Why can no one else see the elephant in the room? #bloodycyclists

While we’re all squeezed into the corners of the room, blaming each other while a great, giant elephant is staring us right in the eyes, but no one wants to tackle the elephant issue, because that will look into the core of who we have become as a society.

The elephant we are staring at is the road culture, and to an extent the everyday culture we endure in the UK, or certainly London. Rules of the road tend be much the same in most countries, bar are few differences, yet in each country it is the culture of road-use which dictates how people drive. For instance, in South Africa you daren’t use your indicators on a motorway to change lanes because the car coming up from behind will speed up to cut you off. Come to England and using your indicators generally gives you the right of way where as in Italy it’s a gesticulating hand out of a window that settles the right of way. Standing at a roundabout observing the chaotic use of lanes in the UK you will notice that an indicating car can switch across three lanes of traffic to take an exit which would result in a metal crunching encounter in France.

So what is our culture, but firstly who am I to comment? I grew up in several countries and to survive on the roads in various countries the best way forward was to observe how things worked and then get in the flow as quickly as possible. I pay road tax or lets rephrase this, my taxes go towards the roads (as do yours), I have a driving license (with no points) and I am insured to £10 million on the road. My only form of transport is a bicycle and perhaps the occasional train or bus journey. I’ve commuted to work everyday by bike for the past 15 years and touch wood, make it there and back safely.

Before we start, lets all get thinking on the same page:
1. No one group of road user is more saintly than the other, in each group you have the same types:
– the aggressive, get ahead of everyone, stuff the consequences
– the polite, lets everyone in, doesn’t seem to be on a time schedule, frustrating for those above
– the daydreaming / distracted
– the law abiding
– the rule breakers or law breakers

2. Everyones tax goes to pay for the roads (if you dispute this – go and do a bit of research – the “I Pay Road Tax” website is insightful)

3. We all believe we are right and should defend our corner

Taking a medical view of things, we are not dealing with a common cold, we have a full blown virus which is just getting worse. More aggression on the roads, more road users, more cars being squeezed through limited space but 20% faster thanks to Boris’ traffic smoothing. Take your minds back to the Swine Flu epidemic a few years back. When someone sneezed on the tube before then, no one flinched, when Swine Flu broke out adverts started appearing saying, use and bin your tissues, people were too scared to sneeze in case they got started down or worse, told off. Everyone was stocking up on antivirals. Sadly vulnerable people and those at risk succumbed to the virus.

Can you see a parallel with the culture on our roads? I certainly can. We have reached epidemic proportions, our roads are crammed, we’re all in a hurray and if someone sneezes we hone in on them like a swarm of killer bees.

What are the real causes of our road issues. Again, taking a clinical observation:
Tailgating / driving really close to one and other
Rushing to get past a slower road user who could impede our fast progression to a queue of traffic or a red light
3. The pass and pray method – we squeeze past really close or through a gap we’re not sure we can make, praying we hit nothing
3. The culture of allowing cars to filter in has died (this existing when I first came to the UK, it blew me away come from a place where people cut you up)
4. We view everyone else as an obstacle on our journey and not someone with a family who might miss them if they die.

This last point I observe with dread and punctuate my thought with a “thank f##k thats was a near miss and not a fatality”. I could probably say this is a regular form of punctuation, in fact several times on a daily commute.

We’ve had flu (pair with car dominated roads) for centuries (decades), why the sudden outbreak of panic. The type of deadly culture has shifted species, where bird flu for birds was fine, bird flu for humans is deadly. The same goes for our roads. Where passing another car very closely meant if we misjudged it, the most likely problem would be a lost wing mirror, or a crunched back end. Tragic when people die, no one blamed the person who died until all the facts were know.

For cyclists and pedestrians, there is NO margin for error, no wing mirror replacement service, no easy “take a panel off and replace it with another”. When the Swine Flu hits the vulnerable, it can be deadly. To prevent deaths, vaccines are developed and given to the vulnerable. Do we victimise them, blaming them for being vulnerable? No because we are a civilised nation…

… Until we get on the road.

Our epidemic needs an antibiotic not a box of tissues. We should stop blaming the vulnerable who possibly was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, or needed that little extra space or time to navigate where they needed to get to. With traffic lights in a city no one gets anywhere any faster than the lights that stop us. And yes, I get as annoyed as you do when someone jumps a red light, speeds or uses a mobile in their car. We don’t have the capacity for more cars on roads or more people in tubes, taking bicycles off the road will not get you to work any quicker, quite the contrary.

Our laws are not a deterrent, a £30 fine is barely an evening out, when the police aren’t there we just revert to our old habits. The fine is just an inconvenience not a behaviour changing methodology. We apply “zero tolerance” policing for a week just to show something is being done, after the week is done, everyone can go back to how it was.

To change a culture or stamp out an epidemic, strong medication is needed. Would a cyclist jump a red light if they knew their bike would be confiscated for the day and it would cost them £100 to get it back from the pound? It’s a real pain in the butt to walk to work in your cleats, plus you’re now going to be late. What do you tell your boss “sorry I broke the law, they took my bike, I had to walk”? What if they crushed your bike after 3 RLJ offences? Would you do it again? How about when driving your car? If your insurance paid out, no questions asked if you hit a more vulnerable road user. Would you take extra care when speeding up to a cyclist or a pedestrian crossing?

We need a change in our road culture and as humans we don’t seem to be able to self regulate, so isn’t it time those in charge did something that, rather than making themselves popular, made a real difference. It’s it time they made decisions for themselves rather than palming off the responsibility to an expensive review board who then make the tough, unpopular decision – “well it was not us, that what the review board recommended”?

Grow some balls Britain, the Swines are winning.

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