landscape enhancement.
As far as road safety is concerned however, I would argue that these solutions don’t go far enough. I would like to make a couple of tentative additions of my own to their inventive arboricultural arsenal;
The Yellow Petunia Speed Camera Hanging Basket
This is a great opportunity for towns and villages to combine their ‘Britain in Bloom‘ budget with road safety. Just plant oblong boxes with Yellow petunias to look like the backs of speed cameras and hang them on grey poles. It combines a topical matter with gardening and could give Alan Titchmarch the inspiration to write a decent novel for a change.
The Accident Black Spot Daisy Chalk Outline
Where there is a high casualty rate, just plant beautiful daisies as a replica chalk outline in a nearby grass verge or meadow. Add Michaelmas Daisies across the head to create a baseball cap effect where there is a higher than average amount of Citroen Saxo’s in the area.
The opportunities are endless! I would personally advocate the ‘Palm Trees Falling Across The Road If Someone Triggers The Speed Trap In A Thunderbird 2 Runway Type Scenario’ but you might as well switch the cameras back on for that kind of money.
Consider the plight of the poor beleaguered motorist.
For years they have had to put up with ever bigger roads; dual carriageways, road widening, ring roads, inner relief roads, orbital roads & bypasses. Some motorists have interests such as gardening or archaeology yet found themselves having to drive ever increasing distances to see nice pretty landscapes and places of interest because lots of other people also liked driving and needed to be accommodated on ever bigger roads destroying more and more pretty landscapes and places of interest. How dreadful.
Some motorists occasionally enjoyed nice walks or cycle rides for short journeys to the post office or school but the bigger roads sliced through the bridleway and footpath network so they didn’t link communities anymore. So more people had to drive on the bigger roads and get in each others way. Apparently, people who might have considered a walk or a cycle ride also started driving as they considered the new bigger roads to be more hostile, adding to all that congestion. Well, really!
Many had to drive all the way out to the outskirts of towns to get their shopping (as walking around lots of shops is tiresome when you can’t park outside each and every one of them), ripping up more of that lovely countryside and archaeology beneath. No wonder Time Team only ever had three days!
All have had to endure the fact that motoring in real terms is as inexpensive as its ever been. Apparently, only they pay for the roads and should have exclusive rights to them. Many have had entire seconds added to their journey times due to the intrepid few that venture out on bicycles or on foot, the fools! How dare these peasants get in the way when motorists have spent thousands of pounds on their mode of transport?
They have had to endure speed cameras with their bright yellow paint and repeated warning signs. They have had money ruthlessly taken from them when all they did was break the law. How petty is that?! Why aren’t they catching the real criminals?
We needn’t worry though. Philip Hammond, the new Transport Secretary has recently ended this onslaught on the motorist. Thank God! He’s axed the funding to the speed cameras meaning that local authorities fall like a house of cards in the rush to switch them off despite objections from those little people that don’t know what they’re talking about like local residents, road safety groups and police chiefs. Anyone would have thought that right wing motoring groups lobbied hard and portrayed motorists as the poor victims in all this. Surely not! After all, they only kill and seriously injure a few thousand every year!
It now transpires that some motorists in Oxfordshire are speeding again now the cameras have been switched off. Gee!! What are the odds??!! It’s probably all these ‘expert’ motorists driving at speeds that they consider appropriate as opposed those nasty speed limits imposed to reduce the chance of death and serious injury. It’ll be alright though because those that walked or cycled in these spots will be put off due to the increased danger so there will be even less distraction.
If the ‘War on the Motorist’ has ended, then this must surely mean that they can now stop killing innocent civilians?Hurrah! The war is over! If a War had actually been declared on the motorist than I can only describe the state declared on pedestrians and cyclists as ‘genocide’ or ‘a holocaust’ as they impede the march of progress and are cleared off the streets. Well, if we’re going to wildly exaggerate, we might as well try and take it to a logical conclusion. Wars are things that happen in far away lands. Yet motoring has the higher death and casualty rate. Shouldn’t it be the ‘War from the Motorist’?
The title of this post refers to Matthew Parris, an ex-MP and columnist. In 2007 he wrote a column in the Times ranting against cyclists.
‘A festive custom we could do worse than foster would be stringing piano wire across country lanes to decapitate cyclists. It’s not just the Lycra, though Heaven knows this atrocity alone should be a capital offence; nor the helmets, though these ludicrous items of headgear are designed to protect the only part of a cyclist that is not usefully employed; nor the self-righteousness, though a small band of sports cyclists on winter’s morning emits more of that than a cathedral at evensong; nor even the brutish disregard for all other road users, though the lynching of a cyclist by a mob of mothers with pushchairs would be a joy to witness.’
That’s just the opening paragraph! He then carries on in a way that makes Jeremy Clarkson’s words read like a bedtime story involving kittens. To be fair, Mr Parris was probably unaware of the fact that hilarious country dwellers were stringing wire between trees and fence posts on bridleways to garrotte cyclists and horse riders (it certainly wasn’t to catch 5ft tall foxes). Thankfully these were, and are rare events but you have to ask what passes through the minds of these spineless, spiteful people to summon up such hatred through these words and deeds.
The article received over 200 complaints to the PCC and an apology followed.
Let’s fast forward to last week’s Spectator. Mr Parris discusses the Monsal Trail in the Peak District National Park. Four disused railway tunnels are being opened up to create a path with easier gradients for cyclists, horse riders and walkers allowing decent connections to other routes. Part of the funding is coming from Cycling England.
(Further reading about the trail can be found at this wonderful blog post from the Worthing Wanderer)
However, Mr Parris continues,
‘……. couldn’t cyclists themselves be more involved in the funding of Cycling England — some £160 million per annum? Cyclists have a strong sense of community and are good at organising (as I know to my cost, having once upset them). I would hazard a guess that as an overall group they do not represent a particularly disadvantaged section of society. They pay no road tax. Cyclists do already support a range of cycling organisations, local and national, out of their own pockets: why not this one, if they want it to continue?….’
Regular readers of this blog (and Carlton Reid’s website) will of course have spotted his cardinal error; Road Tax hasn’t existed for over 70 years and even then it was heavily subsidised. Cyclists have always contributed to road building through Central and Local Taxation, often contributing to the creation of conditions hostile to cyclists. As seasoned cycle campaigners know, cycling budgets at National and Council level are woeful. West Sussex County Council have just confirmed that there is no money in the pot this year for cycling due to all the recent pothole repairs and of course cuts, cuts, cuts, except where motoring is concerned. (Actually I’m glad they haven’t any money because there’ll be no more of this, this or this)
Mr Parris continues,
‘…at an ancient and historic copper mine I visited in neighbouring Cheshire two years ago, a group of volunteer enthusiasts have been clearing away rubble for many years, all unpaid and all in their spare time. Most cyclists are by definition fit, strong and healthy. Campaigning by cycling groups will have been part of the genesis of this Monsal Trail project. Why not involve campaigners in the work itself? Shifting rubble is not highly skilled; it would be fun to be involved. Walking and horse-riding groups, to all of whose members these tunnels are planned to open, could join in’
and then he enthuses,
‘… how to collect the money? Here, government can help co-ordinate: if cyclists were to consolidate their organisations into a sort of AA of cycling, a range of benefits — like using this trail, or public cycle-racks, or railway provision for cycles, or discounts in cycle shops, could be made dependent on showing the badge.’
The CTC has been around since 1878. They successfully campaigned for cyclists’ right to be on the road, and to use bridleways (years before the Mountain Bike). They offer free third party insurance to members, free legal assistance and discounts in cycle shops. Above all, they have volunteers working across the country; People that fight in their spare time to open up trails, to get our voice heard in Highways Departments that couldn’t care less and to secure funding through whatever means.
All this for something so beautifully simple, previous generations did it without even thinking.
Volunteers have always been the backbone of cycling, from those that build and maintain Mountain Bike trails, to the Sustrans Rangers acting as custodians of the National Cycle Network, to the volunteer marshals at road and mountain bike events across the land, to all the campaign groups, to the devilishly handsome cycling blog writers to the venerable CTC.
In conclusion, Matthew Parris is nothing more than a misguided fool who needs to do more research. Maybe he should do a bit of volunteer work in the CTC offices. He might learn something.
25 years ago, some friends and I, aged between 13 & 15 decided to go for a bike ride. We packed sandwiches and flasks of squash into bags and cycled from our home village of Elstead, Surrey to Bury Hill, West Sussex. We had intended to cycle further to Arundel or the sea but we decided to quit while we were ahead. We had cycled 40 odd miles (including the stout climb up the South Downs) and had another 40 to get home. The freedom was exhilarating.
The majority of our route was on A roads and it was still a pleasure. We were cycling outside of rush hour on a week day; drivers were courteous, when a lorry slowed down behind us we pulled over to let the driver pass safely and he thanked us with a wave and a toot of the horn. We did all this with no helmets, no high-viz and without fear. Little did we know that Mrs Thatcher and the road building lobby had other ideas.
25 years later, cyclists can still use A Roads (they have a right to) but they aren’t exactly filled with pleasure, unless you’re the Marquis de Sade. Many have been ‘improved’ and ‘engineered’ to the extent that they have become dual carriageways – motorways in all but name that now bypass the very communities the original roads were meant to serve. They have become incredibly hostile environments for anything that doesn’t have a motor attached to it. It’s strange to think that you can’t cycle in or out of a seaside town such as Worthing due to the A24 being a fast dual carriageway unless you’re Mark Cavendish on amphetamines. There isn’t even a consistant path at the side for pedestrians or horse riders either.
Cycling as a result has become a very schizophrenic activity; on the one hand experienced cyclists claim that we must assert our right to the road and that if enough people do it we will reach some sort of tipping point or critical mass. Others believe that this will never happen all the while that cycling is increasingly perceived as a dangerous activity and that cycle lanes or shared use facilities are the way forward.
I want Town Planners and Highways engineers cowering in my wake as I pursue with extreme prejudice Cycle Mega Highways across the land as much as 5 metres wide!! I want them to be fast (or slow. It’s not a race), direct, with priority at junctions. Yes! Priority at junctions! I want ruthless planting of hedgerows and trees to act as windbreaks and encourage wildlife (that won’t get run over). I want to see people of all creeds, colours and ages riding to work and school with stupid grins plastered across their faces. I want to see the mass burning of High-viz tabards and helmets when people realise that cycling isn’t a dangerous activity and that they had been lied to by the motoring lobby and ‘road safety’ groups. I want the designers of ‘Shared Use Facilities’ and other crap cycle infrastructure put in large wooden stocks placed at the side of the Cycle Mega Highways to remind them constantly how it should be done. I want all ‘Cyclists Dismount’ and ‘End of Route’ signs melted down and turned into statues of Tommy ‘Angel of the North’ Simpson, Beryl ‘Angel of the North’ Burton, Sir Chris ‘Angel of the Track’ Hoy and Victoria ‘Angel of Angels’ Pendleton. I want people’s house prices to spiral upwards out of control when a Cycling Mega Highway stampedes nearby with its deafening levels of peace and quiet and obscene levels of fresh air. I want residents to attempt claiming compensation from the RSPB when the sound of birdsong starts becoming too much. I want pedestrians to worry about whether they’re wearing any deodorant due to no cyclists brushing past them on the pavements. I want towns and cities to become liveable and civilized again! I want local businesses, cafes and farm shops to enjoy rampant good trade due to happy people cycling past and local money staying local. I want the Chancellor to say at a budget ‘we don’t need to raise spending on the NHS because you’re all so fit and stress free. We’re diverting money instead to the treatment of the Top Gear fan base as they’re not getting any younger either.’
Above all, I want a proper legacy for my son and his children to enjoy. Not a sloppily converted pavement. Nor a strip of paint that fizzles out at the precise moment a cyclist would need it most. I mean a proper sustainable transport network. And I bet it would cost less than the proposed High Speed Rail Link too.