Friday, 23 November 2012

Compare and Contrast

093A Dutch bicycle just looks out of context on our roads. Yet it's the kind of bike that most people would choose for short urban trips. Purposeful trips.

The bike's comfortable and sturdy. And she (pictured left) would be - and possibly feel - somewhat out of place cycling on a 30mph road. Rightly so! In fact, isn't that exactly the reason why many people haven't taken up cycling in this country?

UK Government policy is barely even doing the 'compare' - after decades ministers are still talking of a big friendly group hug being the solution. Everything is going to be just fine. Apparently. Then. Government lets the driver plough straight through - possibly pausing poignantly for a second to two - then continuing the big friendly group hug discussion undeterred. Not just as much as a bicycle and a car are different vehicles - so are also a cyclist and a driver different persons, with different viewpoints, perceptions, outlooks and behaviours.

And needs.

Wake up!

We are different when we are driving.
We are different when we are cycling.
We are different when we are walking.

We must start contrasting.

It's going to be a fine day, when a Dutch bicycle looks not just normal and in context, but its rider is actually made to feel welcome on our roads. But currently there's no space to breathe for such a thing.

Differences include things such as speed, power, hazard, harm, weight, mindset, protection, law, space, vulnerability, interaction with surroundings, sense of place and loyalty, calories, health, emissions, costs,...

...and happiness (if we let our transport system flourish through better bike provision).

1 comment:

  1. I’m not entirely sure I follow you when you say cyclists and drivers are different persons. You presumably know that – and I assume this must relate only to adults – that more than 80% of cyclists also own or drive cars. Some of the recent crop of stats to come out of the DfT also show that cyclists are more likely to be members of one-car and two-car households than non-cyclists.

    They do however wear different ‘hats’ – one moment as a motorists, another as a cyclist, another as a pedestrian, and it is weird just how much personality and attitudes can change as they morph from one to another. It’s almost as though Dr Jekyll turns into Mr Hyde as he sits himself down behind the steering wheel.

    How much *I* can morph - I know that when I get behind the wheel, I experience the same transformation. Sometimes I have to take a deep breath and count to ten while I think “did I really just think that about the cyclist in front of me?”

    We are accustomed to hostility and abuse from motorists, but in truth cyclists are not singled out for this. The roadhog who yells “why don’t you pay road tax?” at us one moment is quite probably yelling “get a move on, granddad” to some cautious elderly driver the next, and “effing caravans, snails on wheels that’s what I call’em” the one after that. I have no scientific basis for this, but I would also guess that cyclists who barrel through traffic lights on red, scattering pedestrians in their wake, are also on weekends some of the same people who pass dangerously close to other cyclists.

    Motorists are not inherently bad people, (or at any rate any more so than people in general) they are made bad, temporarily, by the experience of being in a car. I can feel it happening to me, however much I resist. We are so sold on the notion of the personal freedom and flexibility of car travel, the romance of the open road, the glamour and the ostentatious display of our affluence and success, and the expression of our personality which (allegedly) our choice of car represents, that the reality of traffic congestion, steep bills (and I am not talking about petrol) and the endless fight for a parking space, makes us turn on each other like laboratory rats in those experiments where they are progressively more crowded or placed under increased stress.

    The real villain is the industry which profits from our weakness, selling us the cars and the accoutrements which go with them. Despite the fact that they cannot exist without public subsidy (how many auto manufacturers, to date, have not been rescued by the state at some time or other?) they are hugely wealthy and powerful. They have politicians and newspaper editors in their pockets, and they use that influence ruthlessly to promote their commercial interests. It is not sufficient for them to have global hegemony, they must have all exclusive domination. Bicycles cannot exist as a mode for personal transport, but only as a “toy” or for riding around in circles on forest tracks at weekends, transported there on the tops of our 4x4s. To open the door to the notion that actually, some journeys could be made on a bicycle, where they are fairly short, and don’t involve carrying heavy loads, would be anathema. Once it got around that it was easy, more convenient and cheaper to pop down to the shops for a few items, or for the kids to travel to school, on a bike, perhaps 25-30% of all car journeys, and 10-15% of all car mileage (ie shorter journeys) would cease. The auto industry, like all large modern industry, is founded on the illusion of perpetual growth. A setback like this would be fatal.

    Personally, I don’t want to see the end of the car. I find mine too useful, some of the time. I just don’t need to use it all of the time (probably a fifth of all my trips, albeit all of the longer ones) and I want for me to rule my car, not the car to rule me. I do wonder however whether I can have it both ways, whether car makers can survive at all on that basis?