In a break from my usual wittering about music and stuff, here’s some advice to the Metropolitan Police, after watching them loiter around the junction of Upper Tooting Road and Garratt Lane this morning.
1. If you want to catch bad drivers, don’t stand at junctions in hi-viz jackets
My local pound store could tell you this. They have big cardboard cut-outs of policemen in the window, and around the store. The idea is that if you see a policeman, you’ll think twice about nicking stuff. It won’t stop you being a thief, it’ll just put you off the idea for as long as that image is in front of you.
If you put police officers at junctions in hi-viz jackets, and advertise in advance that you’re going to be doing so, anyone who was thinking about driving in the bus lane, jumping a red light, or texting while driving, isn’t going to do it, because you’re there. My guess is the number of offenders you’ll catch will be about 10% of what you’d gain by following my next piece of advice:
2. If you want to catch people driving/cycling badly, get on your bike yourself.
You should try it, you really should. Here’s the science. From a cycle lane you’ll see – as I do every day – all kinds of illegal things going on in cars. You’ll smell the marijuana from the open windows of vans (it’s usually vans). You’ll see drivers texting, with their head down, but still with their foot on the gas and moving forward. You’ll see drivers with in-ear headphones. They might be listening to the radio, they might be on the phone, but either way, they’re in another world. You might even see, as I did the other day, a driver with a laptop open on her knee, looking down at it – map reading, perhaps, or answering an important email? – while driving up Upper Tooting Road. I noticed this because the driver swerved into the cycle lane without raising her eyes from the laptop, on hearing an ambulance siren start up behind behind her. Yes, that’s very common. Particularly when other cars want to turn right, and drivers use the cycle lane as a spare bit of road to overtake on the left with, or when a vehicle is too wide to fit between a traffic island and the outer edge of a cycle lane. Should have thought of that one, Boris.
Yes, you’ll see all of this and more, and the great thing is, they won’t see you first, because you’re behind them. There’ll be no chance of them modifying their behaviour so you can’t catch them. I promise you, if you have performance related pay, get on a bike and get cycling, because you could be nicking people for texting while driving at least three times in every 20 minutes, if my regular journeys are anything to go by.
And even better, because the cycle lanes usually move quicker than the traffic, you’ll be able to cycle up and nick them before they can get away. That’s what’s so brilliant about cycling in London, except that as cyclists, we don’t have the power, like you do, to do anything about it. And yes, you’ll catch cyclists too, and you’ll be able to stop them doing really stupid things (which some of them do, I admit).
It would be better for you, too. You’d get some exercise, rather than just standing around the place, waiting for crimes to happen that you’re already averting by standing there. Yes, there’s some value in preventing them, but in a few days, once this particular media project is over, you’ll be gone, and frankly, for prevention, maybe a cut-out policeman would be enough – it seems to work at the pound store.
3. Look at culture
It takes public discourse to get people hating cyclists. When I was learning to drive nearly 40 years ago, my driving instructor told me to give cyclists a wide berth, because they were prone to wobble and swerve (and this was before London’s pothole-ridden streets made cycling such a nightmare). It was gentle, considerate, and forgiving, and good driving instruction. It’s much more common now for cars to overtake you impatiently, with only inches to spare, as if it would only be your fault if you happened to swerve at the wrong moment.
No-one wakes up in the morning hating cyclists genetically, it happens through the slow drip of daily insult, and the result is erratic, unreasonable and aggressive behaviour from motorists who are otherwise not natural born killers. There are two London radio presenters in particular who seem to despise cyclists, and encourage drivers to mouth off about them as a breed.
Writing is dangerous. “Like many people”, wrote Rod Liddle in the Spectator recently, I am worried that too few cyclists are being killed on our roads each year.” I complained once about Jeremy Clarkson, and got nowhere, except an instant and considered reply from the excellent Sadiq Khan, who forwarded my complaint to Boris Johnson. In brief, we should learn to lighten up, apparently, and take this on the chin, and laugh at it because it’s just humorous banter. Matthew Parris played the ‘it was meant humorously’ card when he proposed a festive custom of stringing piano wire across country roads to decapitate cyclists. Would he accept such an excuse from someone who suggested decapitating gay people because they found them annoying? My problem with this ‘it was only a joke’ stuff is that it cultivates prejudice and hatred against a group of people, regardless of individual identities, or their right to existence. In other contexts, this is illegal, and it is recognised as inciting hatred – yet not even you seem to care about this when it comes to cyclists.