A few weeks ago the The Times covered the thoughts of Richard Allchin –
Bradley Wiggins’s former manager has urged cyclists not to jump red lights and to respect the rules of the roads, adding that motorists will only stop acting “selfishly” if those riding bicycles do the same.
[Mr Allchin] said today that he had carried out research at a junction near his home in Hampstead in north London and explained: “I reckon 90 per cent of cyclists go through the lights. It’s every kind of cyclist: women, men, casual cyclists, racing cyclists. If we want to make the roads safer, then cyclists have to stop acting so selfishly – and then perhaps the drivers might.”
This is the idea that good behaviour towards people on bikes from those driving cars is contingent upon much better behaviour from those bike riders. If we can somehow stop people cycling through red lights, and if we can stop them riding on the pavement, then – and only then – will motorists stop acting selfishly. (It’s never explicitly stated, of course, how many people jumping lights or riding on pavements motorists will tolerate before they start to behave – none at all? Five a day? Who knows.)
There is so much wrong with this kind of thinking it’s hard to know where to start. Law-breaking by people on bicycles is vastly overstated and exaggerated, and pales into insignificance compared to the regular daily infractions committed by people driving, such as speeding, which remain ‘invisible’ offences. In addition, law-breaking by people who ride bikes, when it occurs, is far less likely to cause harm to other people than law-breaking by drivers. And finally, there is no logical reason why the way in which drivers should behave towards me, or any other person who is riding a bike, should be conditional upon the bad behaviour of complete strangers who happen to be riding bikes. It’s nonsensical. If drivers were being killed or seriously injured in large numbers in a particular town by lorry drivers, it would be absurd to argue that car drivers can only expect to be treated well by lorry drivers once the joyriders and boy racers stop speeding – yet this is precisely the same argument being employed by Mr Allchin.
Worryingly, it seems this kind of attitude lies behind the recently-launched ‘Nice Way Code’ – the Scottish government’s facile (and expensive) attempt to make everyone behave merely by asking them to. The very first post on their site links enthusiastically to Mr Allchin’s comments, writing
we were interested to see [Bradley Wiggins’] former manager, Richard Allchin, telling off cyclists and urging them to get better at respecting the rules of the road. Motorists will only stop acting “selfishly”, he says, if cyclists do the same. Strong words from Mr Allchin.
As if this wasn’t clear enough, the Nice Way Code Facebook page stated that they were
Delighted to see Bradley Wiggins’ former manager wading into the debate about road use etiquette!
‘Delighted’? No, his comments were absolute rubbish, and any reasonable safety campaign that had the interests of people riding bikes at heart would have dismissed them as such.
But this is the problem. The ‘Nice Way Code’ isn’t just a bit of fluffy and expensive nonsense – it actually buys into precisely the same kind of thinking about how people on bikes can expect to be treated. Namely, that good behaviour from drivers towards them is dependent upon the good behaviour of ‘cyclists’ as a group. Behave, or else, is the message.
The voiceover of the publicity video states that the Nice Way Code is
targeting pedestrians, cyclists and motorists, asking them to respect each other on the roads.
That’s right, pedestrians – ‘respect’ motorists, or presumably you won’t get any ‘respect’ in return. Keith Brown MSP then states that
this is an initiative aimed at trying to increase the tolerance that should exist between users of the roads. So whether they’re people in cars, or HGVS, or cyclists, or even pedestrians on pathways as well… Try to encourage people to be more tolerant of each other’s needs.
Yes, this is the Transport Minister calling on pedestrians and cyclists to be more tolerant of HGV drivers.
The equivalence being made here between parties who pose little or no risk to other road users, and those who pose serious danger, is staggering. Yet Cycling Scotland – just one of the large number of cycling organisations that have lent their support and their name to this initiative – appear willing to buy into this logic. Ian Aitkin appears in this very same video asking for drivers to give cyclists space, but also asking cyclists to
beware of pedestrians. And we’re also asking cyclists not to jump red lights, and not to cycle on pavements.
I cannot see what these kinds of messages are going to achieve, beyond actually reinforcing the impression in the general public that jumping red lights, and riding on pavements, is what ‘cyclists’ do. Where was the message asking drivers to ‘beware’ of pedestrians, or not to jump red lights, given that it is motorists – not cyclists – who almost universally kill and seriously injure pedestrians?
Maybe at some point this campaign started out with the intention of trying to demonstrate that we are all people using the roads, and we just happen to be using different modes of transport. Unfortunately it has actually ended up presenting different road users as discrete, monolithic entities who have to ‘respect’ each other, and behave well in order to garner respect – with no attention paid to who is actually posing danger, and who is causing death and serious injury. The result is platitudinous nonsense, like this last passage from the video –
The message is – road users have a shared responsibility to keep each other safe.
So when I’m walking in town, I have a responsibility to keep car drivers safe? Or when I’m riding my bike? Gibberish.
I think Gnomeicide is right when he argues that this kind of campaign can only have been dreamed up from behind a car windscreen –
The idea that there is moral equivalence between cyclists and motorists ignores the fact that the power and therefore hazard posed by each is not equivalent – accident stats back this up. It may seem appropriate to ask cyclists for a bit of give when also asking motorists to stop endangering us, but the reality is we have nothing to give – most of us don’t jump reds, we don’t ride on the pavement, and even if we did that’s irrelevant – all of those factors combined still only amount for a few percent of all cyclist injuries. I suppose from behind the windscreen wipers of your car this could look like a good idea. From anywhere else? Its expensive, counterproductive, victim blaming nonsense.
The CTC seem happy to support the Nice Way Code on the basis that it doesn’t make cycling look dangerous or weird. But a campaign that isn’t quite as abysmally bad as ones that might have come before it shouldn’t automatically merit endorsement. The Nice Way Code employs the same logic as Richard Allchin – that respect and good behaviour is conditional upon cyclists obeying the rules of the road. A campaign that is supposed to be about reducing death and serious injury actually buys into the tired stereotypes about how people on bikes behave. That’s simply not good enough.