02 December 2013

Better together? Part 1

Cyclists and pedestrians have much in common, but have been pushed apart - quite literally.  It will take a major shift in how they both campaign for them to be able to make common cause.

Let me explain - it's not just that cyclists and pedestrians have been pushed apart physically, although that's part of it.  Pedestrians have gone from being the norm and having the run of the roads, to segregated onto pavements, forced to cross only when the green man deigns to stop traffic for them.  Railings prevent them crossing where they might want to (desire lines), and force them to conform so that they don't obstruct the all powerful 'traffic flow'.  Perversely, cyclists have been pushed in the opposite direction - made to play in traffic.  

So not only do cyclists and pedestrians have profoundly different experiences of using our public roads.

Pedestrians are expected to push buttons and wait patiently for cars to stop for them.  At zebra crossings they wave and nod to 'thank' cars for stopping for them.  They campaign for zebra crossings to be removed. They hesitantly look around at street corners before gingerly venturing out across the road, ignorant of rule 170.  They wait patiently at red men, even when the road is clear.   They're taught 'road safety' at age 3, and never progress beyond behaviour suitable for infants.  And, unsurprisingly, their campaigns reflect this -- 'please sir, may we have some more' pretty much sums up the recent - highly successful - 3 second campaign.  This is no militant demand for rights, but a polite request for people to be nicer to the elderly, infirm and infants. 

Cyclists on the other hand, were pushed more and more into 'training' on how to use the road, with the implication that it is something that needs to be 'learned' and may only be for 'experts' (witness the 'solution' to Edinburgh's tram tracks -- instructions on how to 'use' the intersections).  

But, cyclists have gotten sick of 'vehicular cycling' and being treated like 'moving speed bumps' to slow down the traffic (rather than expecting speed limits to be enforced), and are getting angry.  You hear a lot about the 'cyclists lobby', but never the pedestrian's lobby.   People don't identify themselves as pedestrians.   

But, a lot of cycle lobbyists are convinced that we need to stop people thinking 'cyclists' and move towards thinking about 'people on bikes'.  Their thinking is that only by moving from being an 'out-group' will cycling be treated as mainstream and fully integrated into transport funding and planning.  There's a definite logic about that, but the pedestrian experience suggests that it is this identification that has been so successful at mobilizing campaigns. 

Not sure what the answer is.  At a local level, I'm hoping to build some bridges between cyclists and pedestrians, but there are a lot of challenges -- not just that we have some differing interests (both perceived and real), but also very different cultures and campaigning styles. 

(Part 2/2 will look at the different organisational structures representing pedestrians and cyclists, which reveal a further challenge). 


Paul Milne said...

Difficult work Sara, but it needs to be done. As components of "active travel" pedestrians and cyclists SHOULD be natural allies, but there is still a lot of ill will from walkers towards cyclists.

Now that cyclists have seen the overwhelming invasion of motor vehicles into their erstwhile domain, there now needs more than ever to be dedicated cycling space to bring peace back to the roads.

As much as I hate to say it, it might be the "common enemy" that brings us together...

Sara Dorman said...

Paul, I would amend this only to say "but there is still a lot of ill will from walkers towards cyclists AND inconsideration from cyclists towards pedestrians".

Of course, there are also many who are both cyclists and pedestrians, and others who are friendly to both.