Olympic countdown - Reasons for a London Cycle Map, #12. Rational, not sensational.

#12. RATIONAL, NOT SENSATIONAL. ‘Reason is the slave of the passions’ said the 19th-century philosopher David Hume. No it isn’t! Yesterday I declined to eat a piece of delicious-looking cake because I reasoned that it would only add to my un-delicious-looking belly.

Reason is more like a horserider to the passions: the relationship is one of mutual influence and benefit. Occasionally, I allow myself to eat a piece of cake to satisfy my appetite.

But just because reason isn’t slave to the passions, it doesn’t mean that the passions can’t get out of control, like a bucking horse which rattles its rider off course or even topples him.

The modern media tends to incite the bucking horse of passion in all of us, because it is easier for journalists to grab people’s attention and money by rousing their passions than stimulating their sense of reason. MURDERER ON THE LOOSE is a much better headline than THE SUM OF A TRIANGLE’S ANGLES EQUALS 180 DEGREES.

Most mentions of cycling in the media tend to be about dangerous cyclists or the dangers of cycling. Even when coverage is positive, it tends to be about the hardships cyclists suffer – bike theft or the aforementioned dangers.

And even when cycling campaigners focus on those dangers, it can have a counterproductive effect: relentlessly describing the safety problems surrounding cycling tends to put would-be cyclists off just as much as it puts the authorities to shame. I often think of this when I see all those white painted ‘ghost bikes’ dotted around London. They are meant to commemorate cycling fatalities and thereby ‘send a message’. The problem is, I think non-cyclists may simply be terrified by that message – presumably not the desired effect.

Perhaps the biggest problem with sensationalism is that it unsettles the minds of the journalists and campaigners as well as their audiences. In this way, bucking passions come to define rather than inform policy. Instead of reasonable and progressive policies we get sensational but static ones.

Here’s an example. From fearful cycle campaigners we’ve recently heard an impassioned cry for segregated cycling facilities on main roads, but without much thought as to how this could be realistically implemented on a sufficiently widespread scale in a metropolis like London. Influenced by those campaigners we’ve now got a mayor whose policy is to waste taxpayers’ money reviewing those campaign proposals.

And the likely result is that cycle development in London will, for the foreseeable future, consist of a lot of grunting and whinnying and going nowhere, a paltry three new cycling schemes at a time.

The London Cycle Map Campaign seeks to put reason back in control of the agenda. Sure, we know that cycling is too dangerous in London, especially on main roads. But we’ve been influenced rather than overwhelmed by this fact. Instead of sending out cynical press releases every time another cyclist gets killed by a lorry, we’ve thought about how to fix the problem.

We’ve come to the conclusion that Simon Parker’s London Cycle Map is the best way forward. By providing signs and trails of surface markings throughout the London Cycle Network as depicted on Parker’s map, the authorities could - and should - enable cyclists to get from anywhere to anywhere in the capital by following just a few routes, on generally safer, quieter streets. This is a rational (affordable, effective and achievable in the short-term) way of addressing non-cyclists’ combined fears about safety and navigation. A Tube-style map and network for cycling would lead cyclists safely and simply out of harm’s way.

The thing is, you have to really think about it to appreciate the brilliance of Parker’s London Cycle Map. And that’s hard to do in the modern world, while the internet scatters your attention and the media bombards you with sensationalism.

If, despite this, you’ve managed to tame your passions and appreciate how a London Cycle Map would get Londoners riding en masse, then please help us promote the London Cycle Map Campaign.


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