Tag Archives: cycling

Operation safeway? On your bike, Met Police.


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.


Multi-tasking, phones & phenomenology


I never expected to see four fixations of mine (multi-tasking, the dangers of driving while phoning, phenomenology, and dance) come together in a single scholarly article, but today’s the day.

The latest issue of Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences is devoted to dance and cognitive science (see here), and one of the articles, by Robert Rosenberger, “Embodied technology and the dangers of using the phone while driving” is an attempt to unravel from a phenomenological perspective just what it is that is distracting about mobile phone use while driving, particularly since it seems that a lot of the evidence suggests that hands-free phones causes a similar drop in driving performance.

It links very nicely with the book I’m reading The Audible Past, where the author Jonathan Sterne talks about the concept of a private aural space that is created by audio technology.  I see a connection between this and what Rosenberger calls  ‘field composition’ – the way that a user’s field of awareness becomes ‘composed’ by a mediating technology (such as a phone, or a car). What Rosenberger is saying is that a phone and phoning creates a particular field of awareness that has a different phenomenological character to that of a car and driving.  Although that sounds intuitively correct, the distinction between this and a thin account of ‘distraction’ or ‘multitasking’ or ‘cognitive load’ is important if we are to find out what it is that is distracting, and whether a hands-free device is going to make any difference.

I think if Rosenberger lived in Wandsworth, he’d see a whole other level of distraction, where people on the school run use ‘hands-free’, but look down at the phone (i.e. not at the road) while they’re talking, but that’s another subject.

Yet another reason not to multi-task


Readers of this blog will know that I have a real thing about mult-tasking, so I’m delighted to read this article on cell-phone accidents in the New Scientist, though not so happy about one of the recommendations. Road signage should be improved so the obstacles to phone users are more obvious ? How about advising phone users to get off their phone if they’re crossing the road?!

The questionnaire was posted to 15,000 Finns, and got just over 6,000 responses.  How effective is a self-reporting questionnaire on a topic like this?  You have to wonder how many people, Finnish or otherwise, are going to admit that they were texting while driving, or that they walked straight into the path of an oncoming cyclist because they forgot to look out for traffice while they were on the phone.

Cyclists have to live with the knowledge that drivers do things as idiotic as coming out of a junction while texting or dialling and looking down at the phone. It’s the fact that they were looking at their phone that means they didn’t realise how close they were to killing someone, so that’s already a whole group of people who the research won’t capture.  Likewise, if pedestrians had any idea what it would feel like if a cyclist + bike crashed into them,   they might consider that they had had a ‘near miss’ in research terms.  Cyclists know that a pedestrian with a phone is only a half functioning humanoid, and therefore has to be treated as if they are an accident already happening.   It would be instructive  to conduct a survey of cyclists on one day in London to ask how many near misses they had with someone lost in telephone-space.



Glad to see the new Roadhug campaign to get people to be nice to vulnerable road users by thinking of them as people you know, rather than just anonymous obstacles in your way.

The people who present the most danger to me on my cycle journey to work are Wandsworth mothers on the school run, and by far the worst are those with ‘Baby on Board’ in the back window.  The irony is that their oversized tanks which protect the passengers from everything from bulls to car crashes are also the perfect killing machine.  When they cut me up, pull out of turnings or open their roadside doors without looking, or leap over speed bumps at 30 mph because they can, I come close to pulling up beside them and shouting through the window ‘with drivers like you on the road, that’ll be your child one day”.  Now at least someone else has said it in a much kinder way.


Cyclists: beware multitaskers


The driver who caused the death of one cyclist and injured another while she was distracted for – listen carefully – two seconds while throwing a spider out of a car window has been sentenced (full story from BBC here).  I keep banging on about multi-tasking, but here’s proof that you can’t do two things at once, and that there are occasions when mutli-tasking ceases to be a cute think-piece for a magazine article and becomes an insidious lie.

Insects in cars are an unpredictable hazard, but mobile phones, music, make-up and iPods aren’t, and the decision to use them while you’re driving is predicated on belief in ‘multi-tasking’ for which there is seemingly no evidence.  “Continuous partial attention,” the term coined by Linda Stone for what computer users do, might be a better way of looking at it.

And is music really distracting?   Yes, according to a BBC news item from 2004 reports (link via Music and Mind in Everyday Life, by Eric Clarke, Nicola Dibben & Stephanie Pitts).

Penguin/Clarkson ad update


For those interested in how things are progressing with my complaint about the Penguin advertisement for Jeremy I-will-run-you-down-for-fun Clarkson’s new book (see previous post So You Think That’s Funny, Mr Clarkson), here are the responses so far:

  • Penguin: Confirmed receipt of complaint, no response yet
  • Boris Johnson: Response (yesterday) by liaison officer, advising me to take the complaint on to TfL directly.
  • Advertising Standards Authority: acknowledgement, no response yet

So top marks to my local MP Sadiq Khan, and Shadow Secretary of State for Transport who, even though it’s not actually in his remit, is the first and only person to do anything tangible so far, in that he has written to both the Mayor & the ASA on my

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behalf, enclosing my email, and sent me copies of those letters, by post.

By contrast, the most disappointing response by far was from the Mayor’s office, because it came with a whole load of blurb about how the Mayor has ‘made the issue of cycling safety one of his top priorities.’ Yes, I know, and I actually began my complaint with a note of congratulation on the cycle lanes etc. How could they miss the point that I made in my complaint that this having Penguin’s ad downstairs on the underground is at odds with the Mayor’s own laudable efforts to make the roads better for cyclists?  I was also hoping for some kind of consideration of the moral/ethical issues in general, but never mind.

Here’s a selection of incidents from my very average week on the road. Believe me, we don’t need dislike added to this:

  • A police car nearly turning across my path assuming I’d stop because they thought I could hear the imaginary siren that they hadn’t turned on.
  • People (many, many of them)  looking into their laps as they text/chatting on mobile/changing hands for the phone as they turn a corner
  • A bus overtaking near a traffic island, so that they leave enough room as the front of the bus passes you, but you nearly get swamped by the back end as they swerve in to accommodate the traffic island
  • People in side roads accelerating towards you just so you know that you’ve got to wait for them
  • Buses pulling out without a signal
  • People – and don’t ask me why this is the new disease – looking left as they turn left, instead of seeing what might be coming towards them from the right.
  • Taxi drivers using the cycle lane as extra headroom  to get ahead of people waiting to turn right at junctions – without looking to see whether there’s anyone actually in it.

Oh and the latest annoyance – drivers behind you who decide they’re going to jump the red light, after you’ve already decided that you’ll stop for the amber.

So you think that’s funny, Mr Clarkson?


Middle class thuggery in print, an advert for Clarkson’s latest drivel

I guess it’s only cyclists that understand just how idiotic and dangerous most drivers are. The reason I’m not dead yet after years of cycling in London is only because I assume that everyone in a car is applying make-up, looking the other way when they turn into a main road, texting, phoning, getting something off the back seat, drunk or drugged, racing to get their kids to school, or racing to get to work after the school run. That’s just the normal ones.

But then there’s a class of driver who actually hate cyclists. They don’t think they deserve to have space on the road. Rather like the person who  said travelling by bus was a sign of failure, cyclist-haters are usually those who are inexplicably proud of owning an expensive car, as if that changed anything about them as a person. They beep at you, overtake you with no room to spare, and act like bullies. They endanger you for no other reason than they don’t think you should be there in the first place.

Cyclist haters are largely made, cultivated by the media. You can almost tell when some drive-time radio talkshow host is having a go at cyclists, because you seem to meet more unforgiving, reckless and aggressive drivers on your way to work. I wish I had complained about the presenter I heard inciting hatred of cyclists. If cyclists were an ethnic group, he would have been jailed.

On that occasion, I didn’t do anything about it. But this advert for Clarkson’s latest book infuriates me. There is absolutely nothing funny about developing a dislike of any group of people, particularly when this dislike might lead them to be treated even more recklessly than they are now. I am going to complain to Penguin about this advert, and if you’re a cyclist, I urge you to do the same.  It’s only because Clarkson is middle class that he gets away with it – listen to what he says as if he had an Estuary accent, and he’s just another thug.

Update: I’ve just complained to Penguin, Boris Johnson & the Advertising Standards Authority about it. I mentioned to Boris that it’s a bit odd that TfL should be advertising a dislike of cyclists below the ground, while the mayor is trying to develop cycle routes above it.

Update on May 21st 2013: My local MP Sadiq Khan was the only person who took my complaint as seriously as I did back in 2010 and referred it immediately to the Mayor of London. Responses from the others could be summarized as ‘lighten up, it was only a joke’. Now a driver has admitted on Twitter to knocking over a cyclist, adding #bloodycyclists as a hashtag. Not so funny now, eh?