Saturday 1 December 2012

It has been some time since my last post. It isn't because cycling in Waltham Forest, and London more generally, has become such a wonderful experience that I no longer have anything to moan about.

I just haven't found the time to put together a full post. I have a rather eclectic mix of less than half finished posts, the last of which was actually only 8 words long before I gave up.

In the meantime, I have to say quite a lot has been happening with cycling in general. We have had Bradley Wiggens, and his coach in accidents which has reignited the cycling safety debate, albeit not in a particularly constructive way when radio channels such as LBC debate whether cyclists should be allowed on A roads.

In the time between posts the weather has taken a significant turn for the worse. It is now very cold, wet and windy  as opposed to the summer which was slightly less cold, wet and windy. What has pleased me is that, even in these conditions, I am absolutely not the only cyclist on the roads. It may be my inexhaustible optimism, but I do feel that more people are cycling these days. Around 8am on the A10 between Stoke Newington and Aldgate there appears to be more cyclists than private cars. Where I was once the only cyclist on the Tottenham Hale / Seven Sisters part of the A10, I now see more. Walthamstow also seems to have more cyclists. I assume Waltham Forest and TfL will attribute this to the power of whatever warm and fuzzy social media advertising campaign they have running at the moment , but I wonder if the recession and appalling traffic might be more the reason.

In the last couple of months a few cycling news stories have caught my eye, but none have made me more open-mouthed with incredulity than a feature that was run on an Australian news programme. I have never visited Australia but a friend of mine worked there for around two years. He said there were many things which surprised him, most in a very good way. But one thing that astonished him was Australian government's obsession with health and safety. I suppose this might account for their laws about cycling and helmet use. This strikes me as odd  in a country where virtually any animal on land or sea, no matter how big or small, appears to be venomous to a ridiculous degree - I would have thought living around so many animals which can kill you in a myriad of painful and innovative ways would have imparted a certain laissez faire attidute to health and safety.

Anyway, the story may be one that is now fairly well known. A reporter for a news programme happens to see a woman cycling with a child in a trailer on a busy street and then proceeds to follow her around in his car whilst his passenger is films the cyclist and shouts "IS THAT SAFE" at her. Presumably cycling in the city with a child might be safer if it didn't involve lunatics tail-gating her whilst shouting.

For those who wish their blood pressure to be raised, the television article can be found here. The cyclist's side of the story can be found here.

The most astonishing part of the video was the "expert" who viewed the footage as if the mother had left the child to play with fireworks in the middle of railway tracks. Multiple cutaways showed his face in various contortions ranging from pity to disgust to rage. This was followed by an almost equally astonishing demonstration of what would happen if a car hit something soft and squidgy at 60 kph. As if the audience might need help to make the mental leap on the consequences of fast travelling metal making contact with flesh and bone. I wondered what would happen if the "expert" was shown footage of an average school commute in Copenhagen or Amsterdam or Berlin. Presumably he would self combust with indignation.

It led me to thinking how cycling, and its "dangers" are handled by various country's media and government. The action of cycling one's child to school in this film was viewed as some kind of suicide mission where the mother had lost her mind and was subjecting the child to a near death experience. At no point did anyone producing the film think "Maybe our roads should allow people to choose to cycle their children to school. Maybe this would help people's health. Maybe it would ease congestion. Maybe it might be a neat thing to encourage what with the obesity problems and our CO2 emissions being some of the highest per capita in the world".

In London, TfL would view someone cycling with their child as proof positive that London was now a cycling city. They might even produce some Youtube videos about it involving minor celebrities and some roads emptied of the normal traffic. The press are now either pro-cycling such as The Times and The Guardian or dress up general distrust of anyone daring not to use their car as "we would like them if they weren't law breaking communists"  (eg. Daily Mail). Although local and national government still haven't got to a stage where they would encourage cycling by doing anything to hamper "traffic flow", at least in the UK we appear to have moved on from the stance taken by the Australian film.

In the Netherlands and Denmark, the act of someone cycling their child to school would be viewed as completely normal. If the cycling conditions in the film were in Copenhagen or Amsterdam I imagine that the question the viewers would ask would be "why are we allowing cars to endanger this cyclist and child" rather than "why is this cyclist on our roads?"  Which is where hopefully the UK will end up sometime in the near future.