Whilst we were happy to let our friend Roubaix Cycling deal with the Charlie Alliston case, everyone else seems to have been dealing with the fallout from it, particularly the media storm that has ensued.
Cycling has had its critics for some time now, but the Alliston case has given the usual suspects a platform and a justification, regardless of how lacking in perspective it may be. We need to talk about it, purely for our own sanity.
Before we start, we are in no way condoning the actions of Mr Alliston or the way he has conducted himself. Unfortunately, Alliston has come across as a remorseless individual who couldn’t care less that he took the life of 44-year-old Kim Briggs.
It is entirely possible that the character we see has been crafted for us by a mainstream media only too happy to find cycling’s answer to Hannibal Lecter, but we need to remember that Alliston is 20 years old and probably doesn’t yet have the benefit of perspective that we old farts have. He may well have flushed his future and the future of the woman he rode into down the toilet, but the reality of his situation may not have sunk in yet.
However, being part of an “out group” this is bad for all of us. You see, we cyclists now share common ground with the antichrist; with Satan himself; with Fred and Rose West and even the Xenomorphs from Aliens. The outpouring of hate has been rather unsettling, particularly as during the time the trial was on, 8 people were killed and 27 seriously injured by motorists. Strangely, there was no frenzy, no media circus for those 8 fatalities, potentially making the motoring establishment the biggest bunch of hypocrites on the entire planet.
An analysis of police data on the 40 cyclists killed in London between 2010 and 2012 found that drivers had been imprisoned on just four occasions.
It has led to calls for tougher sentences for people who ride bikes, blissfully ignoring the fact that motorists who kill are usually let off with little more than a fine and some points. It has also led to calls for us to have number plates (WHERE?!), an MOT, insurance and tax (yes, that old chestnut again) despite the fact that even though cars have them, motorists seem to slip through the net with startling regularity. There are motorists driving around with way more than the 12 points they are allowed to have.
But hey, let’s not let facts get in the way of a good media circus, eh.
Vocal Critics and rank hypocrisy
It often seems to be the case that the most vocal of critics are often standing on the weakest of platforms. One particularly vocal critic of cyclists in this case was Mr Loophole himself, the guy who helps people escape punishment for DRINK DRIVING OFFENCES! Yes, people still do that, even after a few decades of campaigns suggesting it may be a monumentally pathetic and selfish thing to do.
Sadly, we shouldn’t be surprised by this. Cycling represents a change of behaviour that people will agree makes sense, but are not yet willing to accept. Cars don’t work, particularly in cities and cities like Cardiff are growing and will only get busier. It isn’t fair or just that people who make responsible travel choices, whether that is by bike or by bus, are inconvenienced by people who do not. You’ll no doubt have noticed that now the school run is back the rush hour traffic has returned to its typically stagnant state. Just wait until another few thousand homes are added to the outskirts of Cardiff.
At the Mobile World Congress last year in Barcelona, Spain, Bill Ford, executive chairman of the Ford Motor Company, laid out a business plan for a world in which personal vehicle ownership is impractical or undesirable. He proposed partnering with the telecommunications industry to create cities in which “pedestrian, bicycle, private cars, commercial and public transportation traffic are woven into a connected network to save time, conserve resources, lower emissions and improve safety.”
People will increasingly struggle to defend their decision to drive into any given city in the UK, so rather like an animal that has been cornered, the automatic response is to attack. Car manufacturers are also starting to see that the writing is on the wall, but as they scrabble around for profits to keep the shareholders happy, they will attack. They will fund studies intended to undermine cycling; they will market aggressively and they will attempt to maintain the status quo for as long as possible.
Whilst there is something to be positive about here –the thrashing death-throes of an era that has ultimately failed everyone* except OPEC and the corporations who make cars. The next few years are likely to be ugly. We will have every piece of infrastructure called into question and we will have a media run by the old guard constantly fawning over every misdemeanour committed by someone who ‘may have owned a bicycle once…’.
*By everyone we mean everyone struggling with transport poverty; everyone currently suffering or who will develop an illness related to inactivity; particulates & air pollution; obesity; every child below driving age who fears playing out in the street; every OAP who no longer feels safe behind the wheel and is now isolated; and every tax payer who has ultimately subsidised motoring whether they drive or not. This list is not exhaustive.
On the subject of calling infrastructure into question, we’ve had a curious thought. We have long complained about shared infrastructure, particularly as it puts us into direct conflict with pedestrians in the same way that riding on the roads puts us in direct conflict with motor vehicles. The slower, more exposed party invariably loses when collisions inevitably happen.
It will be interesting to see if, in light of this case and if tougher offences are actually introduced, councils and Sustrans start to realise that shared paths really, really should not happen. Alliston and Briggs collided on a road, but these sorts of situations are invited every single day by the infrastructure we are provided with.
Yes, the direction of travel here in Cardiff is towards segregation and light segregation, but we have hundreds of miles of National Cycle Network routes that are shared. What will happen to those?
Wow, it has been a while since we’ve had chance to just ramble and exorcise a few demons. Truth be told the Alliston case made us question a few things & we even held back a post or two that at a time of great animosity, may have stood out like a rusty nail.
We’ve not heard the end of it either and as we’ve said, the other side is going to start getting desperate sooner or later. They will fight dirty, but as with every good story, the good side usually wins.