An egregious fallacy

In London, and indeed other big cities, pavement cyclists are a regular and unpleasant fact of life for pedestrians. For the avoidance of any doubt, by ‘pavement cyclist’ I do not mean cyclists using a shared space; I do not mean young children accompanied by a parent; and I can turn a blind eye to tourists doing walking pace on Boris bikes. No, to be clear, I mean aggressive, healthy young men, usually wearing full cycling kit, who choose to ride on the pavement even when roads are quiet or – as was often the case during lock-down – entirely free of traffic.

In common with most people, I’d rather not have a cyclist hurtle past me, barely a foot away, on the pavement. Especially now, in the middle of a pandemic and social distancing. I also take a dim view of the foul and abusive language and/or threatening behaviour that usually follows any attempt to remonstrate with these individuals.

One might imagine the response of responsible cyclists to this issue would be to roundly condemn such behaviour, but nothing could be further from the case. On forums or social media sites like Twitter the response ranges from indifference to intolerance. As night follows day, the argument is trotted out that pedestrians are more at risk from cars than they are from cyclists using the pavement or ignoring red lights. Cars, we are told, are the ‘real problem’ and pavement cycling isn’t even open to discussion.

That this is blatant “whataboutery” isn’t even the most serious flaw in this line of reasoning.

It is entirely true that more pedestrians are killed or injured by cars than by cyclists. This is a matter of elementary physics: a car has far more kinetic energy than a cyclist. Most cyclist-on-pedestrian collisions result in nothing more than a few bruises. The small number of deaths mostly involve head injuries arising from being knocked to the ground. But – and it’s a big BUT – the lifetime risk of being killed or seriously injured by a car are also small. The real issue is not death or serious injury.

Albeit the consequences are usually less serious, you are far more likely to be hit by a cyclist than by a car. I have lived in London since the 1970s and I cannot recall more than two, maybe three close calls as a pedestrian involving a car. By contrast, barely a week goes by without a pavement cyclist skimming past me at close quarters and particularly alarming incidents occur every few months on average. Quite often these near misses are only the beginning of the unpleasantness as these louts rarely take kindly to anybody challenging them.

Most people do not want to be hit by a pavement cyclist, even if no serious injury results.
Most people don’t want to have to jump out of the way of a pavement cyclist, even if no collision results.
Most people don’t want to be subjected to foul-mouthed abuse or threatening behaviour.
But above all, most people don’t want to be told that this is not the ‘real problem’.

To put it bluntly, this sort of appalling behaviour is an urban blight and the ‘real problem’ argument is an egregious fallacy.

Yet even supposedly responsible cycling organisations refuse to take the problem seriously.  A high profile incident a few years ago drew the usual Pravda-like response from the London Cycling Campaign. Elsewhere, on social media and discussion fora, complaints about inconsiderate cycling are met with the party line, or howled down if anybody exposes it for the specious nonsense that it is. Many platforms now no longer allow cycling threads because of the inability of this minority to engage in adult conversation.

About two years ago, an anonymous article appeared in the Guardian by an individual who identified as a keen cyclist but not – as he put it – a Cyclist with a big C. He was very critical of the attitude of Cyclists, and was sufficiently worried about possible repercussions that he had written anonymously. That in itself is cause for concern.

If the cycling community want the sympathy of non-cycling public – not an unreasonable thing to want – then they are going the wrong way about it. An intolerance of criticism not out of place in Pyongyang only fuels Daily Mail reader prejudices against cyclists in general.

Stop hiding behind dangerous drivers

I won’t mince my words: cyclists who ride on the pavement are an urban blight, at least in North London. I would like to be able to walk to the shops and back without having to be aware that at any second I will be confronted by a cyclist barrelling towards me on the pavement at high speed. Every few minutes I will see a cyclist on the pavement somewhere. Every few weeks I experience what would be described in aviation circles as a ‘near miss’. I’ve given up remonstrating with them: I’ll be sixty later this year and the torrent of foul-mouthed abuse that invariably follows is surely not good for my blood pressure.

Yet what is the response when I complain about this on a ‘Comments’ thread where cycling issues are being discussed on the Guardian website? I’m told I’m having a “petty rant about a problem that does not exist”. I’m accused of making it up because I have an “anti-cycling agenda”. If the problem does not exist, why would I have an anti-cycling agenda? You don’t need to be Mr Spock to see that that is completely illogical.

There have been two high-profile incidents recently involving injury caused to pedestrians by idiots cycling at speed on the pavement. In the first incident, a 44-year-old woman in Bermondsey, South London, was scarred for life. In the second incident, a three-year-old girl was hit and dragged along the pavement in Blackpool. Only by extreme good fortune did she escape serious injury. The response of what I would term ‘cycling activists’ to these incidents is, frankly, disgraceful. See some of the comments under the two reports, but also see this response from the supposedly-responsible London Cycling Campaign. The paranoid, self-pitying headline “Pavement cycling incident sparks anti-cycling commentary in media” sets the tone for the rubbish that dismisses the Blackpool incident as ‘rare’ (which, I’m sure, will be of great comfort to the little girl) and then bangs on about how 98 percent of serious or fatal injuries to pedestrians are due to collisions with motor vehicles.

So that’s all right, then?

Another frequent comment is that you are better off being hit by a bicycle than you are by a car. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t particularly want to be hit by either. This Youtube video sums up the apparent contempt ‘cycling activists’ have for people who complain about pavement cycling. The video ends with an appeal to tackle the ‘real problem’ of bad drivers.

Time and time again, the same fallacious attitude crops up: ‘whataboutery’. Complain about dangerous cycling and the stock response is to complain about cars. It’s a very strange moral perspective to dismiss the problem of dangerous cycling because motorists cause more death and injury than do cyclists. By the same logic, we should dismiss the problem of dangerous drivers because they are responsible for fewer deaths than wars, global warming, ISIS, etc. A more sinister interpretation is that it represents a collective ultimatum: until dangerous driving are tackled, we will continue to cycle on the pavement, ignore red lights, pedestrian crossings, and indeed any rules that don’t suit us. The injuries to the woman in London and the little girl in Blackpool should be seen as collateral damage in a perceived war between cyclists and motorists. This attitude will not advance the cause of cycling one iota. For as long as it persists, it will only enhance the non-cycling world’s perception of cyclists as anti-social nuisances with a massively over-inflated sense of entitlement. In my view, it is an attitude that is about as representative of the silent majority of law-abiding cyclists as football hooligans are of the tens of thousands of genuine fans who attend matches each week. I have family and friends who cycle. Not one of them thinks this way. Cycling is a mode of transport and a recreational activity. It is not a religion and cyclists are not an ethnic minority. If ‘cycling activists’ want to be taken seriously, they need to stop trying to defend the indefensible.

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

Which do you think is the better response to the appalling incident where a little girl was hit and dragged along the pavement by a cyclist?

THIS:
“We at London Cycling Campaign were shocked to hear that a child had been hit by a cyclist on a pavement in Blackpool. Pavement cycling is both dangerous and illegal. We unreservedly condemn the thoughtless and selfish actions of the individual responsible. We wish the child a full and speedy recovery and our thoughts are with her and our family. We feel that it would be inappropriate to make any further comment at this time.”

OR the actual response to the incident?
Just read it and make up your own mind as to which response is more likely to gain the support of the non-cycling public.