Why People In The UK Don’t Cycle No 2 – Culture of Fear

Now, what would Phil Liggett do?

It would be fair to say that I had a very fortunate childhood. I was raised in a Surrey village with great community spirit. Everyone more or less knew each other and looked out for each other. If a crime was committed, the village bobby knew which door to knock on to conclude his enquires. My friends and I were able to get on our bicycles and go on adventures without fear or hindrance, be it heading out across the local commons or cycling to favourite spots by the river. As I write this on my 38th birthday, those days of children being able to take risks, learn from their own mistakes and run free seem more than an age away.

A major problem with having such an individualised car-centric culture is that areas become neighbourhoods without neighbours. As a result people feel less inclined to walk and cycle around their communities as they’re moving amongst strangers and a climate of fear is allowed to manifest itself. What’s very sad is that there are many people out there who know more about the lives of the celebrities in EastEnders than the people living in their own street. Once again the media, while certainly not the cause, is happy to keep it that way. As my favourite comedian, the late, great Bill Hicks once said, ‘You watch the news these days? It’s unbelievable. You think you just walk out your door, you’re immediately gonna be raped by some crack-addicted, AIDS-infected pitbull..’ Once upon a time, fear of the unknown would have been a catalyst to go out into the big wide World to gain new experiences and realise that most fears were unfounded. Now it keeps people firmly inside.

After reading yet another excellent post on Copenhagenize last year, I bought Climate of Fear by Frank Furedi. Although highly recommended, I found that I could only progress three or four paragraphs at a go before having to put the book down, pouring a glass of wine or going for a leisurely stroll to think about what I’d just read. It is very absorbing.

In one particular section he notes how a community in the past would have had certain unwritten rules that bound them together such as respecting one’s elders, assisting your neighbour if in trouble and so on. It allowed a certain level of order, civility and wellbeing. However, as the years have progressed, society has increasingly shut itself away in their houses to then pour themselves into metal cages to commute ridiculous distances to work in another building. Absolutely no interaction with ones neighbours or any effort on ones part to integrate with the local community necessary. As a result, there has been a complete breakdown in those unwritten rules. An elderly person stepping out into the street to walk to the shops may feel incredibly afraid of a group of young lads on the street corner. The lads are probably very nice if you talk to them but no-one knows each other any more and to engage them in conversation carries the risk of being branded a ‘paedophile’ or something equally horrific. This is a shame as the youths are equally afraid because no-one has taught them the rules or where they fit in society anymore. The Culture of Fear prevails.

Cycling around a neighbourhood is a great way of engaging it. You get to see people. You can even smile at them (not too much) and say hello if you like. After all, in the past, that would have been the default. You get to see things that you would have missed if you had shut yourself away in a cage from the nice things like an interesting café or shop to the more unpleasant things such as fly-tipping or the cycle infrastructure your local council has put in just to show you what engineering could look like on Crystal Meth. Essentially by getting out on a bike or on foot, you become the eyes and ears of your community again, just how it used to be. I find it quite telling that while speed cameras were the first to be switched off in their droves, CCTV cameras remain resolutely on. There’ll always be a budget for fear.

The car represents only limited freedom. It’s effectively a cage on wheels that’s probably crippled you financially before you turn the key. It has been reported how animals can lose their minds and develop disturbing habits if confined in a cage. Take a look at the humans you pass on your way to work as the poor things are trapped with only Chris Moyles for company. Yes, frightening isn’t it?

The bicycle empowers the people. In the same way that it transcends class it gives any citizen instant freedom and mobility. With a bicycle you can go where you want in your locality when you want under your own steam. Or, if the mood takes you, you can travel the World on it with just a passport, a saddlebag and a smile. You get to meet real people, living real storylines. You also get to burn a few calories and get all the endorphins you need in case the constant bombardment of ‘beauty’ in the media is also scaring you.

So there you go. In an age where a new Government seems Hell bent in perpetrating the Culture of Fear (the recent elevation in Britain’s terror alert status thereby increasing society’s sense of powerlessness was a particular humdinger), the humble bicycle cuts through all that by giving people back their confidence, happiness, a little bit of fitness (don’t use me as a guideline) and can unite communities. Basically doing that ‘Localism’ thing these Harbingers of Doom keep banging on about and more. Then again, if you pop round my house to joyously tell me of your new discoveries, I’ll probably just pull the blind down you bloody hippy cyclist.

Whoever resurrected this nugget from a time where people were genuinely afraid should be kneecapped

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11 responses to “Why People In The UK Don’t Cycle No 2 – Culture of Fear

  1. Exactly, and well said.

    Our country’s addiction to the motor car has more far-reaching consequences than just killing and injuring people on our roads. It has also nearly completely killed off local communities and local shopping centres. This is very useful for the government, who can use the breakdown in society to divide and conquer, impose restrictive “anti-terror” legislation, and as an excuse to monitor our activities in detail (especially voting intentions).

    People on bikes like each other, and cheerily say hello (well, apart from the lycra-clad racing lot) as they pass. We probably acknowledge the existence of ten or more known human beings on our school run by bike, twice a day.

    People in cars hate each other, and resort to road rage regularly. I know, because I turn into a loutish monster behind the wheel of a car, if I’m not very careful. It’s scary.

  2. Hmmm, interesting… and a sad reflection of our society as it is now.

    I live in a peaceful cul-de-sac in the city where no cars rumble between the houses.

    I know all the names of my neighbours and we chatter/do favours = feed cats/water plants/rescue locked-out children etc…

    Pretty sure that wouldn’t happen if a busy road was in the way. Cars break down communities.

  3. I write about this in my book “Death on the Streets: Cars and the mythology of road safety” (1992) – excuse the plug!

    A crucial element of the sustainable transport agenda is the creation of people friendly local communities that contradict the self-imposed alienation of motorisation.

    The architect of Milton Keynes (who died recently) worked for what he called “community without propinquity” – e.g. let’s not have anything to dow ith people we haven’t chosen to mix with. Don’t be fooled – a lopt of people would rather be stuck with Chris Moyles than have to interact with others face-to-face. Sad, but true.

    Also, of course, since Appleyard et al. we have known that heavy motor traffic disrupts interaction, so you get the destruction of local traditional community from both ends simultaneously. Motorists seperate from others and stop others from interacting as well at the same time.

    There is a disease which involves people being unable to interact with others. It is called autism.

  4. I am originally from Denmark, and lived in an area that is typical of how the Danish middle class lives, meaning living in bungalows in cul-de-sacs or roads that have very low traffic volumes either through design or the fact that other routes are quicker.

    This is the area of my childhood – http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=Venusvej,+7000+Fredericia,+Denmark&sll=51.472375,-2.514374&sspn=0.012016,0.026157&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Venusvej,+7000,+Fredericia,+Denmark&ll=55.563914,9.714167&spn=0.005454,0.013078&t=h&z=17 and it is clear that there is a high degree of permeability and paths between roads. In that area, there are 4 publicly accessible playgrounds and plenty of open spaces.

    This meant that I often socialised with people from other streets and visited their houses, and through my cycling around in the area I got to know quite a few people on other streets if not by name then by face and I always said hello to those people.

    Today I live in a busy Bristol street with plenty of traffic and the only people I know on the same street are my immediate next door neighbours.

    One can of course argue that the difference in age (and culture) means something, and that if I had been a young boy living here I would have made aquaintances with just as many people in the same sort of geographical area, but I do doubt that.

    It is my experience that even in relatively new housing developments in Bristol, permeability is something you would have to find in the phone book.

    This shot from Google Street view shows an obvious place for open pedestrian access, but there is nothing but fencing http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=Savages+Wood+Road,+United+Kingdom&sll=51.533602,-2.550885&sspn=0.003013,0.006539&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Savages+Wood+Rd,+Bradley+Stoke,+United+Kingdom&ll=51.533716,-2.549933&spn=0.003,0.006539&t=h&z=18&layer=c&cbll=51.533763,-2.549676&panoid=PC1lVRSiuslCFuEfTjl98g&cbp=12,172.08,,0,5.15

    I have to say in defence of british planners/housing companies, that in the opposite direction of that housing estate is a newly built housing estate that does offer access through the fencing to the shops across the road to the shopping center with Tesco Extra that can be seen to the left of the roundabout.

    Rasmus Jensen

  5. “People on bikes like each other, and cheerily say hello (well, apart from the lycra-clad racing lot) as they pass. We probably acknowledge the existence of ten or more known human beings on our school run by bike, twice a day.”

    Ho hum.

    I wear lycra, and I wave to everyone I encounter (there aren’t many around at 7am, so I make the most of it). I make an exception for the grumpy sod in the grey Altura Night vision jacket, because after a year of one sided greeting, he’s yet to acknowledge me. The other only people I don’t greet are people I pass – they haven’t always seen me, and it can give them a fright to be suddenly “hello’ed” when they’re not expecting it.

    But I agree with the thrust of the article – walking and cycling promote greater involvement with your surroundings, and other people. I can’t remember car drivers ever acknowledging each other (apart from those annoying sods who park up to chat to each other out of their wound down windows – maybe I should be less irritated by that).

    Where you go to countries where the car *is* tamed in the city, you tend to have much more vibrant communities, the sterotypical pavement cafés &c.

  6. There is a paradox at work here. So few cyclists die in road accidents (around 100 each year) that each instance is deemed worthy of reporting in the news.

    From the official UK accident figures, over 600 people die every year as a result of falling down stairs, yet these aren’t reported at all. And there are over 300 deaths by drowning and around the same number (280) from exposure to smoke, fire and flames.

    I agree totally with the effects a car dependent society has on community and neighbourliness. Hopefully the success of the 20’s plenty campaign will divert traffic away from residential roads, encouraging more cycling (and walking) with the increases in sociable behaviours.

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