This morning I was sitting in a traffic jam on the A59 just outside Burscough listening to Radio 5, as usual (listening to Radio 5, that is, not sitting in a traffic jam near Burscough). There was a piece which held my interest because it was an interview by Victoria Derbyshire with three of the new Police and Crime Commissioners. I was one of the vast majority who abstained from the vote last month, not through apathy, but because I felt that the post was going to bring populist politics into policing. Everything I’d heard from a prospective PCC was that they would be interested in sound-bite politics and going for the low-hanging fruit. This worried me greatly as I suspected that it wouldn’t be long before the spectre of “Anti-social cycling” raised its head. Am I against anti-social cycling? Of course I am, but I’m not going to condemn a kid for cycling on the pavement because he’s too scared to cycle on the road, nor am I afraid of calling out red-light jumping cyclists. The problem is that the people who are advocating campaigns against anti-social cycling are rarely equally vociferous in their condemnation of anti-social driving. They are happy to blandly lump all cyclists into the same bunch of red-light jumping, kerb hopping hooligans, while failing to condemn speeding drivers, drivers on the phone, and, dare I say it, drivers jumping red lights. Worse, they refuse to accept the statistics that show that 95% of all injuries caused by red light jumpers are caused by motor vehicles; that 99% of injuries to pedestrians in urban areas are caused by motor vehicles; that hundreds of pedestrians have been killed ON pavements by motor vehicles in the last 10 years compared to just 3 by cyclists. It’s overwhelmingly obvious to anyone that reads even a small amount around the subject that cycling is overwhelmingly a benign form of transport that offers a tiny threat to other road users, has minimal impact on the environment, has massive health benefits for those that cycle and has the potential to seriously reduce road congestion where sufficient numbers take it up.
So, to get back to the debate about PCCs, it didn’t take long before the PCC from Dorset, Martyn Underhill, stated that he was looking at how Police and Community Support Officers could be usefully employed in tackling, you guessed, anti-social cycling amongst other things. When I got home I tweeted about this saying how disappointed I was that the PCC had mentioned anti-social cycling without mentioning anti-social driving which, as we have seen, is a far greater menace to society. Mr Angry from Surrey was clearly upset by this as he suggested to me that all cyclists were irresponsible red-light jumping hooligans. Unfortunately, I bit and gave him some of the statistics mentioned above. The debate went its usual course and it wasn’t long before the enraged Mr Angry spluttered, “You don’t even pay road tax.” At this point, as every cyclist knows, the debate is won. It’s the cycling equivalent of Godwin’s Law which holds that on any given internet debate on any given subject, given enough time one of the participants will compare the other to a Nazi.
It’s quite depressing getting involved in a debate like this with Mr Angry from Surrey (whose Twitter profile claimed that while he “Stands up for truth and freedom” clearly only accepted facts that accorded to his own weltanschauung). The boring predictability of such debates play out in the same way with the refusal of the motorist to accept that their chosen mode of transport, if abused, represents a massive and mortal statistical threat to pedestrians, cyclists and horse-riders when compared with cycling. I always try to be reasonable and point out that I drive far more than I cycle and that I condemn red-light jumping by cyclists as much as I do that by car drivers.It never works.
I’ve been castigated in the past on Twitter for comparing anti-cycling bigotry to racism, homophobia and anti-semitism, and yet I can find no other obvious parallel. Just take a look at the retweets of @cyclehatred who tries to shine a spotlight on the nasty complacent daily threats made by people to run down other human beings with their cars to get just an inkling of why cyclists feel so upset and angry about this whole subject and why I was so annoyed at Martyn Underhill. By invoking the “reasonable” idea of tackling anti social cycling without also mentioning other forms of anti-social behaviour on the roads he is pandering to the populist and “acceptable” end of the scale of this bigotry and as such should be challenged.
If you live in Dorset Martyn Underhill can be contacted via twitter: @PCCDorset