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.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

The British Cyclist

You are lucky when you spot the British Cyclist. It is a lifeform that has developed an extraordinary array in plumage and stunningly colourful displays of resilience and inventiveness. It is part of British Society - though not British Culture - and within that the smallest fraction by far in the Transport category. It is unusual and surprising in many ways. For one, it enlists the help of a wheeled instrument called the Cycle which allows it to travel by a self-propelling motion.

Numerous sub-species exist with differing plumage, travelling behaviour and making use of varying kinds of Cycles. There is a multitude of different steering and propelling mechanism, in varying shapes and sizes. The British Cyclist may also put ornaments on its instrument (such as baskets, panniers, trailers and seat arrangements to name a few common ones). These are typically for hauling goods or carrying its offspring.
This great variety confuses the British Society and results in regular displacement activity such as On-looking (otherwise rare in British Society) and Uneasy Giggles. Calls of "Get off the road" and "Get off the pavement" have also been observed. These territorial calls not only highlight the squeezed nature of its habitat but can also be used to alert you that a British Cyclist is in the vicinity for your close inspection. Other signs of the presence of a British Cyclist are the chirpy calls of "Pay road tax" and "Where's your helmet". Both are linked to the mystification and anxiety of British Society around the British Cyclist, its sub-culture, activities and legal status.

Jesmond Park West
Urban obstacle course for using 'bunny hopping' skill
A certain skill and cunning is involved in being a British Cyclist. Various technical terminology has been employed to describe its activities. These activities are so specific to the species that the confines of this article prevent a more detailed description; suffice it to say it can be seen bunny hopping (obstacle courses of the urban environment), RLJ-ing, sitting in ASLs (if it can sense one, manages to access it and finds it unoccupied), 'Taking the Lane' (more detailed description below) and getting left-hooked and doored (by the British Motorist).

It's possibly worth noting here that the British Cyclist is partial to keeping moving due to its personal investment in the energy of the propelling motion. At the times of Rush Hour and School Run, when the British Motorist stands still, the British Cyclist can usually be seen to make good progress (albeit in a generally smoggy environment owing to the British Motorists non-self propelling nature).

Combined with a constant squeeze on habitat and little habitat creation planned for the future, it's red-listed on the British Government's Modal Split table (a participation and popularity index of all Transport species). Once abundant, its numbers plummeted in the 50s and 60s and have stubbornly remained very low over the recent decades, possibly due to counteractive conservation methods. There's much that could be done for the protection of the species. But it's so neglected now that conservation efforts simply rely on sharing and good will for its continued existence.

Jesmond Park West
Unreliable patchy habitat
Its designated habitat is patchy, small and constantly under threat which may go some way towards explaining its somewhat nervous disposition. It has to remain vigilant and is on a constant look-out: when sharing with the British Motorist it's obliged to adhere to the Rules of  the Road (not to be confused with the Highway Code) which demand alertness and displays of strength and stamina at all times.

The unreliable extent of its habitat has most certainly contributed to the evolution of its familiar Sense of Righteousness (not to be confused of the Sense of Entitlement by the more dominant British Motorist) and its typical displays of Irony and Sarcasm. It is probably the most sarcastic species in British Transport with various calls of Irony and Sarcasm (too various to list here), but definitively equalling if not exceeding the Public Transport species' typical "No bus, then three at once".

Wheely nice legs.
Confrontational 'Take the Lane'
For good territorial behaviour and in absence of any habitat of its own, the already nervous British Cyclist is advised to 'Take the Lane'. Newcomers to the species are specifically trained by the British Government and its Allied Authorities in this activity. The British Motorist is prone however to show territorial aggression to anyone using this technique, which works in its favour: only the hardiest British Cyclist can 'Take the Irony', with many simply blending back into the ranks of the British Motorist. Conservation Groups of the British Cyclist are thought to consist of those who manage to 'Take the Irony' (or possibly choose to ignore or overlook it, or may have grown immune to it).

Reliant on a confrontational survival mechanism putting it into head-on conflict with the dominant species of the British Motorist, it is not surprising that male numbers in the British Cyclist are considerably higher than female ones. The British Cyclist therefore heavily relies on cross-breeding with other Transport species and its offspring may never grow up to be British Cyclist.

Sometimes the British Cyclist takes to the Pavement in an attempt to advance its travels beyond its own patchy habitat, but runs into problems there, as this habitat clearly belongs to the British Pedestrian.

The British Government can only create habitat for the British Cyclist where there remains sufficient space for the British Motorist to continue its well-established fast business and its shell-discarding ritual.

Jesmond Park West
Habitat invasion
In a conciliatory gesture the British Government (in conjunction with its Allied Authorities) can partition off a narrow bit of the British Motorists habitat: this setting-aside of habitat is called Cycle Lane. Due to British Motorist territorial nature, large swathes of Cycle Lane habitat have already been reclaimed by annexation: indiscriminate shell-discarding is taking place in the Cycle Lane habitat routinely. Sometimes a preventative measure has been tried. This involves painting long thin strips of yellow colour along the Kerb, but may in advance involve years of lobbying by the British Cyclist eroding its otherwise excellent life expectancy.

Another Government-led habitat creation scheme is called ASL. Its high aim of being a habitat solely designated for the British Cyclist, is somewhat lessened by the complexity of its operation and bizarrely it's for the stationary British Cyclist only. For it to function it also crucially relies on the cooperation of the somewhat dominant British Motorist. The ASL habitat works well if the British Cyclist can locate one (a sixth-sense tracing instinct is required), or once located can find access into the habitat space. Upon entering the ASL habitat, the British Cyclist may then find the habitat occupied by a British Motorist. This habitat invasion, specially after an exhausting search and execution of a tricky access manoeuvre, can trigger a Sense of Righteousness. Loud remarks of Irony and Sarcasm may also be heard then. Obscene gesturing and uttering of expletives can occur, though this may be linked to the higher levels of adrenaline so common in Active Transport species.

Another habitat creation scheme is called Cycle Path, though this is largely uncommon in Britain for 1) it being expensive per person (due to the very low numbers of the British Cyclist) and 2) it falling within the British Motorist's highly-protected territory of fast roads and busy roundabout, which are also the Deadly Battlegrounds for the British Cyclist. Irony and Sarcasm, as well as species exodus result, in turn resulting in Irony and Sarcasm.

Last but not least, there is Shared Space, which is the least well comprehended habitat creation scheme. On this rare occasion the British Government has expressed mistrust in the British Motorist to act in an acceptable sharing manner. This mistrust however works in favour of the British Motorist and Shared Space habitat, common in the Land of Hope and Glory, is rarely created.

Calls from British Society to the British Cyclist to be more visible have little to do with British Society caring for its well-being. In another familiar befriending gesture the British Motorist is eager to identify itself as a "keen cyclist itself" but a look at the numbers does not support this claim. Overall the British Motorist remains the main predator of the British Cyclist, killing about two a week, and maiming many more.