Posts Tagged ‘Cycling advocacy’

A mysterious club

May 18, 2012

It seems incredible, but there really was a brief period in my life when I didn’t know what a flat white was. For two giddy months, I would make vague expressions of interest when cyclepeople of my acquaintance expressed their delight at this caffeine-based innovation, until one day my chum Phipsy mistook my proud boast of ignorance as a plea for help and tweeted a succinct description of how a flat white is constructed. So that was the end of that.

More recently, I stubbornly resisted learning the definition of the jazzy new word “soundslide”, but in that instance curiosity got the better of me after just a couple of weeks, because the soundslide in question featured none other than former Dynamo clubmate and all-round nice person Sam Humpheson of Look Mum No Hands! fame. When he was building my Merlin some years ago, Sam overruled a misguided decision I had made and, quite rightly, wrapped my handlebars in white bar tape. Not black, as I had foolishly requested, but white, the hue of speed and elegance. So when wise Sam speaks, I must listen – even if he happens to be speaking via the medium of (and I do so dislike the word) a soundslide. Ugh.

In principle, though, I stand by both of my short-lived campaigns of willful ignorance. New words should be an aid to your self-expression or help you engage more fully with the world; if they do neither, they’re simply clutter. And now, trying its best to clutter up my consciousness, comes another curious phrase: the “Car Club”.

I think this mysterious club must be the council’s doing, as its sole manifestation has appeared on an area of tarmac opposite the entrance to our building. So far, it has been quite easy to avoid discovering anything about the Secret Order Of The West London Car Club because no one has bothered to offer an explanation. I would like to think it involves men in thick, ornate moustaches and goggles sharing their love of vehicles that require a hand-crank to start them up, but at the moment there’s just a metal pole with a notice and the warning “CAR CLUB ONLY” painted imposingly in front of two parking spaces.

Very strange, I’m sure you’ll agree.

The specially designated car club area looked like this two days ago:

This is what it looked like yesterday:

And that, basically, is what it has looked like since it appeared.

I realise, of course, that any sort of club has to create an air of exclusivity to stand a chance of becoming a success. But the mysterious Car Club, judging by its perpetually empty area, doesn’t seem to have any members at all. And it has nabbed two of the best spots on a road that rarely has any free parking spaces. The ruddy cheek!

In other transport-related news, the management company that runs our flats has overturned a preservation order so they can hack down a tree that is impinging on a garage which a few residents are lucky enough to use. Well, I say they’re lucky, but I’ve never really envied them: the garage is only accessible from two adjacent roads and there are always parking spaces outside the main entrance anyway (see below) – which, to me, rather seems to defeat the point of the whole deal.

The garage only has a limited number of spaces for bicycles, so the management company installed bike parking stands along the pavement a few years ago to cope with the increase in cycle usage.

Sadly, a lot of the bikes are regularly vandalised or stolen – although the local ruffians seem to have overlooked one bike which is sporting an exclusive Harrods saddle cover, fashioned from the finest type of plastic bag the Knightsbridge emporium has to offer.

A classy piece of kit – but I digress. I was, you may remember, pondering the nature of the car club, and while I have no intention of uncovering its purpose, I strongly suspect it is some sort of vehicle-sharing scheme. It’s probably a well-meaning initiative, but like a flat white (translation: yet another combination of milk and bean juice) or a soundslide (an audio recording with photo slideshow), it’s just a phrase for a concept that has more or less existed in another form: everyone, after all, will either give someone a lift in their car or briefly lend it out at some point in their lives. New phrases and words emerge because we have a basic human desire for change; effecting actual change is much harder.
And what’s really needed in this case is some co-ordination between the council and the estate management company so that everyone benefits: turn the residents’ garage into a cycle park, thereby saving a tree, let motorists take up the spare parking capacity on the road and get rid of the unused Car Club. Oh, if only outcomes were as easy to create as phrases and slogans…


Today’s Times is pretty amazing

February 2, 2012

Now here’s something: a national newspaper launching a campaign to improve the safety of cycling in Britain’s towns and cities.

This is the Times’ front page:

Here are pages eight and nine:

And this is the leader on page two:

“Cities Fit For Cycling” was prompted by a road accident three months ago which has left 27-year-old cyclist and Times reporter Mary Bowers in a coma.

I’m quite impressed by what’s in today’s paper. They’ve taken a simple truth – as the popularity of cycling has increased, so too has the number of accidents – and presented a thoughtful, passionate argument without verging into an anti-car polemic. It’s going to be interesting to see what kind of impact this will have.

They’ve also liberated some of the articles from the paywall, so have a gander here and here.

A happy scene you seldom see

November 23, 2011

“Hello there! Would you mind awfully just winding down your window for a moment?”
“Certainly! What seems to be the problem?”
“Well, you drove just a teeny-tiny bit to close to me there.”
“Ah. Yes. Now you mention it, I think I probably did.”
“And as we’re now both waiting here at the traffic lights, I thought I’d mention it while I had the opportunity.”
“Yes. Good idea.”
“Just to avoid it happening again. Because it’s quite scary when a ton of metal looks like it’s going to knock you down.”
“I can totally see your point, sir. My apologies. I’ll try to be more considerate next time.”
“But I must say, this situation is most unusual.”
“Really? In what way?”
“Well, it’s just so… civil. Cyclists tend to get very angry about getting cut up.”
“Ah, yes. Well, you see, I was going to lose my temper. But then I read something about moments like this. Apparently I’m supposed to show love. ‘Smile in the face of thoughtlessness,’ it said. ‘Explain the terror of being cut up. Tell them you are scared.’ I had my doubts, I must admit, but it seems to have worked on this occasion.”
“Hmmm. Yes…”
“Oh dear. Was that a little patronising?”
“Oh no no no. Not at all. Well, maybe a little. But that’s not what perturbs me. It’s this conversation. It should be angry, fractious, unreasonable, neither of us giving any quarter. It’s not real enough. In fact, I would go as far to say that it’s not even happening.”
“No! I will not have it, sir – I simply will not have it! Look, if what you’re saying is true, then this entire situation has been fabricated. But look at that red light! Any minute now it will turn green, and that will prove we’re actually here.”

(They look. They wait for a considerable time. The traffic lights remain red.)

“Oh well. Looks like you were right.”
“Sorry, old boy. If it’s any consolation, it seems that both of us are merely providing a cipher for the author’s thought process.”
“It would seem so, yes. I am not the autonomous being that I thought I was. I may as well just give up now. Which is a shame, because I had so much I wanted to say.”
“Well, why not say it? You’ve got nothing to lose.”
“You say that, but that’s not quite true. Because I met the guy who wrote that blog post…
You met him?”
“Yes, I met him. Because we’ve already established I’m the author, not a creation in a fictive contrivance.”
“Ah yes. I see what you mean.”
“So I don’t want to cause offence. He had a nice little dog and he seemed like a nice chap.”
“But you disagree fundamentally with his reasoning on this occasion.”
“Yes! Completely!”
“Because he characterises the relationship between drivers and cyclists as essentially confrontational, whereas you believe it isn’t.”
“Exactly. I mean, it can be confrontational, but only on the relatively few occasions when things go wrong. But the vast majority of drivers let us get on with it. They like us – or they tolerate us – but they don’t hate us, and I generally don’t hate them. It’s a false opposition. And isn’t the tone of his reasoning is a bit vain? Look at me! I’m mastering my anger – and you should too! We can have a better society, but only if you’re all a little like me!”
“So what’s the solution? More angriness?”
“No. Not more anger, or showing more love. Just more, I don’t know, practicality. Boring things, like joining the CTC or the London Cycling Campaign, writing to your local council asking them to improve conditions for cyclists, maybe telling your MP you want to see stiffer sentencing for bad drivers. Stuff like that.”
“I think you’ve made your point quite eloquently.”
“Thank you.”
“But the bad news is that in doing so, we have now served our purpose.”
“So I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we expired right this very second.”
“I think you may be right.”

(Predictably, they vanish.)