Saturday, 21 April 2012

Transport Mode Discrimination

I am feeling bottom of the pile, underprivileged, overlooked and in danger. I feel exposed and vulnerable. I am a cyclist. In the UK.

City centre cycling - let's talk money
Perpetual permafrost - cycling in the UK
It’s a message that’s hard to understand if you aren’t part of this select little group of few. It's a choice group! And not many are eager to take up cycling it appears. “Cycling is great. But it’s not for me.” (Offers to help them saddle up, tend to quickly run out in the sand. This is my chief worry about the Summer of Cycling. But... let's do it! Let's try one last time!)

It’s clear that there are a lot of devilish circles and downward spirals at play. Society is running (or should I say: driving) itself into the ground. Morals, values and ethics are encouraged to be thrown onto the rubbish heap, whilst small-minded arrogance and ignorance gets recycled many times over; all these things are playing their part in this cacophony that is our daily grind. We are all confused by the many mixed messages and even our own human inertia might startle us but cannot kickstart us. Our disconnected brains and overloaded hearts are pulled and stretched into all directions. It's hard to hear the real voices filtering out the white noise of "Buy-me, eat-me, now. Now!"

Of course, cycling can solve quite a few of our societal woes. And I won’t bang on about it here. It’s a waste of my breath and an insult to your ear. It’s fair to presume this is read by cycle folks exclusively. Some of my best friends are cyclists, you see. You’ve heard it all before. What I would like to talk about is the equality you are robbed of every day, when taking to the road with your bicycle. How cycling folks are institutionally overlooked, and how society fails to see the bigger picture resulting in discrimination of a minority.

A level playing field it’s not. It’s not level, and it’s not fair play. The rules are bent.

My latest in the string of examples happened a week ago in a 20 mph street. It came in the form of a driver speedily overtaking me (on my bike) with oncoming traffic. I waved my right arm at them to signal that what they did felt wrong to me, and probably was dangerous and reckless, and above all unnecessary. I possibly did my two-finger bunny ear “Twenty’s Plenty” V signal too.

Cycle lane
Beware cyclists - they may be armed and dangerous
I thought nothing further of this, as it’s the normal daily Rules of the Road stuff I feel I am dealing with perpetuously. But turning at the end of the street, I had a car door swung into my way, someone stepping out and starting to shout. I don’t recognise car models easily (you gotta be in an lime green beetle with orange spots to stand my chance of recognition), I did however make the connection that it must be the same driver who had just overtaken me.

So I swerved, then stopped, wheeled my bike back, and heard him (it was a ‘he’) say “I drove that fast to protect you!” almost spitting it into my face.

Gobsmacked, I asked him to please repeat what he'd said. I honestly thought I had misunderstood, benefit of a doubt, you know. To cut this short: he felt strongly he did the right thing: he speeded past me so he would avoid colliding with the oncoming driver otherwise he would have had to sideswipe me. Such wondrous way ran his warped thinking.

He even agreed that he was speeding. I checked. He knew the road has a speed restriction “I live just round the corner”. I also heard “I drive 17,000 miles per year” (it sounded like 70,000, but that can’t be true?) and “I know what you are going to say, I should have waited behind you” but it appears his sense of supremacy was too immense for him to see the shining irony glaring into his own face.

He then receded back into his shell, still grumbling, brumm, brumm, he drove off in a massive huff’n’puff (never a safe driver) and gave me the two nasty fingers (not the friendly bunny ear ones) out of the window. I remained, with shrugged shoulders and his strong, lingering smell of the British Motorist’s Sense of Entitlement.

This isn't the only example where my cycling in a correct manner (many times I don’t cycle correctly, as the Rules of Roads call for activation of survival tactics and sometimes that necessitates breaking of codes), led to verbal and physical interactions with the “Great” British Motorist reigning supreme. This negligent ignorance seems to come thick and fast and at an alarming rate of late. I don't know how many of these petrolbrain types are out there. If it's just a few, they are certainly having a good go at spreading their hate of cyclists far and wide.

AA President please take heed: sharing is not on your hardcore flock’s menu, and a cyclist claiming the lane (following good practice) simply makes the herd of die-hard motorists stampede.

I could certainly go on and bore you with all the drivers who thought cycling two-abreast was illegal, or the ones who felt as I don’t pay road tax I should hence kindly “f*ck off the road” or the drivers who just bullied me into stopping when it was my turn (and what a feat is that?). Or the more subtle: “well, you didn’t wear hi-viz now, did you!” But I’ll stop here, as I know that you know these situations through personal experience. After all, we are British Cyclists.

Don’t you agree, all this happens far too often? Moreover, it’s really frustrating as there’s nothing you can do about that someone toying with your life. Nowhere to turn to, to make things change. The feeling of neglect and despair is endless. I suppose we can at least take solace in knowing we are not alone. Good old chain gang.

Cycling needs a political patron - cycling 999
Discimination must be at high level
Cycling in the UK: it’s like being told by the much stronger and much more stupid schoolyard bully who’s just kicked you in the stomach to lick clean their shoes with your own vomit on. And no-one is watching to report it. (Or worse still, the by-standers may even be watching on with glee, applauding.)
You don't kick someone who's already on the ground. It’s not so much the bullying and ignorance that must stop; I can take that. But it is the resulting discrimination that I feel has to come to an end. I look to policy-making and legal institutions to rectify this injustice and imbalance. In fact executive, a legislature, and the judiciary all must get in on this.

Next time an ignorant bully comes your way hurling prejudice against you for your choice of transport, just think of it as Transport Mode Discrimination. It might just make you feel a little bit better. At least you’ve called it at its real name. It should fall under the Equality Act too.

I want all that to stop without having to stop cycling. It ain't fair, or as the brilliant Jon Snow explains the imbalance here "One has the power, the presence and the rights; the other is deprived of all three". Let's hope #cyclesafe is going places, and Addison Lee get prosecuted for inciting hatred, and TfL are taken to court for by-standing predictable deaths.

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