The Rise of The Idiots

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The idiots are self-regarding Lycra renegades, oblivious to the paradox of their uniform retro-cool originality. They sculpt their facial hair to casual perfection. They wear their shorts tight round their balls. They babble into handheld dictaphones about that cool video of the bloke without facial hair going under a bus. Their cool friend made it. He’s an idiot, too. Welcome to the age of bigotry. Hail The Rise of The Idiots.

Bradley Wiggins popped up in the news this morning muttering something about the way in which people ride bicycles, which was played out in the context of “London’s cycling revolution”—a nod to the current construction of dedicated cycling infrastructure.

Welcome to the age of bigotry. Hail The Rise of The Idiots

“This might be the beginnings of an Amsterdam or Copenhagen but everyone abiding by the rules and co-existing is key. New cycle lanes are great but you always get cyclists who give a bad name to the rest; people who jump the kerbs, jump red lights and ride around with iPods so you can’t hear the rest of the traffic. You would not do that in a car so why would you on a bike? You do not have a right to complain how you’re being treated on the road unless you apply the rules yourself.”

Now, I know there will be people reading this who think I’m about to say that it’s absolutely fine to disregard the law when you’re on a bicycle, but I’m not. (And I never have, though there are rare cases which illustrate that—in certain, very specific situations—thoughtfully disobeying a law can significantly reduce the risk of a tragic collision.)

Furthermore, just so it’s clear that I’m not defending these actions at all, for the sake of argument I’m going to generalise all of the people who do these things as idiots. So: idiots jump the kerbs; idiots jump the lights; idiots listen to iPods. Got that? Good.

Idiots; idiots everywhere

Having established that idiots do these things, let’s take our eyes off bicycles for a bit. Starting with one of Wiggins’ complaints, every day I see people using in-ear headphones in cars. Indeed, every day we can all see people with their windows up and their music on, leaving them less able to hear their surroundings than someone wearing headphones outside a car. Often I’ll see a driver jump a red light (I only actually pass through one set of lights most days, so I don’t see much); indeed, around 1 in 7 drivers admit to regularly jumping red lights. Mounting the kerb? Mounting the kerb? Let me introduce you to one of my favourite YouTube videos.

Let’s see what else goes on. Nearly a third of drivers admit to using a handheld phone while driving. Nearly a quarter of drivers—and nearly half of young driversadmit to texting at the wheel. Nearly 1 in 5 surf the internet. Nearly 1 in 14 watch video. 83% admit to regularly ignoring the speed limit, 63% doing so in 30mph limits. Just under half admit to flouting road laws generally, with half of those doing so “deliberately, because they thought they could get away with it or did not agree with the laws”. Some, er… Well, some masturbate.

Wiggins’ glib statement that “you wouldn’t do that in a car” is—let’s not beat about the bush here—a heap of bullshit.

It’s the same heap of bullshit trotted out time and time again by anyone who sees the misconduct of people on two wheels but not the misconduct of those on four. It’s the same bullshit used by people to justify endangering others. There are several technical terms which describe this manner of thinking, and a choice few lay terms as well. We’ve been here before.

Wiggins follows this up with, “You do not have a right to complain how you’re being treated on the road unless you apply the rules yourself.” This is a particularly damaging comment, because it sits firmly and clearly within the context of his generalisation of “cyclists” as lawbreakers. “You”, in Wiggins’ statement, is a group. To him, no-one has the right to complain, because someone else broke a law. (To the shock of precisely no-one, Wiggins appears not to apply the same logic to drivers.)

Wiggins goes so far as to makes his ugly elitism clear, referring to “another cyclist that’s died”:

“They are termed under the phrase ‘cyclist’ but they’re not cyclists as such, they are not membership holders of British Cycling.”


The idiots are here to stay

Here’s the thing. Idiots exist. They’re all over the place, and always have been. Even sensible people do dumb things from time to time, or things which you think are dumb, and for the purposes of this argument, that makes them idiots. Even people trying to do something sensible but making a basic error: idiots. You think they’re idiots, so they are.

But here’s another thing. We live in a world where idiots have to get around. Idiots have jobs, idiots go to school, idiots need to go shopping. You can’t just force idiots to stay in their houses, because there’d be virtually no-one left doing anything productive.

So, what tools do you give the idiots? You could make them walk, but walking is slow and for most people that’s not a realistic proposition. Public transport? Great, but it too has significant limitations, especially as soon as you step outside London.

A bicycle is quite a decent tool. It covers distance in reasonable time and should a collision occur it generally won’t result in someone else’s death.

Now, you don’t like people on bikes in the carriageway, because they’re idiots. And no-one wants them on the footway either, because they’re idiots and in this scenario they do have the potential to harm others. You can crash a bicycle into a car at significant speed and not harm its occupants; that’s not true of crashing into someone on foot.

So Wiggins’ comments, framed in the context of threatening the reasons for London’s nascent infrastructure, are not only damaging but completely perverse: The infrastructure that is being built in London is good for everyone, precisely because it’s good for idiots.

Once you have a coherent additional highway system where idiots can be encouraged out of vehicles that significantly harm others and can be kept away from people on foot, the increased diversity of the system as a whole means it becomes safer and more resilient.

If we all agree that idiots are harmful or even just an annoyance, then the bicycle is the very vehicle that idiots should be using, and dedicated cycleways are the very place they should be doing so. Wiggins, however, hands the media a perfect anti-cycling gambit in justifying resistance to cycling on the basis of this inevitability of idiocy: as a vignette of this, the Standard’s leading paragraph says,

Without reversing a rise in population, it is impossible to reverse The Rise of The Idiots

Sir Bradley Wiggins today called on London’s cyclists to obey the rules of the road and avoid jeopardising the capital’s two-wheeled revolution.

Without reversing a rise in population, it is impossible to reverse The Rise of The Idiots. The two are inextricably linked, because people are idiots: idiots have always been, and always will be. It is an intrinsic truth of human nature, one which neither the invention of the bicycle nor that of the motor car changed in the slightest.

The principle of Vision Zero is founded on this: it explicitly does not seek to achieve perfect user behaviour, because that is as realistic a dream as world peace and a free unicorn for everyone. It seeks to engineer solutions that reduce the harm that can arise from the inevitable realities of flawed behaviour. Indeed, good infrastructure begets good behaviour while bad infrastructure begets bad behaviour.

We must find engineering solutions that are resilient to idiocy, because we will always have to share our planet, our cities and our roads with idiots.

And, sadly, we will always have to read their comments in our newspapers.

Comments (8)

    I’m not going to take advice on how not to tarnish cycling’s image from someone who decides to liven up a fundraising dinner for a children’s charity with blowjob jokes.

    Great rider, awful role model.

    So does that mean I’m not a cyclist then as I’m not a member of British Cycling?

    The continuous, unrelenting push for fantastic infrastructure is bollocks. It won’t get cycling where it needs to go quickly and whilst we are waiting people will continue to die. As soon as you ask for infrastructure, you get fobbed off with shite and told to be grateful. Chasing down the local authorities to do things right is a massive and unrelenting task and frankly, people are both self righteous and lazy – they expect someone else to do it for them.

    Yes infrastructure is part of a long term solution, but it’s not the panacea. It’s copying the language of the car when another strategy is needed.

    Let’s consider this problem in terms of squirrels. Grey : invading, pervasive, vermin. Red : indigenous, loveable.

    At this point you have to accept a fact. Cars own the roads. It is no help being self righteous about your rights as a tax payer or a human being. Some time ago we let the cars win the right to own the roads and cycling was almost pushed to extinction. Almost. It became the fringe touring activity, not the everyday norm, not the rightful representative as our national sport, not the magic bullet to clean air and improved health. It became the preserve of cranks and outsiders.

    As anyone who bothers to look at the history of transport will quickly find, roads were not created for cars. Cars came along and appropriated them. Just like the grey squirrel, they are the aggressive, successful invader. You may hate them, you may even think some of them look quite cool, but at the end of the day, they are successful and they are now the home team.

    Cyclists are now basically the invading species and big chunks of the local geography have been set against us. The cars got in. The cars dug in. They will take some serious shifting.

    We can sit on our arses and wait for Government to build infrastructure but as the squirrel situation shows, that is a long term and uncertain option. Cycling infrastructure is a red squirrel reserve. Step outside it and greys will take you down. Is that the future we want for cycling? To be confined to a reserve, back to the status of freak that we really ought to be trying to escape from?

    Mountain biking is seriously at risk of this “well there are mounting biking parks, go ride there”.

    So, what strategy could be employed to push back the grey squirrels, to reclaim the streets as the rightful territory of cyclists once more? The only approach is to love the cyclist more than the car and to enshrine that in law. Same thing with natural squirrel zones. The red squirrel is loved and not actively encouraged, but allowed to live in preference to the grey squirrel which is systematically killed.

    A cull on drivers is not really a viable proposition. For a start, many (most adult?) cyclists are drivers, so a simple cull would take down cyclists as well as driver. No, a cull won’t work. Neutering, now that will work (and works in other species invasion scenarios). Apparently it’s inhumane to neuter people just because they drive but there is an equivalent; presumed liability.

    Stop groaning. For sure, presumed liability does not stop people dying in the short term, but then again nor does infrastructure. Infrastructure begins and it ends. When it ends, people die. Even when using infrastructure safety is not assured and as most infrastructure is just shite, it offers a paper thin charade of protection.

    Eventually – some will die before it happens – but eventually, presumed liability could change everything.

    I’ll stake my claim to the flag, I don’t want to ride on segregated cycle paths, I suspect Wiggins feels the same. I don’t want to be forced to inhabit a shitty green painted ghetto. I want my rightful space back and I want it now. Yes there will be a few limited places where we have to maintain a position of dominance for cars (I’m not quite ready to cycle on a motorway) but everywhere else, neuter the cars. Take away their self imposed right to be at the top of the pyramid and while you are at it, remove stupid laws about cycling on pavements and make cyclists responsible if they hit pedestrians.

    Let’s not have anyone say that cyclists will just ride off, and after all they don’t have ID etc. Yes, law breakers will break the law and try to get away. That applies to a worrying percentage of drivers as well. We can’t do a great deal about deliberate, habitual idiots. But we can do something about the people who think they are not idiots, but really are woefully moronic. That’s the target. The clueless majority, not the die-hard sociopaths.

    Presumed liability would cost nothing. Make the guilty pay for the costs of implementation and make them all pay to take or re-take a test. Yes, that includes cyclists. If you knock down someone on a path, off you go for a pedestrian awareness course. If you are a driver, back to learner status.

    It’s simple, universal and truthfully the only long term option for changing attitudes to cycling and walking. It could happen tomorrow, if only we stopped playing the cars game and stopped harping on about infrastructure.

    I’m sure Bez will point out where I am wrong and why I am an idiot – I probably am. But I don’t think building our way out of this problem is the real answer if only because it fixes the symptom not the root cause.

    “So does that mean I’m not a cyclist then as I’m not a member of British Cycling”
    Yes. In the same way that a driver without a racing licence isn’t a driver “as such”. What? People don’t apply the same qualification to statements about “drivers”?

    “I’m sure Bez will point out where I am wrong”

    Right you are, skipper 🙂

    Er dare I say it. Great cyclist that is Mr. Wiggo he is always opening his mouth and saying daft things. Best he be ignored most of the time. I get Bez though because non cyclists don’t know that. Which is a real shame.

    If I may offer a reply Bez…

    I agree that the model of Presumed Liability you discuss lacks teeth, being based on Civil recompense only and perhaps I am using the ill-defined term Presumed Liability as a common name for something based on the principles but with Criminal or at least Road Traffic Act “Presumed Guilty” implication (note I did specifically suggest rehabilitation requirements arising from such a law – not just civil action).

    I would also argue that in creating even the limit benefit of Civil liability, it forms a basis for revising the current liability assumptions of the majority of UK police forces where cyclists are required to provide an absurd level of proof in order to see drivers punished or rehabilitated.

    A presumed liability under the RTA introduces a possible halfway house. Without the onerous implications of a criminal conviction (something which has to be taken into account when framing laws) but with sufficient teeth to send a clear message to law enforcement and the public alike.

    Just because the specific version of presumed liability you reviewed wouldn’t quite deliver – don’t give up on what is essentially a good idea; ie “counter the physical lack of risk that drivers benefit from with a legal risk”.

    That’s the heart of the problem – risk differential. Drivers face no risk; legal or physical, from their poor actions. Until you solve that all the infrastructure in the world won’t help – because you still have to leave the fancy (or shite) infrastructure at some point – we are bikes not trains.

    If I may also “cross the streams” and suggest that your reading of the data in the chart in the Road Share article is a victim of confirmation bias. You don’t know what would have happened in the Netherlands if they did not have presumed liability, nor can you evaluate what would have happened if they had brought presumed liability in ahead of infrastructure or in parallel. I suppose if we could find related data from France or Spain we might be able to see that effect?

    It is quite possible that cycling deaths in the Netherlands were approaching plateau at c. 15 / million km (I haven’t done a proper fit, but the line would certainly be above the last data points of c. 11 / million km. Now call me crazy but maybe a reduction of c. 25% in deaths from a civil law isn’t much use, or maybe it is.

    What presumed liability says, clearly and unequivocally is “society will not accept the current norm” and that is an essential, nay, critical component in reversing the current trend. I don’t see how patchy infrastructure achieves the same.

    And yes, it is great to look at European countries and see their successes. However, it’s a bit like looking at European railways with jealous eyes. The UK struggles with greater urban density, different planning and land ownership rights and a host of other variables which makes infrastructure incredibly hard to achieve, so hard I feel that it requires something else to lead the way.

    As for Wiggins’ specific comments. His suggestion that only BC members are cyclists is, frankly, dog shite.

    “I agree that the model of Presumed Liability you discuss lacks teeth, being based on Civil recompense only and perhaps I am using the ill-defined term Presumed Liability as a common name for something based on the principles but with Criminal or at least Road Traffic Act “Presumed Guilty” implication”

    So—if I understand you correctly—you’re arguing to overturn the fundamental principle of being presumed innocent until proven guilty, but only in cases where a driver is alleged to have committed an offence against (including, but perhaps not limited to, colliding with) a cyclist, pedestrian etc?

    Good luck with that…

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