Friday, February 3, 2012

The Times - an unexpected friend for cyclists II

In yesterday's post I briefly mused about The Times cycling campaign and wondered why the relatively small number of cycling deaths in London (around a tenth of the number of pedestrian deaths) suddenly became a source of public disquiet. Here's a couple more thoughts.

Mary Bowers is in a sense a typical cycling victim: a young woman hit by a truck which was turning left across her path. The majority of cycling deaths in London are caused by HGVs, and the majority of deaths are women. I can't help thinking that this may have helped capture the empathy of non-cyclists, who may be irritated by the stereotypical cyclist - a MAML (middle aged man in lycra), or a young man on a fixed-gear bike racing through red lights. Somehow, the latter categories are 'asking for it' through their deviant and 'threatening' behaviour, whilst a young woman on a bike is worthy of protection.

The irony is that more aggressive cycling seems to be safer. The dangers facing cyclists are often best resolved by ignoring red lights and stop signs and getting ahead of traffic, so we can be seen. Remaining trapped beside a turning lorry is the worst place you can possibly be. But being a passive, 'innocent', victim is socially more appealing. The public image of cycling has been shifted by these tragedies affecting young women, shifting the emphasis from the 'deviant' to the respectable.

As a middle-aged, middle class, white man, cycling is just about the only way in which I can experience what it is like to be on the social margins, a place where rights are ignored, violence is acceptable, and the law fails to protect. It's pretty educational, and not much fun. But the shift in focus represented by The Times' campaign may change that. There's nowhere more mainstream than The Times.