Saturday 31 March 2012

The British Motorist

The British Motorist is an extraordinary lifeform, despite its relatively simple and predictable behavioural patterns. It's part of British Society, and within that the largest species in the transport category. It bears some resemblance to the Hermit Crab also acquiring a shell which both change several times during their life span (though it should be mentioned that the Hermit Crab by contrast is self-propelling).

The British Motorist's habitat is mostly linear, but widespread, of a grey to dark-grey lifeless colour, void of natural vegetation and bounded by what's called a Kerb or Soft Verge. The lifeform's existence and its habitat - including its expansion - is generally cared for by the British Government. It's also watched with great interest by the Car, Oil and Petrol Industry who have played an integral part in the conception of the lifeform. It's a complex form of symbiosis which sometimes results in nervousness, even political upset, u-turns and ministerial re-shuffling has been noted. Any adverse economic impact is met with fear by all three parties. The British Government largely consists of the British Motorist, and is prone to react speedily to the British Motorist's Begging Call (which will not be entirely surprising to anyone who has heard its high-pitched overtones and roaring background sound when it sees its habitat and existence under threat).

It can be seen in towns and cities, but is equally at home in the countryside. It sometimes travels aimlessly, but more typically is seen moving with much purpose, eagerness and sometimes aggression.

It stands motionless at times most confusingly called Rush Hour and School Run. This peculiar and repetitive behaviour is little understood. The British Motorist can be spotted to carry out this strange ritual between 08:00-09:30 and then again in the afternoon from 16:30-18:00. Quiet servile acceptance, but also loud shrieking or shouting calls and shaking of fists can be observed during these times.

The British Motorist isn't shy as such, but it does prefer to stay inside its shell. For other activities (work, shopping or at home), it commonly acquires a non-moving shell that it then is largely content to share with others without showing territorial aggression. It's not seen unprotected often though and the direct exposure to the sky seems to trigger some anxiety in this lifeform. This reaction is not much understood but is thought to be linked to the complex symbiosis (mentioned above) and possibly over-protection by the aforementioned British Government.

It's a confident lifeform, and it expects to be provided with sufficient space to put its shell. Otherwise it will expand agressively whenever it's given the chance. Pavements, cycle lanes, grassy verges are not immune to its invasion and whole neighboorhoods can be found littered with its temporarily discarded shells.

The British Motorist has a generally quiet disposition most of the time, inconspicuous even, and has tendencies towards sluggishness and even laziness has been observed, especially when outside the shell. It must be noted though, that it is highly territorial by nature and can be surprisingly swift to react if it senses disdain and disrespect.

Although not containing any nerve endings, the shell itself should only be touched with affection, never disregard. Prior permission of the inhabitant should be sought or it may set off the following routine: a loud shrieking or shouting call and shaking of fists, followed by a coming-out-of the-shell. Caution is advised, as physical handling may result also.

Female members of this lifeform may be less territorial than their male counterparts. Their outer appearance however is similar, though males might generally be seen in larger less colourful shells, though this may also depend on other factors such as the number of offspring and disposable income. It's worth noting that it tends to share its shell with its offspring particularly during School Run.

If one thing is certain, the British Motorist has a sense of haste and wants to get somewhere fast. The British Society occasionally tries to catch the British Motorist by means of what is called a Speed Trap. Other lifeforms, such as the lesser-spotted British Pedestrian and the very rare British Cyclist, cannot compete with British Motorist's speed, power and the supremacy it exerts in its natural habitat. Despite its greater might, it may even use its assumed superiority to intimidate and scare away any unwanted intruders that have invaded its space.

The British Motorist's appetite is ferocious and around two-thousand lives are required to be lost to maintain the lifeform's existence every year. It's interesting to note that for its continued existence it's not required to devour its prey which is commonly called Casualty. Animals fallen into the trap of the British Motorist are called Road Kill.

Saturday 24 March 2012

Brain washed with oil

We must hold our hands up. If you think hypermobility and individual transport systems are the future, you've been conned, tricked and ridiculed. Your intelligence has been insulted, assaulted even.

Out-of-town monster shopping malls and big business parks make you dependent on transport. With public transport in disarray and active travel (cycling and walking) totally misunderstood, you turn to the car.

But it's exactly our car addiction that we must tackle.

Why? Here's why.
More loopy loops
Loopy loopes inspired by Lynn Sloman's Car Sick


Private car use makes up a staggering 16% of UK's carbon emissions. Ouch. We must reduce our dependence on oil, reduce pollution and pay some respect to this planet and its resources. It's our habitat, after all. Our only habitat, as far as my eyes can see.

Cars are run on oil. Oil's running out. They might tell you that cars will be run on electricity in the future. But there's a snag in that logic, our energy's generated with carbon-heavy methods. I hear you say, let's go green then! I have to disappoint you again: a green electricy supply is not really what the current government is planning for. Even with putting the politics aside, it'll take decades to switch to sustainable means (don't get me wrong, it's something worth campaigning for). Then there is nuclear. I would not count nuclear power as exactly sustainable, although the current government does and without addressing nuclear's dirty disposal legacy.

Reducing your car use is sensible. Every mile not driven pumps money into the local economy. And it's the local economy you should support if you are serious about your street, community and neighboorhood, city, town or village.

Business as usual
Business as usual is not an option anymore

A lot is being said about equality and fairness in our society: education and health getting more and more privatised and sold off to profit-seeking companies and uncaring shareholders. Individual car ownership is totally privatised (albeit heavily subsidised), and it sure has you in its tight grip. It gives you freedom? It's actually enslaving and brainwashing you. Not only is driving a highly polluting form of transport, it takes away the pressure from government to do something about public transport, walking and cycling.

A fairer system would be providing better transport choice at better prices. But since you have a car, all is well - the politicians think and the car and oil industry rubs their hands - and the conclusion is: there simply is no need for change.

As a car user you've been silenced into submission. Our by-standing support is binding us in a Faustian pact that's compromising the nation's transport choice. Maybe an equality assessment could be carried out.


It's clear that we've run into a dead end. Future solutions are decentralised, local and community-based. Supported by people who support their neighboorhood, their high street, their local shopping centre, village greens and work places as these are the facilities that supply us with necessary goods and jobs, to work, live and play.

Wake up! We've been lulled into a mental state of security for far too long.

Politicians won't sort it.

Supermarkets won't sort it.

Big businesses won't sort it.

Apart from the little bit of green (brain)wash talk, they don't touch these things. It's a vote-losing bargepole in the life of a short-thinking election-chasing ministers. Don't bank on leadership. Don't think that corporate and social responsibility actually acts corporately and socially responsible.

Small sticking plaster is still used to attempt patching up a gaping wound.

But listen carefully to what 'leaders' say. They tell you that they respond to what constituents, electorate, citizens, employees and consumers tell them. That's you. People power. Honestly folks, it's time to stand up.

It's gotta come from the bottom up.

So get your bottoms up!

Don't just stand by.

Stand up and be counted.

Join campaigns for better public transport, better walking and cycling conditions. As before long, we'll run out of that black stuff and green energy won't be there. We are the generation that is at the crossroads. What will future generations think of us?

Stick to sticking plaster or turn over a new leaf and ask for change.

Friday 16 March 2012

Isn't it time we opened our eyes?

Take a look at this family. They are starting the day by having breakfast together.

Munching his cereal, Daddy pontificates that the community is falling apart around them, society's fabric is weakening and that it's a shame you don't know your neighbours any more. Then he gets up, walks a few steps out of the front door to his company car. It's time to go to work.

Something that makes sense
You are traffic
He drives off on the fast and busy road before reaching the rush hour jam: "This is rather annoying. I'll be late for work. Why can't they get the bus!"

Eight-year-old Laura is a bit hyper this morning: "Mum, I really want to cycle to school!" Mum says: "It's too dangerous, there are too many cars. Come on! Get ready, it's time to get you to school. Have you seen my car keys?"

On their way, they see a mother and child cycling along. Mum's really concerned about the safety of the child. "Irresponsible" she wispers to herself. "That's Ellie!" Laura screams and winds down the window "Hi Ellie - that's so cool!"

On her way back from the school run, Mum is wondering what the world would be like in a quiet, calm and safe neighbourhood: "Aah, with no cars, yes, you could let your children play outside" whilst she parks up the family car outside the house. Usually the street is pretty parked up and Mum's happy: "I am lucky today to get this spot so close by!"

Pedestrians choose your ally wisely
Beware Pedestrians
The doorbell rings. The neighbour - Ellie's mother - is stopping by for a cup of coffee. Mum's in a chatty mood: "Wouldn't it be cool to be this totally confident individual? Standing out! Just being different to the rest!" Ellie's mother suggest: "Why don't you dust down your bike and be different: get cycling?" Mum says "It's simply not normal. It's not what people do."

We all want to see our children grow up with freedom and independence. "Oh, is that the time?" - Mum just noticed. "I'll better pick Laura up from school." When she walks out, she shouts at the person cycling on the pavement "Get off the pavement". She drives along and yells at a cyclist on the road in front of her "Get off the road!" We all get stressed at times, especially when you have a child waiting at the school gates. Mum thinks "I will compensate by giving her some chocolate later on."

On his way home from work, Dad stops over at the outdoor gym for some exercise. Then he drives home.

Later they all jump in the car to take the dog for a walk. The local park was demolished last year to make way for a new development. "We should have joined the campaign to keep that park" Mum says when driving past. Dad replies "It's better not to make too many waves. I don't want to be seen as a treehugger. It might hurt my reputation at work, or worse still: Laura might get bullied about it."

Dad ends by thoughtfully adding "The future of my child is the most important thing in my life."

A totally normal family.

Saturday 10 March 2012

Crossroads for Minister for Cycling

Cycling CultureIf I've had the chance to put a few thoughts towards Norman Baker MP, Minister for Cycling, here they are.

Political will must be strengthened, and cyclists are asking for more and better investment in cycling. The rate should be £10-20 per person per annum, and must be sustained over decades to come. Despite all the big announcements by the minister and his colleagues, current cycle investment remains at 60p pp pa.

Cycling design expertise is urgently needed if we are serious about changing our streetscapes. Could the minister resurrect Cycling England and take up the offer of help from the Dutch Embassy?

Of course it is great to see grassroute initiatives like 'See Me Save Me' by Eilidh Cairns' family, supported politically by Fiona Hall MEP and Alan Beith MP. The Times 'Cities Fit For Cyling' campaign is another initiative coming out of a tragedy (cyclist in a coma). Do we want to continue on this reactive road? Or is it time to recognise the crossroads we are on and turn to positive action?

Thursday 1 March 2012


Positive cycling culture
Make no mistake. This is big. Corporate manslaughter charge mooted for TfL  and DCI Oldham speaking massive sense again. I've come to love the chap.

What does this mean for local authorities? The Times states "If charges are brought, it would alert local authorities that they can be held responsible for deaths unless they improve danger spots."

They'd be scared... what would happen next?

Would local authorities firmly retreat into the darkness of their shells and silos, head-in-sand, eyes wide shut. Bending, twisting, can't-do-it like that and ignoring the obvious (and postponing the inevitable). Continue to marginalise walking and cycling, or discouraging by in-action. The land of bollards and cattle-herding guard railing.
  • Or will they live up to the measures required to make places truly safe and have a positive modal shift? Will they take measures to reduce traffic? Give space to cycling and walking? Clearly delineate spaces and integrate where approriate? Give due regard to sustainable active green modes? And make junctions safe? What about the use of intelligent traffic light systems? Overall. Safety by design, enforced where necessary. Getting the priorities right. And making places for people.
If I'd asked civil servants to cycle to work - it's actually part of my town's Climate Change Declaration to lead by example - would I be viewed as making a callous request and would it trigger the well-rehersed town hall re-action of reams of risk assessments reeling off the 'production' line (usually hampering any real action in the process)?
  • Or would it bring about real changes like danger reduction measures and a positive approach to road safety with notable increases in active travel?

What happens next, is of course down to leadership. Continuing 'as is' is not an option.

The crunch question is this. Will our leaders lead us down the 'road of slavery or salvation'?

It's an acid test.