barriers to cycling (part 1)

In a week of waffle – on the ugly spat between Andrew Mitchell and his gate-keepers – there’s been exactly zero comment on the fact that a senior member of the Government might choose to travel by bike. Fifteen years ago such zany behaviour would have had him labelled as an odd and remarkable fellow; ‘the bicycling whip’. A first lesson to draw from the affair is that a posh person choosing to get about on an – insert compulsory adjective – humble bicycle is now a non-story.

rear-wheel-only mudguard specification? What’s that all about?

It’s now unworthy of comment to find toffs travelling by bike, after all their social status is inviolable. This may not be much help to others who had less money spent on their education and whose parents were not Government ministers, but it’s still a positive development. In all the talk of contempt, condescension and costly curry – even though bicycle-travel is a key element in the narrative – nobody has denounced Andrew Mitchell as a cyclist.

The tale of hot-temper has another lesson; that authority has trouble categorising bicycle-traffic. In this period in history, in the UK, if you enjoy the simple luxury of cycle-travel, you have to get used to occasional, ritual humiliation.

The third lesson is that Andrew Mitchell is clearly not much of a politician. When confronted with injustice an activist has three basic choices…

  • To fight, Mitchell has a military background but clearly shooting his way out of the vehicle gate was not a practical option. The streets of SW1 are made for tanks, there are barracks of elite troops standing very close by. If he’d gone for the Maoist option – “political power comes from the barrel of a gun” – he may have got away with his life but it probably wouldn’t have helped his career?
  • To defer, politely to ‘jobsworth’ authority and make, in due course, reasoned complaint, to the proper authorities, that the new Downing Street Gate policy is both unfair and inconvenient.
  • To take non-violent direct action; on being told that the riding gate could not be opened, that ‘for reasons of security’ he’d have to dismount and walk back to the pedestrian gate, Mr. Mitchell could have explained courteously to his obstructors that they were clearly discriminating against human-powered vehicular traffic and calmly insist that they arrest him so he could make his case in court. If this demand had been refused he could have used his handy ‘D’ lock to shackle himself to the gates and wait for something to happen. If convicted he could have refused to take any conditional discharge, refused to pay any fine, gone to jail and started a hunger-strike.

All he actually did was rant. The exact terms of his discourse are still contested but nobody is denying he lost control. He became impolite which is impolitic.

Mitchell’s verbal incontinence has obscured the real issue. His grovelling apologies say nothing of the injustice that provoked his childish wrath. His lack of self-control means an opportunity, to focus national debate on whether it’s OK to force people on push bikes to WALK, when those in limousines get to ride, has been lost.

He must resign.

magnanimity in victory

There’s too much bicycle-centred miserablism published these days. Not that people who try and travel by bike in London, England, the UK, Europe, the World, the Solar system, the Galaxy, the Universe, haven’t got stuff to moan about but we are winning

Play sound.

There’s too much bicycle-centred miserablism published these days. Not that people who try and travel by bike in London, England, the UK, Europe, the World, the Solar system, the Galaxy, the Universe, haven’t got stuff to moan about but we are winning.

Never forget that the primary victims of motor-dependence(MDVs) are the bicycle-deficient losers who actually have to struggle to move all those almost-empty mobile-front-rooms around. They may sometimes drag us down toward their own tragic level but the main people who suffer from their lack of imagination are their sorry selves.

Irrational, you-people-are-all-the-same antipathy towards we who travel by bike is based partly on envy. In current conditions people who don’t ride often see those on bikes as winners, and there are few things less attractive than an ungracious, whingeing winner. ‘Not only do they act like they own the road but all they ever do is moan’.

Don’t just moan. That’s what everybody else does. That’s what’s expected.

Last week I was complaining about an unfortunate lack of permeability for cycle-traffic at the junction of Hermitage Road, St. Annes Road and North Grove, London N15. I did offer an alternative practical example but, in the interests of positivity, would like to add this excellent item of street photography, endorsing the concept of filtered permeability. Shot just over the hill in N4, it’s the work of noted bicycle-educator and cricket fanatic David Dansky.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTPeJdhKn1A?rel=0]
So much more elegant than the speed hump and they can get out of the way if an ambulance needs to pass.

substitute

Travelling without a bicycle can be an unsettling experience. Looking up from your reading book, glancing round the train carriage with the ominous feeling that something’s missing; only to remember, with relief, that – because you’re rattling South from London-Waterloo in the rush hour, and can walk from the station to the appointment at the other end – you left your trusty, rusty push-rod locked-up on platform 11.

Travelling without a bicycle can be an unsettling experience. Looking up from your reading book, glancing round the train carriage with the ominous feeling that something’s missing; only to remember, with relief, that – because you’re rattling South from London-Waterloo in the rush hour, and can walk from the station to the appointment at the other end – you left your trusty, rusty push-rod locked-up on platform 11.
If you have to travel without a cycle always consider taking an umbrella. An umbrella is a useful tool but can also serve as bicycle methadone. Umbrellas and bicycles have a lot in common. Both are invaluable when required but can be awkward encumbrances when not in use. Both are prone to technical failures, particularly if not of serviceable quality, or used inappropriately. You might have to fiddle with them to make them work. Beware of USO’s(umbrella shaped objects) sold at unrealistically low prices.

An investment-grade cotton gamp from here

we had that Charles Dickens in the other day

…is a nice accessory, and when rolled, can serve as a makeshift ice-axe in emergencies, but carrying a 200 quid example – like riding round town on a three-grand bike – may be nerve-wracking. If something of this quality…

polished maple solid stick

…ends up in lost-property, it’s got to hurt.

A personal favourite – a nice compromise between economy and durability – is the Rohan treking umbrella.

370 gramme bicycle substitute

The G.R.P. stick and frame make a lightweight package that can flex nicely in strong winds reducing risk of sudden failure. It will never corrode. The manufacturers make no claims for the canopy’s UV protection, suggesting carcinogenic rays can get through – which won’t happen with the old-school cotton example – but it’s still cool in the shade.

It comes with a mesh sheath so will dry while rolled and can be toted slung across a shoulder rifle-style. Alternatively strap it on your big, butch courier bag for the ultimate in paramilitary picnic chic.

paramilitary picnic chic

starting pistol

England is mysterious country, so far North that Summer daylight lasts past bedtime, yet warmed by ocean currents to avoid any prolonged Winter, suspended between Europe and America, balanced between Germanic and Latin Europe, with a rich language that fuses both traditions.

“And Norseman and Negro and Gaul and GreekDrank with the Britons in Barking Creek”

Rudyard Kipling

The London 2012 Olympics™ were a magic time.

England is mysterious country, so far North that Summer daylight lasts past bedtime, yet warmed by ocean currents to avoid any prolonged Winter, suspended between Europe and America, balanced between Germanic and Latin Europe, with a rich language that fuses both traditions.

Imperial history adds more layers of richness. Great Britain is a Scottish concept, London an Irish city, we’re all Jamaicans now and right across South Asia schoolboys, who may never visit Yorkshire, do impressions of ‘Sir’ Geoffrey Boycott.

Stuart Hall – Anglo-Jamaican sociologist – said: “In the modern World, if you ask someone where they come from expect a long story.” The people of this archipelago have a head-start on modernity, the Romano-British were hyphenated even before the Anglo-Saxons blew in.

Invite an elite selection of the one-track-minded to come and show off in the World crucible of London, revise the budget upwards as often as necessary and the resulting magic will shine through even the grey haze of McDonalds, mondialisation and militarism.

There’s appetite for change in British Society. Tony ‘mad-bomber’ Blair becomes prime minister and it’s hailed as a bright new morning. Diana Spencer is slaughtered in a car-wreck and the temper of the nation is supposed to have changed forever. Men are finally jailed for killing Stephen Lawrence and nothing will ever be the same. Expect the current, sorely belated revision of the Hillsborough Stadium crush narrative to generate the same kind of waffle and Ferry Lane, Tottenham Hale to be renamed Mark Duggan Boulevard amid a blizzard of insincere apologies around 2035?

what an emborisment

The great festival of running and jumping is the latest candidate for ‘nothing-will-ever-be-the-same’ status. Let’s not get carried away.

The golden trio of Greg Rutherford, Jessica Ennis and Mohammed ‘Mo’ Farrah inspired a joke that’s funny and progressive…

“A ginger, a mixed-race woman and a Somali refugee walk into a pub…

…and everyone cheers.”

…while in other news the UK border agency are spitefully terminating the courses of a load of people – who’ve spent thousands on studying in this country – only because they happen to come from outside the European Economic Community.

I enjoyed the Olympics – an all day roadside drinking session in the Mole Valley, hearing a prolonged chant of “One, Two, Tree.”   boom joyfully down the street on the night of the men’s 200 metres final, a trip to the Paralympic athletics with my Grandsons – but it’s now a relief not to hear the propaganda, about Olympopolis being ex-wasteland, repeated almost every day by Sebastian Coe, Tessa Jowell or some other land-grabbing liar who doesn’t give a fuck about grassroots sport or the prosperity and quiet enjoyment of the people of the Lower Lea Valley. Folks were working, living and recreating there before the bulldozers rolled in. The promised velo-park is not a gift. If secured it will be reparation.

The prolific web-log ‘Crap Cycling & Walking in Waltham Forest’ – said by some to be the work of Ron Binns, an old comrade from the glory days of the NO M11 Link Road Campaign and former editor of ‘Walk’ magazine – usefully highlights the first promised deadline of the ‘morning-after’ era.  I’d have asked for permission to reproduce the images and copy but CrapWalthamForest doesn’t take comments. So here they are pirated. If you are Ron Binns or any other brain behind CWF feel free to endorse or object.

15th October 2012

By this date these temporary and highly controversial structures built for the Olympics on green open space in the Lea Valley (including, naturally, a tarmac car park), will have been demolished and the entire site will have been returned to green, grassy space where local residents are free to wander. Nothing can possibly go wrong and there is no reason to believe that this deadline will not be met. Trust them – they’re Waltham Forest Council.

 

Let the ‘Legacy Wars’ begin.

mixed messages (part 1)

I’ve moved, five kilometres and two villages north-northwest; from West Hackney, London, E8 to West Green, London, N17.

West Hackney is a centre of bicycle paradise, where – in certain demographics – cycling is the default non-walking mode. As a former coordinator of the London Cycling Campaign in Hackney I naturally like to assume most of the credit for this.

Inner London is the easiest place in Britain to travel by bike. Bicycling makes sense, distances are short and nobody is surprised to find cycle-traffic on the road. There’s a convincing case that Outer London is the worst place in Britain to travel by bike.

My new locale – on the ragged coastline where Inner and Outer London bleed into each other – is an ideal place to savour the current era of mixed messages. A time when people who choose to travel by bike may be treated as heroic role-models for a sustainable future; or as vermin.

Here’s a junction on St. Ann’s Road in South Tottenham. One arm of the mini-roundabout crossroads is obstructed by a galvanised fence. You can get through walking but it’s awkward. On a bike you may dismount and walk or creep awheel, across the pinched foot-way as a guest. If you go for this riding option there’s no obvious way to rejoin the highway.

almost a closed road

A banner is currently hanging beside the barrier.

Leave my what?

 ‘Turn over a new leaf, leave your car at home.’ Nearly half the households in Haringey – my new home borough – do not own a car so this dopey message ignores the majority of the local population. Do it’s authors want me to buy a car so I can leave it at home, or would they be satisfied if I just joined a car club?

Meanwhile, down on Southgate Road, London N1, where Northchurch road crosses from the LB Hackney into LB Islington there’s a crossroads with a similar layout except instead of a galvanised fence there’s a modal filter. And no banner pleading lamely for behavioural change.

modal filter