13 Aug 2014

13th Auguist 2014. It's Me against Them!!

Wednesday 13th 55F, 3C, windy, overcast heavy rain showers. It stayed dry but windy.  Rear gear indexing as good as I've had it. 4000 miles for the year so far. A bit tragic compared with previous years. 18 miles.

Yesterday I was wandering around British cycling forums, websites and YT videos. All bemoaning the poor driving standards in the UK. The insanity and total anarchy, which is normal traffic behaviour in the UK, came flooding back. I remembered how many times I would arrive at the end of a cycle ride in a rage because of some raving lunatic, drooling retard or total fuckwit driver. Or several of them!

My all too regular moans about Danish driving and drivers were suddenly brought into sharp contrast with the daily struggle for mere survival on the roads in the UK. Compared with the UK most Danish drivers are extremely well behaved and extraordinarily self-disciplined. It is true that most Danes drive too fast and far too many drivers cut most corners with double white lines. But, almost nobody ever cuts cyclists off at junctions. As is perfectly[?] normal, antisocial behaviour in the UK. Being overtaken in ridiculously dangerous places in Denmark is not the fixed routine which it is 365x24 in the UK.

There is a terrifying aggression to driving in the UK. Much of it is probably due to the sheer volume of traffic. One has to become very thick skinned just to exit most uncontrolled junctions and to take one's "rightful place" on the road. The other problem is the lack of cycling experience for many drivers in the UK. Most drivers know how badly cyclists are treated. So why should they risk their own sprogs on a bike? Generations pass without a member of the family ever taking up cycling. The cyclist's perspective is never understood and demeaning generalizations become deeply embedded. As is perfectly clear from forum discussions, website and YT comments. Cyclists are the new blacks in many driver's minds.

Most Danes cycle at all ages. From very tiny indeed to very old age and everything in between. They used to cycle just as much before the 1960s in the UK. The cycle sheds were absolutely vast at many British factories. Huge, mobile armies of cyclists arrived and left through the gates daily. As can be seen in old newsreels. It was controlled mayhem on a huge scale as they wove between equal numbers of pedestrian colleagues.

Then in the early 1960s the affordable car was dropped on the UK like an atomic bomb. The British total obsession with hierarchy was rapidly transferred to British driving behaviour and British car ownership. Cyclists were considered idiots and socially inferior because they couldn't afford a car.

The constant frustrations of coping with everyday life in Britain became embedded in driving behaviour. Everybody demanded equal right of way without remotely enjoying it in a total madhouse of ridiculously overcrowded roads. The British roads were never designed for cars let alone over-sized lorries and white delivery vans. There was simply no room for so many vehicles all at once. The rigid timing of the daily rush hours didn't help! Attempts to speed up traffic only caused months or years of frustration with major roadworks. As in every town and city the historic town centres were razed.

Driving in the UK became and remains highly combative. Rules go out the window one moment, if it suits the driver, but are expected to be rigidly enforced on all others. The illegally speeding driver, with his mobile phone welded permanently to his ear, demands that cyclist get off the road to give themselves room to be a total idiot. The main problem is that few drivers in the UK are really up to the task of driving in a constant, linear Bedlam.

Only very lately have segregated cycle lanes begun to spring up. As is perfectly normal for the UK, completely the wrong people are put in charge of cycle path design and implementation. They are obviously batting well above their pay grade or were given no financial freedom to get it right first time. Probably both, and in all cases simply being a cyclist blocked all access to jobs in that department. Can't have any of those "penniless, hippy cyclists with their obvious bias" involved!    

Meanwhile, the Danes are much more placid and far less critical of others. Economic equality might remain an illusion but most Danes probably feel less economically stressed. They also feel they still have some power over their own lives. Hierarchy may exist but it is deliberately and subtly casual. Even down to the very relaxed dress codes and social informality. The Danes mix a lot in all sorts of ways which would be intolerable to the British.

Traffic jams may exist in the major Danish cities but are quite unusual elsewhere. The steady flow of traffic greatly reduces daily frustration. The countless cycle lanes help. UK style aggression is unnecessary simply to complete a car (or cycle) journey. The lack of aggression leaves the driver's empathy and sympathy for other road users safely intact. The Dane's natural road-craft skills and discipline was taught from an early age when safe cycling was taught at school. Many will remember riding alongside their own parents' bikes while they were still tiny, wobbly and inexperienced. How many UK parents would dare have their toddler riding alongside on a busy main road into town? They would think you certifiably insane! The Danes don't bat an eyelid. Many ride their bikes with their dog on a lead!

Remarkably few British drivers can claim the same level of early cycle training. Danish riding skills, on the long established cycle paths and marked roadside lanes, can easily leave a UK rider breathless with admiration. The cycle paths are shared by all age groups and often with pedestrians. The surprise is the lack of aggression and the lack of collisions in often congested situations. Truly vast numbers of cyclists crisscross the Danish cities. Yet very few cycle paths are perfect. Nor all all of them suited to the commonplace people carrier tricycle. If cycle path rage exists I haven't seen it yet in all the miles I have ridden over here. In fact am probably guilty of importing my own selfish demands for greater speed and right of way! Thankfully [for the patiently cycling Danes]  I don't ride in the city very often! <Blush>

Perhaps the sheer number of minor frustrations with fellow cyclists over the years merely wear the Danish cyclist's sharp corners away? Becoming aggressive is utterly pointless because countless other cyclists' behaviour patterns will remain exactly the same. While the British must start each journey in hope and are almost always disappointed within a few yards of leaving home. Assuming they can escape from gridlocked parking situations in the first place. The sheer burden of survival in a winner-takes-all environment only exaggerates aggressive riding and driving behaviour. It becomes a no-holds-barred competition for space in a rigidly inelastic road space. They pay through the nose for that space but are poorly rewarded for their huge motoring expenses.

Little has changed since the 1960s with regards to relative speed of travel. Cyclists can often beat the fuming motorist commuter by a very large margin. Motorways and bypasses merely moved the constant traffic jams out of the towns and cities. The problem is that deep down everybody knows nothing will (nor can) ever change for the better. There is no magic wand or fancy new car which will transform the driving experience.

Few UK roads or city streets are as wide as the Danes wisely built them. All UK road space must be shared with users of all skills, speeds and vehicle sizes. The car advertisers may film their pathetic drivel on wet Sunday mornings but the reality is that the roads are never truly empty. Nor is there a "clever" new route which will solve the driver's desire to get to work or home again in the least time with the least amount of hassle.

Perhaps the only real hope for the UK is to take the driver completely out of the equation. Self-driving cars would leave the occupants completely free to do other, far more interesting things. Robotics and AI are very likely to put many drivers out of a job anyway. The vast majority these days only commute to do something which is perfectly feasible while still at home. Though god help those who get bored and need a frequent trip to the 'fridge to break the endless monotony. If they hopped on a bike and went for a ride on newly driver-free roads the boss would probably accuse them of slacking! Perhaps a deadly pandemic is the [only] final solution to UK road congestion? Or move to Denmark. [Please don't!] :-)  


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