Saturday, 19 May 2012

PC or not to PC?

Another patronising day in Newcastle, UK.

I was in a meeting the other day to ally our forces with another group for a more inclusive Newcastle.

We spoke about cycling and how it's not just about cycling but better places, calmer streets, safer roads and happier healthier people with possibly more money in their pockets, and how we can all work together to make that happen, how cyclists are an indicator species for fairer places, cleaner neighbourhoods, friendlier communities, and thE answer to transport inequality for young and old. Freedom, independence all that jazz. Gladly, there wasn't a problem. They were very expertly equipped with the knowledge of the benefits of cycling. Reeled them off so quick that I could hardly follow.  Impressive.

Great. Job done, you'd think!

Far from it. The problem appeared at a different juncture.

It's not that people don't know that cycling in intrinsically good and has the POTENTIAL to contribute sooo much. It really struck me then:

It's that people want cycling, but without the cyclists.

What hampers progress is the mental image that most carry around with them that cyclists, as a person, are bad at heart. It's an epidemic meme, a deeply-rooted idea that overrules common sense, logic, analytical thinking, gets passed down from generation to generation and is very enduring. It was a frustrating meeting, and the deciding factor for a future working relationship boiled down to the issue (bless you) of pavement cycling and what could or should be done.

PC or not to PC, that was the burning question.

The meme blinkers prevented them to understand that cycle campaigns can't condemn cycling on the pavement, and that cycling on the pavement is different to people behaving antisocially, on a bike. We tried our hardest to explain that cycle campaigners will NOT EVER be able to stop that from occurring and that it would be wrong to promise to do so. We urged them to look at the bigger picture, the good things cycling can contribute, and to please put PC into perspective of prevalence, risks and consequences.

We were talking cycling, they talked about 'them pesky cyclists'.

The answer, of course, is a three-lane system with clearly delineated space for walking, cycling and driving. Which we duly proposed. But the PC issue (bless you) had clouded their minds and the power of logic was paralysed.

What really gets me is this.

1. Confession time, I throw my hands up in the air! I cycle on the pavement. I do it considerately and carefully, adjusting my speed, never point my front wheel at a pedestrian, as that is seen as a full-frontal attack, interesting psychology, and makes for interesting riding as well. I PC because the alternative routes are often dangerous, hostile or plain non-existent.

2. So, I find myself, yet again, on the the wrong side of the road with the law. HC clearly states "64 - You MUST NOT cycle on a pavement". And that police man on Northumberland Street, I am asking you again: What are the alternatives? I don't care what the law wants me to do. I rank my self-defence above that and I observe the Golden Rule: treat others the way you would want to be treated. I hear steps towards my door, and a knock.... knock, Neo, the Matrix has you. My little brain sinks and heart hurts when I think of an eight-year-old cycling on a busy, fast, hostile road like GNR. But honestly, who in their right mind would ask a child to do that?

3. The outspoken CTC person at the meeting wanted them to, and the group asks in their newsletter "Have you checked where your grandchildren ride their bikes" implying they mustn't cycle on the pavement, under NO circumstances simply because "anyone riding on the pavement is breaking the law". I actually think it's criminal or negligent to look at it that way especially unfair on the young and the old, completely deprived of logic and totally uncaring, even careless. "It's the law!" - last time I heard that was in the US, and I don't want to go back there.

4. Councils are still designing in PC rather than out. Inadequately 'designing for shared space' is so much easier,  than taking space away from the Most Mothered Motorist. Making a mockery of the hierarchy of traffic reduction first, hence jumping straight to the last point and taking space from pedestrians. Our local example is Brighton Grove where the council "was strapped for time, because the money needed to be spent this FY". The then newly appointed Cllr fell for the trap set by officers and options weren't properly identified and appraised. Pedestrians and cyclists ended up with a crappy deal, over motorists who are laughing all the way.

Well, advances have rarely been made in history by obeying the law. We break it because otherwise it breaks us. In whatever you do don't break the Golden Rule.

Another criminal?

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