01 August 2013

S'not nice

I don't have any kittens, so here's a scenery picture instead.
I went off and communed with nature for a few days before writing this post, hoping that my anger and frustration would abate enough for me to write coherently.  Not sure it worked. (Hence the juvenile title)

The Scottish government launched a new 'cycling safety' programme on Monday. On Sunday, Pedal on Parliament had put out a statement. We knew enough about the campaign to know that we weren't keen on it, but even we didn't expect just how silly it all would be.

I could show you the picture of the Transport Minister looking particularly gormless.  Or the wordpress blog that they didn't blow all our money on (cause it's free, and not very well done despite that).  But my real favourite is the first tweet:  @nicewaycode Let's all get along.

My husband honestly thought it was a tweet from the parody account, not the real one.

But no, this was the first word from the campaign.  I've written before about why I don't think that educational campaigns are what we need.  And about why campaigns that focus on individual behaviour are a way of the government sloughing off responsibility onto 'society', rather than grappling with the underlying environment.  But really, if they're going to take 'cycling money' and throw it at 'all road users' the best they can do is tell us to be 'nice' to each other? This would be ridiculous at the best of times, but coming after a series of cyclist deaths on Scotland's roads (a toll which is rising each year, not dropping, despite the Minister's repeated claims), it is downright insulting.  

Where educational campaigns have worked - eg seatbelts, or second-hand smoke, or drunk-driving - they've successfully changed norms to the point that smoking in front of your kids became a no-no, and the shame of being caught drunk-driving became unthinkable for professionals.  But these campaigns didn't just target attitudes by asking people to be 'nicer'.  They hit people on the head with scientific facts and gory pictures of diseased lungs.  They emphasized that the kid hit by the drunk-driver could have been your kid. That the individual constraint of wearing a seatbelt was worth it for your health and the costs to society.

But where's the hard hitting ad saying 'is 5 seconds of your time worth a close overtake that might take Jimmy's dad away from him'? or leave Anna paralyzed and unable to work?  Why aren't they giving stats about red-light jumping and other infractions?  Where's the commitment from the Police to take complaints made by cyclists seriously?  And I don't mean a one week 'enforcement exercise' that gives warnings, or has to issue an equal number of tickets to cyclists as to drivers.  I mean a serious commitment to enforce regulations - the Highway Code, not the nicewaycode - about how to drive around vulnerable road users?

We don't need a 'nicewaycode'. We need enforcement of the existing rules and regulations, coupled with public information campaigns that bring facts to the foreground, not cheesy grins, and a commitment from the government to invest in making roads safer, not just wishing that they become so through individuals regulating their own behaviour.

We do need to change norms about how cyclists, drivers and pedestrians interact, but asking us to 'get along' and 'play nice' isn't going to get more people on bikes, or make those of us who already are feel any safer.

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