The issue of black crime

Imagine if a black politician tweeted the following -

We can be our own worse enemy. A black man on Kentish Town Road just robbed a shop.

This tweet is then challenged by several followers, who point out that the use of the word ‘we’ is rather ill-advised. The politician responds -

Gosh, interesting how self-righteous blacks can be. I was merely saying we shouldn’t rob shops.

This tweet is again challenged by others, who argue that the behaviour of one man in Kentish Town shouldn’t be used to suggest that blacks are their own worst enemy. To which -

It’s not one black man – there is an issue of black crime which needs to be tackled. This was an example

Here the politician is referring to the impression, in the general public, that blacks are generally quite lawless. Blacks should not commit crime, in his opinion.

To the argument that he is simply buying into the stereotype that blacks commit crime, and that rather than suggesting that ‘blacks get their house in order’, blacks should not have to apologise or be judged by the behaviour of complete strangers who happen to have the same skin colour, the politician instead continues to argue that blacks should not commit crime, because blacks committing crime reinforces the stereotype -

…. other people view us like that. I know its unfair but it is the reality that we have to address

…. Of course, the politician wasn’t referring to blacks, he was referring to cyclists. But framing his tweets like this demonstrates the absurdity of the whole ‘we must get our house in order’ logic that some cycling representatives buy into.

It’s natural, I suppose, to imagine that drivers driving dangerously around you is somehow a consequence of the stereotype that cyclists are themselves badly behaved, and that the way to stop that dangerous driving and lack of respect is to tackle the cyclists who behave badly.

But these drivers are bigots, who choose not to distinguish between you and other people, and will almost certainly continue to treat you badly, even if – by some miracle – every single individual who happens to put their leg over a bike is perfectly behaved while they are riding.

Futile, and misguided.

UPDATE

In the comments Christian Wolmar suggests that the analogy ‘does not work’ because blacks have no choice over their skin colour – it is an immutable characteristic, unlike ‘cyclist’ (we can – as a last resort – choose not to ride bikes).

I think that’s a weak objection, but in any case, we can run the analogy again with a characteristic like ‘Muslim’ – people can choose not to be Muslim, after all. Here’s our aspirant Muslim politician -

We Muslims be our own worse enemy. A Muslim man on Kentish Town Road just stabbed someone.

And

Gosh, interesting how self-righteous Muslims can be. I was merely saying we shouldn’t stab people.

And

It’s not one Muslim man – there is an issue of Muslim violence which needs to be tackled. This was an example

The point stands.

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47 Responses to The issue of black crime

  1. And all the while as people bemoan about “dangerous” cyclists they seem to widely ignore (or is it accept?) the dangerous behaviour of motorists – from the major things like speeding and using a mobile whilst driving down to the more “minor” things like lack of wearing a seatbelt or even bothering to use indicators.

    Mind you the whole notion of a “dangerous” cyclist might actually hold water if cyclists caused more than a couple of deaths a year but the fact of the matter is they don’t. All the stories people mention about cyclists flying down pavements or scratching cars as they filter seem to be largely make up from what I can tell. I don’t recall the last time I saw a cyclist riding fast on the pavement. As for the filtering argument you only have to observe the amount of cars going round with prangs and scratches that are highly unlikely to have been caused by a cyclist to realize a drivers worse enemy is a lack of spacial awareness and not someone on 2 wheels.

  2. David Bates says:

    But surely he’s right isn’t he?….. Don’t worry, only joking! Bloody brilliant post! In fact one of the best I’ve ever read. Thanks for helping to reframe the debate – it’s sorely needed.

  3. Ah but we are not blacks who have no choice over their colour, so the analogy does not work. We are cyclists and there is a very widespread perception that we all cycle badly and cause mayhem. That is unfair, and of course cars kill very many people, and cyclists about one per year.
    But there were a lot of angry people in Kentish Town today, people who are quite likely to be sympathetic to cycling given that many people use their bikes there, but they were infuriated by this young man’s action. And to suggest he is unique is nonsense. As both a cyclist and an aspiring politician, I think it is perfectly reasonable to point out out that there is a problem here. We need to try to change that perception, and that young man’s action was not helpful to the cause.
    And gosh I have tweeted and written often enough about motorists’ behaviour.
    Let me ask you some questions – do you think there is no problem about the perception of cycling and that some of it is caused by bad behaviour? And if so, what do you think we ought to do about it? Nothing? As one respondent said, are we, as cycling campaigners, never supposed to mention the issue?

    • JItensha Oni says:

      @christian wolmar Don’t know, but shouldn’t cyclists expect parity of treatment with other road users? If a car is involved in an offence should we not have the motorist mentioned? A motorist robbed a shop. A motorist knocked down a pedestrian. Doesn’t seem to happen much. Or in the case of your tweet, to make it equivalent to a car-cyclist “incident” as commonly reported should it not be “Bicycle on wrong side of Kentish Town Road just knocked over woman and hurt her knee.” followed by “the cyclist was unhurt”?

    • Stuart says:

      The point of the analogy is not whether the characteristic picked on is intrinsic or extrinsic. It is whether it is relevant. One black man is no more “responsible” for the misdeeds of another than cyclists are for each other’s acts. If there is a “widespread perception that we all cycle badly and cause mayhem”, that is more then “unfair”. It is flatly wrong. However, you are pandering to it.

      In answer to your questions: yes, there is clearly a problem with the perception of cycling and some of that perception is indeed caused by bad behaviour – but only in the minds of unreasonable people who are predisposed to think badly of cyclists. And what we ought to do about it is consistently and robustly resist any suggestion that the many are implicated in the misdeeds of the few.

      • No Stuart, it is not just ‘unreasonable’ people who think badly of cyclists. There are a lot of people such as those who witnessed this incident who do not think well of us.
        I know that in a rational world people would recognise that cyclists very rarely hurt people when they ride badly, whereas the results of motorists’ bad behaviour can be far worse. However, we live in a country where a culture positive to cycling has only recently revived and we need to nurture and support it. All my tweet said was that we can sometimes be our own worst enemy and that young man today was not helping the cause.

        • Tim says:

          Mr Wolmar,

          Firstly, of course it’s my choice whether I cycle, but is it “reasonable” to have any expectation that I might choose to stop because of the misbehaviour (perceived or real) of strangers. Of course it isn’t reasonable, so without recourse to any further analogy your point is irrelevant to the argument.

          So going back to the original analogy, in reality quite a lot of people in the UK have a bad impression of black people, as a group. Are all these racists unreasonable or just misguided? I would say the former but go with your own views. And I would ask,is it OK to pander to their views, or, as hard as it may be, should we try to point out the irrational thinking? Because you’re saying the equivalent of “yes, in general we black people can commit a lot of crime, and we need to stop before we’re taken seriously” just to get the bigots on side. It isn’t helpful.

        • Stuart says:

          No. It is no more reasonable to attribute the behaviour of one cyclist to all others than it is to attribute the behaviour of all black people to others. Anyone who does so is, at least to that extent, unreasonable. And we address this by robustly challenging this nonsense, not by pandering to it by acknowledging that, yes, in a way we are all responsible for the actions of a few. Your tweet was meaningless; there simply is no “we” to whom these characteristics can be uniformly attributed.

    • I’m not quite sure the analogy doesn’t work simply because the characteristic of ‘black’ is immutable, while the characteristic of ‘cyclist’ is not. Yes, there is a difference, but I don’t think it is at all reasonable to suggest that we simply stop being ‘cyclists’ (that is, we give up riding a bike) in response to bigotry. (Or are you suggesting that?).

      You’ve already pointed out that the perception is unfair; so why pander to it? Why not point out, directly, that it is unfair, in precisely the same way that the black community is unfairly tarred with the brush of lawlessness, instead of hopelessly expecting all individuals who happen to ride a bike to behave while doing so?

      • Because getting more people to cycle is partly a political campaign which we need to win. Therefore we have to try to win people over and counter the unfair perception.

        • I think you’re slightly missing the point. My entire objection here is that in writing things like ‘we cyclists are our worst enemy’ you are pandering to that unfair perception, by associating anyone who rides a bike with that bloke in Kentish Town.

          I’m not suggesting that unfair perception shouldn’t be countered; I’m suggesting you’re going about it the wrong way. Instead of saying the equivalent of ‘we need reduce the number of blacks robbing shops to improve the perception of blacks’, or ‘we need to reduce the number of Muslims stabbing people to improve the perception of Muslims’, you should be saying ‘stop tarring us all with the same brush’ or ‘people who ride bikes are no more or less law-abiding than anyone else, so stop misreresenting us.’

        • Fred Smith says:

          If cycling is a political campaign, please realise you are currently making Boris look good. His thrust has been getting ‘normal’ people on bikes and treating cyclists as people. While my analysis of Boris may not be accurate because I can’t stand the fool, as you say it’s all about perception.

    • I think actually the analogy does work in the way it has been framed here. Yes, there is a different argument that cycling may be regarded as a lifestyle choice, not an imposition of parentage, and that therefore discrimination against cyclists is in some way qualitatively different from race discrimination, but that doesn’t actually alter the issues of of categorisation, stereotyping, and blaming a group for the sins of individuals that are in play here. Yes, Christian, there is a problem about the perception of cycling. No, it is not “caused by bad behaviour”. It is caused by a bad environment. Unless you accept that, I think you cannot make progress towards the solution.

      Yes, mention the issue, mention it all the time. But be clear about the solution. The solution is proper space for cycling on the roads. The position of cycling on our roads, tolerated but not really catered for, automatically puts cyclists in a position on the fringes of legal and acceptable behaviour, however careful and considerate they try to be, and being on those fringes goes with an easy descent into “aggressive” behaviour. Cycle training encourages riders to be “assertive”. The line between “assertion” and “aggression” is a fine one, easily crossed. And the whole character of the activity necessarily biases it towards young males who are the most aggressive segment of society. Many “safest practice” cyclist behaviours (e.g. making your own advanced stop areas and ignoring some red lights) are in contravention to the letter of the law, and having that dichotomy to cope with in itself probably influences the demographic away from the most average, “reasonable” members of society.

      Provide proper cycling infrastructure, and these stereotypes and problems largely disappear, as they have in the Netherlands and elsewhere. Make cycling normal and universal and easy to do, by separating it from aggressive motor traffic, and the demographic changes such that the thuggish element is drowned out and disappears, and most of the temptation to aggressive and borderline legal behaviour is gone when cycling is properly integrated into legalised, regularised, normal frameworks of behaviour because it has its own space and rules that can be safely followed, and which work.

      In my view, therefore, the problem of aggressive cycling, such as it is, comes down to the mistake of categorising bicycles as vehicles and expecting them to share space inappropriately with motor vehicles.

      • I agree with that David. I do think that if there was proper infrastructure, there would be far fewer inconsiderate cyclists. But interestingly, having cycled quite a lot in Holland, it is noticeable that not all the Fiets people are particularly considerate, especially, actually, in Amsterdam

        • Nico (@nfanget) says:

          “it is noticeable that not all the Fiets people are particularly considerate”
          There, fixed it for you. FWIW, I don’t find Londoners particularly considerate, whether they are pedestrian, cyclists or motorists.

        • Har Davids says:

          Your problem may have been your un-Dutch style of cycling; I have a sister living in Canada, who clearly forgot how to ride with the rest of us, last time she came over for a visit.

    • Fred says:

      I’m not self righteous, I really do stop at red lights.

      Lack of mentioning of the issue is hardly a problem which is likely to exist any time soon, and plenty of cyclists are rightly pissed off with the few who jump lights and are not afraid to make it known.

      Do you suggest we take matters in to our own hands? Was that a massive NO? In that case you might want to reconsider how you frame this.

      Perpetuating the myth that we’re a homogeneous group and are all as bad as each other is stupid. I am not responsible for other cyclist’s actions.

      How about suggesting the *police* tackle *the cyclists who drive dangerously and break the law*? Or you could ask people who jump the lights to stop and explain the harm they cause through their actions. You might find a lot of cyclists would agree with you.

      [Or we could take them on vigilante style with baseball bats, if your answer to my rhetorical question was actually a YES :-D ]

    • Har Davids says:

      Isn’t this perception the result of ‘hate-mongering’ and ridicule in the media by people who’ve never tried riding a bike in heavy traffic, and feel entitled to be using their car whenever and wherever they want? A cyclists who behaves badly causes less damage than a motorist, a fact that seems to be ignored by many, and that cyclist is an individual, representing himself. Why don’t these cycle-haters pop over to the Continent and see how it works here? Would they blame our cycling grannies for other people’s bad behaviour?

    • michael says:

      I think that is, to be honest, an invalid objection. The issue of whether the given group is ‘chosen’ or not is not actually relevant to the point in any way. You have made no effort to show that it is.

      I’d also add that its actually not _entirely_ correct that being a cyclist is entirely a matter of choice. I’m probably going to struggle to convince anyone that I was somehow predestined to take to two-wheels, but certainly there are factors of upbringing and culture that make one more likely to not drive (not least economic factors, as driving is correlated with being better off) and there are also cultural factors that contribute to one choosing to cycle.

      In the same way being ‘working class’ is not exactly something biologically fixed, but its also not a simple matter of ‘choosing’ not to go to private school and get a professional job. Class reproduces itself though many routes, economic, cultural and even biological (nutrition in pregnancy, for example) even though in theory one can ‘choose’ to be socially mobile.

      Same goes for, as the amended article points out, choice of religion. Its not a (ahem) black and white thing, some identities are partly chosen, partly statistically determined by background.

      The point made in the article is indisputable. The fact that it needs to be made at all fits in with my general disillusioned feeling about the way human beings tend to reason in a highly self-serving fashion. People believe what its useful to them to believe. Logic and reason and evidence often don’t stand a chance against self-interest.

      My one and only issue with the article is that I think one should be cautious about using other people’s forms of disadvantage and suffering for the purpose of analogies. Its rather easy to offend unintentionally when doing that.

      For one thing, its not actually totally unimaginable for the comments to be made about black people. You do get that sort of “reasoning” going on about almost any minority group. Powerful and majority groups are almost never held to account in the same way though.

  4. Hush Lega says:

    Nicely put.
    It is in any case rather rich to be lectured on following the rules of the road by motorists, when 80% of them admit to regularly breaking speed limits.

    Oops, I’ve fallen into the same trap of generalising a group of people based on their transport choices.

  5. Stuart says:

    Great post. Ex-act-ly.

  6. fonant says:

    Those that believe that “cyclists should put their house in order” before improving conditions for people on bicycles presumably also believe that motorists should put their house in order before we spend any more millions of pounds on road improvements?

    The problem with “cyclist” is that it can mean two very different types of person:
    1) A keen enthusiast who enjoys the thrill of cycling fast whatever the conditions (e.g. “lycra louts”).
    2) An ordinary person who happens to be riding a bicycle at a point in time.

    I can’t think of any other word that means both a generally-disliked group and ordinary people at the same time. Unless you count “motorist” looking from the viewpoint of a “cyclist”.

    We have to have a new word for the latter type of person. They have no interest in speed, the Tour de France, the Olympics, nor the benefits of titanium parts, they just want to get somewhere local in an efficient manner. I quite like “fietser” – the Dutch word for people riding bicycles.

    • 100% agreed here, time to ditch using the word “cyclist” as much as possible. Your last paragraph describes myself and my partner to a tee! (Funnily enough, we do refer to our outings on our bikes as “fietsening”.)

      It’s a tainted word, no longer fit for use: http://departmentfortransport.wordpress.com/2013/02/02/cyclists-you-have-a-language-problem/

      As for Wolmar’s stupid comment, I really fail to see how I can control what someone else does, especially someone who I have never even met. The person in question may well not consider themselves a “cyclist” either – they were probably just using one to get from A to B, albeit in an inconsiderate manner. I’d much rather that such a person was on a bike than in charge of a fast, heavy motor vehicle!

    • Sarah says:

      I can’t work out where I might fit into your typology. I am a fairly cautious and considerate utility and leisure cyclist. I certainly don’t ride fast regardless of the conditions. I use my brakes and my bell. I enjoyed cycling up the Alps more than I enjoyed cycling down them. and I always give pedestrians and dogs quite a wide berth and scrub a lot of speed before passing them. I am a law-abiding road user and a holier-than-thou cycle campaigner. I am not a lycra lout. My bike is old, heavy and not very fashionable, but practical and unstealable. I have a mild interest in gearing, but zero interest in titanium parts. I will also confess to a mild interest in high- powered lighting systems that would make it easier for me to spot wildlife when cycling home from the pub through fields and forests in the wee small hours.

      My bike is my primary mode of transport for journeys of 1 to 100 miles. I often cycle that distance to visit relatives and then get the train some or all the way home, or vice-versa. I also combine biking and trains to meet colleagues and to friends. I consider cycling to be one of the most efficent ways of getting from A to B. Short journeys are faster by bike; longer journeys are cheaper and better for my carbon balance than the alternative. Biking is also among my preferred leisure activities, although sometimes I will make 6 “utility trips” to places I am going anyway before going on a “just-for-fun” cycle. I even – shock, horror! – enjoy following the sport of cycling.

      Right, have you got me pigeonholed now?

      If there were, as you suggest, only two distinct groups of cyclists, we wouldn’t have a problem. The fast and fearless gung-ho lycra-clad speed merchants that are good at keeping up with traffic could use the roads (as they are) and cycle everywhere at 40 km/h plus X. The people who have zero interest in going fast and merely want to get from A to B could cycle everywhere on the footpath at 15 km/h minus X. At that speed, they wouldn’t bother anybody, and T & C would apply: cyclists are permitted to use footpaths on condition of not discommoding pedestrians.

      Most of the “trouble” is caused by the third group of cyclists, people with a legitimate interest in cycling to get from A to B in a reasonable time at 20, 25, 30 or 35 km/h. That’s too slow for the roads, unless we do something to civilize the road environment. It’s fast enough to be very unsafe on cycle facilities not designed to cope with those ordinary bicycle speeds, and those speeds can be terrifying for pedestrians in shared-use contexts.

      Slowing cyclists down in inner-city areas etc. is fine. But we don’t expect motorists make 100 mile journeys at 30 km/h and we shouldn’t automatically see cyclists who want to cover 100 miles in a day at more than 15 km/h as anti-social lycra louts.

  7. Ben J says:

    Fascinating discussion, thanks all for this. Can’t pretend I follow every point, just a quick question. When I see other cyclists running red lights etc, I have recently started challenging them, partly by talking to them about how such behaviour, by its visibility, can give cyclists as a “tribe” a bad name. This is different to twitter, as it’s a private comment, and thereby not perhaps fuelling the prejudice. In my mind, it’s simply a pragmatic tactic – sidestepping the issue of what I or they may believe about whether the actual manoeuvre is safe or not, it’s simply a matter of saying “I want respect on the road, so I’d like everyone else to help me get that respect”. But I can see that it’s committing the same logical fallacy… Thoughts?

    • You can try, certainly. I used to do this, but I generally got met with abuse, or, if not abuse, indifference.

      People jumping red lights really don’t care about the public perception of “cyclists” – if they did, they wouldn’t do it!

      • Charlie says:

        Isn’t this exactly what Mr. Wolmar was trying to do, though? He was saying “be careful out there, to those who might be tempted to run lights / intimidate pedestrians etc.

        I agree that demonising cyclists is unhelpful, and I agree with Mr. Arditti’s point that the solution is better infrastructure.

        BUT – I am a cyclist (but more of the practical, commuting kind), and I do loosely believe in something roughly called “the cycling community” – I like to think that cyclists would stop and help each other out if one breaks down, and I might strike up a conversation with a cyclist if I saw that they lived near me and cycled. So, it pains me when I see cyclists behaving like maniacs.

        Now, if I really thought this was a totally marginal activity (say ~1% of cyclists misbehaved), I’d shrug it off. But if it was something like 25%, then I’d say it’s something that we, as a community need to do something about (e.g. through challenging people when they do it). Depending on how you classify misbehaviour, I reckon the figure is somewhere between the 1% and the 25% figure (I generally try to count instances on my commute, so this is anecdotal – you will have your own figures to work from), so it seems to me it’s a “borderline serious” issue.

        So I don’t see anything wrong with Mr. Wolmar’s tweet – I think you are misrepresenting what it means.

        • michael says:

          But do you honestly think the pedestrian-intimidating cyclists are following Christian Woolmar on Twitter? Perhaps I’m stereotyping, but I would bet money that none of the youths who swerve past me at speed round here (or challenge me to a fight when I refuse to get out of their way) are big on following broadsheet newspaper correspondents on Twitter.

          Given that they quite clearly aren’t the audience, then one has to ask what the actual effect of that Tweet would be.

          As it happens, I think you might be on slightly stronger ground with the RLJ thing. As to do that you have to actually be on the road in the first place, which suggests a different tribe of cyclist. I suspect those offenders would include a larger middle-class broadsheet reading contingent.

          But even in that case, I still think the objections in this article are 100% valid.

          • Charlie says:

            I don’t think the purpose of tweeting is to make big changes to attitudes. It’s more a constant discussion.

            I don’t understand the race / religion parallel. But I do feel that bad cycling behaviour diminishes all cyclists. I don’t think my attitude can be construed as being offensive.

  8. paul gannon says:

    An interesting question. First, yes, it is true that as a cyclist I am not responsible for other cyclists. But as a citizen I am part of society and can choose to contribute or not.

    In my professional life I am a member of societies/organisations that exchange information about my profession and which lobby for legislative and other changes. You don’t have to be a member of such organisations (though it helps with insurance and getting more work by meeting and getting to know fellow professionals).

    In many ways this is similar to being a member of, say, LCC or subscribing to a blogsite. You join LCC as a cyclist to get the magazine for information and adverts, and to partake in social rides and/or lobbying.

    Yet there is another aspect to such professional (if not lobbying) organisations. Often they set standards for people to follow in their work or organise ‘continuing professional development’ to improve the formal training of the profession. They help define and transmit a culture appropriate to maintaining and improving the standards of the profession.

    I don’t see why cycling lobbying organisations should exclude themselves from such activities. I certainly expect the AA and the RAC to promote responsible motor driving and will demand of them that they do so.

    Second, one of the great problems we will face if/when cycling levels increase in Britain will be to forge a cycling culture. The virtual eradication of cycling from British cities and rural areas means that the passing on from generation to generation of cycling culture by copying your elders has disappeared.

    Anti-social aspects of cycling culture – speeding along pavements, careless red light-jumping – are reflections of a complex set of circumstances about which we all have ideas. The point, however, is that such cycling style could get widely copied to become the new cycling culture. Left unchecked an anti-social cycling culture will hinder the development of cycling in the UK. Like it or not, we have to deal with the political power of the anti-cyclist argument and that means thinking about how we create a socially responsible cycling culture that gets copied by others as they take up cycling.

    Sensible urban bikes are part of that socially aware cycling culture (as promoted in a socially responsible fashion in another recent blog on this site). After all, mudguardless bikes don’t only spray the cyclist’s own backside, but also sprinkle muddy muck onto pedestrians and other cyclists! Prancing about balancing on a fixed wheel at traffic lights demands space that is denied to other cyclists. Cycling at 20 kph when the mass of cyclists trundle along at 16 kph is asking for trouble in an environment where there are lots of them. Red light jumping in a busy town centre makes life difficult for other cyclists and pedestrians. We all have an interest in developing a cycling culture where these things are transgressive, not commonplace.

    • Nico (@nfanget) says:

      Hear hear, I find that with the better weather I now get almost as many close passes by lycra louts as by minicabs nowadays. Where were those guys (always guys) during the winter?

    • Sam Harrington says:

      “I certainly expect the AA and the RAC to promote responsible motor driving”

      You can “expect” whatever you want but both these organisations publish maps of speed cameras and lobby against them. Why would a driver who isn’t breaking the law give a toss about whether there are any speed cameras around?

      Yet these organisations are mainstream and no one tars all drivers as speeding w@nkers.

    • Professional institutions also often have a professional code of conduct. It is also quite explicit that you are becoming part of an institution, that this is a responsibility and it can be revoked. If getting onto a bike meant I was signing up to something similar, I’m afraid I was quite unaware. I believe you have given an example of an analogy which really does break down on shallow scrutiny.

      In addition to the excellent points made by Mr Harrington, I would also add that cycling bodies have recently been battling hard to get cycle training added to the national curriculum. This is exactly where cycle courtesy and culture would be ingrained into the young. Sadly, it is not, and again, it is not the fault of those who ride bikes, but of a society and government which is actively hostile to those who choose to travel by bike.

      This makes it feel all the more unfair when people are labelled their own enemies and self-righteous for the behaviour of others. While I believe you are right to be concerned about what cycle culture is developing, I believe you are wrong to raise it here. This discussion is not about whether cycling organisations stand to benefit in the long term from doing more to promote a healthy bike culture, but about whether one cyclist with no affiliation to any organisation has any responsibility for the behaviour of another unaffiliated cyclist.

    • michael says:

      “that means thinking about how we create a socially responsible cycling culture that gets copied by others as they take up cycling. ”

      I don’t understand this argument.

      Are you suggesting the mere fact I also use a bike will give me special influence over the youths here (a small proportion of whom I believe are engaged in a highly specialised form of ‘courier work’) when they zip around on the pavements?

      They aren’t going to pay any special attention to me cos I have a bike (a bike which is ‘ a load of shit, innit’ in the expressed opinion of one of them I encountered recently).

      They cycle on the pavement ‘cos they think the road’s too scary, and they cycle ‘cos they can’t afford a car. Oh, and they are aggressive – to the variable degree that they are – ‘cos their environment and early life-experience teaches them they need to be aggressive.

      How is this “culture of cycling responsibly” going to change that? Its like demanding everyone who uses a knife in the kitchen works to create a culture of responsible knife-use so as to cut down on knife crime on inner-city estates.

    • michael says:

      I would suggest that a lot of ‘bad behaviour by cyclists’ is actually just a manifestation of much bigger social problems. It can certainly be alleviated by better infrastructure and provision for cyclists, so reducing its ill-effects, but the bad behaviour is always going to be there as long as the much bigger social problems that drive it exist.

      The main thing is though, that that bad behaviour becomes much more deadly when its paired with our car-culture.

      Focusing on a (possibly mythical) ‘cycle culture’ misses the point, in my view. You can address those wider social problems (but that’s a huge task) or you can address the car-culture problem that makes the effects of those wider social problems more deadly. Those just seem more worthwhile efforts to me.

  9. RedBeauCycle says:

    I actually wrote about the new fair weather cyclist – no more wobbling and needing help, they’re speeding past me, all lycra and impatience!

    As for this debate, I agree with Charlie and Pal Gannon. If there’s no cycling community, what are we all doing here?

    • michael says:

      “If there’s no cycling community, what are we all doing here?”

      I don’t follow this point at all.

      Why does there have to be a single ‘cycling community’ for someone to have views on the behaviour of drivers, bad road design, the possible benefits of more people cycling, etc?

      Me, I just don’t like cars and resent the way the dominate urban environments, and resent the way drivers behave so badly. That however doesn’t give me any great influence over the (mostly young, male, working-class) hoodied youths who whizz past me at speed on the pavement. It just means my annoyance with them is tempered by the sense that their behaviour is partly a consequence of our car-dominated environment, and doesn’t pose as much as a threat as their more affluent counterparts who whizz around recklessly in cars.
      (Both groups tend to shout the same things at me if I dare to challenge them, though).

  10. rdrf says:

    It has been brought to my attention that many of those contributing to this thread are members of the pedestrian community.

    I was nearly knocked off my bike and hurt by one of these people carelessly crossing the road while listening to their i-phone/chatting to a pal/ not concentrating and otherwise disobeying the Highway Code.

    So unless you get your house in order I shall conclude that you have no interest in those who give you a bad name/bring your community into disrepute and have no alternative but to oppose any pro-pedestrian policies forthwith. And maybe even get into a car and mow down a few randomly selected pedestrians. And it will be your fault.

    Get the analogy?

    The post is good, but I am disappointed by many of the comments. It all comes down to who or what is regarded as a problem; or to be more precise, which road user group and their behaviour. The thing is, I think motorists SHOULD be expected to get their house in order. And cyclists? As long as cyclists go along with their status as a problematic minority, we will get nowhere.

    Whatever you think of bad behaviour by cyclists which endangers pedestrians (and I don’t like it and try to behave properly) – if you single it out as a special responsibility of all or any other cyclists, or as anything other than of relatively minimal significance compared to what motorists are allowed or encouraged to get up to, we are all (particularly pedestrians) going to get nowhere.

    Another point. I don’t think that a different highway environment will make all cyclists goody-goodies who never do anything wrong.

    I had a quiet chuckle reading Paul Gannon’s comment about how he expects the RAC and AA to promote good driving.

    • Fred Smith says:

      I agree and I think this analogy is spot on.

      We cannot allow the majority of considerate law abiding cyclists to be pigeon holed & written off as members of a problematic minority.

      The reason so many people have taken against Christian Wolmar’s comments is that this generalisation feels extremely unfair and discourteous to those who cycle responsibly every day. We know this thinking is used to argue against better provision for cyclists, who are at significant and increasing danger on the roads. So in addition to being labelled criminals, cyclists may also be put in increased danger of losing their lives.

      It is disappointing that our objections to these inaccurate generalisations are put down to high horses and not legitimate concerns.

    • Charlie says:

      I think there’s probably a middle ground between your no-holds barred individualism (I don’t have to pay attention to misbehaviour from any cyclist), and my lefty-liberal belief that we’re all one Flower Power community dedicated to a vision of the new Cycletopia.

      But I agree: “BUT CYCLISTS JUMP LIGHTS” crops up depressingly often in comments under cycling articles in most newspapers. And it’s annoying because it’s a non sequitur.

      However, I suspect in this instance, the anti Wolmar commenters are particularly sore on this subject, and they think Mr. Wolmar has made a comment on this level. In fact, his tweet was a fair bit more mild than that.

      • Stuart says:

        I don’t agree it was mild – the sarcastic “interesting how self-righteous cyclists can be” is reminiscent of the dumbest cycle-haters. And, mild or not isn’t the point: it’s that it was (a) wrong and (b) pandering to the idiots who believe that the acts of one cyclist are attributable to all of them.

        • Charlie says:

          Fair enough! You don’t agree it was mild, and I don’t agree it was wrong or pandering.

          We can both agree that the biggest danger to cyclists and pedestrians is aggressive or dozy motorists, though! I don’t dispute that idiot cyclists are basically a bit of a distraction…

        • Fred Smith says:

          I agree – I am not my own worst enemy, as Christian suggests.

          I do not subscribe to his nebulous version of ‘we’ which has no substance except happening to ride a bike on a piece of publicly owned tarmac.

          This kind of thing pigeon holes me with people I do not agree with while making pointless generalizations which are counterproductive.

  11. Pingback: There is no ‘us’ | As Easy As Riding A Bike

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