Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Riding pavement and ad hominem arguments

I’m new to cycling activism and am taken aback by the venom of the attacks on cycling. Actually a lot of the debate about all aspects of cycle provision seems to be more ideological than economic.

I posted a comment on the Evening Standard story about Cross Rail noting the disparity between the £16 billion to be spent on that and the £3.5 million awarded for the Sustrans schemes. The first riposte from George McKenzie of Leicester said,

“Cyclist might start to get a better deal if they were less arrogant, obeyed traffic signals, and kept off the pavement. And why are they always in a hurry? Two days ago I saw a young girl carrying a coffee hit by a stupid cyclist who, to cut by a red light, mounted the pavement, rounded the corner and SPLAT!. Luckily she was uninjured but her clothes were a mess. Why do it?”

The latest issue of The Spectator magazine has a Festive Notebook by Joan Collins in which she writes,

“A friend of mine was walking to pick up her grandson when a punk on a bike smashed her to the ground on Kensington High Street. He didn’t even stop. Her leg was broken.”

In George’s case it is not clear what his anecdote has to do with the cost effectiveness of Cross Rail versus more cycle routes, or whether he is talking about Leicester or London. Nor do I understand what he means by mounting the pavement to cut a red light. In Joan’s case I simply don’t believe her story – at least I can’t find any online reference to what would undoubtedly have been a newsworthy incident.

I cycle in London every day and very rarely see cyclists on the pavement. When you do there are normally extenuating circumstances such as road works that have created additional dangerous choke points. Sometimes beginner cyclists take to the pavement in particularly dangerous areas but they are not a danger to pedestrians.

So why do anti-cyclists resort to these ad hominem arguments? (Ad hominem meaning an argument based on emotions and not reason or logic, or attacking an opponent’s motives or character). Is it because they know that the economic case for more cycling provision is so strong? Or is it that motorists get infuriated by cyclists overtaking them?

Is there any data? There are some 480,000 cyclists riding in central London every day. If any do ride on the pavements it must be the tiniest of percentages, and certainly much lower than the percentage of drivers speeding, jumping lights, ignoring advanced boxes or using their mobiles. Let’s keep things in perspective.

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