Singularity

Tag: transport

You don’t need to grow a pair.

by on Mar.24, 2013, under Cycling

avatarA while back, despite firm resolution not to, I got into an argument on Facebook.

I know.

A fellow cycling enthusiast, one who prefers the Dutch model of segregated facilities (I KNOW) posted about numbers of people cycling. In what I considered to be a counter-productive generalisation, he made an observation that only a small sub-set of risk-taking males choose to cycle on the roads.

Statistically speaking, he might be right, for given values of “statistically speaking”, “sub-set” and “choose”. But it rubbed me up the wrong way, because it’s not a small sub-set of risk-taking males who choose to cycle on the road. I cycle on the road, even when there’s a path available (I find paths inherently more hazardous). I’ve got quite a track record of persuading other women to cycle on the road, too. Frood cycles on the road, and while he’s male (in the strict, biological sense), he’s no risk taker.

Merkin Farm
I promise these are not risk-taking males. Plus, that’s my Pompino in the middle of the shot.

In fact, the majority of people I know who cycle on the road don’t do so because they’re risk takers, male or female: they do so because their assessment of the risk is much, much less than that of those who insist it’s too dangerous.

People are not going to be encouraged to cycle by the assertion that the only people willing to cycle on the road are risk-taking males. My experience of encouraging others to start cycling suggests that it’s much more effective to explain risk assessment and mitigation in detail. Ride so people can see you; behave in a way that’s predictable (i.e. like traffic); understand that the vast majority of drivers really don’t want to hit you; and pay attention because not everyone else on the road does, but understand that’s mostly because they’re Clarkson-wannabes or desperate to get home because their children are being menaced by a hungry, angry, peedo lion and the house is on fire, which is pretty rare, and here’s how to deal with them.

Of course, that doesn’t support the argument that cyclists absolutely must have fully segregated facilities before even contemplating putting a leg over a top tube. Still, no argument looks all that great when it’s demonstrably false from the get-go.

Cyclists who choose to cycle on the road are not a small sub-set of risk-taking males, although they may include a small sub-set of risk-taking males. They’re mostly people who have looked at the hazards, availed themselves of relevant mitigation strategies (lights, positioning, behaviour, vigilance, route choice) and decided that it’s a relatively safe activity.

Including me.

Dumb Run 2008 - RB at Linlithgow

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Cycling controversies, the RB FAQ

by on Aug.15, 2012, under Cycling

avatar There are a few things I have argued about so many times that I have now reached a state of acceptance regarding my inability to change the fact that not everyone agrees with me.

SOMEONE IS WRONG ON THE INTERNET

I originally started off refusing to argue about gun control. I’m so far past arguing about gun control I can almost pretend there’s even a disagreement to be had. More recently I’ve had to give up arguing about certain things to do with cycling, and as a result feel no inclination to post on cycling fora any more. Posts on cycling fora seem to fall into the same broad categories: the helmet debate, red-light jumping, use of MP3 players while riding, where to ride this week/next week/on holiday, charity rides, campaigning for cycle path installation, whinging about idiots who think we should pay “road tax”, which bike to buy and which saddle to choose. Anything else is either some sort of stupid game thread that goes on for a million posts and is utterly pointless, a series of posts about cake, or a thread about Victoria Pendleton’s arse.

I know this comes across as rather grumpy, but take away the finer nuances or the political argy-bargy that results in moderation wars and this is pretty much what’s out there.

Here, then, are the opinions I have honed through years of argument, reading, research, experimentation and experience. Feel free to disagree, but don’t assume that my failure to engage with an argument on these topics is acceptance of your opposing viewpoint. Because it’s not. I just cannot be arsed.

I see a frowny face!

HELMETS
I don’t agree helmets should be compulsory. The benefits are marginal and the reasons people offer for compulsion boil down to, “it must be safer, it’s obvious”. Well, at one point we thought it was obvious that a plant with leaves shaped like kidneys must have been put here to cure kidney complaints. Saying that the pros all do it so there’s no excuse not to —a statement I read on a cycling website aimed at beginner female cyclists, believe it or not— is a bit like saying that Lewis Hamilton and Jensen Button wear helmets so car drivers should too. Even though this would save more lives than making cyclists wear them, no one ever seems to think that making car drivers wear helmets is a good idea, so STFU already with your helmet compulsion. There are plenty of places out there where you will find information demonstrating that lids can increase the risk of injury and do sweet FA to prevent injury on the population scale, and it’s not my bloody job to educate you. Do the research.

God must hate kittens

RED LIGHT JUMPING
This is nothing to do with the adult section of certain cities, but a fundamental refusal to adhere to the rules of the road. The one principle that should be inculcated into all road users, regardless of vehicle, is this: SHARE NICELY. The road doesn’t belong to you, it doesn’t belong to anyone: it belongs to everyone. Grow up, suck it up and deal with it.

Conversely, there are instances where the frothing, ranting reaction to cyclists crossing red lights is hyperbolic to the point of comedy. A cyclist going through an empty pedestrian crossing is not equivalent to the Great Beast rising from the sea and donning seven crowns. A cyclist setting off slightly before the light turns green in order to get ahead of the juggernaut in whose enormous blind spot he is sitting is looking out for his own safety and isn’t going to bring about the entropic heat death of the universe.

A cyclist weaving his way across a lights-controlled crossroads in between orthogonal traffic isn’t just putting himself at risk but also other road users, and if a policeman pulls him over for a spot fine no one will cheer more loudly than me.

Here's Dog with the traffic report

MP3 PLAYERS
Deaf cyclists manage, there’s this activity called “looking behind you” (I know it’s not as widely known as one might think) and not all MP3 players have noise-cancelling headphones with a volume control set unchangeably at 11. I can still hear you. Really. It’s fine. Why cyclists should be singled-out for opprobrium when no one else on the road is expected to be able to hear anything other than an emergency-services siren is, as far as I’m concerned, merely another point of evidence for cyclists being treated as a special case.

WHERE TO RIDE
I dunno. I live in Aberdeen, which is hundreds of miles away from most other cyclists, and can’t afford foreign holidays. I guess there must be somewhere nice you could go that has hills/doesn’t have hills, is off-road/on-road, will be nice and sunny/refreshingly cool. It doesn’t really matter, as long as you enjoy it.

And they expect £500 minimum

CHARITY RIDES
I don’t do these and am ambivalent about them. You see, back in the dim and distant past, when I did the odd charity event, it was paid by the mile (or the length) or for outright completion. They were proper challenges, and it wasn’t guaranteed they would be finished, and if you didn’t finish, or finished early, the charity didn’t get the money. These days people sign up for something and that, in itself, seems to be enough for the money to come pouring in.

I object to being told to ask people to give money (even to a worthy cause) to me just because I’m doing something I enjoy doing and would probably do anyway. I also object to being asked to give money in support of something that’s not that big a deal and, let’s face it, a century ride isn’t that big a deal for anyone with a reasonable degree of bike fitness (I’ve done 125 mile rides on no more training than my daily commute of about 10 miles each way); especially when you factor in all the support these rides offer, such as sag wagons and feeding stations.

I am deeply uncomfortable with the underlying concept of a ride of 60 – 100 miles being a huge challenge where the difference between completion and bail-out is whether or not the participant is going to make more money for a chosen charity — and that, to me, is what sponsorship should be in an event like this. If we think that a ride of 60 miles is worth £300 sponsorship, what is going to make us consider riding 10 miles to work and back? That’s a distance worth 100 quid, right? The effect of charity rides on our general view of cycling is something I’m not entirely sure is a beneficial one. If you want me to sponsor you for a bike ride it had better be something that you wouldn’t otherwise contemplate, where your chosen charity will only benefit if you finish, and there’s a real chance you might not. A 60 mile pootle involving cake and coffee every 20 miles just doesn’t cut it. And why do so many of them insist that helmets are compulsory?

The Dumb Run is not a charity ride. We do it because we enjoy it.

Cycle facility of the month, December 2011

CYCLE PATHS
No, I do not support segregated cycle facilities and never will. They don’t help as much as people think they do. “But what if we do it like the Dutch?” I hear you cry. Thing is, though, we won’t. Because we can’t. Because we have neither the political will nor the space nor the flexibility of infrastructure.

My bike is something that takes me on journeys far longer than a 2 mile hop to the shops. I ride Glasgow to Edinburgh, Dundee to Kirkcaldy, Perth to St Andrews, Arbroath to Largo. For transport. There will never be a fully segregated network that will allow me to do this at a reasonable speed. In urban areas, segregated paths require me to share with small children who have little awareness, dog walkers and random drunks. In bad parts of town I am more likely to be dragged off my bike and assaulted if I use a segregated path. Worse than all of that, use of segregated facilities gives drivers the false impression that cyclists shouldn’t be on the road and a more intense feeling of righteous indignation when we are.

Many drivers also object to having to pay for such facilities, conveniently forgetting the fact that non-drivers pay for their motorways.

On that related note:

We All Pay Road Tax

ROAD TAX
Sigh. There is no road tax. This baseline fact aside, the tax that does exist, Vehicle Excise Duty, is not applied to low-emissions vehicles. Vehicles with emissions of up to 100g/km are charged £0.00. The current estimate for cyclist emissions is 21g/km, putting them in the zero-rate bracket. So, again, just STFU already.

WHICH BIKE TO BUY
You can have no more than two of the attributes light, fast, strong and cheap. Other than that, buy whatever bike makes you happy and want to get on it and ride. That is the only criterion that matters.

WHICH SADDLE TO BUY
The answer to this is long and complicated and anatomically specific. Female anatomy is different from male anatomy, and thus I do not consider it to be in any way discriminatory in terms of either sex or gender to say that biological males will be better off with a different range of saddles from that which will suit biological females. Whatever gender you identify as is entirely irrelevant and I’m an ardent supporter of anyone who refuses to comply with the default bipolar gender paradigm, but what saddle will suit you best does, ultimately, depend on what you keep in your underwear. Because you’ll be sitting on it.

There is no generic answer to this question. I feel unqualified to discuss male saddles, and female saddles depend on individual anatomical qualities that vary widely. So I will not ever suggest a particular saddle (if only because I’m not often that interested in what someone else keeps in his or her underpants) but I may be persuaded to offer advice on how you can go about deciding which saddle would be best for you.

And just when you find one you like, they discontinue it.

Hope that clears that up. I’m off to get me another lemsip.

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Nope, still don’t think it’s dangerous

by on Aug.10, 2011, under Cycling, transport

avatarI could post about the riots taking place in England, but there is enough about that going on out there in internetland, and I have nothing in particular to add to what others are already saying. I’m shocked, appalled, greatly concerned for the welfare of friends living in the areas affected and hoping that whatever resolution the Government comes to isn’t a knee-jerk reaction involving water cannon and further erosion of our democracy, without feeling particularly optimistic that this will happen.

So I’ll talk about something else instead.

This is a rare weekday post from me, the reason being that I’m not at work. I spend a lot of time telling people that cycling isn’t dangerous, and the numbers back me up. It’s not dangerous, which is why every time anyone starts bleating the same old same old about cyclists wearing helmets or dressing up in shades of radioactive lemon custard I get quite cross. It’s not only unnecessary, it’s victim blaming. It ignores the hierarchy of dealing with risk, which has personal protective equipment right down at the bottom and removing the source of the risk right up there at the top.

On urban roads the greatest source of risk comes from other road users.

So it’s somewhat ironic, not to mention galling, that I’m currently at home having aggravated an old injury getting out of the way of a speeding motorist. It has been suggested I report it, but in my mind it’s one of those things: it’s a hazard of urban cycling, along with punctures, potholes and pigeons shitting on your head. I’m not badly hurt —I’m already a lot better and I’ll be better still tomorrow— and the chances of identifying the driver are somewhere between zero and anorexically slim.

These things shouldn’t happen, but they do.

What interests me about this is my own reaction. I was in two minds whether to post anything publically about this for fear of making people think that cycle commuting is dangerous. I’m the one who was injured and it hasn’t changed my mind about whether or not cycle commuting is dangerous, so why should I think that telling anyone would make them think that it is?

This question cuts to the heart, I think, of why cycling isn’t more popular. We have become too risk averse. We are not given the opportunities to find out what it’s like to push ourselves too far, to get hurt. We no longer have the extensive experience of bruises, cuts, scrapes, burns, broken bones and gashed scalps that were such a feature of my childhood. We no longer know what it’s like to heal. Scars have long since stopped being something to show off in the manner of Quint and Hooper in Jaws or even Riggs and Cole in Lethal Weapon 3.

I remember when scars were the skin-words of life-stories. I remember sitting in a pub in Oxford comparing scars with a young man I had only met that afternoon, conceding him as the winner when he showed me the puckered marks left by seven stab wounds he had received saving his then-girlfriend from a gang of attackers. Now scars are something people pay cosmetic surgeons to minimise, and skin-words are carefully wrought in the abstract fonts of body modification, artfully designed rather than emergent.

People these days are more concerned with hiding the traces of their lived lives, with combating the seven signs of ageing and the application of science to achieving what Dorian Gray did with a portrait in the schoolroom.

I don’t think that people are worried about dying out there on the roads. If they were, they wouldn’t get in their cars. In Scotland there were 105 fatalities amongst car users in 2010 and only 7 cyclists killed during the same period [source]. Total casualties were 8,293 and 781 respectively.

I think people are worried about getting hurt, because they have so little experience of getting hurt they exaggerate in their own minds how bad it will be. This might not be the deciding factor when it comes to cycling, of course, no matter how much emphasis people place on perception of danger when explaining their reasons for not cycling. Perhaps those who claim laziness are correct. Perhaps it is simply peer pressure, or the sense that cycling isn’t normal; that only freaks, weirdoes, the excessively sporty and the excessively poor do it.

I only know that while I’m grumpy about having a hurt back, I’ve not been put off in the slightest. I still don’t think that cycling is dangerous and I can’t wrap my brain around the idea that there are people who are so convinced that it is they would rather drive 5 miles to work than get on a bike. The driver of the shiny black car that nearly took me out speeding around a roundabout in Sighthill is far more likely to become another statistic one day than I am; and I’m still more likely to injure myself banging my head off a kitchen cupboard (again) than I am to be injured commuting by bike.

Retrocam does bikes

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Left to their own devices

by on Jul.08, 2011, under Cycling, transport

avatarI took this shot when collecting Munky from Waverley Station on his way up for the Dumb Run. These double-layer cycle racks must be pretty new because I hadn’t seen them before. Mind you, I use Haymarket most of the time and am rarely at that end of Waverley even when I do use that stop.

Cycle crèche

I think this is a great way to store bikes. They can have a natter while their owners are away doing whatever it is their owners do, and the individual storage units keep them sufficiently apart to minimise fighting. Mine have a tendency to get into arguments when left stacked together and there’s no one around to keep an eye on them, which I assume is because they’re bored and have already said everything there is to say to one another. I’m pretty sure Blackbird has been chewing Fingal’s bar tape recently.

I notice there’s a bike there with pink wheels, which is rather swish. I’ll bet that one’s quite precious, in a princessy way. The sort of bike to complain about vegetables in the bedding.

“It’s perverse.”

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Engage Photon Drive

by on Dec.22, 2010, under Cycling, transport

avatarIt’s always the same at this time of year. The snows come, drivers behave like a pack of lemmings infected with the Rage virus, and I do the sensible thing and leave my car at home. I get to work by bike.

“LOON!”

Yes. That is the usual response. As it happens, I feel safer on the bike. It’s smaller — at the end of the day I can throw myself off the bike onto the verge and drag it with me if I have to. I can get off and walk. More to the point, I can manhandle it around in a way I can’t do with my front-wheel drive Ford Mondeo estate, which, in these conditions, behaves like a river kayak on a sea crossing. Once it goes it goes and there’s no stopping it.

Winter cycling has its own precautions, of course. There’s triple insulation required and I even wear a lid for commuting because I’m more likely than normal to come a cropper involving a sharp fall sideways onto a kerb at low speed, the only incident for which a cycle helmet is really designed; and, more importantly, because it keeps my woolly hat on my head.

The other thing, of course, is visibility. While I refuse to dress in shades of radioactive custard, I do like the shiny. Spielberg Close Encounters Award several years running, don’t you know.

This year Fingal is rocking two CatEye LD610s, two LD170s and a Blackburn Mars 4, while I complement the ensemble with a pair of Fibre Flares on my backpack and some green rope light, just for the lulz. Up front we have a four lamp cluster comprising two Lumicycle heads offering around 50watts of in-your-face halide splendour and a couple of EL400s, because you can never go wrong with an Opticube. With a set-up like that, there’s no point in hi-viz, although I do have some reflective bands at wrists and ankles for the confusion effect (and signalling).

I took this picture on my way home tonight, outside Real Foods on Broughton Street, one of my favourite Edinburgh shops. I love the surreal colours of the evergreen on the shopfront, the Christmas decorations and Fingal’s frankly bonkers lighting.

Warp drive

If anybody knocks me down and says “Sorry Mate, I Didn’t See You” I may have to punch him on the nose.

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Butthurt is as butthurt does

by on Aug.05, 2010, under Cycling, Rant, transport

avatarI feel it would be an opportune time to clear up some confusion evidently being experienced by a significant portion of road users. With my foot injury restricting me to cycle commuting for the past couple of months, I’ve had ample opportunity to observe the unfortunate fact that not a lot has changed since the last time I made these comments. There are a few more cyclists running red lights in a manner I consider to be reckless and inconsiderate, but that might be a result of the urban environment, as their numbers are at least matched by those of drivers doing the same.

The thing is, it’s really not that hard.

  • Advanced Stop Lanes are for cyclists. That’s why they have a picture of a bike painted inside them. You can tell it’s a bicycle because it has two wheels and pedals. The red background is there to make them more visible. The solid white line around them is not there to give a clear outline for the man with the red paint to colour in: it is equivalent to any other solid white line at a traffic light. In other words, drivers are not permitted to cross while the light is red. This applies whether you are on a motorbike or in a car, bus or taxi. It also applies even if you are driving a shiny red BMW.
  • Nice work, hotshot

    Shiny silver isn't exempt either, funnily enough

    The presence of a garish criss-cross pattern of yellow on the road indicates what is technically known as a box junction. These are not difficult to use. All that is required is that you do not enter unless your exit is clear. This doesn’t mean sitting inside one because the car in front is half in and half out so it must be okay then. This applies even if you’re in a shiny black BMW.
  • A speed limit is the upper boundary of the permitted speed at which you are allowed to drive your car on the section of road to which that speed limit applies. The speed limit applies at all times of day and night and doesn’t have qualifying exceptions for vehicle type such as “unless you are in a white van, silver Saab, an Alfa Romeo or a BMW.” There is also no exception that says “the limit does not apply if you are overtaking a cyclist who is travelling at or more than the speed limit.” Nor does it cease to apply if you are late for work/picking up the kids/getting home in time for your favourite TV show. The only time the speed limit does not apply is if you are on a bicycle. If you want to travel faster than the speed limit, ride a bike. If you have good reason for exceeding the speed limit in your car, such as you are racing home because your children are being menaced by an angry lion, whilst on fire, you should probably have asked the police to attend on your behalf.
  • You would not overtake a car that was signalling right 5m before the junction and was in the process of pulling out: don’t overtake a cyclist doing the same thing. We’re not pigeons. We’re not street furniture. We’re not mere obstacles to be dodged at the last possible instant with the minimum amount of clearance. There’s a person on that bike, with a family and a life and an adrenaline gland that gets far more use than it really should because a significant portion of drivers out there can’t see past the edges of their own peer group. Don’t be one of those myopic elbow-polishers. It’s not big and it’s not clever and it’s not going to get you where you’re going any faster.
    Every time you overtake another vehicle you are increasing the risk for both of you. When it’s a bike the rider is not protected by three quarters of a metric tonne of steel and plastic and you don’t get to make that sort of risk alteration without due consideration. Squeezing past anywhere is A Very Bad Thing: doing it while the cyclist is attempting to turn right is an indication that you are a turd who deserves to have unpleasant things happen to your procreation equipment.
  • I do understand that some of you drivers out there have a queue fetish. I mean, it’s obvious. You can always tell: they’re the ones who go racing past at high revs when there’s a traffic jam about 50m ahead, where they’ll sit, marinating in their own impatient juices while the cyclist they’ve just cut up merrily cruises to the front of the line. Because you can do that on a bike. Bikes rock and they so rule.
    Still. Each to his own. Rule 34 and all that. If you get a kick out of being frustrated in a jam then that’s what floats your boat. I suppose it might be a form of masochism, like being tied up by a person you really fancy and teased for three hours before being sent home without so much as a lick. Just, if you’re going to jump in front so you can spend that bit of extra time in the jam, please try to be considerate about it and give the cyclist you’re overtaking plenty of room.
  • Cyclists are allowed to filter through traffic and they are allowed on the road. If this bothers you, please fill out the following butthurt report form and submit it by folding it into a paper aeroplane and throwing it from your nearest tall building. Santa Claus will intercept it and make sure it is delivered to the appropriate authority: i.e. your mum.
  • Inspired by http://spubba.com/extras/butthurt.pdf

    Inspired by http://spubba.com/extras/butthurt.pdf

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Safebooze

by on Jun.16, 2010, under Cycling, Rant, transport

avatarThe BBC Magazine today has a piece on Sir Peter North’s report calling for a reduction in the legal alcohol limit from 80mg/l to 50mg/l.

Now to most of us who are aware that alcohol and driving don’t mix, this call is, well, meh. I never drink anything before driving. There’s not much difference between 80 and 50 for those who feel alcohol and cars don’t mix. The advantage of 50 over, say, zero, is that a serving of sherry-laced trifle, use of an alcohol-based mouthwash, or anything lingering the morning after a moderately sensible night before shouldn’t result in a 12 month ban.

Yet, surprise surprise, the Association of British Drivers — also known as the Top Gear Fan Club — objects to any proposal to cut the blood alcohol limit.

Conversely, Nigel Humphries of the Association of British Drivers opposes any reduction, arguing that this would remove any incentive to stay within the law for the small number of drivers who try to drink within the limit.
“We think this would harden attitudes – people don’t take notice of daft laws,” he says. “You’ve got to have legislation that is sensible.”

I am reminded of the first episode of Volume 8 of the Chronicles. When I wrote about ‘SafeBooze’ it wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. It was satire.

  • Safe Booze believes absolutely in enhanced road safety. We do not campaign against blood alcohol limits or alcohol limit enforcement. We are not anti-police. We are not “pro-drinking”.
  • We believe that too much blood alcohol limit enforcement by unthinking automatons makes the roads very much more dangerous.
  • We believe that publicising incorrect safety mantras to motorists is hazardous. “Alcohol kills” lacks any useful meaning and is perilously deceptive.
  • We believe that inappropriate alcohol for the conditions is an essential road safety issue that is made worse by too much emphasis on blood alcohol limit compliance.
  • We do not recommend or condone breaking road traffic laws unless it is obvious to the trained eye that it is perfectly safe to do so, in which case any judge will agree with you because you are, of course, an experienced expert.

From the ABD’s own website:

  • The Association of British Drivers (ABD), as a body representing drivers’ interests, is as eager as anyone to ensure that all road users can go about their legitimate business without their lives being put at risk by those who drive whilst impaired by alcohol.
  • Central to the proposed strategy for further reducing alcohol related deaths is the reduction of the permitted blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level from the current 80mg/100ml to 50mg. The ABD believes that this measure will achieve nothing but the pointless criminalisation of millions of responsible people who are not causing any danger to others. This will lead to a serious danger of public respect for the limit, and consequently the entire anti drink drive strategy, being undermined.
  • The biggest time for drink drive accidents is summer, not Christmas. This is the time when people are dehydrated and the same drink has much more effect. The government should warn people of this, and give advice about factors which can extend the’life’ of alcohol in the blood.
  • It would… be quite reckless for the Government to push ahead with a BAC limit reduction which would certainly result in gross injustice for many thousands of responsible motorists and probably undermine public support for the anti drink drive message, whilst delivering, at best, highly uncertain, unproved and marginal direct road safety improvements.
  • The ABD reserves the right to refuse membership to those with serious motoring convictions, but it recognises that these can arise unjustly.

It would be tragically, gob-smackingly infuriating if it were not so damn funny.

I wish the ABD would just put a big banner across their site saying “DRIVERS SHOULD BE EXEMPT FROM LEGAL CONTROL BECAUSE HAVING TO OBEY THE LAW IN MY ZOOM-MOBILE MAKES MY BUTT HURT. VROOM VROOM!”

It would be more honest. Those of us who have, shall we say, a history of dealing with the ABD and its various stalwarts no longer pay any attention to them. We know they leik mudkipz. The worry only comes when organisations such as the BBC start paying attention to these Clarkson-apologists. It’s like inviting the BNP to the Queen’s Garden Party.

Oh. Right. That’s happening too. *facepalm*

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Invisible Gorillas

by on May.14, 2010, under Cycling, Rant

avatarI sometimes wonder why we are so fixated on the provision of cycle facilities in this country. The Beauty and the Bike project is only the latest in a number of initiatives to try to tackle the issue of increasing the popularity of cycling by installing infrastructure. They come right out with it and say: It’s the infrastructure, stupid!

Regular readers will already be aware of my feelings about this, and the organisation that started it all, Sustrans , which is not, and never has been, a cycling organisation.

Here’s why it’s not the infrastructure:

Selective attention blindness is probably the main cause of SMIDSY incidents on the road, as discussed by the author of the original study, Daniel Simons, in this Seed magazine article. The phenomenon is one in which an observer is so focused on looking for one thing that he fails to see something else that is right in front of him. Hence, in the above video, people who haven’t heard about it will be so absorbed in counting the passes between the white shirts that they completely fail to spot the gorilla. Seriously. It may be impossible to believe but it’s true.

Did you spot the gorilla?

It’s also why no amount of fluorescent material or bright lighting will help a cyclist be seen —apparently you’d be better off wearing the same colours as road signs, because drivers are expecting those— and why segregated facilities are not only unhelpful, they make the problem worse.

Drivers are looking for other cars. This is a peer group phenomenon. The other members of their peer group are more important to them and have higher priority, and there are so many more of their peer group that road users who are not members of that peer group are involuntarily ignored. Frequent cyclists who are also drivers tend to be more aware of cyclists sharing the road for the same reason. Other cyclists are members of their peer group. The more frequently a person cycles the more he is likely he is to spot other cyclists from behind the wheel of his car.

I’m basing this on personal experience, incidentally. I’m not sure if any formal studies have been done into the correlation between cycling frequency and likelihood of spotting cyclists on the road.

If we combine selective attention blindness with peer-group attention selection and segregated facilities, we’re creating a situation in which cyclists won’t be able to use the road even if they want to. Drivers will become less used to seeing cyclists and if cyclists become more unexpected than they are at present, then they’re even more likely to end up in physical conflict with motorised road users.

Cyclists on the road in a world dominated by car culture are the invisible gorilla beating his chest in the middle of the screen. It’s bad enough right now. The more cyclists who choose to give up their right to the road and let drivers get away with not having to look for them, the more imperative it will become to have a fully integrated, segregated network of routes for bikes. The more segregated routes we have, the more dangerous the roads will become.

I don’t know about you but that strikes me as a move in completely the wrong direction.

I shouldn’t look at websites like Bike Belles and their ilk any more. They’re sexist, they’re insulting and they’re trying to make my cycling experience even worse than it is already.

When will people accept that getting more people cycling shouldn’t be done at the cost of those who are already out there doing it? It’s not the infrastructure: it’s evolutionary biology. We can’t tackle this problem by treating the symptoms because there isn’t enough space in this country for building yet more paths. We need to tackle the source of the problem, and the only thing that will do that is getting more cyclists on the roads.

Every single person who chooses to ride on a segregated path is part of the problem. Every single person who chooses to ride on the road is part of the solution.

Which one are you?

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Bike:car

by on May.05, 2010, under Cycling

avatar One of the fine, upstanding members of the League of Gentlemen Cyclists found this image showing how many folded Bromptons can fit into a single car parking space:

Bromptons filling a car parking space

As a regular cycle commuter, not to mention all-round cycling obsessive, I am annoyed, quite a lot of the time, by the crass, proprietorial, territorial behaviour I witness from some drivers — not all of them, but a good proportion. The road tax accusation being a case in point. I think this image neatly illustrates why any form of taxation for cyclists is beyond ridiculous — not least because there are plenty of cars now that are not required to pay vehicle excise duty, and on the same basis requiring cyclists to pay tax for using their bikes on the road would be a level of insanity the likes of which even God has never seen.

Sorry. Came over a bit Stilgar there.

I was at a training course recently in which the frankly astonishing fact was presented that something like 33% of the copper found in the San Francisco Bay comes from cars; the brakes, to be precise. Our global dependency on the automobile has environmental, health and economic impacts far beyond the obvious. It’s not just about noise, traffic and the KSI stats.

Although, when you read that there has been a case in which a driver killed a cyclist and the judge said it wasn’t dangerous driving, even though he was on the opposite side of the road and doing 20mph more than the speed limit, you have to wonder whether the morons out there who act like driving a car is their unalienable right will ever get just how uneven the cost:benefit ratio really is.

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