Rights and Responsibilities

There’s a school of thought that says if only everyone would follow the rules the world would work like clockwork and we would all get along famously. I get to hear it often. Its longer variations are usually preceded by phrases like, “don’t you think that,” or “do you agree that,” in order to fit them into question and answer sessions where they have no relevance.

It overlaps with another school of thought that says there are good cyclists and bad cyclists, and if only all the bad cyclists would behave like us good cyclists all the people being nasty to us would like us for the normal, cuddly, lovable human beings we are. I’m implicitly included in the ‘us’ there, because I always thought I was, but am I really a ‘good’ cyclist?

Cyclox, the cycle campaign for Oxford, have produced a document that includes some rules telling me how I should ride my bike, trike, etc, which is painting me as one of the bad cyclists. I’m a little taken aback by that, what with being a cycle campaigner myself and a member of Cyclox. “But how so?” I hear my fellow campaigners cry.

First a disclosure…

I don’t subscribe to the ‘Rules Rule’ school of thought. Over the years I’ve come to believe that rules which are complied with don’t work simply because the rule exists, but because it also makes sense from the point of view of how humans tend to behave in that context. If we really got into it we might find some common ground in the three Es of Education, Engineering and Enforcement, but even then I’d want to modify Engineering to Design, and Education to ensure it was in harmony with human behaviour. I’m simply predisposed to discount this document – the best we could hope for is to agree to disagree – which is why I haven’t read it until now. But now that I have I’m far more interested in the rights and responsibilities of Cyclox to me as a member and as a cyclist.

My responsibilities…

Why are Cyclox telling me that it is my responsibility to obey the Highway Code? Does that really need saying? Am I an idiot? Personally I think not, and I think this also fails the ‘equivalence test’; would you hand something similar to a person buying running shoes or a car? The instructions informing me to look out for pedestrians fall into the same category in my view.  I simply don’t find this helpful, perhaps somebody does, each to their own.

Then we start to get into it…

“Cyclists must stop at all red lights and not cycle on the pavement.” Is there anyone out there who doesn’t know this? There are people who don’t always comply with it, but that doesn’t mean they don’t know that it’s against the rules. Is it aimed at new students from abroad? If it is, why not let the university inform them? Or the police for that matter, after all isn’t enforcement their bag? I suggest that enforcement definitely is NOT the responsibility of a cycle campaign. Not least because…

I’m a red light jumper.

Ever since Oxfordshire County Council redesigned the junction at the western end of George Street and I was scared shitless by a car being driven at me from Worcester Street when I had a green light leaving Hythe Bridge Street, I’ve jumped the light there. Even after the ‘lozenge’ was painted in the centre so I had traffic wheeling around me front and back I continue to set off on red during the all-green phase for pedestrians. I don’t need to be told not to mow anyone down who might be crossing, I know that, even though I’m breaking the rules. I’ve decided that my overriding responsibility here is to get through the junction without putting myself at unnecessary risk. I’ve had to do that because OCC have designed something so uniquely hostile (I’ve not come across another design like it anywhere else in the UK) and rather than Cyclox teaming up with the council to impress on me the blindingly obvious, I suggest it has a responsibility to lobby the council to find a solution to the problem that’s causing me to break the rules. It gets worse…

I ride on the pavement.

Not always – I wouldn’t be able to jump that red light if I did – but sometimes it’s the only reasonable solution in places that aren’t designed for cycling. I often find myself watching the world go by outside the Oxford Wine Café where I see people disobeying the highway code as they ride the wrong way up South Parade. They look normal, they cover the whole age range, male and female, and some of them ride on the pavement, perhaps to make breaking the rules a little less wrong. The weird thing is it seems to be legal to cycle the wrong way for a short section, because otherwise it would be impossible to cycle from Middle Way to the contraflow in Stratfield Road, but either way, South Parade clearly isn’t working for them. I suggest Cyclox’s responsibility here is to lobby the council for a solution to make them good cyclists again.  At the moment the only solution being offered is a rule that doesn’t work, and whether they are Cyclox members or not, I suggest neither Cyclox nor the council has a right to preach to them over a problem of the council’s making. Paradoxically, as we’ve seen in Frideswide Square, when the council has a problem that it finds too difficult to solve it can simply decide to legalise cycling on the pavement, which I suggest further fuels the tension this document says it wants to resolve.

At this point I’m not feeling very loved, and then we come to the part that I consider to be totally out of line: “it is not good practice to wear headphones.”

I listen to podcasts while cycling.

Not always – I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on all the other things I like to cogitate while riding along if I did – but when I do, making everyone else within earshot listen to the Guardian Longread would be antisocial so I use headphones or earphones to do it. There is a risk involved in doing this. The risk is that no matter what the circumstances, if anything bad happens to me the cause will be assigned to the headphones and therefore any blame or fault will be deemed to reside with me alone. Despite the obvious ongoing evidence of people making mistakes that result in injury to others, or themselves, any injury sustained by someone wearing headphones is considered to be down to the headphones. Regardless of your opinion on this (and that is all it can be, an opinion) I suggest a cycling campaign has no place ruling on the use of headphones while cycling.

Thankfully there’s no advice on the wearing of hijabs, and why should there be? It’s not a ‘responsibility’ of a cyclist to wear a hijab and of no consequence when a cyclist doesn’t. So why mention helmets?

“Helmets are a personal choice but can reduce the severity of head injuries in an accident.”

There with the inevitable ‘but’ that arguably makes the statement about choice worthless. I’m confused, is that a responsibility? Or is it in fact a right – the right to wear or not to wear a helmet along with the right not to be hassled for having made that decision?

I’m going to wrap up there. Well, almost, one last comment – the title reads…

CYCLING IN OXFORDSHIRE
YOUR RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES

When did Cyclox become the arbiter of my rights and responsibilities while cycling outside of Oxford, let alone within it?

I can see this was done with the best of intentions, the first paragraph spells that out, but the issue it attempts to address is complex and perhaps the aim too ambitious as a result because unfortunately, to my eyes, the outcome is a confused document. I honestly cannot see the upside of this for a ‘bad’ cyclist such as myself and I question the right of a cycle campaign to publish it in the first place.

I get plenty of unsolicited advice from people about how I should ride my bike as it is, whether that’s from police officers, other cyclists, or people screaming at me as they drive past, and quite frankly I wish they would all mind their own business. Now, the next time I come to counter this advice in the nicest possible way I can muster, I’m very likely to be told, “But look, Cyclox says so too.”

Thanks for that. Don’t worry too much, I’ll get over it, hopefully with the help of Cyclox turning us bad cyclists into good ones again through the promotion of good design. Now that would be a happy ending.

 

11 thoughts on “Rights and Responsibilities

  1. Caroline Waugh

    Food for thought there Kevin,

    I’m reading that book, you’d like it. And my brains so fucked I can’t remember who it’s by either. It’s written by a few amputees, who cycle….?

    Reply
  2. magnayn

    I could not have put it better myself.

    And this is why – despite being an Oxford resident, cyclist, and bicycle commuter, I cannot in good conscience give Cyclox my money. It seems not to articulate a viewpoint I feel comfortable with.

    Reply
  3. Jack

    As long as you do no harm to others or to the environment (nor ideally to yourself), my view is that every citizen should break laws and especially rules whenever he/she can. Otherwise you’re a sheep, not a human. And even sheep break the rules sometimes.

    Reply
  4. Nigel Shoosmith

    How does that old saying go? Something about rules being for the guidance of the wise and the obedience of fools, I think. Spot on, Kevin.

    Reply
  5. paulgannonbike

    A well argued piece. One issue though is how do we counter the human tendency to draw false equivalence and conclude, if that’s what you think and recommend as a person cycling, why can’t the person behind a steering wheel make likewise decisions? A rule that one can only break another rule if it doesn’t breach certain rules (not doing harm to others or the environment) is worthless in a world where everyone makes their own rules. Rules are necessary as they constrain the strong abusing their power at the expense of the weak. I make these comments only to suggest that this is a complex subject that raises all sorts of questions. Like many people who cycle, I also break rules that endanger me, so I’m certainly not claiming any moral high ground. One answer, as you say, is to design with human behaviour in mind. We could also support campaigning for rules appropriate to cycling rather than instituting disregard for rules into a totem.

    Reply
    1. kevin hickman Post author

      Thanks Paul. Agree it’s complex and certainly not advocating that rules generally have no worth – without ‘keep left’ (or right depending on where your are) things would get very messy! And yes, this idea of equivalence, or lack of it, is a rich vein – who would consider football tournaments between primary and secondary age school children a good idea? Level playing fields…

      Reply
  6. Harriet

    So well put – I’m with you on pretty much everything you’ve written esp the lozenge of death at the bottom of George St. When will Cyclox stand up to the council and start representing their members or risk losing them. The council needs to support cycling rather than continually putting drivers needs before the needs of cyclists – not enough space for bikes on the road, bike parking in the city centre is inadequate, pot holes in the cycle lane, taxi drivers on phones, bus drivers driving aggressively. Every time I cycle someone in a car is 1) in the cycle lane 2) driving too close to me 3) threatening me with aggressive driving. I’ll stop now but really would like to be part of an active solution…critical mass etc.

    Reply
    1. kevin hickman Post author

      Thanks Harriet. I remember signing and commenting on a petition when it first went in – presumably that was insufficient to move the council, unless the ‘lozenge’ was the mitigating solution? Anyway, I’m going to look into it further, review the junction in more detail from a cycling perspective, and hopefully with the help of Cyclox get the council to find a better solution.

      Reply

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