Three journalists

One would think that serious, high-minded journalists and broadcasters, with national audiences, would never willingly display ignorance, prejudice and stupidity on any topic they choose to investigate. Yet on the subject of cycling, a basic expectation that the subject is understood and presented in a rational, impartial and fair-minded way by journalists of this calibre is, it seems, too much to hope for.

To take just three recent examples.

Nick Ferrari is an award-winning journalist, the kind serious enough to interview prime ministers on his show, on a national radio station. Yet on the subject of cycling, all that seriousness and high-minded scrutiny disappears out the window. One particular line of the questioning he put to Labour’s London Mayoral candidate, Sadiq Khan, was embarrassingly woeful.

He was pressing Khan on whether he would ‘mandate cyclists to use the cycle lanes that have been provided.’ Khan attempted to duck the question, pointing out that this was more reasonably a matter for national legislation, but Ferrari was having none of it, belligerently repeating the question, before producing what he obviously felt was his unanswerable argument

Would you mandate [cyclists to use lanes]? Because at the moment – and I’ve asked the Mayor about this, and I’ve asked Zac Goldsmith about this – you could have the ludicrous situation that £160m has been spent, and the one lane that buses and coaches and trucks and taxis are allowed to use, will have a little old lady on a bicycle in the middle and we’ll all be behind her. Unless she’s mandated to use that cycle lane.

This is a bit like asking whether the use of pavements should be made compulsory, because otherwise a little old lady will walk in ‘the one lane’ that trucks and coaches can use, and we’ll all be stuck behind her. Unless, of course, little old ladies are mandated to walk on footways.

That question would never be asked, of course – because it’s utterly brainless. Nobody is going to choose to walk in front of lorries when there’s a footway. And precisely the same is true for cycling – why would any ‘little old lady’ choose to cycle in front of coaches and HGVs when there’s a cycleway?

'Young children should be mandated to use cycling infrastructure - otherwise they'll be using the motor traffic lanes, holding us all up!'

‘Young children should be mandated to use cycling infrastructure – otherwise they’ll be using the motor traffic lanes, holding us all up!’ [Picture from here]

Ferrari’s question reveals total stupidity on the matter of cycling infrastructure and behaviour – never stopping to consider why a ‘little old lady’ (or indeed anyone else) might choose to cycle in a horrible environment if the alternative was reasonable. What’s his explanation? Does he think people who use bicycles are masochists?

It's apparently only legislation that will keep grannies in that bit of road on the left.

It’s apparently only legislation that will stop grannies from cycling in front of that HGV.

This is the view from behind the windscreen – small-minded, betraying a total lack of understanding and empathy, proudly on display on national radio.

Bridget Kendall is another award-winning journalist. Last week she hosted a programme on the BBC world service, devoted to the subject of the bicycle and the role it has played (and is playing) in human freedom – in female emancipation, as mobility in poorer parts of the world, and as ideal city transport, everywhere. A high-minded programme, but again, like Ferrari, Kendall didn’t appear to have done a great deal of research, and allowed her prejudices to interrupt serious consideration of policy.

For a start, Kendall didn’t seem able to grasp how space for cycling could be allocated at ground level. 

Kendall: There’s always a problem with making a city more bicycle-friendly – how do you actually find the space for cyclists, to keep them safe, and give them room to operate, so that they don’t get in the way of the non-pedallers, which are either the car drivers, or else the pedestrians?

Posed this question, Dr Sheila Hanlon responded –

Hanlon: I do quite like the idea of some of the Cycling Superhighways, and having separated spaces for cyclists, to insulate them from traffic.

Kendall: So you’d have different levels. Cyclists way up high, and the cars down below. Or vice versa.

Given that this was a programme specifically about cycling as ‘ideal city transport’, this was a dreadful response, demonstrating a total failure to engage with the actual ways in which cycling has been, and is being, separated from motor traffic in urban areas around the world. This includes high-profile infrastructure being built right now in London, where the programme was being recorded, and broadcast.

But it got worse. Presumably in an attempt to educate Kendall about current practice (not putting ‘cyclists way up high’), Hanlon went on to describe how junctions are now using separate traffic signalling for cycling, to keep people cycling separate from motor traffic. But rather than engaging seriously with design issues, at the mention of the words ‘traffic lights’ Kendall couldn’t help herself, actually talking over Hanlon to vent some tired prejudice.

Kendall: Well that would be great if the bicyclists would actually look at the traffic lights. Very often they just cycle straight through them. So that’s all about more maybe cycling training.

What relevance does this have for designing cycle safety into our cities? Would we interrupt someone describing how to make cities more pedestrian-friendly with nonsense about how ‘pedestrians don’t actually look at traffic lights’ and how ‘they’ (and it’s always ‘they’ when it comes to cycling, not ‘us’, or ‘we’) just walk straight out into the road?

Finally, another award-winning journalist, the Times’ Janice Turner. As with Ferrari and Kendall, cycling is evidently a topic where impartial and considered opinion can be discarded, replaced instead by tired cliches and stereotypes.

In London, cycling has ceased to be a mode of transport and become a religion. “Cyclist” — rather like “feminist” to some — is now a political identity whose absolute righteousness excuses every deed.

To the zealots, no car journey is justifiable and drivers must be erased from streets. And so, in my ’hood, the council has shut a triangle of residential roads to cars. No warning, no diversion signs, just concrete blocks in the road: deliveries, ambulances, police, tradespeople, funnelled on to choked main roads.

Businesses within the triangle are stranded; homeowners feel “kettled”. Huge, furious public meetings have been been held. And in frustration residents have moved aside some barriers — only to have cyclists re-block the streets with paint-cans and rubbish bags.

Why must every debate now be so angry and polarised? Many of us are, at various times, cyclists, pedestrians and drivers. Why can we not, with safety adaptations and mutual respect, share the streets? My correspondent may be interested in a Transport for London report that a cyclist is “typically white, under 40, male, with medium to high household income”. Boris with his super-highways is spending £1 billion on these guys.

This is clearly little more than a whinge motivated by the Loughborough Junction scheme, a scheme Turner has plainly failed to bother attempting to understand.

Motor vehicles haven’t been ‘erased’ from the streets, nor have businesses or homeowners ‘kettled’ or ‘stranded’. All the roads and streets in the trial area are still accessible for drivers; the purpose of the scheme is to divert through motor traffic onto Coldharbour Lane, and away from Loughborough Road. Loughborough Road remains accessible for residents and businesses; you just can’t drive all the way along it. The intention is to the ‘residential roads’ (the clue is even there in the word Turner uses) safer for residents, and for ordinary people to cycle on.

This ignorance about the scheme is served up with tedious dog-whistle drivel about cycling being a ‘religion’ [it really isn’t – it’s just a mode of transport] ‘a political identity whose absolute righteousness excuses every deed’ [Good grief, no – think for a second about what you are writing] and then concluded with a (deliberately?) divisive and mistaken interpretation of the purpose of the Transport for London’s investment in cycling –

My correspondent may be interested in a Transport for London report that a cyclist is “typically white, under 40, male, with medium to high household income”. Boris with his super-highways is spending £1 billion on these guys.

A quick glance at the actual motivation for Boris’ decision to invest in cycling reveals this to be utterly mistaken. The Mayor himself states in the document which announced this investment

I want cycling to be normal, a part of everyday life. I want it to be something you feel comfortable doing in your ordinary clothes, something you hardly think about. I want more women cycling, more older people cycling, more black and minority ethnic Londoners cycling, more cyclists of all social backgrounds – without which truly mass participation can never come.

As well as the admirable Lycra-wearers, and the enviable east Londoners on their fixed-gear bikes, I want more of the kind of cyclists you see in Holland, going at a leisurely pace on often clunky steeds. I will do all this by creating a variety of routes for the variety of cyclists I seek.

In other words, rather than spending £1bn on rich white men, the purpose of the investment is to enable anyone to cycle; to make this simple mode of transport attractive and easy for all Londoners.

The Loughborough Junction scheme falls into this template; by calming the ‘residential roads’ Turner refers to, the intention is at least partly to make these roads a viable proposition for children and elderly people to cycle on, broadening the appeal of cycling beyond the rich white men Turner refers too.

But of course this same column loudly trumpets her opposition to this scheme. Who needs consistency, let alone fair-minded, objective and rational scrutiny, when it comes to discussing cycling? Not journalists, it seems.

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15 Responses to Three journalists

  1. fred says:

    This mostly really a failure of storytelling by the people implementing the schemes. Every scheme like this needs to be accompanied by a loud, clear public message making the point that the scheme is intended to make conditions better for everyone – people on bikes, people on foot, residents, businesses – and explaining exactly how. Councils and TfL need to be ready for opposition, and have a strategy to ensure that valid complaints are attended to swiftly, and invalid ones get a swift and clear public reply. Without this, a few loud people will dominate the public debate, and schemes will fail.

    • Yes, i think this is a really important point. We expend so much effort promoting (and usually losing) the case for cycling, perhaps with an afterthought for walking, that if we actually achieve anything we are 1) utterly amazed that we have managed to get something, 2) utterly exhausted, 3) needing to deal with the vital next steps and 4) lobbying to get the inevitable flaws removed. The result is that we forget about the marketing. We need a professional approach to explaining what is going on and how to frame the explanation.

  2. ORiordan says:

    It looks like classic “bike lash” and is inevitable with high profile schemes that actually change things. If the superhighways are wildly successful after they open and the road closures are accepted, then the critics will likely move on to something else.

  3. Andy R says:

    “One would think that serious, high-minded journalists and broadcasters, with national audiences, would never willingly display ignorance, prejudice and stupidity on any topic they choose to investigate.”
    I can’t tell if this is meant to be ironic or not, but it seems to me a great many journalists do exactly this on a daily basis. I’m never sure if they’re attempting to ask the questions (they think) the public would – which would show a contempt for the intelligence of their audience – or these are their actual views. I have to conclude that despite their profession, some journalists appear to be amongst the least informed and most ignorant members of the population.

  4. NIck Ferrari is always anti-bike on his shows, mind you as he generally seems to get chauffeured around he presumably spends a lot of time sat stock still in central London as cyclists “hold him up” Heaven forbid he actually try using a bike (nor be it for me to suggest he may actually see some health benefits from being more active…..)

    The BBC can at times be less then balanced with reporting on cycling and to have a journalist from The Times, with all the great work they did for cycling in general, come up with some utter rubbish is really depressing.

  5. Mike Adams says:

    Nick Ferrari is not the “serious” journalist described in this article. He is, and always has been, a presenter on a mission to shock, and he appeals largely to a particular section of the population. When he is given the opportunity to interview ministers or prime ministers it is because the government press office is reaching out to that same section of voters, not because he asks intelligent questions or arrives at the studio well-researched.
    My lady, who has a fine nose for imposters, many years ago neatly summed him up as, “That fat prat.”

  6. Absolutely horrendous! It really is akin to a sports presenter saying “‘oh look at the black gymnast, they are usually far more genetically suited to athletics”.
    Reading the latest Fietsersbond Vogelvrijfietser (dutch members magazine for the big dutch cyclists club/union thingy), the answer to most urban red lights is to do without them and things go more smoothly. When you have the infrastructure and a well designed set up, in a lot of cases, you can get rid of the lights and things work out fine. I think this is the next level, something that the UK may never be ready for, it’s taken a generation or two of experimentation on cyclists in large numbers to get to the stage where they can come up for a solution for cyclists running red lights that involves…taking away the lights that they run. At least the ones that are commonly run because cyclists prefer to make a judgment rather than wait for multiple sets of lights to take their course.

  7. Moving away from a description of “journalism” would be advantageous because these people are news-actors and public lobbyists to be polite. They represent incumbent industries and are paid to assert socio-economic interests. Just as in court the prosecutor isn’t going to suddenly side with the defense, neither will these mouths for hire. They will hold out and if stupid argument and character assassination are the only ploys left, that is what will be given.

    LBC should never be mentioned without highlighting how Baron Kensington owns the parent company Global Radio and food haulage business, 2 Sisters. Similar, any Times journalist necessarily alights with Rupert Murdoch who has oil investments, promotes war for oil and published editorial overtly attacking the spread of cycle lanes. Every BBC employee has been vetted for obedience to British national security, many are conscious but all are de facto nat-sec assets. To be clear nat-sec goes beyond just military goals and includes key industries. Should people even exchange just 10% of their driving for cycling a crude calculation suggests the oil-motoring industry would lose 20b£ **per year**. The Treasury is worried too—those figures could crash the pound. This is why from Canary Wharf to the Dailymail Group (who owns insurance-investment focused Risk Managment Solutions, Gastech, and ADIPEC (Abu Dhabi Petroleum Exhibition and Conference) are RATIONALLY rabid cycle haters. That sentiment also trickles down from the British aristocracy and infects the BBC.

    In 1925 The National Automobile Chamber of Commerce paid publishers to shift blame from motorists to their victims when reporting (a theme that is globally pervasive today). In 1953 head of GM Motors was also US Secretary of Defense. In 1966 GM Motors attempted to destroy road safety campaigner Ralph Nader by tapping phones, digging for blackmail, and hiring honey-pot prostitutes. Modern day has BP via the MET deploying covert multi-year ops on environmentalists so little has changed.

    The motoring industry successfully invented a whole pseudo-science of climate change and used the press in strong part to invent jaywalking, so why is it outlandish to even approach the idea that people like Angela Epstein, Hartley-Brewer, and certainly former Grenadiar Guard and OPEC employee Andrew Critchlow at the Telegraph aren’t attempting to invent jay-cycling in the same way? To scoff at these “clowns” is to be the joke.

  8. Notak says:

    “One would think that serious, high-minded journalists and broadcasters, with national audiences, would never willingly display ignorance, prejudice and stupidity on any topic they choose to investigate.”


  9. Nick says:

    So far as the Loughborough Junction scheme is concerned, the aims may be admirable, but the effects haven’t been so far. This seems to be Lambeth’s fault to a great extent – partly in not ensuring that they had consulted local interests adequately beforehand, and partly in organising the closures to take place at the same time as 2 of the 3 main roads bounding this triangle are already gridlocked because of the roadworks at Oval and E&C (both also cycle-safety related). This has increased the impacts on Coldharbour Lane, Railton Road and other roads to which the Loughborough Rd traffic has diverted. Unless Lambeth or the proponents of the scheme can come up with improvements, I suspect the closure won’t continue beyond the trial period, as it has been so unpopular.

    In the circumstances, it seems unfair to criticise about residents being unhappy with the effects because you like the aims of the scheme, as the scheme’s not delivering those aims. It’s also disingenuous to claim “Loughborough Road remains accessible for residents and businesses; you just can’t drive all the way along it”, as the bit you can’t drive along is the access from Coldharbour Lane, which makes it inaccessible.

    Cycling advocates need to be to acknowledge when pro-cycling schemes fail.

    • Access from Coldharbour Lane has been restricted, but you are still able to drive on the road. You just have to use a different route to get to it. Restricting one entrance point doesn’t render a road inaccessible, any more than locking one door to a house renders it inaccessible, when there are other open doors.

      “it seems unfair to criticise about residents being unhappy with the effects because you like the aims of the scheme, as the scheme’s not delivering those aims” – I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you mean here. Perhaps you could rephrase?

      That said, I do get the impression this scheme has been handled less than perfectly, in the way it has been presented and managed.

      • Nick says:

        Fair enough, it’s still *possible* to access Loughborough Rd, but given the location of the closures, Loughborough Rd and the properties off it are *much less* accessible from the south than they were, and less accessible than most examples of filtered permeability. Particularly as the diversions necessary involve the use of roads that are less suitable for motor vehicles than Loughborough Road, unless you go via the centre of Brixton and Brixton Rd, which is already congested.

        Re the 2nd paragraph, your response to criticism of the *effects* of the scheme has been to describe it as “ignorance” because it does not refer to the *aims* of the scheme. However, as the scheme is not delivering on its aims, this seems to me to be unfair. In the final reckoning, the effects will be important than the aims after all; just the like the purported “cycling infrastructure” you criticise in your next post.

  10. Eric D says:

    Hear also BBC Radio 4 ‘Broadcasting House’ – Are Sunday cyclists the new Sunday drivers?
    Angela Epstein and Ned Boulting discuss the perks and perils of weekend cycling.
    “A lot of cyclists now use the road with a sense of entitlement … the car is a lot bigger than the bike … no accountability … don’t have to pass a test …MOT test … licence plates … RLJ … in front of traffic … no recourse to law for cyclists … few prosecutions … I’m just fed up of them … (enough already)”
    “Militancy seems to be the default approach of a lot of cyclists … self-righteous … they feel it’s their right to own the road”
    “Calm down” – Boulting actually said it to himself, but Epstein responded “Men always say that to women”
    “I’m talking about cyclists who use the road”
    Her agenda is to ban cyclists from the road, but she won’t actually say it.
    “My husband is a good cyclist – he doesn’t use the roads”
    She’s not just trolling – she’s serious !

    • Eric D says:

      PS – That’s just a clip – the full programme is here
      MP3 –
      @ 17:20 begins an interview at Box Hill
      @ 19:34, following an allegation that cyclists are intimidating … lycra … pumped-up
      “There’s a couple here … there’s a car coming … they’re going about 4mph … cycling up very slowly … there’s 2 cars behind … there’s a Peugeot … she’s very tight on the rear wheel of that car [meaning bike?] … I mean, actually, it’s not nice to have some shopper in her Peugeot , revving behind you like that, is it ? … Should we ban the cars ?”
      “I’ve been faced before by 5 cyclists coming towards me, with flashing strobe lights on their handlebars, headlights, and I’ve had to stop in the middle of the road”
      What are you doing driving in the middle of the road ?

  11. Pingback: Disrupting interruptions | katsdekker

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