Thursday, 28 May 2009

The Middleburg Heights dissenter, Matt Seaton, and segregation

Fred Oswald is among the leaders and lightning rods of an insurrectionist "LAB Reform" wing within the league. These self-proclaimed "Vehicular Cycling" proponents insist bike riders need no special facilities. They contend cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists, and that both can coexist on the same (undemarcated) roads given enough training, awareness and skills.

Oswald maintains bike lanes and separate paths are just ways of consigning cyclists to "bike ghettoes" splattered with debris and broken glass. They're not for the benefit of riders, but to treat bikes as toys that should be kept out of motorists' way, he contends.

Fred from Middleburg Heights would presumably get on well with cycling author and Guardian journalist Matt Seaton, who contributed to a very long and interesting Comments thread which followed Dave Hill’s piece on cycling in London. There, Matt Seaton asserts

Segregation is the enemy.

The classic critique of the segregationist philosophy, in so far as it underpins ‘the London Cycling Network’, can be found here.

I’ve argued against segregation myself, in relation to the Crooked Billet underpass.

A contrary perspective comes from David Hembrow, who regularly displays mouthwatering pictures of segregated cycling facilities in the Netherlands. He argues that

If you want more cyclists, you need to address such things as subjective safety and directness of cycle routes. Cyclists benefit a lot from being away from large numbers of cars.

I usually agree vigorously with everything Hembrow has to say, but, where segregation is concerned, the problem with London is that that kind of space is not available. You could create it, of course. But that would require seizing back massive amounts of road space currently used by motor traffic or for vehicle parking. In the London Borough of Waltham Forest one of the great barriers to safe, stress-free cycling is on-street car parking. The sort of residential streets I cycle on characteristically have cars parked along both sides with a space in the middle which cyclists are obliged to share with vehicles, with little space between. Few drivers display any understanding, consideration or respect for my position as a vulnerable road user. (The woman driving right at me a couple of days ago, for example. With ten metres to go she removed both hands from the wheel in order to find her sunglasses.)

And far from the Council seizing back road space for cyclists and pedestrians it is actually doing the reverse. More and more parking bays are being created, invariably at the expense of the safety and convenience of cyclists. More and more streets are being converted to one-way streets, with no thought for cycling routes, purely in order to accommodate and manage increased vehicle flow. More and more pavements are being converted for legalized pavement parking, which encourages greater vehicle ownership and use, bigger cars, and faster driving on those roads. It also degrades the pedestrian’s last refuge, the pavement, and sends out a signal about who really counts in the transport culture. From my perspective in the suburbs, London is going backwards, not forwards.

All of this raises the question, as the man said, What is to be done? I am still digesting all the interesting things cyclists wrote in Dave Hill’s Comments thread. I am also brooding on Rob Ainsley’s response to something I wrote on Monday, which caused a small red mist to form in his vision. I shall endeavour to fit all my thoughts together and write more tomorrow.