good news

Pleased to announce that the unlovely sheds thrown up on at short notice on Leyton Marsh – as part of the great festival of running and jumping – are gone. The deadline for removal was missed, and the area of public open land is still fenced off, but the sheds are gone. The ground is level and new – monocultural – turf is being laid.

Pleased to announce that the unlovely sheds thrown up on at short notice on Leyton Marsh – as part of the great festival of running and jumping – are gone.

The deadline for removal was missed, and the area of public open land is still fenced off, but the sheds are gone. The ground is level and new – monocultural – turf is being laid.

Last Summer…

Last week…

Back in September when I lifted the ‘before’ picture from Ron Binns’ prolific web-log ‘Crap Cycling & Walking in Waltham Forest’ he wrote…

“15th of October.

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.”

I’ve been waiting for him to announce the good news, with some acid comments about the delay. ‘Bad weather’ is the given excuse, which didn’t seem to stop them getting the party ready on time? It’s always politic to congratulate people for doing what you want. Even when you’ve made them do it when they didn’t want to.

Whenever you make a pushy MDV* wait for your priority always try and thank them. Patronising politeness is so much crueler than anger, and not giving them an outlet for their frustration might just leave them with space and energy to mature into a less selfish and desperate traveller?

Not only does Crap Cycling not seem to do good news he’s also trying to wish away – long established – glad tidings. Way back in 1992 the impish Mayer Hillman’s revolutionary work Cycling Towards Health and Safety

signalled the beginning of the end of the ‘Vanishing Tribe’ era, the first glimmer of dawn for the current epoch of Mixed Messages.

Ron’s uncompromising stance on motor-danger and motor-slaughter is laudable. In an era when most commentators still moan about ‘dangerous roads’ or ‘nightmare traffic’ like they were natural phenomena – avalanche, hurricane, shark attack – Crap Cycling keeps the focus resolutely on human agency. The danger doesn’t  come from cars or trucks or junctions or roads; it comes from people like you and me.

But isn’t it possible to keep stating that obvious fact without denying the known epidemiological truth that people who ride bikes live longer? I’d like to ask Ron myself but he doesn’t take comments.

*MDV = victim of motor dependence

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

who is killing who?

Reader – and black-belt bollard farmer – Richard Lewis asks this pertinent question… “In a recent post you asked whether Wiggins’ victory would make more people cycle. Now, the question is, could he be the agent to undo progress with cycling as a transport mode in this country, if the risk-averse and anti-cycling lobby hear what he says and make helmet-wearing compulsory? Shouldn’t he just stick to his day job?”

Reader – and black-belt bollard farmer – Richard Lewis asks this pertinent question…

“In a recent post you asked whether Wiggins’ victory would make more people cycle. Now, the question is, could he be the agent to undo progress with cycling as a transport mode in this country, if the risk-averse and anti-cycling lobby hear what he says and make helmet-wearing compulsory? Shouldn’t he just stick to his day job?”

It is indeed unfortunate that Wiggins was drawn into commenting on the tragic slaughter of Dan Harris. Interpret Wiggins remarks as misplaced professionalism. He was asked a question and gave an answer. Talking to the press is part of his day job. The fact that Wiggins’ remarks are widely reported as if he were an expert on public health is another manifestation of ‘you-cyclists-are-all-the-same’ foolishness which treats people who ride bikes as a homogeneous out-group.

Wiggins is not an expert on public heath. Indeed his chosen métier takes him into the elevated area of performance where health and fitness – which normally complement each other well – diverge drastically.

People get unnecessarily aerated about crash-hats for utility cycle riders because they don’t want to talk about more important stuff. The main thing about helmets for cycling is that they’re a marginal issue, not that important. It’s usually best to avoid getting drawn into arguments about them and move onto something more significant.

We need to be vigilant against creeping normalisation of helmets – for anything other than antagonistic sports riding – and to challenge the exaggerated value some people assign them, despite the very modest claims made by their manufacturers and testers. As this belief is often quasi-spiritual the challenge needs to be made gently to avoid putting
people on the defensive.

It’s a mistake to encourage or discourage an adult to wear – or not wear – a helmet. For adults personal risk assessment is best left to the individual.

Lot’s of people wear bicycle crash-hats on the back of their heads – where they can’t protect their brows and cheek bones in a forward fall – or with the straps so loose the helmet would be useless in an impact. Their helmet is a lucky charm, some kind of bulky and awkward St. Christopher or Ganesh. I once heard a youth worker – with ambitions to become a cycling instructor – say:- “So long as I’m wearing my helmet I feel safe.”

You can find everything – and probably more – than you need to know clearly and calmly expressed here. This page – in particular – is a useful corrective for people who imagine a helmet will protect them in anything beyond a relatively minor impact. It also stresses the importance of correct adjustment. If a helmet is worn it needs to fit, and be held firmly in the right place otherwise it’s value is only symbolic, which is at best no value, and may increase your risk of injury.

It’s true that in Spain national outrage following the running down and death of Ricardo and maiming of Javier, Otxoa led eventually to – lightly enforced – helmet compulsion. In Britain – where bicycle madness has bitten deeper – we who take a professional or amateur interest in public health can use any hysteria over crash hats to rehearse the important truths about who is killing whom.

Use the following simile with care –  it’s inflammatory – but nonetheless instructive. When a person who doesn’t travel by bike tells somebody that does travel by bike that they ought to wear a crash-hat it’s not at the same level of infamy as people who aren’t Jews telling Jews to wear yellow stars but there is a clear equivalence.

Cyclists Live Longer

The Times’ ‘Cities fit for Cycling’ campaign, was launched last Thursday with the front page headline ‘Save Our Cyclists’. That’s good news. There is – for example – some moving testimony from Cynthia Barlow, in the clip on this page. She talks, not just about her daughter, who was killed while cycling, but about the generalised and usually unmentionable cost of motor-dependence.  ‘Cities fit for Cycling’ is inspired by the sorry fate of Mary Bowers – who works for The Times – and suffered near-fatal injuries, when run-down by someone operating a truck. It’s interesting, and progressive, that motor-slaughter is now on the  national agenda, but an awkward difficulty with naming the problem remains.

The Times’ ‘Cities fit for Cycling’ campaign, was launched last Thursday with the front page headline ‘Save Our Cyclists‘. That’s good news. There is – for example – some moving testimony from Cynthia Barlow, in the clip on this page. She talks, not just about her daughter, who was killed while cycling, but about the generalised and usually unmentionable cost of motor-dependence.  ‘Cities fit for Cycling’ is inspired by the sorry fate of Mary Bowers – who works for The Times – and suffered near-fatal injuries, when run-down by someone operating a truck. It’s interesting, and progressive, that motor-slaughter is now on the  national agenda, but an awkward difficulty with naming the problem remains.
Motor-traffic in general, the haulage business in particular, kills people. They kill people at a rate that would be a national scandal if any other source – bad food hygiene? enemy action? unmanned level-crossings? – were responsible. A more sensible headline could have been ‘Tame Our Trucks’. The story is of death and life-changing injury consequent on hyper-mobility of goods and people. Focusing only on the hazards of cycle-travel distracts from this.

How dangerous is it to ride a bike? Epidemiological statistics are slippery. Every day I see people riding down the road. They see a bus parked at the kerb. I guess their unconscious thought process is something like – ‘I can see that bus. Anyone behind can see me and that bus. Everybody knows what I’m going to do next’. Then they pull-out and overtake the bus, relying on others to take care of them. Such behaviour isn’t the monopoly of the stereotypically reckless or foolish, some people who act that way are middle-aged, probably in salaried employment and riding well-worn bikes of investment quality. Their strategy clearly works. These people will almost all live long, healthy lives and die – in due course – in their beds. But it wouldn’t cost them anything to glance over their shoulders when they see that bus.

In bald statistical terms riding a bike is a safe activity. A typical individual has to cover millions of kilometres before being involved in a serious crash. These figures include teenage boys and also those who’ve been riding their Claud Butlers round North London since 1981, without once looking over their shoulder. If you take the trouble to ride in a considered and conscious style you are – in Inner London at least – super safe. The difficulty is how do we campaign to make travelling by bike even less hazardous, even more pleasurable, without reinforcing the widespread misconception that it’s somehow lethal.

In the 1970’s and 80’s if you ever mentioned cycling for practical travel to a politician, a planner or a highway engineer it was a sure-fire, certainty that the first sentence of their reply would contain a word from this short menu…

  • safety
  • risk
  • danger

During those comparatively lean years – in a pathetic personal quest for balance and logic – I refused to discuss bicycle travel in the context of ‘road-safety’. The vow lapsed with the publication, in 1992, of Mayer Hillman’s game-changing work ‘Cycling: Towards Health and Safety’, which put the cycling-is-much-too-dangerous-to-encourage argument underground with a stake through its heart. Cycles might bring some risks but not nearly as many as sofas and fried potatoes. What’s really deadly is not cycling.

There’s a counter-position, that cycling might really be very dangerous, and the figures for death and serious injury are suppressed because people don’t do it. Establishing causality in the reflexive fluidity of human motivation can only be a theoretical approximation. Is cycling in England considered dangerous because people don’t do it? Do English people not cycle because they think it’s dangerous?  Why does anyone ride a motor-cycle? That’s really dangerous.

The risks of travelling by bike in London are not massively greater than the risks of walking the same streets. They may even be less. They are certainly of the same order of magnitude. Why does The Times choose to focus only on dead pedallers and ignore those slaughtered while walking?

In Inner London – in certain demographics – cycle travel has become normal. Here in West Hackney it’s getting close to compulsory.

While the typical pedestrian victim of the metal plague is poor, a school-kid or a pensioner, those culled while riding bikes are much more likely to be young adults in high status employment. In evolutionary terms individuals of peak reproductive age are much more valuable, but let’s aspire to rise above such crude atavistic bias. And also to remind anyone drawn into this renewed debate, that – although very occasionally cyclists die while travelling – they’re not being killed by bikes.