Why do people hate cyclists?

Irrational, unbidden hate. Why?

Bradley Wiggins. Victoria Pendleton. Yellow jerseys. Olympic golds. Britain is meant to have fallen in love with cycling. If so, the honeymoon is over, and the hatred is back.

On 26th September I shall be giving a presentation to architects and town planner types at the be2talks in London – “a celebration of technology, social media and the built environment” – and will spend 12 minutes discussing some of the many positives about urban cycling. However, first I will spend three minutes on the irrational hatred directed at cyclists on social media. You really don’t have to go very far before finding this sort of stuff. Using search terms ‘cyclist’ and ‘road tax’ will bring up lots of unbidden hate.

Sometimes the hatred is spouted by incoherent dunderheads but there’s also plenty spouted by what appear to be, from reading their Twitter timelines, otherwise reasonable people.

Thing is, both the dunderheads, and the otherwise sane and sensible, have cars, and don’t appear to like sharing roadspace with cyclists. These people are driving around on public roads with an amazing amount of hatred bubbling under the surface. How many unthinking near-misses are actually ‘I’ll teach that cyclist a lesson’ near-misses? How many cyclist deaths have been caused by these sort of ‘roads were built for cars’ attitude?

The highly ingrained beliefs that “all cyclists run red lights” and “all cyclists ride on the pavement” are part of the problem (and, yes, motorists habitually break traffic laws and routinely park on the pavements cyclists are supposed to hog) but the hatred goes deeper than that.

In this month’s issue of The Psychologist Bath University’s traffic specialist Dr Ian Walker believes this hatred is a manifestation of more than just hatred against an “out group”:

“A report from the Transport Research Laboratory and University of Strathclyde a few years ago led by Lynn Basford suggested that there’s some classic social psychology at work here – cyclists represent an outgroup such that the usual outgroup effects are seen, particularly overgeneralisation of negative behaviour and attributes – ‘They all ride through red lights all the time’. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that something of this sort is going on.

“However, there has to be more to it than just this. For a long time I wondered if the outgroup status of cyclists was compounded by two other known social psychological factors: norms and majority vs. minority groups. Not only are cyclists an outgroup, they’re also a minority outgroup. Moreover, they are engaging in an activity that is deemed slightly inappropriate in a culture that views driving as normative and desirable and, arguably, views cycling as anti- conventional and possibly even infantile.

“But even adding these factors into the mix does not explain all the anger that cyclists experience. It’s easy to identify other minority outgroups whose behaviour similarly challenges social norms but who do not get verbally and physically attacked like cyclists do: vegetarians, for example. So there’s clearly one or more important variables that we’ve not identified yet. Any social psychologists looking for a challenge are very welcome to wade into this.”

Hatred isn’t confined to social media, of course. Shockjocks and columnists in national newspapers also like to take potshots at cyclists. There’s a huge number of such diatribes and columns, way too many to list here but here’s a fresh one, from today. It’s by Helen Martin in The Scotsman. It’s a “I’m not a racist but…” piece.

Sweetly, she claims: “Whatever ardent cyclists believe, no driver wants to cause them harm or sets out to make their two-wheeled journey more treacherous than it need be.” [She needs to hang out a bit more on Twitter and YouTube…]

But then comes the sugar-coated invective:

“Now whole swathes of our roads are marked for cycles only. And even more funding is going on further development and maintenance. There is no point in any of us shelling out this money if cyclists refuse to use the lanes specifically created and marked for them.

“Watch out for the number of cyclists who reject their own lanes in favour of the rest of the road (car lanes, if you will) and you might be amazed by the day’s total.

“This is extremely dangerous behaviour that poses a threat to themselves and drivers. If we have cycle lanes we expect cyclists to be in them, not dodging traffic in the rest of the road and popping up where we least expect them. Is it really so outrageous to suggest that, where there is a cycle lane, cyclists should be fined for not using it?”

This is the columnist who started her article by saying: “I admire cyclists. I really do.” With friends like this etc. etc.

Ms Martin doesn’t want to share roads with cyclists, they should be on cycle paths provided for them and if they stray, fine ’em! Ms Martin has clearly never been on a UK cycle path, she isn’t aware most of them are poorly designed, don’t link up and are rarely maintained. Some facilities!

All of the hatred on social media and in the press matters because it’s not marginal, it’s mainstream. I’ve had many long discussions with pro-cycling MPs who say it’s incredibly tough to get any truly transformational cycling policies out of the powers-that-be because the hatred runs too deep. We know cycling is benign and of benefit to society but that’s far from being a common view in the corridors of local and national power. And, genuinely, how much of a vote winner would it be, in such a car obsessed country, to openly commit to reining back motor-centric policies in favour of cyclists?

Perhaps Britain will become a more cycling-friendly nation in time, until then I’ll leave you with a quote from Peter Zanzottera, senior consultant at transport consultancy Steer Davies Gleave. In 2009 he told the Scottish Parliament’s Transport Committee:

“People love cycling but hate cyclists.”


There’s plenty of roadspace at night

Open Road motorway at night

Mike Penning, the portly roads minister, needs to be bound and gagged and dumped on the M6, at 3am, just north of Carlisle. I’m not advocating the death of a minister of the Crown; Penning would be perfectly safe for quite some time because this massively wide motorway is pretty much empty at 3am. Maybe after surviving unscathed Penning would come to understand there’s plenty of roadspace to go around, it’s how we use it in peak times that’s the problem.

At a transport select committee hearing two weeks ago Penning – and his LibDem partner in crime, Norman Baker – said there could be no national funding for cycle paths because this is a “local issue” but Penning is more than happy to pour money down the drain for “strategically important national roads”. One such road scheme to get the green light is just a few miles from where I live. Tons of extra motorised traffic has been generated thanks to the building of the second Tyne tunnel; the Silverlink junction where the A19 meets Newcastle’s Coast road is at gridlock at peak times of the day.

At night, like the M6 and like much of the UK’s road network, it’s empty.

The width of the road is plenty wide enough for maybe 18 hours out of the day; the bottlenecks occur sporadically, and at wholly expected times. Instead of managing this bottleneck with traffic mitigation measures, national Government will be spending £170m of taxpayers’ cash (that’s our money they’re wasting) on widening this junction for a few people for just a few hours per day. This is lunacy. The expected “congestion easing” won’t happen. As is extremely well known, extra road capacity leads to induced demand and any improvement in “traffic flow”, in peak times, will be soon swallowed up.

Even if an increased number of cars are speeded through this junction for a few weeks (and that’s all that £170m buys you) there will then be a crush somewhere else on the network. More and wider roads will be needed elsewhere on the network. But there’s precious little space for this, and there could never be enough cash to satisfy the unthinking demands from drivers for fast, empty arterial roads during the so-called “rush hour.”

The private motorcar is damn useful, but only when there’s just a few of them dotting around. When there are millions of the things, they’re not so convenient. And the Department for Transport projects that millions more private cars will join the swell over the next 25 years. Not learning from past mistakes, and somehow hoping failed solutions will work “this time”, is madness. Yet it’s a shared madness, a group hallucination that’s costly, wasteful and, quite quickly, ineffective.

Check out the crazed comments from local politicians and business leaders who believe spending £170m on one road junction – just one road junction – is money well spent:

North Tyneside elected mayor Linda Arkley said she was “absolutely delighted” at the multi-million-pound ‘investment package’.

“I have been on at them for this for long time, it’s good to see Mike got the message,” she told my local newspaper, which champions more roads as a central part of its editorial focus.

Ms Arkley added: “We have so many opportunities for growing this area…we need to know that congestion is not going to be an obstacle to that.”

The North East Chamber of Commerce has also campaigned hard for “upgrade” cash. Chief Executive, James Ramsbotham, said the £170m-for-one-road-junction news was “a real victory for us and our partners who campaigned alongside us.”

He added: “It is great news for the region as it will ease congestion and complement the recent Tyne Tunnel upgrade on this important strategic route for both commuters and businesses. If the Government is serious about rebalancing the economy, future investment should be prioritised for schemes just like this to enable the North East to increase its contribution to UK Plc.

Ramsbotham then said:

“Hopefully, other regional infrastructure priorities such as the essential upgrade of the Western Bypass will receive similar appraisal in the future.”

This should set off alarm bells. The Western Bypass was built just a few years ago to “ease congestion”. It did. For a few days. After that it became stupidly congested during peak hours. “Upgrading” a relatively new road that was meant to ease congestion but that didn’t is sheer unadulterated lunacy.

The Western Bypass is quiet at 3am. We don’t need more roads, we need less motorised vehicles using them. Road pricing would quickly remove unnecessary journeys, but would be an unpopular move. Waving a chequebook and throwing good money after bad is what politicians do best. Here’s Penning in vote-for-me fantasy-land:

“We are committed to tackling congestion, keeping traffic moving and supporting the UK economy, putting in money where it’s most needed and where the public will get a good return on investment.”

This is the same minister who won’t fund cycle paths, and who won’t listen to the growing number of organisations who tell him that concreting Britain is not a long-term answer to congestion. Penning wants a good return on investment? He should talk to his colleagues in the Department for Health. They’re looking at a future where health costs associated with inactivity are set to sky-rocket. Get people out of their cars and moving their fat arses. Scrap the multi-billion pound roads programme and spend it on mitigation measures instead.

Will UK politicians ever seek to restrain the motorised majority?


I signed up to the cycle safe campaign by The Times. There has been some fine reporting on the real and rightly worrying danger posed by motorised traffic but, as today’s paper exemplifies, there’s a risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There are some good bits in today’s newspaper, there are some awful bits in today’s newspaper.

Which will people most remember? The bad bits. Cycling, the paper’s reporting would have us believe, is so incredibly dangerous it’s best to stick to riding around a velodrome (Rebecca Romero’s piece); it’s best to ride on cycle lanes (even though, as we all know, the current crop are currently underused because they’re not up to Dutch standards; we need to cough up for a licence fee to pay for segregated tracks (Jon Snow’s piece, but here’s why licensing is not the right answer); and we need to don protective equipment for popping down to the shops (“In Britain, going out to cycle is a little like preparing for battle.There is body armour and helmets to consider, Lycra and face masks to squeeze into,” is from an otherwise positive piece headlined ‘Reasons to take to your bike’).


Political parties are said to have welcomed The Times campaign, and Labour is even calling for a Cycling Summit.

All well and good but if politicians think cycling is so incredibly dangerous will they clamp down on the source of the danger, or will they “protect” vulnerable road users by forcing them to wear helmets, making it compulsory to sport hi-viz jackets and restrict the use of bicycles to cycle paths that, largely, don’t exist and when they do exist are usually as about much use as chocolate tea-pots?

Naturally, the easy option, the option that would be supported by the majority of voters, is the latter.


The best commentary I’ve seen on The Times campaign has been that from Andrew Davis, the director of the Environmental Transport Association. He said he welcomes the campaign because it “raises the debate to a wider public” but – and I agree with him here – “it fails to address the bigger question – why do we allow cars and trucks to dominate our townscapes?”

This is the absolute crux of the matter. The cyclesafe campaign is potentially divisive. It’s not just cyclists that need protecting from speeding traffic, it’s pedestrians and all other road users, too, including motorists.

If MPs want to do something for cyclists, brilliant. But if that thing doesn’t involve a massive clamping down on motorised traffic it will come to naught. And if MPs say they’ve seen the light on the Cyclepath to Damascus, that’s fantastic, but I won’t be convinced until I see the colour of their money.

Big bucks needs to be thrown around to protect vulnerable road users. Some tough decisions need to be made on how we want our cities to look in 20 years time. And the race tracks that are our rural roads need to be changed, too. Naturally, it will be far easier for MPs to lobby for things like helmet compulsion for cyclists rather than place draconian restrictions on the “freedoms” enjoyed – and exploited – by Mondeo-man.

And we’ve been here before. In the mid-1990s both Labour and the Conservatives seemed to be fighting over who could be the most cycle-friendly. But bugger all got done. All the promises, all the pledges, they all got broken. Beware politicians who promise they’ll make conditions in this country better for cyclists. I’d love to be proved wrong, but I can’t see anything being put in place any time soon that would make a genuine difference.

Soon The Times will tire of the cyclesafe campaign and move on to something else. In the meantime, many people will have been scared off their bikes. Now, thundering trucks passing within inches also scares people off bikes, but will UK politicians take a long-term view on the transport problems we face and do what really needs to be done and that’s restrict motorised traffic?

If cycle tracks are built (and built to standard) will space be taken from cars and trucks or taken from pedestrians? At the moment, it’s the latter but for any real progress to be made it needs to be the former.

As Andrew Davis asks “Why aren’t the centre of towns designed for people first? Why do we, in this country, aspire to so little?”

He continues: “We have got so used to living in places made dangerous by speeding cars and out-of-control trucks – and we just accept it. It doesn’t have to be this way. Our towns and cities can be made fit for pedestrians, cyclists, children and the infirm rather than trucks and cars.

“We have the money. We need the imagination. We need the will.”

And here’s the rub: when it comes to cyclists and pedestrians – and anybody else not in a car or truck – we don’t have the money, we don’t have the imagination and we certainly don’t have the will.

Some have suggested that the cyclesafe campaign by The Times could be the UK equivalent of ‘Stop the Child Murder’, the 1970s campaign in the Netherlands that helped make a cycle and pedestrian friendly country even more cycle and pedestrian friendly.

Maybe. But the British love affair with their cars (and the trucks that aimlessly circle ring roads, calling in at supermarkets when product shortages are flagged by computers) runs incredibly deep and it would take politicians with balls of steel to go against the wishes of the motorised majority. And by dangerising cycling – and walking – we run the risk of making more people take to cars.

Most of the coverage in today’s edition of The Times will do little to encourage cycling. It will do the exact opposite. The Times wants to protect cyclists by highlighting the dangers, and forcing legislators to “do something”, but that “something” will likely not be a joined-up network of protected cycle lanes on every stretch of busy road in the UK. I wish that it was but I shan’t be holding my breath – I’ve been to far too many ‘cycle strategy’ meetings with politicians.

Nevertheless, like Andrew Davis, I welcome the debate and genuinely hope something positive comes out of it.

Rooting through some back issues of Cycle Industry (the mag I used to own and edit before BikeBiz) the other day I came across a couple of issues from May and July 1996, the last time we had politicians saying they were going to do lots of exciting stuff for cyclists.

As I said in the editorial at the time (‘Cycling needs cash not soundbites’), if no cash was forthcoming to back up the fine words it was all just hot air.

If The Times can get politicians to agree to spending big chunks of cash on cyclists and on pedestrians, and less on infrastructure for cars and trucks, I’ll happily eat all of the cynical words above.

For now, read the words on the mag scans below (click to make bigger), and weep.





Mass motoring was soooo last century

Mass motoring was soooo last century

You don’t have to be a statistics boffin to see the flaws in this projection. Clearly, the UK’s love affair with motoring is tailing off. It has reached its peak and it now appears to be on the classic downward bell slope.

However, the RAC Foundation which uses the graph in its new report ‘Keep The Nation Moving’ – has ignored the downward slope and plotted a weird v-shape to make the graph go sky-wards. Why? To lobby for the building of more roads (and for road pricing to pay for some of it).

The graph was based on this similar graph from the Department for Transport:

Dft Motor Vehicle mileage graph

It was the RAC Foundation which added the weird v-shape projection.

On either graph, look at the early 1970s. Traffic demand flattened out, and this was in a major league global oil crisis. The latest figures don’t show a flattening out of demand, they clearly show a reduction in demand, and the drop started before the recession.

If the graph continues on that bell slope (we probably need another two or three years to be absolutely sure) we won’t need more and more roads. Roads are incredibly expensive to build and – long-term – even more expensive to maintain. If it’s likely we won’t need them, why build them?

Why can’t the DfT – and RAC Foundation – see what’s starting to become apparent in this graph? Mass motoring was soooo last century. We’ve reached ‘Peak Car’ and ‘Peak Asphalt’; ‘Peak Oil’ has either been and gone or is just around the corner. We shouldn’t build yet more roads, we should be investing in ways to get even more people out of cars, on top of the ones who have already decided bumper-to-bumper congestion isn’t for them.

Government transport departments are notoriously bad at predicting the future. In the 1820s, the stagecoach ruled, no Government department predicted the rise and rise of the railways. In the early 1900s, no transport minister said the future would belong to the motorcar. Trains were the future and that’s where the majority of spending was placed. Motorists had to fight tooth and nail to get funding for roads (a fight made easier by 30 years of work by cyclists, of course) and, as I document on iPayRoadTax.com, motorists paid for some road improvements via road tax and the Road Fund. This ended in 1937 and from then on everybody – most of whom were not motorists – started paying for roads, via national and local taxation (bit of a coup for motorists, hey?)

Today, the DfT and Government ministers – again – can’t see the writing on the wall. They assume the Car will be King for ever. History says this will not be the case: stagecoaches were replaced by trains; trains were replaced by cars. Wise transport planners and politicians would be planning for ‘what next’? Instead, as the graph shows, there are very few wise folks in charge of transport planning.

The policy wonks at the RAC Foundation are not dolts, they do see some of the writing on the wall. In the latest report, ‘Peak Car’ is introduced as a concept but rapidly dismissed:

“Intuitively [Peak Car] is plausible. It is impossible to envisage a time where all an individual’s waking hours are spent behind the wheel of a car. The thirst for more travel will be quenched long before that. This is an area which requires much more study.

But, significantly, ‘peak car’ does not remove the impact of ten million more people – who between them will drive four million more cars – in the UK in little more than two decades’ time. Whichever way you look at it, the result will be: more congestion.”

The RAC Foundation even realises there are transport options which don’t involve privately-owned metal boxes taking up public space, but it’s “other people” who need to get out of their cars, not “us”:

“Of course if a sizeable number of us found an alternative to using our cars, then our worries about the jams and their consequences – including the impact on our collective carbon footprint – would evaporate. We could spend our time, trouble and money addressing other issues. It is crucial that we encourage people to substitute their car use with something else where possible, but the evidence suggests that while such measures can reduce demand for personal motorised travel, they are not enough to stem the tide of congestion.

“Realistically, it is difficult to envisage many trips longer than five miles being transferred away from the car to walking or cycling.”

Subsidy for driving

And the RAC Foundation – like other parts of the roads lobby and like (former) Transport ministers – always stresses that railways are “subsidised” while spending on roads is “investment”, and motorists “pay for the roads”.

“Railways and buses – on average – cost the taxpayer money in subsidy: 15p per passenger mile travelled on the train;67 6p per mile per passenger on the bus. By contrast, drivers of cars and lorries contribute a net 7p per mile to the Exchequer in fuel duty and vehicle excise duty alone (excluding VAT). Even if public transport were an answer, would it be one we could afford?”

Costs of driving

The RAC Foundation also appears to be in favour of taxation opt-outs. All motoring taxes should be spent on motorists:

“There is no sign of government accepting the logic of ring-fencing a higher proportion of road tax revenue, particularly in the present economic circumstances. In part, the continued inability of 34 million drivers to get a fairer deal is a symptom of the lack of both a single, coherent consumer voice for motorists and a regulator to ensure that motorists get the service from the road network that they have paid for. There continues to be no formal recognition that road users are paying a great deal in return for the use of an asset – and, in contrast to the situation with our other utilities, far more than it costs to provide that asset.”

Why do Government’s oppose such ring-fencing? Because if motoring taxation was ring-fenced, all hell would break loose. Interest groups of all creeds and colours would start demanding “their” tax contributions should only go to fund “their” projects. Society does not work that way; cannot work that way.

There are no taxation opt-outs: married couples without kids cannot strike out the amount of tax that pays for schools; pacifists cannot strike out the amount of tax that goes on defence spending. And motorists can’t successfully demand that the money they give to the Government is given straight back to them in the shape of smoother, less congested roads, or more of them.

Smoother, less congested roads would be wonderful for all road users, not just motorists, and such infrastructure – a shared national resource – is paid for by all taxpayers, not just motorists. The public highway is, by definition, for the benefit of the public, not a sub-set of the public.


I’m interested in this stuff because I’m writing a book on the history of roads (and the forgotten contribution cyclists made to the roads of the UK and the USA). In the UK, only 1 percent of roads were specifically built for motorised vehicles. Add motorway-style trunk roads into the mix and you get 13 percent of UK roads which are mainly motorised vehicles only.

The majority of roads were not built for cars.

In the 1880s, cycling bodies in the UK and USA were the first bodies to push for road surface improvements. In the UK, the Roads Improvements Association paid for road trials of surface treatments, including asphalt and organised the first conferences on roads. The RIA was started as part of the Cyclists’ Touring Club. In the US, cyclists were even more influential. US presidents used to attend the AGM of the League of American Wheelmen.

Motorists clamour for the blackstuff but they need to thank cyclists for its adoption.

In real life, as in Le Tour, some motorists will hit a soft thing before a hard thing

“The cars and motorbikes believe that they have priority. They drive in the race without paying attention to the riders. We are the principal actors but we get less and less respect…On small roads like that that car could have waited before going past.”
Sandy Casar, FDJ team

Source: The Guardian

Why did I ride my bicycle on a motorway?

The M74 Extension in Glasgow opens to cars and trucks at the end of June. Yesterday, cyclists, runners, wheelchair users and walkers were given early access to a five mile stretch of urban motorway that cost a mind-numbing £672m. Naturally, the motorway – built to ease congestion in a city already over-run with elevated carriageways – will soon fill with traffic and within a few years there will be calls for a bypass of the bottlenecks. And so it goes on.

Induced demand is a well-known phenomenon in road transport. But how come the demand inducing is always so car-centric? Why don’t the UK governments build a stonking great bike path network throughout the land and watch as that fills up with ‘build it and they will come’ riders? Why spend £672m on such a short stretch of road when the money could have gone on a transport network that is beneficial to the economy, to health and to peoples’ waistlines?

Because there’s always plenty of money for motorists, and White Elephants cost a lot to feed. This is unsustainable long-term but politicians have yet to wake up to the realities of Peak Oil and Peak Car.

Transport Scotland believe the motorway will “produce immediate benefits by removing traffic from the M8, taking approximately 20,000 vehicles per day off the M8…” and “improve journey times across and through Glasgow with 5 – 10 minutes being saved per journey in peak hours.”

Such time savings are amazingly low yet this sort of stat is wheeled out for every major road building project, and invariably the time savings are quickly absorbed as more and more motorists take up the slack.

So, if building more and more motorways is no answer to congestion, and if I’m clearly no huge fan of spending astronomical amounts of tax-payers money for such small gains, why did I travel to Glasgow from Newcastle (on the train, natch) to ride on the M74 Bike ‘n’ Hike Day?

Maybe lots of locals were treating this as fun ride but, for me, it was a form of wheels-on-the-ground protest.

I’m no Swampy, I’m not going to burrow underground, chain myself to a JCB, or belay off a tree. However, I can join 6000+ cyclists in an official Critical Mass (we paid £5 to be part of ride, with the money going to charity) and claim the M74, if only for a day.

Bike paths ought to be constructed to this sort of quality. The tarmac is super-smooth, perfect for cycling. Bike paths ought to be built wide, too, not the poxy slivers we get foisted with.

As a British tax-payer I help pay for motorways so it’s good to get the chance to ride on one, to see close-up how my money is being spent.

And it’s not being spent very wisely.

Drivers: if your car wheels were on stilts you could do this too*

This is a mesmerising video of a Glasgow commute by helmetcam cyclist @magnatom. It’s 10+ minutes of a cyclist filtering through what appears to be miles of gridlocked cars, vans and HGVs. The hypnotic music and dream-like footage makes for an arresting short.

It’s easy to skip through after watching the first minute or so but treat it like an art film and watch until the end. There’s no twist in the tale, no set-up for a sequel, it’s just ten minutes of freedom, filtered.

Now, there are some who would view this film as video nasty because it shows a ‘vehicular cyclist’ mixing it with fast-moving motorised vehicles. Except they’re not fast-moving, they’re slow at best, static at worst.

Personally, such a daily commute in a car, would be my version of Hell.

The bike commute looks hairy at times and, clearly, it would be so much better if cyclists had big wide lanes of their own. But, in Glasgow, as with much of the UK, such lanes will be a while coming.

The video won’t attract anybody to cycling. In its own way it’s as extreme as a Danny MacAskill video. But as an example of the Tragedy of the Commons, it’s perfect. When everybody wants to use the road at the same time, and in big motorised contraptions that take up a lot of room, and often for just one person, gridlock is the result.

Our cities will see more and more gridlock over the coming years. Congestion costs, and the answer is not more and bigger roads. One of the answers is the construction of bike paths, for those not daft enough, or confident enough, to ride next to cars, vans and trucks. For those who are confident enough (and I’m certainly daft enough), we have to make sure we always keep our right to ride on roads, too. Even busy ones, should we so choose.

* The car-on-stilts trick wouldn’t be an effective long-term solution to gridlock. As pointed out by @chrisgerhard “that’s not going to help when you come up behind another stilted car:-)”

Drive on the pavement

Keep Death Off the Road Drive on the Pavement

Cyclist always ride on pavements, hey? There are now so many cars parked on pavements there’s precious little room for us to ride on them.

Cars lord it over roads and want dominion over pavements, too.

It shouldn’t be this way. Minister for cycling, walking and local transport Stormin’ Norman recently gave local councils greater leeway to get motorists off pavements but there’s little evidence motormyopiac councils have any intention of using their powers.

A Department for Transport press release from February said:

Vehicles parked on pavements can cause particular problems for people in wheelchairs or with visual impairments and those with pushchairs. The Minister has today written to councils prompting them to use their powers to prevent parking on the pavement where it is a problem.

The Department for Transport has given all councils in England permission to use signs to indicate a local pavement parking ban. Until now councils have had to gain special signs authorisation from Government each time they want to put a pavement parking ban in place.

While in some circumstances pavement parking is unavoidable – for example in narrow residential roads with no off-street parking – the Government believes that in many cases it can be avoided. Pavement parking is completely banned in London.

Now, discounting the statements “where it is a problem” (it is a problem everywhere) and “in some circumstances pavement parking is unavoidable” (no, it’s not, shift the parking elsewhere, that’s what powers-that-be can do, they have, you know, power) it has to be said that Normie gets it spot on when he says:

“Parking on the pavement can be selfish and dangerous… If a vehicle is blocking the pavement then people often have no choice but to walk in the road where they are at much greater risk of being involved in an accident. [Norm – this is no accident].

“Most drivers are considerate and do not park on the pavement unless it is permitted or necessary. However, there is a selfish minority who do not use their common sense and dump their cars wherever it suits them without a second thought for others.

But selfish minority? Nope. Pavement parking is totally and utterly endemic, hardwired into a significant number of UK drivers, possibly even the majority. The justification? “I’m getting my static car out of the way of moving cars” and “I don’t want those moving cars to hit my static car.”

Well, just tough luck, go find a multi-storey car park or a road where you’re not causing an obstruction. Road too narrow so you have to park on the pavement? Again, find another road.

Unbelievably, even though cyclists are not allowed to ride on pavements, cars are not normally disobeying any laws when they park on them (footway parking bans are applied locally and have to be accompanied by signs, there’s no national ban on pavement parking). The offence is driving on the footway, but if the police don’t see the driver committing the offence the driver can’t be nabbed for leaving a car on the pedestrian’s part of the highway.

Clearly, this is a stupid law, mocked mercilessly on ‘Pedestrian Liberation’, a wonderful anti pavement parking blog. The section on pavement parking and the law is especially good.


Thing is, motorists want cyclists to get off “their roads” and on to pavements, which is never the best place for cyclists. Here’s a interesting concept from ‘KeepCalm’, submitted to a pre-election ideas farm created by the Torygraph:

Telegraph pavements


Pedestrians and cyclists can mix at slow speeds but at anything above 10mph cyclists can pose quite a hazard, even though we’re nimble, and think we can dip and dodge around. We very possibly can but only if pedestrians stick to the straight and narrow, which is not standard practice and nor should it be.

The headline at the top of my blog posting is an old joke, and probably dates to when the first road safety posters used the ‘Keep death off the roads’ message.

The ‘Keep death off the roads’ graphics inserted into the pix above and below date from the 1930s and 1940s.

In 1945, the UK Government worried at the carnage on the roads – but not so worried it ever truly chastised motorists – put out this animated short via the Ministry of Information, Keep Death off the Roads.

It’s typical of its time because it blamed the victim rather than tried to slow the motorist (see, nothing changes).


Mrs Smith walks out on to a road with a shopping bag and is nearly sliced in half by a speeding driver. There’s no admonishing of the driver, just the pedestrian.

“Look out there! That lovely meal she was dreaming of cooking for the family is gone, but she was very lucky not to have been injured. Do remember: crossing a road needs all your concentration and care.”


Later in the short, a child – Johnny – is mocked for playing in the road when he could have been playing on the pavement or a playground. A cyclist is mocked for riding no-handed and then running into the child.

“A bicycle isn’t at all under control when ridden freehand. What would you do in an emergency? You see – the unexpected does happen, and you are just as much to blame as Johnny.”

Quite right, but why isn’t the motorist ticked off too?


There’s a chance in the next frame. A guy getting off a bus, doesn’t look, and gets squished by a speeding car. Speeding motorist is ticked off this time? ‘Course not, it’s wholly the pedestrian’s fault:

“The bus was late and now you’re in a hurry. A look to the right and a look to the left takes only two seconds more. But now it will be some weeks before you can attend to the urgent business.”

So, it appears that pedestrians will survive if they look out for speeding motorists when crossing roads and, really, should stick to the pavements and not cross at all.

But, fast forward to today, amd pedestrians are not safe on pavements, either. 40 or so pedestrians are killed on footways or verges each year (up to 400 are killed on roads each year). By motorists.

Despite this clear and present danger, the Conservative MP Andrea Leadsom wants the law brought up to date to make sure cyclists who kill pedestrians can be charged with the offence of ‘death by dangerous cycling’. Cyclists killing pedestrians is an extremely rare event, in some years there are no fatalities at all and when pedestrians are killed by cyclists it tends to be after cyclists hit pedestrians on roads.

In two recent cases when cyclists hit and killed pedestrians, the cyclists were jailed (motorists often get off scot free). Leadsom’s ten minute rule bill is classic ‘why behold you the mote that is in your brother’s eye, but consider not the beam’. She would be better off trying to get her colleagues to change the law on pavement parking. That would make a real difference to road safety.

Or perhaps seek to beef up laws against motorists who kill? It sounds as though this MP doesn’t read what happens in court cases where dangerous motoring is in the dock. She told her local paper:

“Imagine if a motorist had mounted the pavement and killed a school girl as she chatted to her friends. The motorist would have felt the full force of the law and there would have been a national outcry if such a person had walked away with a £2,000 fine.”

keep death pavements 2

Every Car Needs One: a GPS ‘naughty step’

Driving while distracted with cellphone

In December 2009, for CNBC European Business magazine, I was one of twelve writers to pen a prediction for ’50 Things That Will Change Your World in 2010′. I plumped for ‘personal CCTV’, including bike-cams and in-car ‘bad driving’ monitoring units.

Here’s what I wrote:

GEORGE ORWELL might have predicted our surveillance-obsessed Big Brother society but he didn’t foresee the rise of personal CCTV: citizens watching each other. Getting short shrift from a car rental clerk? Watch the smiles break out when you threaten to YouTube the grimaces direct from your mobile phone.

On the road, a more practical use for the mobile video camera is emerging: the post-crash eyewitness. To record SMIDSY (sorry mate, I didn’t see you) collisions, hands-free video cameras are being fitted to motorbikes and bicycles. China’s Muvi Micro DV Cam is just 55mm tall, has a resolution of 640 x 480 pixels, and is only €100. The X170 helmet-cam from the UK’s Drift Innovations is twice the size and price but shoots 720 x 480 pixels and sports a tiny LCD screen for instant playback of roadside transgressions.

In automobiles, the technology has gone a step further, recording performance parameters before, during and after an accident. Around 120,000 cars in the US and South Africa are already fitted with a Total Event Data Recording system from DriveCam, which costs €1,500 a year and involves “driver coaching”. Around €1,100 cheaper, the Roadhawk camera fits behind the rearview mirror and, with its GPS chip, logs speed, position, direction and G-force. Crash reports can be generated with video embeds and mapped in Google Earth. Already widely fitted, ‘black box’ cameras could become compulsory for fleet operators as they improve driver behaviour, reduce insurance costs and, as careful motoring equals frugal motoring, save on fuel bills.

Bike cams are certainly proving useful although convictions after recordings of bad driving incidents remain thin on the ground. It’s possible (just a smidgen, anyway) that some motorists now think twice before accosting cyclists, especially after the BBC reported some cyclists are now sporting evidence gathering cameras.

But I believe the biggest jump in road safety will come when motorists have to have cameras fitted. The Roadhawk-style cameras mentioned above are now widely used in the US, fitted to commercial vehicles. Some parents also make their teen offspring drive with such cams.

Now, in the the UK, the Co-operative has launched a Young Driver insurance package, with reduced premiums for those new drivers who can prove they’re not as suicidal and crazy as their peers. To qualify, a young driver has to have a ‘Smartbox’ fitted in his or her car. This isn’t a camera but it measures safe driving techniques and transmits data to a monitoring station.

This ‘pay how you drive’ solution is for 17 to 25 year olds and was launched on March 16th. The Smartbox uses iPhone-style accelerometers and GPS chips to work out whether the driver is braking too suddenly, accelerating too aggressively, cornering at speed, and just plain speeding. Sadly, it can’t yet measure whether a teen is texting and driving so the tech is missing a key feature.

David Neave, Director of General Insurance at The Co-operative Insurance, said:

“The new ‘pay how you drive’ product will help make the UK’s roads safer by giving drivers a genuine insight into their driving behaviours…For the first time in UK Insurance history young drivers will be rewarded for safer driving and their driving assessed every 90 days based on the four driving behaviours. If responsible driving behaviours are demonstrated they will receive a Safer Driving Discount…However, if a policyholder consistently drives badly, for example repeatedly breaking speed limits or taking corners too sharply, then their insurance premium could increase by 15% of the initial policy price.”

The Smartbox allows customers to log into an online ‘Driving Dashboard’ to see how their driving has been rated against the four driving behaviours. It also gives advice on what they can do to improve. Each behaviour is illustrated by a speed dial and drivers will be rated on a green (good driving), amber (generally good but showing some bad behaviours) and red (bad driving).

Neave: “The Co-operative Insurance is committed to young drivers and improving the safety of the UK’s roads. We believe that by giving young drivers the opportunity to log into their individual Driving Dashboard to see how their driving is rated and to access safe driving tips will act as an educative tool and a deterrent against driving badly, which can only be a positive for road users and pedestrians across the UK.” [And cyclists].

The fitting of ‘good driving’ technology is welcome news. It would be great for similar tech to be fitted in all cars but at a bare minimum it should be fitted in every car where the motorist has committed any sort of driving offence. There’s no need to fret about curtailment of ‘freedom’ because if motorists didn’t speed, didn’t drive aggressively and didn’t do all the things they now hardly ever get chastised for, they wouldn’t trigger the Smartbox.