Monday, 5 August 2013

I've run out of nice titles....

If you are reading this....well done. Today has been a tour de force of comment on the NiceWayCode. Rightly so of course. Today is the day when the NWC joined me on YouTube, and what a day that's been.

Two videos appeared, one called Think Horse and one called Name.

Also interestingly a slide show providing an overview of the campaign appeared as well here.  It's well worth a look, and something I'll no doubt comment on later this week.

I'm going to focus on one of the videos, the one called Name. Hopefully the reason will become clear. By not mentioning 'Think Horse' I'm not suggesting it is a good advert, just that it isn't quite as bad. In fact my wife was particularly annoyed by it, having ridden horses a lot in the past, but it doesn't, in my mind, quite reach the levels of Name.

I must admit, I find it really hard to know where to start with this one. Let me start with another video.

If you hung on until the end you'll hear I made a joke with a driver.

I thought it was only cyclists who run red lights

I made that joke because, drivers generally have the perception that it is indeed only cyclists that run red lights, and so catching a driver blatantly doing it was funny to us both.

But it isn't funny, certainly not for cyclists. What is funny is that I could, if I had the inclination....I don't.... I could be publishing videos aplenty of cars cutting through lights late, sneaking through early, or when they think they can get away with it, going through on a blatant red.

Do cyclists go through red? Of course they do, but many studies have shown that not only do far fewer cyclists run reds than you might suspect, but that often the proportion of drivers doing it is higher. That's not even mentioning the relative differences in risk when you compare cyclists and drivers doing it.

So this begs the question, why does this campaign focus on the issue of red light jumping cyclists, and not red light jumping drivers, or for that matter mobile phone using drivers, or speeding drivers, or drunk drivers or.....

There are a number of reasons, but I think the main reason is 'Clutching at Straws Syndrome'

I know for a fact that the campaign brief stipulated that it had to include all road users. I know that this brief did not come from research up, but from top down. This campaign could not just focus on the poor hard done by, over taxed, stressed car driver. Car drivers wouldn't like that, and it would therefore loose votes (there are still more car drivers than cyclists, remember).

It was easy to come up with things that would target the drivers in relation to cycle safety. Close passes, tailgating, left hooks, pulling out in front of cyclists at junctions etc. In fact there were too many, so Cycling Scotland fell back onto what they knew best. Close passes. They had after all had very successful campaign in 'Give me Cycle Space'.....ahem.

But what of these damn cyclists. Hmmm. Unfortunately, when it comes to 'mutual risk' cyclists don't really place drivers in much risk, as I described here. There is no mutual risk. So in a campaign that required 'balance' the powers that be had to find something that would at the very least annoy drivers about cyclists.

Red Light Jumping (RLJng).

The straws had been well and truly clutched.

Ask a driver, one who has never cycled except at Centre Parcs, what the most annoying thing that cyclists do, and RLJing would be at the top. Sure, wearing Lycra, being faster through busy traffic and at the same time causing traffic jams would also be high up there, but it would be very hard to justify a campaign based on those, even for the Scottish Government. So RLJing it was.

RLJing provided balance and Keith knew that he wouldn't loose the car drivers vote in the referendum as a result. Phew. But the government plan was far more wicked. They knew that this was controversial. They knew that some campaigns would go for it and some would not. They could split the cycling opposition and keep drivers happy all at the same time. Brilliant.

Unfortunately, it doesn't end there though. Imagine you are that car driver, with no interest or knowledge of cycling. You don't hate cyclists, but they are a bit annoying. Then you see the series of adverts. It doesn't have any great effect on you, but it's in the back of your mind. Then you come across an article online somewhere saying..

Cyclists annoyed at portrayal of cyclists running red lights in otherwise wonderful government campaign.

Eh? But they do run red lights. They are really annoying and they shouldn't do that. Damn I think I hate those cyclists.

The plan is complete.

Not only does this advert perpetuate the myth that cyclists are lawless no-gooders who freeload on society, it has the potential to set cycling campaigning back several years due to the very understandable reaction that it will generate among us campaigners. This advert is not only bad and poorly focused, it is a bloody disaster for those of us who have been campaigning for years to get rid of the 'us and them' mentality. It places a wedge firmly between us.

Should we continue to campaign against this marketing crap? Yes we should. We should though, also be aware that significant damage has already been done. I just hope that there is still a chance that my chilren will be around to see a happier safer, more environmentally friendly, healthier Scotland.

I'm just a lot less optimistic than I was before this whole episode started.


  1. A good, well thought out, and admirably non-ranty post. I'm a bit torn on this, I agree with a lot of the criticism (across the blog/twittersphere today) while thinking that at least some aspects of the campaign are well intentioned if not to my taste/agreement.

    I 100% agree on the "us and them" thing, it drives me mad. "See cyclist, think horse" - how about "think person"! (and see driver, think person etc. etc.)

    This point you made really hits the mark though:
    "Then you see the series of adverts. It doesn't have any great effect on you"
    This is the real crux of it - what's the real impact of this campaign, how does it affect individuals? I actually thought about a different aspect of this earlier on, I saw a #nicewaycode bus back advert, telling cyclists not to go down the left side of the bus. Which is a great idea and strikes a chord with me, patiently waiting behind the bus - but I think those people who would ride their bike down there won't notice/pay attention to the ad anyway ie "it doesn't have any great effect".

    And the other road users who cut up other drivers/cyclists, throw their happy meals at cyclists/pedestrians, swear at other people..... will any of these youtube adverts or web pages make a difference? Sadly like you I can't find a lot of optimism. I want to think that focussing on what the govt. *should* be doing (celebrate the good infrastructure, however small/localised?) is the way forward but even on that my water bottle is half empty.

  2. Two thoughts on the 2 video themes

    Give Horses space - if you pass too close you might spook the horse and it could kick out and smash up your car.

    So you should also give cyclists space - if you pass close to a cyclist they might kick out and smash up your car.

    The RLJ sequence was filmed on W George Street - nicely resurfaced and lined out for the City Centre cycle racing in July. It totally lacks credibility - aside from 4 am on August bank holiday Monday there would never be a solo cyclist riding with not another vehicle in sight on this street. Perhaps someone would like to reshoot this in real traffic conditions. In real traffic conditions on a normal day it is likely that a cyclist passing the lights as they change, as in the video, would have a bus flying past on their left and at least 2 cars crossing the stop line after them and passing on the right.

    Refreshingly a much better campaign has been promoted in Ireland, paid for by an organisation that embraces safety campaigns for all road users, from a budget for all road users. Try this one for size Mr Brown - you could even use it with a redubbed voice-over, and subtitles - I think the director cleverly avoids having any Irish registration plates visible on the cars, and it could be assumed as generic Scotland as much as it was generic Ireland.

    Just think, you could have saved enough to build a one or two more of the much needed equivalents of the finally completed Bridge to Nowhere - only actually finished because we voted for it getting 50% of the money from the National Lottery - after 40 years waiting for a fully funded scheme delivered by the Scottish Transport budget.

    Facile, vacuous, immature, so many words flash up in the widespread reaction to the final delivery, and I wonder if those who endorsed this prior to Monday's unveiling are now feeling a bit embarrassed, and perhaps feeling the wrath of their members on the decision taken.

    Oddly enough the official twitter account @nicewaycode was rapidly joined by the parody account @nicewaycodeGB and more recently by the Doric-themed @ayewaycode. Ironically the @nicewaycodeGB rapidly overtook the official account with more than double the number of followers and 3 times the number of tweets posted, although they only sought to follow a fifth of the number of others.

  3. -insert sweary word here- I thought it would be bad, but just, no. I honestly feel MORE scared going out on my bike now that drivers have been reminded how much they hate all cyclists. I feel like the next time I go out every single driver is going to be leaning out their windows saying their new catchphase "stop at red, like everyone else" in a really passive-aggressive voice.

    I'll be the first to admit that I'm of a generally nervous disposition, but having watched the Name video above it has done nothing to alleviate that. I actually feel sick right now. My safety on the roads has absolutely nothing to do with how other cyclists behave and for the Scottish Government to positively assert otherwise, I can't put into words how angry I am.

    And no, I am not a horse, I am a human being. Please don't run me over because I'm a human being, not because I might dent your bonnet.

  4. What can I say, other than I am glad this is not an English or London campaign; we have our own state the bleedin' obvious;