Home
Cycling continues to grow in popularity and yet politicians and paid pontificators continue to demonise cyclists…Why? Wonders Carlton Reid

On Wednesday it was reported that deputy leader of North Somerset Council said cyclists were "arrogant" for using roads instead of adjacent cycle paths. Elfan Ap Rees was complaining about a petition asking for the council to redesign a £1.2m cycle path, half of which is being paid for by the national lottery.

Mr Ap Rees said: "Until [cyclists] are better behaved I can understand why there is opposition to new cycletrack schemes."

On the previous Saturday, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the MP for Kensington, penned a newspaper piece linking lack of bike path provision with poor cyclist behaviour.

He wrote: "Support for cycling should be complemented by a shift in behaviour of a minority of cyclists who flout the rules of the road."

These two points of view are mainstream: all cyclists are deemed, by many, to be red-light running, pavement-riding scofflaws. Pro-cycling MPs and peers tell me these sort of views are prevalent in Cabinet and endemic in the Department for Transport.

But switch the words: how about a suspension of the Government's £13bn road building programme until every single motorist in the UK drives below the speed limit, doesn't text while driving and doesn't park on the pavement? This is preposterous but it's pretty much what Mr Ap Rees and Sir Malcolm are saying about cyclists, the behaviour of one leads to lack of provision for all.

I parodied Sir Malcolm's stance on trade website BikeBiz.com, spoofing that the Coalition Government planned to mothball road building until ALL motorists started behaving.

The article became an instant hit, with retweets from, amongst others, Bad Science author Ben Goldacre and, rather sweetly, the RAC Foundation.

Naturally, the dark humour was lost on some people but it resonated deeply with cyclists. We're heavy users of social media. We complain about things. You know, like death threats and stuff.

The previous BikeBiz article to go viral (536 retweets) had the temerity to ask why the editor of an upscale London listings magazine wrote "the only good cyclist is a dead one."

Complaining about columnists wishing for your demise because of your transport choice just shows we can't take criticism, say detractors. Helen Martin in The Scotsman on Monday wrote:

"The problem is that any criticism [of cyclists], no matter how minor…is often taken …as a declaration of war."

Ms Martin has a neat solution: "Is it really so outrageous to suggest that, where there is a cycle lane, cyclists should be fined for not using it?"

Ms Martin has clearly never been on a UK cycle path on a bike, she isn’t aware most such paths are poorly designed, don’t mesh into a usable network, are often blocked with parked cars, and are rarely maintained. UK bike paths, in short (and most of them are, indeed, short) are a joke: there's even a book and a website which collects the funniest examples, Crap Cycle Lanes.

When MPs, newspaper columnists and random haters on social media call for compulsory cycle training, mandatory cycle lanes, bicycle license plates, payment of 'road tax' (which was abolished in 1937), and total adhesion to road rules from all cyclists,  this isn't really a call to share the road with trained, registered, fee-paying, law-abiding cyclists, it's a call for cyclists to get out of the way, a desire for transport cycling to wither and die.

The irrational hatred of cyclists is discussed in this month’s issue of The Psychologist. Bath University’s traffic specialist Dr Ian Walker said: “The usual outgroup effects are seen, particularly overgeneralisation of negative behaviour and attributes – ‘They all ride through red lights all the time’. 

“[Cyclists are] a minority outgroup, engaging in an activity that is deemed slightly inappropriate in a culture that views driving as normative and desirable and views cycling as anti-conventional. But even adding these factors into the mix does not explain all the anger that cyclists experience.”

The demonisation of cyclists needs to end. It would help if politicians and journalists recognised that cyclists are not one homogenous group and the sins of one should not be reason to impugn all.

 

Carlton Reid is the executive editor of BikeBiz.com and author of forthcoming book, Roads Were Not Built for Cars, due out later this year. http://www.roadswerenotbuiltforcars.com This article is a version of a talk Reid will be giving on 26th September at the be2talks in London, a conference for architects and town planners. http://be2awards.com/2012-be2talks/

Plucked from the obscurity of his London commute back in the mid-Nineties to live in Bath and edit bike mags our man made the jump to the interweb back in 2006 as launch editor of a large cycling website somewhat confusingly named after a piece of navigational equipment. He came up with the idea for road.cc mainly to avoid being told what to do… Oh dear, issues there then. Tony tries to ride his bike every day and if he doesn't he gets grumpy, he likes carbon, but owns steel, and wants titanium. When not on his bike or eating cake Tony spends his time looking for new ways to annoy the road.cc team. He's remarkably good at it.

48 comments

Avatar
Paul M [350 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

As it happens, I think there is quite a lot of what non-cyclists would regard as bad behaviour among cyclists - I am not going to make a moral jusdgement on it myself, but I can see where they are coming from - but this situation has come about because what we see as "the cyclist" in a generic sense, ie the dominant characteristic, has evolved in a sort of Darwinian pattern of natural selection in response to the road conditions we have to face. Expose us to unpleasant or dangerous conditions for which the only viable survival tactic is to go vehicular, to straddle the lane, ride fast and furious, get well away from lights and junctions before we are overrun, and it can hardly be a surprise if that is what we do, and it can hardly be a surprise if most of the people who can, or who are willing, to do this are men in the prime of life - just the type, in short, who are most likely to exhibit aggressive tendencies.

So not only does it make no sense to deal with cyclists infrastructure in a way you would not deal with motorists, but if you want to improve their average standard of behaviour, what you actually want is to shift the balance towards female, younger, and especially older cyclists, who currently feel frozen out of something that ideally they would like to be able to do. In other words, improve cycling conditions and cylcling behaviour will follow, not vice versa.

Avatar
Carlton Reid [126 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

But when such infrastructure is mooted to the powers-that-be the response is too often "no infrastructure until ALL cyclists adhere to the letter of the law and don't run red lights etc".

The point I make in the piece, and on the BikeBiz.com spoof, is that the same does not apply to motorists. Nobody ever seriously suggests drivers won't get more roads until they stop speeding etc.

Sure, some cyclists misbehave, but why should that the sins of a few lead to a lack of spending on all?

Bike org officials who spend their professional lives asking for facilities for cyclists come up against this brick wall constantly: "when cyclists start behaving, then we may provide for them."

Avatar
SideBurn [890 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

Interesting that these people in authority are not asking why a cyclist would take their chance on the road when there is a "perfectly good" cycle-path near by. Maybe when cycle-paths are cycle-paths and not shared use paths ie you have to take your life in your hands and ride from one near miss to the next, then I will use them! The last time I was knocked off my bike was on a so called cycle-path and this was by another cyclist not looking where he was going! Maybe we should call cycle-paths what they really are, "Dog shit alleys" it has a certain ring to it? Maybe if the people who finance these schemes could see what they are ie a big expensive dog loo then we could progress! If I had to use a Dog shit alley or be fined then I would either ride where there is no d.s. alley or drive...

Avatar
Sarah Barth [86 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

I felt deeply uncomfortable all day Thursday after on my usual commute to work along the CS3 I almost caused a crash trying to overtake a very slow lady on a Boris bike.

I'm not a speed freak and I respect that she wants to go at her pace - I just have to get to work in a rush and I'd only allocated a certain amount of time.

The cycle superhighways are deemed better than 'perfectly good' bike lanes by those in power, and actually, they are unfit for purpose already by virtue of being far too narrow for the number of cyclists.

But after causing a danger to others by trying to go fast along it, I was forced to ask myself if I should be going on the road and putting my own life in danger instead.

My behaviour was 'bad', but bad road planning put me in a position where it was too easy to cycle badly, or too hard not to, or something. Same with places where it's safer and quicker to nip onto the pavement for a few seconds than negotiate a hellish junction etc.

Avatar
sanderville [314 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

Blackpool is supposed to be a Cycling City but the cycle paths round here are downright dangerous. You get segregated paths that start and stop with little warning so you have to nip on and off the road to use them. The surfaces are so rough and patchy that it's dangerous to ride at more than 15mph and you have a good chance of breaking something on a road bike - they are really only suitable for pootling along on a sturdy MTB or hybrid. Plus you get the ubiquitous groups of pedestrians walking line abreast on the cycle path and refusing to make way for you even though there are pictures of bikes painted on the floor every 50 yards.

I stick to the roads as it's the only safe option.

Avatar
bikeylikey [197 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

Switching motorists for cyclists having to behave correctly before any improvements are made to roads/cyclepaths is an enlightening move.

Many instances of irrational cycling prejudice arise from this weird idea that cyclists are an 'outgroup', not just all kinds of people who happen to be on a bike at the moment. It's as if 'they' (those cyclists) are a particular species who exist only on bikes, are rude yet oversensitive to criticism, arrogant yet poor, think they are above the law but quote it all the time to motorists, etc etc. People, on the other hand, drive cars. Most people, normal, decent hard working people, nearly everyone in fact, get around in cars. So you get things like that recent popular mainstream tv programme, the upadate of 'That's Life' voting one of the most irritating things about modern life as 'cyclists'. Or that terrible event at a Critical Mass ride in Brazil where a motorist drove into a large group of cyclists http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GnR2ysyaoH4
- some of the comments were truly shocking, along the lines of this psychopath was right to attempt to kill people because they happen to be on bikes. Turning these things around to motorists is always enlightening. E.g. motorists are the most annoying people in the world, people deserve to be killed because they are in a car, is always enlightening.

Avatar
mrmo [2016 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

it is just an excuse, if cyclists were perfectly behaved there would be another excuse, eg road tax...

Avatar
notfastenough [3661 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

Carlton +1. Given how everyone from hoodies to athletes rides bikes, its quite odd that we are all seen as one and the same.

Avatar
Simon E [2539 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
Quote:

how about a suspension of the Government's £13bn road building programme until every single motorist in the UK drives below the speed limit, doesn't text while driving and doesn't park on the pavement?

Sounds good to me  1

A tiny fraction of the money saved could be put into decent cycle and walking infrastructure.

Interesting to see Dr Walker discuss the outgroup phenomenon. I've been one of those accused of overreacting to the "only good cyclist is s dead cyclist" type veiled threats (and I still can't see why such comments are viewed as humorous).

As for "sticking to the cycle path", too often it's unreasonable, for reasons explained here and elsewhere a multitude of times before.

Meanwhile in Shrewsbury a pedestrian crossing point/refuge is being blamed (totally without cause in my opinion) for traffic queues in the town centre. It would be funny if it wasn't so bloody pathetic! However, the drivers will soon find the queues they are in don't get any smaller so they can then find something/someone else to blame.

Avatar
OldRidgeback [2554 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

Most people don't cycle because they're lazy and scared. They don't realise cycling will boost their health to a degree that outweighs the risks by a factor of 20:1. Cycling isn't all that dangerous, it's just perceived to be. Most motorists don't ride and are ignorant of the risks they cause to cyclists by things such as passing too close or whatever.

But some cyclists do wind up motorists unnecessarily. I was driving back to Lonoion along the A303 last week and at the non-dualled section at Stonehenge, there's always a tailback. It was being made far worse due to four road riders side by side as they pedalled up the hill, and it wasn't necessary or considerate. That's the sort of riding that adds fuel to the fire for overweight cycling haters like potato face Jeremy Clarkson.

On the way home yesterday I saw a guy on a roadbike run three sets of red lights in succession - and he nearly got clipped by a car at one of them.

People do need to ride more consierately and carefully.

But at the same time, the risks to other road users from cyclists are minimal. And this is something that is poorly understood.

Avatar
cookdn [22 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

This sums up the popular perception of the priority/place of UK cyclists.

Avatar
Sheol [5 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
Sanderville wrote:

Blackpool is supposed to be a Cycling City but the cycle paths round here are downright dangerous. You get segregated paths that start and stop with little warning so you have to nip on and off the road to use them. The surfaces are so rough and patchy that it's dangerous to ride at more than 15mph and you have a good chance of breaking something on a road bike - they are really only suitable for pootling along on a sturdy MTB or hybrid. Plus you get the ubiquitous groups of pedestrians walking line abreast on the cycle path and refusing to make way for you even though there are pictures of bikes painted on the floor every 50 yards.

I stick to the roads as it's the only safe option.

+1 for Bristol

Avatar
WolfieSmith [1244 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

Separate lanes for cyclists is never going happen. We don't have the space or the money. Judging by the numbers I saw out today we are almost at tipping point in the tussle between motorists and cyclists. From years of experience of commuting in London to chain gangs on rural roads the three golden rules for cyclists are:

Don't run red lights ( jumping red lights is a separate issue ) : )

Single out when there are cars behind you.

Wave and smile everytime someone waits for a safe stretch of road to pass you.

It's all about the lost art of mutual acknowledgement of each other's right to be there.

The 20 is Plenty Campaign now has 8.4 million supporters. I suggest you all join as I've done. Once the speed is down the calmer environment will encourage others without the need for expensive road furniture.

Avatar
londonplayer [620 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

When are motorists going to start behaving? When are they going to stop killing cyclists?

Avatar
belgravedave [263 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

Agree with Mercury one about the tipping point. Anybody who cycles in London will have noticed a massive change in motorists awareness to us, 20 years ago hardly any drivers checked their side mirrors for cyclists but now I feel drivers are more aware. This has nothing to do with government campaigns but all to do with numbers (critical mass). Maybe dedicated cycle lanes are needed in some parts of the countryside or suburbs but in inner London it's all about bikes on the road (with the exception of dangerous junction etc) not segregated which will keep making cycling safer.

Avatar
Jon [33 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

On a long distance ride, using a cycle route where you're supposed to share a pavement with children and stop evey time it crosses a side road isn't realistic. I think it is arrogant to presume that road cyclists should be made to endure a slow, interrupted, second rate journey. Making the comparison with suspending road funding until a minority of drivers stop flouting the law illustrates that these people's views are founded on bias against cyclists - they are die hard bigots who want the car as king and don't want to share with other road users. I think they are swimming against the tide though.

Avatar
KiwiMike [1074 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

"Separate lanes for cyclists is never going happen. We don't have the space or the money"

Wow, that's some uninformedness there. If a 'cyclist' actually believes that we are doomed.

Facts: We have the space, on ALL our roads, it's just given to cars right now. We have the money, it's just given to cars, the NHS and other things right now.

Avatar
notfastenough [3661 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
cookdn wrote:

This sums up the popular perception of the priority/place of UK cyclists.

Wish you hadn't posted that, it just makes my blood boil!  14 4 Especially like the fact that if a driver reversed into a pedestrian their legal position would be rather different than if they go a couple of feet further and into a passing cyclist.

Avatar
stumps [3184 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

I agree we need better lanes / paths for cyclists but until "the cyclist" and i use the term as covering all of us, gives something back to the government / council (ie taxes of some sort) we are going to get nothing back from them.

Mind you we dont help ourselves - i was driivng to work yesterday on a dual carriageway which has filter lanes for traffic and as such makes it for long stretches 3 lanes. We also have a cycle path at the side (not in brilliant condition but still suitable for use by a road bike). As i drove along the road i saw cars swerving up ahead and i thought it was debris in the road, but no it was a lad on a mountain bike in the middle lane literally travelling at 10 - 12 mph.

He had no reflective gear on and no lights showing. When there was a perfectly good cycle path at the side why risk dying cos all it would have taken was a driver not paying full attention (and to be fair not expecting a bike in the middle lane) hitting him at 70+ mph.

Avatar
lushmiester [170 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

The outgroup/normative behavior thing is an impotent issue, especially for the up coming Parliamentary inquiry asking 'Why Don't More People Cycle'? reported here: http://road.cc/content/news/67073-parliamentary-inquiry-ask-why-dont-mor...
I sometimes feel that others view my believes about cycling and transportation as those of a zealot wishing to promote rebellion against the Holy Car Empire, which is far removed from the truth. But these attempt to marginalize of a view and activity as something odd and potentially dangerous,makes it considerably easier for those like Mr Elfan Ap Rees to maintain a paternalistic "nanny state" way of doing things, especially when it comes to cycling and indicative of what could be called lazy leadership.
I can appreciate that being involved in politics is a frustrating business and that unlike many others it is hard for the likes of Mr Ap Rees to express their frustrations. But I would suggest that not denigrating whole groups of people when expressing ones frustration, of be able to recognize that people can honestly hold counter views and arguments and that there are ranges of behavior within groups is a hall mark of good leadership in a democratic civilized society.

Avatar
ironmancole [276 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

This infrastructure argument does annoy me. We have a perfectly good (albeit potholed and poorly surfaced) transport network called the roads that we all pay for and all have equal right to utilise.

What this is really about is prejudice and plain bullying of cyclists to 'get out of the way'. If this form of aggression and resentment were prevalent in any other framework such as the workplace for example we'd have any number of laws and human right statutes to throw back.

As this is the road however we remain as second class citizens subject to the usual nonsensical arguments about road tax and any other feeble attempt to justify what is little more than a hate crime.

As ever the crimes of the motorist including multiple fatalities and all manner of disfigurement and severe injury are forgotten in favour of picking up on a few favourite topics of argument such as red light jumping and pavement riding.

I do neither and do not condone that at all, however in reality both actions are actually quite understandable given the relentlessly hostile attitude of certain motorists (who in fact would most likely be very poor cyclists too).

Avatar
John_the_Monkey [436 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

I use a couple of "perfectly good" cyclepaths on my way to work.

As they give way to the sideroads joining the road they run parallell to, they can extend journey time by nearly double, on days where you're unlucky with the toucan crossings &c.

I use them because the last time I didn't, some bellend in an Audi swerved at me deliberately, (on two separate days) despite there being no traffic other than him and me on the road. These "perfectly good" cyclepaths, are also, of course, not maintained in any way, so in the Autumn they're covered in slippy, crappy leaf litter, in the deep winter by snow and ice. The road alongside is, of course, kept free of debris by the passage of traffic, and gritted in icy conditions.

I'm also wary of the rubric that suggest sympathy with the motorist annoyed by "bad" cyclists. Conversations, and the stuff I've had shouted at me whilst riding, suggest that many drivers have only the most tenuous grasp of the contents of the current Highway Code, and traffic law. Their definition of "bad", when it comes to behaviour on the road, isn't one I'd feel comfortable staking my continued good health on.

Avatar
notfastenough [3661 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
John_the_Monkey wrote:

...some bellend in an Audi swerved at me deliberately, (on two separate days) despite there being no traffic other than him and me on the road...

Crikey, I've run across some idiots but none that bad. You get the plate/report it?

Avatar
John_the_Monkey [436 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
notfastenough wrote:
John_the_Monkey wrote:

...some bellend in an Audi swerved at me deliberately, (on two separate days) despite there being no traffic other than him and me on the road...

Crikey, I've run across some idiots but none that bad. You get the plate/report it?

Noted the plate - as it was only him and me around at the time (not long past 6am), I figured it would go nowhere (my word against his). I took the plate & jotted down what happened in case anything more serious came to pass after (the two incidents were effectively "punishment passes", I reckon - either that or the driver was horrible at judging speed and distance).

Avatar
andyp [1436 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

'We have the space, on ALL our roads'

WTF? We really don't. We hardly have the room for a single car on a lot of our roads.

Avatar
southstar [11 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

Well, they have found space that was given completely to motor vehicles in the past in London for the blue paint lanes/filters (that even motorbikes etc are forced to use because of queues).

There is the space on all roads, if there was the will, more would be done.

Avatar
cat1commuter [1418 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
andyp wrote:

'We have the space, on ALL our roads'

WTF? We really don't. We hardly have the room for a single car on a lot of our roads.

This addresses the argument that UK streets are too narrow to contain Dutch standard provision for cyclists. It is also addressed on this GB Cycling Embassy page.

Avatar
John_the_Monkey [436 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
andyp wrote:

'We have the space, on ALL our roads'

WTF? We really don't. We hardly have the room for a single car on a lot of our roads.

My commute from Wilmslow to Manchester has quite a bit - indeed, a fair bit of it is unsegregated cyclepath, or "Overflow Parking" as it's known in Manchester (the stretch along Parrs Wood Road is used by people who, it seems, either won't use their drives, or don't because they have too many cars to fit on). In some places there are large, high speed limit roads (choked with traffic) running alongside smaller roads (which are used as rat runs).

You'd have to reallocate (some of) the space, rather than hoping that you could keep cramming increasingly slowly moving cars into it, I guess.

Avatar
andyp [1436 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

'This addresses the argument that UK streets are too narrow to contain Dutch standard provision for cyclists. It is also addressed on this GB Cycling Embassy page.'

It does indeed, for a small sample of streets. It doesn't address the argument that many roads and streets are narrower than that.

Avatar
handlebarcam [543 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
andyp wrote:

'We have the space, on ALL our roads'

WTF? We really don't. We hardly have the room for a single car on a lot of our roads.

Whose fault is that? Take the Mini, for example. There are now models of the Mini which are so much wider than the original, that if you parked the old and the new nose to tail, with one side lined up against a wall, you could lean a road bike against the old one, and it would be completely obscured by the new one, when viewed end-on. And that is still considered a "small" car. Range Rovers - which were rare twenty years ago, but they and their imitators are common now - have expanded by about half a road bike's width, to the point where there are many rural roads on which they take up every last centimeter of tarmac. Even if you gave up your legal right of way, and took to the verge, you'd still risk getting slapped by the wing mirrors (also designed to look chunky and butch, and filled with heavy electric motors.) Not to mention all the streets half-filled with parked cars these days, because people want to live in renovated "character" cottages and terraces, but don't want to be without the motorcars that their former occupants lacked.

And yet, who gets accused of being inconsiderate road hogs? Cyclists. Especially ones who don't ride in the gutter (and even sometimes those who do) or - gasp - ride two abreast (which is usually twice the number of people in the car behind.) That's what people mean by lycra louts - people who subvert the driver's innate sense of entitlement to travel at whatever speed they want.

Pages