Thursday, July 26, 2018

Motorist vs cyclist. London's problems!

Yesterday on Twitter reminded me of what I consider to be the biggest issue with the debate on cycling on Londons roads at present. And that is the extremes of pro and anti behaviour.

Here in London, with a growing population, more congested roads are becoming the norm, so finding alternative methods of transport is a big thing. TfL ( Transport for London) are keen to encourage, walking, public transport and of course cycling.  Much emphasis is put on the latter in social media, and press releases, as well as city wide advertising and "initiatives". I say it with quotes, as while some initiatives such as cycle rental are a resounding success, the investment, and development of the infrastructure is seriously lacking.

Cycle Superhighways were to be the answer, large dedicated cycle paths, cutting through the suburbs into the heart of our great city. Carrying large volumes of cyclists quickly and safely into their places of work. Lightening the loads on the roads and public transport system. A master plan showed where they would run, and we were shown that cycling would indeed be the future of transport for many in London.

Sadly, these master plans were never to be realised, for a variety of reasons, from poor planning, to lack of cooperation from local boroughs. Either way, the plan has currently fallen a little short of the goal.
There are some interesting stories about this situation here.

As the years creep by, both TfL and individual local boroughs have made plans to improve cycling in their jurisdictions, some a resounding success, others either shelved or executed so badly that the provided infrastructure fails to make good on its promises, and becomes unusable.

While the battle with the authorities rumbles on, people lobbying and begging for areas to be reconsidered and made safer (myself included with a successful discussion with my local MP recently), a bigger battle rages on. On the internet!!

We all have an opinion on things, some we are more passionate about than others, however a line needs to be drawn. Once you pass that line, your voice gets louder, but it has less effect. No one listens to a screaming lunatic, at best we allow someone with a raised voice a short time to gain our interest before we decide to ignore them, or listen on.

The people who discuss such matters on the internet, on platforms such as Twitter, usually break down into two groups. Pro and Anti. As with many other subjects in society which attract such passion and sometimes rage, the members of those two groups usually have the loudest voice, and take up the majority of the space on the platform. Sadly this smothers the voice of reason and rational discussion. Opinions which differ from theirs are not welcome, and every effort will be made to shut you down. Once this is done, some sort of victory dance is done, and your spoils are to be paraded on social media. Well done you, you stopped someone with an opinion from engaging any further in a discussion.

When it comes to cycling, there are many people on the internet who wish to make it clear than cyclists have NO place on the public road. Usually stating that road tax (doesn't exist) and insurance are lacking, therefore the cyclist has no place on the public road.
The counter argument for this is cyclists are "road users" like anyone else, and deserve respect, and a bit of space to go about their journey. Which I as a regular commuter, with 4,000 miles of cycling, mostly in London,  this year under my belt, completely agree with.
However that is where I part ways with the Pro group.

The Pro group will go further, making sure anyone who dares to challenge the behaviour of a cyclist is dragged out in front of the crowd and belittled until such a time they admit defeat (or block the other users).
Only yesterday, which commenting on a very scary video in which an HGV driver almost turned straight into a cyclist, I was pulled up in front of the Courts of Twitter to face charges of "victim blaming". This is where you for some reason choose to apportion blame to the victim, rather than accepting and agreeing that the perpetrator was indeed the one to blame.  Of course, this is all relative.
If you were to agree the HGV driver were to blame, however point out that the cyclist neither seemed aware of the lorrys presence, or reacted to it, in my books you would be making an observation, rather than "victim blaming". However it would seem that some would disagree with this, and demand that at no point should comment be made about the cyclist, who would have been the victim here.

Now to be clear, blame has already been assigned to the driver at this point, the follow up comment is merely an observation. However to the Pro, this is not acceptable behaviour. All comments prior to mentioning the cyclist will be ignored, and constant ridicule will begin. Name calling, questions of competency, and general comments on your existence will begin.
Should you attempt to engage in a rational conversation at this point, your efforts with be thwarted by what I assume are attempts of further belittling, until you get fed up and stop replying.

I genuinely appreciate passionate conversation and discussion, I am happy to learn from others, and be educated. However, I draw the line in engaging with utter morons who have nothing better to do than troll the internet looking for fights. Take the moral high ground (which they have at no point gained through rational discussion) and come across with a holier than thou attitude.

As a cyclist in London, as well as someone who driver a vehicle in London at times, I believe I am in a position to discuss from both sides of the table. I am able to see situations from both perspectives. I can honestly say my manner of both riding and driving in London has changed, as my understanding of how events unfold has grown. I wonder if others engaging in these discussions share the same standpoint?

Of course, the arguments are not limited to one side. There are of course the Anti cyclists out there, who feel that their journeys in their motorised metal boxes should in no way be impeded by someone on a pushbike. Be it dressed in a suit of lycra. Annoyed that they are unable to join the tail end of stationary traffic in record time after pulling away from the latest red light, they will jostle for position at the stop line, and be off (and stopped again) in the blink of an eye. Should a cyclist get in their way, all hell will break loose, with abuse being splattered all over the place, as well as engine revving, and horn sounding. The result, sometimes a shaken cyclist, sometimes a confrontation, but in general, just a shrug, and getting on with life.

When these sorts arrive on social media, they will vehemently argue their case, they pay road tax, insurance and all sorts of other taxes, so are the priority road users. How dare some hippy on a push bike who makes no contributions to the roads get in their way. Get off the roads, ride on the pavement, even get a car, are some of the regular arguments from Anti cyclists. What is quite amusing in all this is the percentage of Anti cyclists who are "professional drivers". Be it black cab, bus, or lorry, the percentage seems very high. I had a run in with a bus driver the other week who felt I was taking up too much of the left lane (bus lane) as he passed me in the right lane to turn right. Not even impeding him in any way, yet he felt the need to sound his horn and flip the birdie. Our subsequent conversation revealed he felt I was taking up too much space and should have moved closer to the kerb. A very common argument indeed.

For any motorist who isn't aware. The kerb and gutter are the one place no cyclist wants to find themselves. Although some other cyclists who we are forced to share the road with, would ironically disagree, and demand you move over to allow them room to pass you. Really is a dog eat dog world out there, and I will come back to this point in a bit.
However, when passing a cyclist, the guidance is a minimum of 1 -1.5 metres. This is to allow the cyclist room to move from side to side from their path a little, to avoid any potholes, raised iron work, or other obstructions. You know, the exact same things YOU as a motorist swerve to avoid too. Yet somehow don't understand why someone with 1" of contact with the road would want to avoid it? Strange!

So, there we have it, the two sides to the argument on social media.

What do we take away from this? Well it is simple. The loudest voices make the most noise. Noise, not sense. While drowning out the calmer quieter voices of reason. The people willing to try and engage properly to find some resolution to the matter, and are willing to commit to long term discussion and conversation with the powers that be. Not the shouty little people who just want to make every situation a cause for their argument, while refusing to even consider other peoples opinions.

There are some verbal campaigners out there who I really respect. Rational, balanced, and in the right frame of mind. People who appreciate it is a shared space which required mutual respect. Not demanding that  their rights are taken seriously, and all their demands are heard and fulfilled .
Maybe the shared video clips of genuine close passes and dangerous behaviour continue to be shared, and those responsible held to account.
However, can we please cut with the streams of "nothing" which is somehow turned into an incident. With drivers being ridiculed for doing nothing wrong.

So, going back to cyclists, and the dog eat dog world. Sometimes, cyclists are their own worst enemies. Not only online with the pro cyclists becoming embroiled with online battles, and being seen as the voice of the majority of cyclists, tarring us all with the same irrational and aggressive brush, but also on the roads.
Travel at rush hour and you will find yourself surrounded by different groups. The racer, must get there first, will bully you out of the way, and almost treat you as a motorist might. You have NO right to get in their way on your pushbike. The blinkered commuter. In their own little world of over ear headphone induced euphoria, oblivious to anything else around them. Weaving about, bumping into people, sawing through red lights and crossings. The general cyclist, trying to get from A to B, safely, calmly, and without any fuss. It's not a race, just a journey, and one they wish to complete with as little engagement with others as possible.

There are many kinds of cyclist out there, but a large percentage of dangerous or aggressive interactions, as well as some quite unsanitary experiences, I have had on the roads, as a cyclist, have been with other cyclists.

My message after all that is a very simple one. Can people please just pay a little more attention to the consequences of THEIR actions, and spend a little less time focusing on what everyone else is doing wrong. If you want to use your voice wisely, instead of spending hours of your day shouting at complete strangers on the internet, find a way to engage and play a part in the evolution of travel. Instead of bombarding officials with letter after letter, video after video about trivial events, most of which do not even warrant said officials time, take the time to be clear, concise, and most of all measured in your communication.
Most importantly, be aware of your surroundings, think ahead, and be ready to react. Being "in the right" will not save you from catastrophic injuries, or indeed causing them to others. It's not about right of way, it is not about rights at all, it is simply about arriving alive, and avoiding any incidents along the way, REGARDLESS of blame.

Never mind "victim blaming", just stop trying to blame, point the finger, and belittle people, and focus on improving things for the future.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Where's my head at!

Seems my mind is wandering a bit recently, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to motivate myself to do certain things. Not quite sure why that is, but I can tell you it is annoying the hell out of me.

Prime example, this morning. Lovely morning, great forecast, fantastic weather for an early rise ride... But no! For some reason the brain wasn't having it, so that idea was quickly written off. Substituting the opportunity of riding out in the glorious weather, in fresh flowing air, with riding on Zwift on your trainer is a weak choice, but it is the one I went with.

I seem to worry about being too far from home, mechanical breakdown, or coming off. Not things which used to cross my mind so much. Maybe it is experience weighing down on me, maybe just my mind finding excuses I will listen to, to stop me over doing it. 130 mile week again this week, almost 4,000 miles for the year, and probably not enough rest. If I am left to my own devices, I will happily over do it. So maybe this is a good thing?

Either way, I know I am missing out. So if it is my mind trying to stop me over doing it, I need to reel it in elsewhere, to allow myself the chance to make the most of the good weather.

I have Ride London 46 in a couple of weeks time, and should complete my annual mileage goal around the same time. Hopefully after that I will get this demon off my back, stop obsessing quite so much, and relax more with the weekday riding, and have a bit more freedom for the weekends. I also need to start making an effort to get to new places to ride.

Whatever the reason, it is pissing me off now. Not to say I am not trying hard enough, or achieving enough. Trainer miles, road miles, commuter miles, they all take energy, commitment and focus, regardless of what your beliefs are about each discipline. They burn calories and take a toll on you physically. That is one of the reasons I cycle, so goal achieved.

For me, there is an element of willy waving involved, a huge chunk of physical health, saves money, and the big one, mental health.

Speaking of which, it is really disappointing that my employer Fedex, does not participate in a cycle to work scheme. Given that it is a logistics company, with green commitments, a large fleet and employee base, and a vested interest in mental health (apparently), yet is caught up in the fine print of the agreements, so won't get involved.

But back to the mental health bit. For me it has been a god send, however like anything, there IS such a thing as too much of a god thing. For me, goals are a strength, a vice, and a weakness.  Achieving them is like candy for the brain, obsessing over them, and the undying drive to achieve them is bad, VERY bad!

As I stand at the moment, I am on 3,876 for the year, so my immediate mindset is , "I must do 124 miles next week". Not, it would be nice to, but I MUST!! Achievable? Very much so, not a tough ask at all. Sensible to do yet another 100+ week, maybe less so.
Immediately after that is 4,250, my mileage goal for  this year. 16 days of the year left, 124+250, would be nice to finish my annual goal before the end of the month.
Why you ask, I have no idea, it is all just part of this obsession with mini goals, and setting close to unrealistic targets.
We are on Day 196 of the year, there are 166 days left in the year, but for some reason, my mind, my ego, my destructive obsession almost demands it is done in one tenth of that time. Because it would be "good" to.... Where is the logic in that?

This isn't the first time I have called myself out on this bullshit, and probably won't be the last. Issue I have is finding the balance between realistic, and achievable goals, and pushing too hard to somehow please others in my mind. Looking back over the last month, I have done much better with rest days, easier weeks etc, so I need to keep up that trend. While at the same time, getting my head out of my arse, and focusing on the positives, and finding the time to enjoy myself , while at the same time achieving sensible goals.

Add to this all, the running training too, and it is becoming a delicate balance right now.
I have put a stop to my cycling training for the time being, as it was becoming a little too much for my body. My priority right now, when thinking straight is to get up to my 10km run goals, then work from there. Trying not to start setting too many running goals, as it will just start the whole destructive mindset all over again. But I know the 10km non stop runs are within reach now. Add to this, I have been accepted for a half marathon for next year, I know I need to work on extended range for running. Pace is key!

For both running an riding, I have managed to realise now that pace is everything. Not so much speed, speed, speed, but more cadence, HR, and pace relative to those. Push too hard, endurance is gone. It's not a race, it's a journey, as they say.

So, long may the journey continue.

Thanks for reading :)