samedi 1 août 2015

On the road to cycling hell

This is a translation of an original post I published in French here.

"Be careful what you wish for: it might just come true one day..."

We, as London cycle activists, were always careful not to fall into the pockets of the road engineers and planners, whose responsibility was always for "the possible." We, on the other hand, were struggling with "the impossible"—the end of car culture in town, with its impossible demands for space, its danger and pollution. My vision is still to reclaim the roads for the cyclist, and leave the pedestrian unmolested on the sidewalk. And the Dutch method of "cycle apartheid" has absolutely damn-all to do with promoting cycling; rather it is a dangerous source of oppression.

It's true that planners can do useful things for cyclists: allowing cycle contraflows in one-way systems for motor vehicles (the principle of cycle permeability), and reducing speed limits on roads where necessary. But if each "advance" is accompanied by a degradation, such as, for example, the appearance of "No cycling" signs on roads with cycle paths alongside, one begins to doubt the good faith of the authorities. (This happened in 2012 around Nantes, on the D39 between Nantes and Sucé-sur-Erdre, the D75 between Indre and St. Herblain, and the D107 between Chantenay and Indre).

So I went to a meeting organized by Place au Vélo (Nantes' most significant cycling organisation) to hear a talk by the author and transportation journalist Olivier Razemon yesterday evening, and to criticize their strategy.
I spoke up against this pavement cycling (and separatist infrastructure) during the meeting.

I began my remarks by quoting the aphorism "The road to hell is paved with good intentions", and my opinion that, in the seven years I have lived in Nantes, conditions for cyclists have worsened. And I read an extract from Olivier Razemon's latest book to illustrate the true problem which prevents sharing the road:
"We've all met, at least once, an arrogant, overweight driver, steering wheel in one hand, the tyres of his 4x4 squealing, as he accelerates towards pedestrians, while giving the finger to cyclists."

(They're certainly more common in England, hence my preference for life in France! And the beautiful strict liability law—the loi de Badinter—passed in 1985, gives strength to the cyclist's elbow as well). And I asked Olivier Razemon, and the auditorium in general, if we were ignoring the true problem, that he so expertly describes, whilst scrabbling round in the details of local authority expenditure on street design, with €80 millions budgeted to the year 2020, etc, etc.? Behavioral problems are solved by education and the law, not just road design.

I didn't say at the time, though I might have, that one could justly revise this extract to read "Everyone has already met, at least once, a fit, arrogant cyclist holding the handlebars with one hand, tyres skidding, as he accelerates towards pedestrians, middle finger held aloft to drivers," as a reminder of the new daily experience for crossing pedestrians since Nantes' main north-south cycle route was laid past Commerce. The enemy isn't the transport mode chosen, nor the road design nor its marking: it's the users of wheeled vehicles who lack respect for others.

I think my French was sufficiently fluent to express my ideas, but I don't think my intervention was particularly welcome. The president of Place Au Vélo contradicted my remarks by expressing his affection for the now obligatory cycle path running alongside the D39 to Sucé, and made an ad hominem remark, that, as I was already a convinced cyclist, I was not part of the group of new cyclists they were looking for.

I'm certainly familiar with this line of argument from my time in England, but, to speak frankly, it's bullshit. I have no problem with a choice between a cycle path and the road. But why do you have to make the cycle path compulsory? Because it is inferior.

And there you have it: that's how the rights of cyclists are trammelled whilst claiming to enhance them! It's a manoeuvre of Fordist political genius. The Fordists never forget their fundamental principle: everybody must drive a car. Pedestrians and cyclists alike are an insult to this principle. What could be better then, than to mix them together on the sidewalk in conflict with one another, while leaving the road clear for the real travellers? And if the cyclist has the temerity to continue to use the road when there's a cycle path alongside, give him a good blast of the horn, the rebel! Defenders of cyclists' rights? I don't think so!

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