Note: some of what follows isn’t actually true. But only slightly.
In a move that has caused controversy in the pedestrian community, James Cracknell has come out in favour of a law to make it compulsory to wear a helmet when you walk across the road.
Speaking on the Sportlobster programme, he said
I was cycling down Route 66 in America, and a fuel truck hit me. His wing mirror hit the back of my head. The truck hit me at 70mph, and I would be dead without the helmet I was wearing.
But I’ve been thinking. What if I’d been hit hit by that truck while I was walking at the side of that road? Surely a helmet would have saved me in exactly the same way?
You know, we need to protect our heads when we’re on the road. Not just while cycling. But also while we’re walking. Use your head. Wear a helmet.
Cracknell admitted that, when it comes to helmets,
The pedestrian community is strangely ‘anti’ being told what to do. So you can’t have legislation that you should wear a helmet, because it’s an invasion of your rights to do what you want.
However, he was quick to point out that there’s no real downside to wearing a helmet for crossing the road.
But what’s the worst that can happen if you wear a helmet? There’s no downside, apart from maybe having slightly messy hair. That’s it. Whereas the upside is enormous.
And if you think it’s an invasion of your privacy, or someone telling you what to do, to wear a helmet when you walk across the road, imagine having someone wipe your arse for the rest of your life. That is the downside. Or not even surviving! The best thing that could happen is that someone has to wipe your arse for the rest of your life. I would choose to wear a helmet, and have slightly messy hair.
Actor Ralf Little – also appearing on the programme – was quickly won over by Cracknell’s faultless logic.
Why wouldn’t you wear a helmet for walking across the road? What’s the worst that can happen? You’re out walking anyway. Who cares what your hair looks like? It doesn’t matter.
Indeed. Messing up your hair is trivial, compared to the risk of suffering a catastrophic brain injury, if you get hit by a driver. He continued -
I follow James’s missus Bev, and she’s been tweeting over the last few days about Schumacher, and the need to wear a helmet when you cross the road. And the anger – this bizarre anger – from people, this response of going ‘how dare you’, this real vitriol she’s been getting… All she’s saying is, ‘listen, it would be a good idea if everyone was safe when you are on the road.’
Quite right. It would be a good idea if everyone was safe when they are on the road. Just protect your head. What kind of idiot would object to that?
Cracknell also pointed out the extra importance of wearing a helmet while walking across the public highway. Racing drivers wear helmets on racing tracks, where they are surrounded by drivers who are competent and know what they are doing. However -
On the road, you don’t know what anyone else is going to do.
Wise words. Racing drivers are highly trained, whereas drivers on the road are amateurs, and are more likely to crash into you when you walk across the road. They might not be wearing their glasses, and hit you on a pedestrian crossing, causing catastrophic head injuries. Or they might be travelling at 55mph in a 30mph zone, and hit you on a pedestrian crossing, causing catastrophic head injuries. You don’t know what anyone else is going to do.
It’s simple, says Cracknell. What’s the downside? Wear a helmet when you cross the road. How can anyone argue against something that will save your life? How?
Please do read Beyond the Kerb’s piece The Brick Wall, if you haven’t already
A few months ago I had a bit of a near miss with a driver who, in essence, failed to expect me to come around a corner on a bicycle. Likewise, I failed to expect him to appear so suddenly – a function of the speed he was travelling at.
He was driving straight ahead into a parking space, and I was cycling straight ahead, in a path perpendicular to his. I had arrived at our point of conflict first, and he was going far too fast for the situation, but (fortunately) slow enough to be able to brake and avoid hitting me.
I instinctively yelled out as this occurred, principally, I think, out of genuine concern that I was about to be crashed into. Then, reasonably calmly, I remonstrated with the driver – a thick-set elderly man in a Jaguar – about being a bit more careful. This didn’t get the desired response – instead I was told to look where I was going, and given some abusive comments for good measure.
With hindsight, I probably should have just pedalled away at this point, but his abuse prompted me to ask whether he would talk like that to the elderly ladies who cycle on this bit of road – ladies he could well have encountered instead of me.
The conversation then took a bizarre twist. The man was parking up in front a shop (recently closed) which he had owned with his wife, and he saw fit to regale me with the number of times ‘elderly ladies’ had nearly been run down by cyclists on the pavement outside his shop. The implication was that I was somehow responsible, by association, because I was using the same mode of transport. That I was reckless and irresponsible by default.
But – quite obviously – this had absolutely nothing to do with me. I have never ridden past his shop on the pavement, nor have I terrified grannies.
Somebody else was responsible. Yet the conversation had switched from a discussion about the actual danger he had just posed to me, to a general one about how ‘cyclists’ behave. I was no longer an individual – I had become a manifestation of general cycling wrongdoing.
This isn’t the first time something like this happened. In another instance, a year or so earlier, I followed a driver into a car park to ask him to give a little more space the next time he was overtaking someone, only to be told that ‘you jump red lights’.
A psychological explanation of these kinds of responses must lie in the fact that people who cycle are a minority – a very small minority – of the general population. It is much easier to stereotype people when they are a minority, and to lump them together into one homogeneous mass.
I’ve explored before how a Kurdish friend felt the need to write to national newspapers to explain that not all Kurds in the UK are like this man, who killed a girl on a zebra crossing, and left her to die. Rationally, it didn’t make any sense at all for her to have done this, because a calm examination of the facts would serve to demonstrate that Kurds in the UK are probably about as well-behaved as everyone else. But I can understand why she did it – the story was headline news for some time, and might have served to create the impression – in the heads of bigots – that all Kurds are like the man in question, especially when not many people in the UK are Kurds, and none of them is well-known.
The attitudes of the two men who responded to me with the misdeeds of other people who were riding bikes are essentially enabled by the fact that cycling is a minority mode of transport, and therefore a ripe target for those people cannot differentiate – or choose not to differentiate – between individuals. If I had been walking, and we had got into a discussion about how their driving had endangered me, it would have been obviously nonsensical for them to respond with the misdeeds of other people walking around – perhaps someone who had bumped into a granny, or someone who had knocked over a pram while walking along. It would have been laughable. But precisely the same form of response seemed acceptable and serious to these two, purely because I happened to be cycling, instead of walking.
It’s deeply odd, and probably worthy of being explored in more detail. But what is just as odd is that people who apparently seek to advance the cause of cycling as a mode of transport – people who cycle themselves, and want to see more of it – actually accept the logic of these kinds of arguments. They think that drivers have a poor attitude towards cycling precisely because some other people break the rules while cycling, and that, consequently, the way to address this is to attempt to stop people breaking rules while cycling.
These arguments will often in appear in the form ‘giving us a bad name’, or that ‘we’ (‘we’ being anyone who rides a bike) ‘can be our own worse enemy’. The logic is that cycling has a bad reputation – which manifests itself in bad driver behaviour around people cycling – and that this bad reputation flows from the fact that ‘we’ are quite badly behaved as a group. Superficially, it therefore seems obvious that to improve this situation we have to stop people on bikes from breaking the law.
The latest example of this kind of argument appeared in the Times in December, in a piece written by James Kennedy. He wrote
What I am arguing is that in the absence of exceptional circumstance we expect everyone to obey the laws of the road. I completely believe that were we to achieve this then cycling becomes safer and more popular in every sense of the word.
If they felt [cyclists] were “playing by the rules” all road users would be more likely to be considerate of cyclists’ needs – at the ground level drivers would be less angry with cyclists and would give them more space on the road on a day-to-day basis, and at the legislative level everyone would be a hell of a lot more amenable to cycle safety law changes if the popular consciousness wasn’t so pissed off with cyclists in the first place.
The re-categorisation of cyclists as being within the road rules and the weight of expectation of behaviour that comes with it is the only way that we will make sure everyone gets along, and we keep the eggs on the plate and off our hands.
Roads on which everyone gets along are safer roads. That will only happen when we’re all playing by the same rules.
Once again, we have the call for us to ‘get our house in order’, as a way of gaining respect, and as a way of ‘re-categorising’ ourselves as being law-abiding. To stop giving ourselves ‘a bad name’.
The basic, essential problem here is that there is no ‘us’. It might seem like that, because being a persecuted minority tends to push people together, but there really isn’t. We are all individuals. It is completely futile to expect ‘cyclists’ as a group to somehow behave perfectly, or even behave slightly better.
Human beings are miscreants. We get away with what we can get away with. The fact that some people pedal through red lights isn’t a function of them being a cyclists, it’s a function of them being a human being. All the rules, laws and guidance in the Highway Code are consistently broken by just about everybody, all the time, whether they are driving, walking, cycling or catching a bus. We break speed limits, we park in the wrong places, we pedal on pavements, we don’t look before we step into the road – in short, we do things badly, whatever mode of transport we are employing. Statistics consistently show that people cycling are no worse when it comes to law-breaking than anyone else.
Yet for some reason it is only the misdemeanours that people commit while they are cycling that contribute to a wider hatred of everyone who rides a bike.
So not only is it futile to expect ‘cyclists’ as a group to behave better than anyone else, we’re misdiagnosing the problem in the first place. You – an individual who happens to be cycling – are not hated and despised by a particular driver because they saw someone else on a bike doing something bad the other day, or last week, or last year. You are hated because they don’t understand you, because you are in their way, and because you are easy to stereotype. These issues of lack of understanding, conflict, annoyance and stereotyping will persist even if – by some holy miracle – we manage to ensure that no person on a bike ever jumps a ride light, anywhere.
When you exhort ‘us’ to stop jumping red lights, or to stop cycling antisocially, all you are really succeeding in doing is reinforcing the impression you are attempting to eradicate. You are engaging in precisely the same kind of stereotyping.
A couple of days ago I was sent this email circular from PTRC, a company that runs training courses for transport and planning. It’s by David Jilks, the PR manager for CILT (the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport).
Running away from the school run
Happy New Year! My son’s back at school this week. Forgive me for sounding like something from a Hovis ad, but when I were a lad we walked to school. At the grand age of seven I was dragging my duffel bag in one hand and five year old sister in t’other.
But now my lad’s ten and I still do that thing I know really mucks up traffic flows and – far from being smarter travel, is significantly dumber – I drive my kid to school.
Yes, it encourages bottlenecks, peak-period car travel and all those other things that make transport planners weep; of course I see that from a professional point of view. But there’s no bus, it’s over a mile away and he’s not cycling on those roads – not with all those frustrated drivers taking risks to get past the school traffic…
School runs are a tricky thing. They are complete folly, and kids ought to be getting the exercise. But you want, above all, to keep them safe.
The school run is the most pointless waste of resources ever to cause congestion. If transport planners can’t persuade someone who works in the industry, like me, to give it up, then that’s a problem, I confess. The main reason for owning a car, though, is to hopefully get your loved one safely to their destination. So is the school run just a natural impulse we should acknowledge and design into our schemes, rather than discouraging, or do we need to re-educate parents like me?
It’s a refreshingly honest piece and, consequently, a revealing one. It demonstrates that appeals to people’s better nature won’t really work when it comes to tackling school run problems, and the issue of getting people to shift to cycling from driving. Even a transport planning professional, who knows the ‘folly’ of the school run, about how it is a grotesque and ‘pointless waste of resources’, keeps doing it anyway.
And it is grotesque. Some facts and figures from the National Travel Survey -
Considered in terms of the congestion and delay alone, that’s shocking, to say nothing of the effects on child health and wellbeing, air quality, and the dangers posed to other people from the presence of so many vehicles on the road. It doesn’t need to be like this.
But while David Jinks acknowledges the severity of the problem, and how silly it is that we all keep contributing to it, his response is slightly curious. He suggests that there is a choice between ‘designing in’ the school run (as currently configured) into new schemes, acknowledging that huge numbers of children will be driven to school, and designing accordingly, or ‘re-education’.
‘Re-education’ clearly isn’t going to make a jot of difference, if David himself continues to drive his child to his school, while knowing how bad it is for everyone to do this. Parents who drive the school run already know there are far better ways for their children to get there, and even if they don’t, telling them that they are awful people for driving is hardly likely to work, in and of itself. They are driving their children to school for a reason.
David Jinks has partly arrived at the answer when he refers to a ‘natural impulse’. The impulse of parents is to keep their children safe, and that explains why so many drive their children to school. It’s the best way to protect their children when so many other parents are also driving.
However, in acknowledging this natural impulse, he suggests that we accommodate it only in a certain set form – through driving. By implication, the only way to make the school run look and feel safe for parents is to continue facilitating driving, apparently the only way to ’get your loved one safely to their destination’.
But we know that it is entirely possible for children to get safely to school, without being driven, if the physical environment is designed appropriately. This is the reason why parents in the UK are often so reluctant to let their children walk or cycle to school – because of genuine physical danger.
The ‘natural impulse’ to protect children should be designed into our roads and streets, rather than leaving them so unattractive that the ‘natural impulse’ manifests itself in cocooning those children in vehicles, with deleterious consequences for those other children who aren’t so protected.
Framing the problem of the school run as a hard choice between ‘a natural impulse to protect’ and ‘educating’ parents and children to expect, and deal, with risk is wrongheaded. That risk should be removed at source. We cannot expect parents to give up driving all by themselves when so many other parents will continue to do so, and consequently continuing to make the roads and streets around schools unattractive.
This piece from Sustrans is indicative of this mistaken approach, in which the onus is placed on the parents to push their children into cycling to school, even though it is desperately unattractive, as you can see in the video.
The Sustrans officer is quoted -
I made this video of Ethan riding to school as part instructional and part inspirational, so parents may gain courage and comfort in the fact that such things are possible.
Well, it is right to say that young children cycling to school in Britain is possible, but unfortunately that doesn’t get us very far when that option is far less feasible, safe and pleasant than simply pushing children into a car.
The video might be ‘inspirational’, but I can’t really seeing it inspiring many parents to let their young children out onto the roads on a bike. The impulse is to protect.
The school run is a Tragedy of the Commons, in that the problem is created by individuals acting rationally in their own self-interest, while simultaneously creating a disastrous overall outcome for the population as a whole. But these kinds of problems cannot be addressed by expecting individual people to act against their own self-interest. Without changing the physical environment, we are forced to rely upon people choosing to abandon cars spontaneously, but very few will be willing to do so when, in making that choice, they are put a disadvantage by the majority who do not.
Even if we manage to create an attractive school run by persuading a majority of people to abandon driving, that would be an inherently fragile solution, in that people are entirely free to start driving their children to school again in the future, posing risk and danger to those who don’t. Safe routes to school for walking and cycling need to designed and engineered, and made physically permanent. They won’t be achieved by stigmatising people, or appealing to their better nature, or expecting them to change their minds all by themselves.
Most people don’t cycle, and it’s easy to assume they’re indifferent, even hostile to cycling. But that’s not true; even as they describe, explain and justify their car-locked lives, many people view cycling as something they’d love to do, just not in this world.
When people talk about driving and cycling they often talk about two quite different and separate worlds. There’s the world they know best, full of cars including theirs, the world they must – simply to function – learn, accept and deal with. This world is physical and psychological, ‘out there’ but also ‘in here’, and so taken-for-granted it’s negotiated almost without thinking. Bicycles occupy another world – slower-moving and sunnier, if confined in most people’s imaginations to leisure, holidays and wishful thinking. People struggle to fit the idea of themselves cycling into the first world, but easily can in the second. So interviews about cars and bicycles tend to slip between describing everyday car-based hustle and bustle and reflecting on the occasional or imagined delights of, for example, a weekend off-road ride in the countryside.
So what happens when you, the interviewer, introduce into the conversation the idea of utility cycling? Typically people express their unwillingness to cycle because it looks and feels too scary; next they mention how the cycling facilities they’ve seen don’t join up, and look unfit for purpose; but these ‘facts’ out the way, so long as you keep them in this ‘what if..?’ territory, interesting things happen. You get glimpses of a third world based more around bicycles than cars. You see this world in the injection of pace, the change in demeanour, the glint in the eye, the flash of a smile, and the burst of enthusiasm that emerge as someone briefly considers the prospect of more cycling – as what’s usually on the margins or just under the surface comes momentarily into view; it’s like sunshine bursting suddenly through the clouds, as someone savours a little taste of how life could be. Then reality reasserts itself, the gate slams shut, and that third world is gone. (Here we see how individual psychology mirrors dominant ideology as performed through governmental discourses – almost complete and unwavering commitment to the car cracked by little rhetorical tweets and policy gestures looking in a more bike-friendly direction.)
As the interviewer it’s hard to trust your senses here, and the cold ‘facts’ of the transcript don’t easily reveal what you witness – the optimism injected as someone momentarily dwells on individual and societal cycling futures (questionnaires might capture these inchoate dreams of a different life better than less structured interviews). But we know the appetite for this third world is there. A recent British Social Attitudes survey found
‘widespread support for the idea that everyone should be cutting down on their car use, and most people disagree that individual action is pointless. Two-thirds of drivers say they are willing to cut their car use and three in five would be able to shift from using the car on short journeys to cycling, walking, or taking the bus … the overall climate of public opinion can … be described as favourable towards a reduction in car use.’
(Stradling et al, 2008: 153)
Other surveys show people want 20 mph speed limits, and want cycling (and walking) prioritised over the car. That people want change is unsurprising – the car system structures their world and many are forced against their deepest desires and aspirations to drive. In a sensible discussion I’m sure almost everyone would agree Britain’s being choked by cars and wishes it could stop.
Utility cycling remains a remote but real possibility despite the twin, related processes of people feeling disempowered from doing it and urban space practically eliminating it; people are dreaming even now, even here, among all the cars, of being in a better, happier place, by bike. Change from cars to bicycles is closer than we think; it just needs to be triggered, if not in the ways we’re trying to trigger it. The biggest barrier is not lack of desire, it’s cynicism – dreaming of a cycling future’s one thing, getting there quite another; why get excited about something you can’t imagine happening?
People glimpse a better cycling future, but remain in perpetual fug over the driving present. The car contributes to a de-skilling and disembodiment of everyday life. People’s capacity to move through the world without a screen to protect them has been eroded, as has the relationship to their own bodies that develops through physical activity. Talking to people about their reliance on the car, you get the impression we’ve collectively sleep-walked into the current state of transport, and on pausing to think about it they momentarily awaken and slowly shake their heads, struggling to comprehend how the car’s taken over life. Even the most car-centric of people feels this; Jeremy Clarkson’s tremendous popularity is surely based on his ability temporarily to extinguish people’s growing ambivalence towards the car, so they can still sometimes bathe for a short sweet while in its unalloyed celebration.
So cycling sits in an alternative future even as current conditions occlude it. Cycling here is importantly symbolic. If in the present people have lost control of their bodies, homes and lives, in the cycling future they retake control of those bodies, take back those homes from the car, and reassert autonomy over those lives. The thought of cycling gives people a sense that things, and most importantly they themselves, could be different. Cycling’s power is as the pivot around which life rotates away from a darker towards a brighter future. But it’s unwise to show unambiguous support for something with such dodgy prospects, so enthusiasm for cycling is muted, constrained by the understandable (if also incorrect) sense that ‘things don’t change – driving’s what we do’. For now, people figure, we’re stuck with the car.
You might think this other world lying just beneath the cars is so clearly against vested interests, it will never happen. You might say it’s much easier for car-dependent people to romanticise cycling than it is to get them on a bike. But don’t those responses keep cynicism the biggest barrier to cycling? I think we should see the truth in people’s hesitant, halting visions of a better life, and make ways to encourage and convert them into action, though precisely how we do so is another question.
Another world is possible, and cycling is not just part of it, it’s a route to it. Cycling is repressed but barely; it lies close to the surface. This is why, as I tried to say in a recent post, I think we need to create more seductive visions of the cycling future, to help people get more than a glimpse – to help them get a sustained view – of the world that cycling, including their own cycling, will create.
Stradling, Stephen, Jillian Anable, Tracy Anderson and Alexandra Cronberg (2008): ‘Car Use and Climate Change: Do We Practise What We Preach?’, in Alison Park, John Curtice, Katarina Thomson, Miranda Phillips, Mark Johnson and Elizabeth Clery (eds), British Social Attitudes: The 24th Report, London: Sage, pp. 139-59.
London should be a wonderful place to get around by bicycle allowing tourist, resident and commuter alike the chance to enjoy its sumptuous mixture of architecture, culture and heritage at a civilised pace. The bicycle should reduce the pace of city life to a level that people can actually compute, and be able to hear their own thoughts. Lord Foster thinks the same way too, but a solution that he has come up with along with Landscape Consultants, Exterior Architecture Ltd and Transport Consultants, Space Syntax seems to misunderstand the problem somewhat and then come up with an extreme solution that manages to completely disengage bicycle riders from London by elevating them above it.
Here is Lord Foster’s quote from their Press Release..
“Cycling is one of my great passions – particularly with a group of friends. And I believe that cities where you can walk or cycle, rather than drive, are more congenial places in which to live. To improve the quality of life for all in London and to encourage a new generation of cyclists, we have to make it safe. However, the greatest barrier to segregating cars and cyclists is the physical constraint of London’s streets, where space is already at a premium. SkyCycle is a lateral approach to finding space in a congested city. By using the corridors above the suburban railways, we could create a world-class network of safe, car free cycle routes that are ideally located for commuters”.
There’s already a slight contradiction his statement. Cities are certainly more congenial places in which to live without as much motor traffic. But then, like an expert conjurer, he pulls out the old ‘but space is at a premium’ nugget from his sleeve and with the wave of his wand (or rendering) promptly makes bicycles vanish from the streetscape.
Here is a statement from Sam Martin & Oli Clark of Exterior Architecture Ltd, also from the Press Release..
“SkyCycle is an urban cycling solution for London. A cycling utopia, with no buses, no cars and no stress. We are incredibly excited at how together with Foster + Partners our idea has been developed and now more recently turned into a truly world changing scenario by Space Syntax for revolutionising cycling in London and possibly the world”.
The original idea to which they allude is when they originally touted it in 2012. Below is the original video.
Anyway, back to last month. Here is an image depicting the latest iteration
It certainly looks like the cycling Utopia that they describe, but two things immediately elevated into my mind on stilts when I saw this striking image;
Firstly, one must bear in mind that this is an architectural realisation. When the shared space scheme for Exhibition Road was first touted, there were equally Utopian images put forward such as this one..
To be fair to the designer, they are trying to sell a positive concept and I’d be even more alarmed if they had presented to their client an image of a still traffic clogged street with some people huddled outside a new Wetherspoons whilst snouting a packet of Superkings.
My second thought was one of the 1950′s-1970′s when architecture was brutilising it’s cold concrete tentacles into the public realm through such luminaries as Sir Denys Lasdun, Basil Spence and Richard Siefert. Planners invisioned specific schemes for specific transport modes to be elevated for comfort and convenience, be it the [thankfully aborted] Pedways in Central London with the hoi polloi of smooth flowing traffic on dual carriageways below to elevated roads such as the Westway, part of the [thankfully aborted] Ringways Project, which is brilliantly covered in this short film by Jay Foreman..
I certainly get what they are trying to achieve and I like the fact that designers are trying to think laterally – indeed think about the bicycle at all. But the bicycle doesn’t need lateral or ‘out of the box’ thinking. It needs simple dedicated space as, along with walking, the bicycle doesn’t get simpler as a transport mode, which is why it is potentially such a great key to unlocking British towns and cities. Maybe that’s why this country has a fairly appalling record of dealing with it. We consistently make the complicated modes of transport simple and the simple modes more complicated. Another thing to consider is that the bicycle should never be treated in isolation with the urban realm. It is part of a far bigger and complex societal jigsaw and all the the other pieces stand to benefit.
On the plus side, the SkyCycle scheme could offer fast, continuous, direct routes from suburb to centre, it would indeed unlock space in the centre of London in an innovative way and could indeed be a prototype for other cities. It even allows cyclists to feel, not only the ‘Bradley Wiggins Effect’ but also the added advantage of ‘The Mary Poppins Effect’, as they waft through London. However it’s when I started to think of the negatives that it starts to stumble off its stilts. I started a rough list and please feel free to chip in with your own positives and negatives:
The land grab necessary for the 200 entrances and getting people up to that height.
Access/egress for emergency services should an accident/incident occur
You still have to get all the way up to the deck and that is going to take effort, and I am built more like Chris Biggins as opposed to Chris Hoy.
Local/Metropolitan/National Transport Authorities will be tempted push cycling even further down the pecking order (if that’s possible) in streetscape design as they can now point schemes such as this.
It reaffirms the nonsense of ‘Dual Network’ where there’s different types of infrastructure for different types and abilities of rider, instead of just creating a decent coherent standard for all.
It will (whether the Designers deny it or not) divert precious funds from schemes that can work at ground level.
The Police will need resourcing to patrol this new form of infrastructure (and does this fall under the jurisdiction of the British Transport Police?)
Security, particularly for more vulnerable sections of society and especially in the off-peak.
On the Street:
Motorists will pay even less attention as they now expect cyclists to be a couple of storeys up in the air.
Anyone getting hit by an HGV in the shadow of this scheme will only have themselves to blame, in the eyes of a society that would see this as conveniently tidying cyclists away.
Local business on the street will not feel the benefits of the bicycle as this is in essence a massive bypass and, as a result, will probably scream for more car parking.
The British Weather:
The trains below will enjoy better protection from precipitation than the cyclists above who will also be particularly exposed to the wind,
In short, this really is a country that will do ANYTHING and pay any price to avoid designing a decent sodding junction.
We use words to describe things. They are useful.
A small problem, however, is that there aren’t enough of them. Human beings can only remember a finite number of words, and that means, inevitably, that there aren’t enough words to describe all the things in the world. They are ambiguous.
One pertinent example for this blog is the simple word ‘cycling’, which is used to describe an extraordinarily diverse range of activities that happen to involve two wheels, or more, and pedalling. (The Dutch have a slight advantage over us in that they have two words for cycling. Fietsen for ordinary day-to-day cycling, and wielrennen for riding a bike for speed.)
The same is true for other words. ‘Driving’ could involve trundling around a car park, or it could involve piloting a racing car at tremendous speeds around a track. ‘Sailing’ could mean a leisurely day out, or it could mean the frenetic action of the America’s Cup. ‘Skiing’ could mean sliding at low speed on gentle slopes, or hammering down a mountain at close to a hundred miles an hour. And so on.
This nuance seems to be lost on people who argue for mandatory helmet laws. They forget that the same apparent activity can carry different levels of risk, depending on circumstances.
‘Driving’ can be very dangerous, or very safe. It can be dangerous if you are driving in a race at over a hundred miles an hour, safe if you are just driving around a car park. Likewise ‘sailing’ can be very dangerous. People die. But it can also be a safe and pleasant day out. ‘Skiing’, as we have seen in recent days, can be dangerous, if you are travelling fast through an off-piste rock field. But it can also be safe, if you are on marked pistes, and aren’t taking risks.
And precisely the same is true for ‘cycling’. This
is not the same as this -
These enormous differences in danger and risk are effectively ignored by mandatory helmet law campaigners, who would force helmets onto the heads of three of the people in the above picture, but not on the other two.
For comedy value, try to imagine James Cracknell intoning into the ear of the woman travelling serenely the back of the bike, in his most serious, earnest voice,
My head was smashed into by a lorry travelling at seventy miles an hour. But I was lucky. I was wearing a helmet. If I hadn’t been, I’d be dead. Use your head. Wear a helmet.
It’s utterly absurd, but reflects only the absurdity of attempts to make wearing helmets compulsory, no matter what you are doing. (As an aside, there are many pedestrians who have had their heads smashed into by vehicles, but this would be a very poor basis for making pedestrian helmets compulsory).
I think there is perhaps a dim awareness of this absurdity, which manifests itself in the sort of crude emotional blackmail that quickly appears in the arguments of helmet law campaigners, typified by this passage in Beverley Turner’s piece -
if personal liberty matters to you, not being able to take yourself to the lavatory on waking will come as a real shock.
Again, picture her making this argument to the people in the picture in Utrecht for maximum comedy value. How dare you travel around like that! is about the level of sophistication of her argument.
To be absolutely clear, I am not ‘against’ helmets. I wear one myself when I am on a racing bike, or when I am mountain biking, mainly because, when I’m exerting myself, I tend to take more risks, and also because the discomfort of a helmet doesn’t matter so much in these situations. But I am capable of understanding that there are different types of cycling, and I don’t wear a helmet every time I ride a bike, just as I wouldn’t wear a full face crash helmet when I drive a car into town, but probably would if I was on a racing track.
What I am against is compulsion, precisely because it is a highly blunt instrument that utterly fails to take into account the diverse forms of an activity, and will have deleterious consequences at a population level. If you are genuinely concerned about head injuries, you should campaign for the kinds of conditions in the pictures that feature in this post, and here; conditions where the risk of a head injury is negligible. Prevention is better than cure, as this excellent piece argued yesterday. It can’t be stated more simply than that.