Archive for the ‘Car Culture’ Category
Been reading a couple of blog posts about bike advocacy recently. Firstly an uncharacteristically downbeat post by Bike Snob NYC on David Byrne’s role. Rather a depressing read, essentially it seems to argue that the bike is not a viable form of transport because we can’t all live and work in gentrified Manhattan. Secondly a thought provoking post by Karl McCraken questioning whether if to effect change cycling advocates should abandon widescale action and focus on winning gains in small areas of towns and cities.
Personally I am convinced by Karl’s analysis and unconvinced by Bike Snob. In terms of changing the culture, small areas with flourishing active travel modes demonstrate that there is a possible alternative future and celebrity endorsement works. We may all know that unlike David Byrne we need to commute daily but cycling has suffered for too long with a ‘bicycle clips and plastic mac’ image.
But changing the culture is not enough, changing our approach to the built environment has to happen for those who might feel warm to cycling to put it into practice. My cycling commute is 34 miles a day. Most people don’t want to do that. Hey there are some days I don’t want to do that. I do it at the moment because I know I am investing in fitness for the summer. Cycling is part of my life and it is more than a transport choice. So I am atypical. Now consider the person who just wants to get to work. Let’s say 5 miles is a reasonable maximum one way trip for someone like that. Then where they live and where they work becomes critical. If they work in a business park built in green belt just off Junction 37 of the M1 the likelihood that it is an easy, five mile max, cycle commute from where they live is lower than if the office is in the centre of a town. If they live in a new housing estate in Stocksbridge even if their workplace is in the centre of Sheffield it is not a likely commute. 600 new homes approved, 10 miles from the centre of Sheffield, how many extra cars on the already cyclist unfriendly A616 as a result? We need to be tougher on what gets built where, so that people who want to adopt sustainable and active travel modes can readily do so. Changing the culture so they want to is not enough.
And while we are tightening up the rules on what gets built where we need to tighten the rules about what counts as good development. When Sheffield Council can refuse planning permission for a small supermarket because there is no car parking and argue parking on the road is potentially a problem, they are still thinking that accommodating the car is the answer. It isn’t, we need more small supermarkets so people aren’t tempted to get into their cars in the first place.
With the first closely run general election in nearly 20 years it will be interesting to see if politicians have the appetite for the difficult truth that some freedoms (such as for an unpolluted atmosphere) come with an associated price tag of restrictions.
It’s a funny old world. Our attitudes to risk are stunningly inconsistent. In medicine if a practitioner were to suggest that a new drug just be tried out, without any testing and ‘we’ll just see what happens’, not unreasonably one would expect them to be struck off.
And yet, and yet. Develop an innovation such as a mobile phone and people can use it while driving until the evidence stacks up that the practice is lethal. No prior testing needed. By which time significant numbers of drivers have convinced themselves that mobile use may be dangerous for other drivers but not for them.
So what of Sat Navs. They have a display and people look at them and while they are looking at them, they can’t be looking out for cyclists. It is slightly reassuring to know that there is some post-hoc research going on, but the absence of a requirement to present research evidence in advance speaks volumes about how car culture is pervasive.
Of course it isn’t summertime yet, but I was reminded of the Mungo Jerry song this morning, you know where they sing ‘have a drink, have a drive, go out and see what you can find’. Poor old Mungo Jerry. They weren’t to know that their feelgood song embodied an attitude which would become socially unacceptable within a generation.
Now I happen to think that a 20 miles per hour residential speed limit would be a rather good thing. See Twenty’s Plenty for more information. Some people disagree, but then again some people disagreed about the breathalyser when it was introduced. For the next few days you can hear Barbara Castle defending it on the The World This Weekend from 1 October 1967 over on the BBC website here (Go to 18minutes 30 seconds and press play). The killer quote ‘….you’re only a woman, you don’t drive, what do you know about it?’
It is fascinating how participants often try to disenfranchise non-participants as way of winning the argument. Still we remember Barbara and her achievements, her questioner rather less so.
Last week’s CTC email newsletter drew my attention to the debate about strict liability. There is a good explanation and video here, but essentially it is about removing the necessity to prove negligence in order to be entitled to compensation. If traffic law were amended to place a duty of care on drivers, in the event of an collision involving a cyclist or a pedestrian compensation would be payable unless the driver could show that they caused the collision. Now unlike nearly all other CTC policies this argument didn’t immediately convince me. It struck me as a departure from the usual rule that one is innocent until proven guilty. Eventually however it dawned on me that the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ line doesn’t actually hold many other analogous situations. For example as an employer I have a duty of care – if there is an accident at work I can be called upon to show that there was a health and safety policy, that I made sure it was followed, etc. The injured person wouldn’t have to prove that I was reckless.And I happily accept that this is hold it should be.
Therefore a motorist choosing to get into a heavy and potentially fast moving vehicle should accept that they have a duty of care for more vulnerable road users. And by extension, I think that it is fair that cyclists should have a duty of care for pedestrians – if the logic apply to motorists it should apply to cyclists. But this is where it starts to become unclear whether changing the law in this way will benefit cyclists. Clearly it will benefit cyclists who are injured by car drivers who will be far more likely to receive compensation, but it is uncertain that there will be fewer injuries. Saying to a driver that they have a duty of care and that message influencing the way they drive are potentially two different things. After all most drivers presumably do not want to cause injuries. If this is the case, it is lack of awareness of the potential harm they can so easily cause rather than a concern about their insurance premiums which determines how they drive.
So the change may not change driver behaviour, but it could change cyclist numbers. A duty of care for pedestrians would mean cyclists could be called upon to have third party insurance. A member benefit of being in the CTC is third party insurance, so I am covered. But imagine if the ‘you don’t pay road tax’ argument morphed into a ‘you should have insurance’ argument and that then got legal backing. The dedicated cyclist would not be put off, my insurance costs me less than a pound a week. But your casual cyclist might be. If this were the case then fewer cyclists on the road would mean a more dangerous environment for cyclists as drivers become even less used to taking account of their needs.
For these reasons therefore, I am not against strict liability, but I don’t think it is necessarily the policy change which I would want the CTC to push for above all others. A cycling test as a mandatory part of the driving test – that would really make a difference. And if that is considered utopian maybe we don’t need a change in the law at all, better enforcement of existing speed limits would be a start.