Wednesday 28 November 2012

War on Britain's Roads?

If you've been watching BBC 1 recently you may have noticed a trailer for a programme called



What is an even bigger 'hmmm' is that I am involved in it.

It was actually in June 2011 that I was approached by a film company to take part in a documentary for BBC1, and it is only now that the documentary is about to be aired. After it is aired I'll talk more about the process, how and why I was convinced to take part, and I might even provide some behind the scenes footage (filmed by yours truly).However, what is certain is that the angle that the documentary is now taking is certainly different to what was originally envisaged.

I haven't seen the documentary yet, and I probably won't see it until it is aired at 9pm on BBC 1 on the 5th December. I haven't even managed to see the trailer myself yet! However, I want to make something clear.

There is no war on Britain's roads.

Yes I post footage of incidents. Yes there are some terrible drivers out there, and yes some people hate cyclist. However, the suggestion of WAR is just media hype.

There are excellent drivers.. There are plenty of average drivers. There are some terrible drivers.

There are excellent cyclists. There are plenty of average cyclists. There are some terrible cyclists.

There is, and always will be a distribution of abilities. That will never change. Yes, perhaps we can shift that distribution towards excellent a little, but there will always be road users who are dangerous. We are all human and so this is a fact of life.

Let's give up then?

Quite the opposite. We just need to step back and look at the bigger picture. Why is it that road users don't always get on?

Road design.

It really is that simple. Almost since the introduction of the car, roads (which were there before the car) have been designed for cars and their drivers. They have been designed to make it safer to drive a car, so that cars can drive quicker, so that cars can flow more smoothly, so that cars have somewhere to park, so that cars can get to the shops, so that cars can take us on short journeys, so that cars can take us on long journeys, so that cars can take kids to school, so that cars can cross rivers, so that cars can take you right up to the counter of MacDonalds.....the list goes on.

Life does not and more importantly should not revolve around the car. It's a tool. At times it is a very useful tool, and on rare occasions it can be a very enjoyable tool to use, but it is just a tool. Rather than using the tool for situations it is best suited for, we have designed the situations, that is our cities, to suit the tool.

It's time to change that. It's time for us to look at the other tools at our disposal, i.e. our feet, our bikes and our public transport, and redesign the environment so that we can use these tools when it is and should be appropriate.

So those of you who are reading this, who are cyclists, when you are riding your bike and a driver leans out of his car and shouts,

'Get off the road...roads aren't designed for bikes!'

an appropriate answer would be,

'You are absolutely right, they aren't. It's time we changed that'

The real war, the only true war we face is with our politicians, our councillors and our urban planners. We must fight to make them see that the time for car worship has ended. It is time to claim the streets back for people.


  1. Couldn't agree more re 'War on Britains roads', when I saw this title and the trailer thought exactly the same hijacked by the media, production company probably needed to sell it to the beeb, just doesn't help the situation.

  2. 99% of the time it's only a war of words. Sticks and stones etc..
    Cyclist, Car driver and motorcyclist I get it from all sides. @SpanishPirate1

  3. As I understood it this documentary was always going to be divisive since polarity is the lifeblood of television. Conflict, drama & emotion are the tools to sell a story.

    It would be surprising if this documentary took into account the abysmal infrastructure available to UK cyclists and looked closely at the issue. Best we can hope for is a cursory mention.

    Nevertheless we need to steer the story past the sensationalism of war and onto the subject of better road and junction design for all road users.

  4. After having read a bit I am quite intrigued by the controversy shaping up around this, although I live in Santiago, Chile, and probably won't see either the trailer or the film unless it makes it onto some online presence. Regarding the concept of 'war', I have to say I don't completely agree that it is a one-sided conflict where the urban planners are the sole persons at fault. As an avid bicyclist and daily bicycle commuter, I would have to say that all of the constituents involved are part of the problem, and can be part of the solution. Of course, as a cyclist, my more emotional rage is directed at those "terrible" drivers -- especially when they do outrageously dangerous things, or of course go on the attack against me or some other cyclist. But I am also quite unhappy with those who are "terrible" cyclists, and (contrary to my general solidarity and biases in favor of cyclists) I believe that increased regulation on behaviour of bicyclists must also be part of any real solution -- there are just too many cyclists out there who behave as though there are no rules for cyclists, and this is wrong and dangerous. Finally, a few comments on the urban planners -- yes, they are and have been a huge part of the problem, backed up and pushed by money and power of the auto industry, of course. Here in Chile I believe the urban situation for bikers is worse than most places in Western Europe, and recently there was even a law from a right-wing political party (the UDI) that would have made bicycling on the streets illegal (they wanted us to use only the sidewalks, or the ridiculously few recreational bike paths that have been built). Yes, its true; believe it.

    In sum, I honestly think any solution must involve various strategies for all of the constituents in this equation: massive re-design of our urban environments and education to go along with this; increased economic costs for using cars - including somehow pricing in contamination they produce; broad-based education initiatives mixed with increased policing and regulation of bicyclists - i.e. requiring helmets, issuing fines for running red lights and other egregious practices; and finally, greater legal action against dangerous and reckless drivers, resulting logically from increased video-monitoring and recorded experiences of our crusading "Helmet Camera Cyclists". I believe things will change - including here in Santiago. The positive wave of bicycling as the best form of transportation is unstoppable.

  5. Crap title suggests one thing - crap programme.

  6. Are you not able to withdraw your consent for them to use your footage? In light of them producing a different program to the one they told contributors they were to produce.

  7. Sadly, it seems to be a rule in life to avoid getting involved with the media, especially journalists. Even when they make an honest effort they often present the wrong end of the stick and mostly they just want to stir up some confrontation.

    "A bit of a problem here but with good sense on all sides we can sort it out" just doesn't make good TV, or news.

    best wishes from cynical Sheffield
    Chris Rust

  8. You provide the pictures, they'll provide the war.

  9. I agree with everything but your conclusion. The politicians and public servants can't radically overhall the transport infrastructure if the public they serve is still wedded to the car. Political will needs to be part of the solution, but the other part is the public dependence. How to get people to view their car as a tool and not the tool, is the big question.

    On the war front, cyclists would have to be mad to engage in war. Metal roll bars and air bags vs a bit of polysyrene and some fingerless gloves. I can't recall any crashes were the car driver came off worse...

  10. You got involved with the BBC. If you lie with dogs you will get fleas. There's not point complaining, it's the nature of the beast.

    A look at the news output from BBC Scotland would tell you all you need to know about their values, murder, football, cute animals, more football.

  11. Well it is a "war" in the same sense that there's a "war" between Israel and Gaza. The couriers being the equivalent of Hamas, the few rebels who, while their rebellion sometimes makes their own side take heart, become a convenient propaganda stick for the other side to justify more repression. Which I suspect is precisely what's happening in this piece of trash video making. The commenters critical of the BBC have it spot on. The undeserved trust placed in the deeply reactionary state TV in the UK is actually another serious problem quite different from cycling. All the BBC's prime-time output is tabloid level rubbish, which shows no real attempt at providing balance or insight, and could have come from any commercial broadcaster. The only reason the BBC is still funded through a tax is because the massive BBC bureaucracy is so adept protecting its own interests,

    This affair will tell us nothing about UK cycling politics and everything about the direction of the modern media, namely, that if you want to form an opinion, you're far better off going to youtube and blogs like this one than vegetating on the couch after the "One Show". The conclusion that politicians and opinion formers are the ones to be persuaded in cycling campaign matters, and not the driving public is totally right. Ultimately politicians must, on some level, be concerned with rational policy, and cycling - when you strip away all the politics of it - provides a cheap way for people to get to work - something that matters to the capitalist class. The opinions of this class influence the majority of drivers who, by their nature, tend to have decent jobs and money to afford their cars.

  12. There will be no debate after this film, there will be more hatred. Motorists will continue seeing people jump the lights or riding on the pavement, and contrast this with the fuss the "cycling lobby" have made over a documentary they see as showing the truth and the gap will widen.

    Magnatom, please please, next time, leave the professionals to engage with the Media.

    Its too late for this documentary i'm afraid. Your videos and opinions have been used to further the lazy stereotypical view of cyclists behaviour and create precisely the opposite view you were trying to put across.

    I understand you are well intentioned, but you are coming across as self-righteous and confrontational, exactly the sort of cyclist people love to hate.

    Posting in bus and lorry forums is only going to worsen this view.

    You can not correct the entrenched views of the entire driving population one person at a time like this.


  13. Is there any chance that someone could copy the program and make it available somewhere online? I tried to watch from the BBC website but typical beeb only allow you to view if you are in the UK. The same conditions apply to cyclists in Australia (sometime we have it ever worse) so would be interesting to watch the show.