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Archive for October, 2010

ASLs, cycling, scooters and a bit of empathy

October 13, 2010 3 comments

Okay, I know how passionate cyclists are about cycle lanes etc, and I’m probably going to be (virtually) lynched for saying this, but I don’t get the problem with scooters & motorbikes courteously going in cycle lanes or past the advanced stop line. I do get massively annoyed by cars/buses and lorries though, sitting happily across it without even a passing thought for other road users.

Advanced stop lines for cyclists

Here’s a reminder below for those who don’t know what an advanced stop line  is (it’s not there so that you are slowed down – it’s there to place the cyclists in  full view of the rest of the traffic, as this awareness has been proven time and  again to be the best way to improve riser safety)

In the interests of total transparency I have to state that I’ve been either a  pedestrian, scooter driver, cyclist, train commuter or car driver (or more  than one during the course of any one week) for the last 17 years in London,  and hence do try to look at road issues with a relatively objective view.

 

I’m well aware of the frustrations of London traffic, and how vulnerable you feel on a cycle or scooter, but I’m always a bit concerned about the apparent lack of understanding, nay sometimes hatred, between cyclists and PTWs (powered two wheelers- easier than saying ‘motorbikes or scooters’). I think we’d all get a better reception from car drivers, traffic planners and the media if we spoke as one, and shared our very similar experiences of feeling vulnerable, being verbally abused, hounded off the road and/or ignored.

Personally I am convinced that the single best way to create understanding amongst road users is to make the car driving test include a mandatory cycling proficiency test, and the CBT (compulsory basic training – all PTW drivers have to do it before they’re allowed out on the road even with L- plates).

Unlike many cyclists/PTW riders I don’t think that all car drivers are evil selfish bastards, out to kill us (although my experience out there often feels like they are); instead I think that they seriously just don’t understand what it’s like to be on a two wheeler, and we could solve the majority of the issues by just getting them to experience it from the rider’s saddle.

For good measure, it can’t hurt to make both cyclists and car drivers sit in the cab of a lorry, so that they can understand the concept of ‘blind spot’.

Before I get roundly beaten up by cyclists who say PTW riders are aggressive and dangerous- note that I did use the word ‘courteously’ for people using cycle lanes etc – it would do us all good to be aware of people more vulnerable than us (yes, cyclists, those people called pedestrians who you scare out of their skin sometimes).

Mel Mack’s abridged highway code:

  • ALWAYS be on guard for those more vulnerable than you
  • Remember not everyone has an engine and they may be going as fast as they can.
  • Car drivers
    • stop thinking of riders of any 2 wheeled vehicle as nuisances who make you set off from junctions a bit slower. It may help with context if you imagine how much worse your journey would have been if each of those people had chosen to drive a car instead.
    • use your bloody indicators- the rest of us are NOT psychic
  • Pedestrians: look carefully before crossing
    • cars take TIME to stop at zebra crossings
    • bikes may be weaving between stationary traffic
  • Everyone:
  • The more exposed your method of transport is, the more vulnerable you are, so take responsibility for your safety- assume people won’t see you, wear high vis clothing and if in doubt, don’t take chances.

Pregnant or fat – what bloody dilemma?

October 3, 2010 2 comments

I had a random conversation on Facebook recently about public transport seating, and the horrible middle-class dilemma of whether to offer your seat or not

Please give up your seat for someone less able to stand

New tube priority seating signs.

and I had to hold back from just shouting at people, especially when I read some of the comments on the BBC article about it. This one, for instance:

I will gladly offer my seat to an elderly person , I believe that you choose to get pregnant , but aging is one thing you cant avoid! I’m 31 and anyone that is obviously older than me gets offered my seat , but pregnant people … not !
Kevin, London

I hope Kevin never gets close enough to a woman to be able to make her pregnant – he has clearly forgotten/not been taught biology well enough to realise that he also is of woman born, and therefore made her back ache too at one point. Enough of misogynistic ignorant wankers, however, as their existence, though annoying, is incidental to this story.

The prevailing thought seems to be that as it’s sometimes difficult to tell whether someone’s pregnant or not (or fat, yes, just say it), there are legions of otherwise altruistic people out there who would jump at the opportunity to offer their seat to someone less able than them, but they’re traumatised at the potential of embarrassing someone by offering them a seat, as if they’re not actually pregnant, this will inadvertently be calling them fat.

To this I say utter bollocks.

I’ve stood there, heavily pregnant (and obviously so), and been looked straight through, and I’m neither surprised or offended at all by it. There’s no reason that pregnant women, old people, or anyone else should have the automatic right to a seat. Others may be suffering far more discomfort from an outwardly invisible knee injury, other illness or even, heaven forbid, an hangover.

What I am saying is that this fake guilt to cover up the fact that none of us really want to give up our seat, is exactly that – fake.

I’ve been commuting in London for 17 years and it’s a war out there – nobody enjoys the squeeze of the tube or the rush hour trains & buses, it’s thoroughly unpleasant, and I daresay we are all sometimes guilty of “I thought I could get away with it and hoped they wouldn’t notice me looking shiftily away.”

It’s not surprising that involuntary close contact with hundreds of strangers makes us guard our personal space so carefully. One of the methods we use is to have a book to read, or studiously avoiding eye contact – not surprising then that we sometimes miss the tell-tale signs of someone else’s greater need than ours.

That said, I am amazed when the occasional man tells me a story of a woman who has rudely refused an offer on the basis that it’s old fashioned/patronising – both at the woman that supposedly threw the offer back in their faces (sister, what are you doing??!!) and the man for taking this as a sign that all women will henceforward be like that. Is it ungenerous to suspect they’re slightly relieved to have an excuse never to offer again? 😉

My feminist sisterhood hackles are also raised by women who remain glued to their seat (older women are actually the worst offenders) in the face of a pregnant woman in obvious discomfort.

In reality we just have to accept that it’s supremely arrogant of us to expect anyone/everyone else in the same carriage/bus to a) notice us or b) care.

I know only too well that it’s hard to think of anything else when you’re pregnant, and it does sometimes feel like the entire planet wants to queue up and coo, guess the gender and stroke the bump, uninvited; but there remains a huge percentage of the population who are untouched by your own personal miracle, and just want to get to work on time without interacting with anyone too rude or smelly.

Baby on Board BadgeSo, take responsibility for yourselves, ladies. For a start you can now pick up from any underground station, a badge that says “Baby On Board. That takes away any excuses of those that do actually look at you.

For the people who don’t notice/hope someone else will stand up, there is always the tried and tested way that I used – walk up to a set of 4 or 6 seats (giving yourself the best chance by not putting just one person on the spot) and say “Excuse me, I’m heavily pregnant and uncomfortable, would anyone mind me sitting down?”. Not once did this fail me, and was usually met this choruses of “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t notice.” True or not, they have an excuse, and you now have a seat. Win:win 🙂

For those who still have a slight quandary, just bloody well offer your seat will you – if you’re really that bothered by it, why not offer your seat and not make it obvious why? A simple “Would you like to sit down?” doesn’t bear any social stigma for anyone, and will spare you the non-existent cringe factor.