28 September 2010


London Race
I picked up the new novel by Ben Elton - Meltdown - at the airport last week. Nothing to do with cycling, but there is a great passage that describes the culture of fear and lack of rationality inherent in modern society, not least in London.

"Monica [...] considered the genuine nightmare that awaited every driver who ventured on to the streets of London between the hours of seven and nine-thirty in the moring, as the usual heavy traffic of one of the world's busiest cities was supplemented by an extra half-million or so cars (often HUGE cars) each containing one one mum or nanny and one small child.

Now that both Jimmy and Monica appreciated the full horror of the school run, Jimmy couldn't help wondering why they didn't walk it. It was only a mile and a half and it would probably be quicker on foot. He had in fact suggested this idea to Monica but she had refused to even consider it.

'The streets just aren't safe', she insisted. 'What if Toby rain out into the road? He could be knocked down.'

'By a parent driving a child in a four-by-four?' Jimmy asked.

'Yes actually,' Monica replied angrily. 'Some of those mums drive like they're invading bloody Poland. It's incredible. I saw a cyclist go down last week. Horrible.'

'So we protect Toby from being knocked over by a frazzled, furious parent in a Range Rover by BEING that frazzled parent in a Range Rover?'

'Look, I don't care,' Monica said, the light of battle in her eyes. 'All I know is that if Toby's inside the Discovery, he is totally safe and if he's outside it he isn't. You can't argue with that equation, Jimmy! I'm sorry, but end of story. We may be poor but we're not going to let poverty kill our kids. He goes to school in a car. You don't compromise on safety. Ever.'

Monica, like every other parent in the same situation, presented this point of view with an almost evangelical zeal, her eyes ablaze with moral certitude, as if merely by conjuring up the word 'safety' she had trumped any and all other arguements.

'Monica!' Jimmy protested. 'That's the argument the police use when they close an entire motorway because somebody's having a piss on the hard shoulder. You have to quantify the risk!'

But Monica was not prepared to quantify the risk and so Jimmy joined the school run along with every other parent and nanny in London.

They screamed at taxi drivers. Taxi drivers and bus drivers screamed back. Tatooed and dreadlocked anarcho-cyclists banged bonnets. Leather-clad motorcycle dispatch riders chased leaping pedestrians through tiny gaps in the acreage of steaming, fuming metal. The very air throbbed with frustration and fury as Londoners young and old began their working day in the worst possible mood to do good business."


Bristol Traffic said...

We call them Redland Mums: a parent of either gender who is prepared to kill pedestrians or cyclists rather than drop their kids off late for school.

And yes, we do have quite a collection. The point is, you can't fault the reasoning. They are dangerous. You are safer in your own 4x4.

Gerard said...

Look on it as the Arms Race of the commute. Mutually Assured Destruction indeed!

Mark said...

Yep - that's us!

One day, I hope, the world will look back on us and smile at the madness of it all.

How you go about beginning to unlock the vicious cycle in a city like London is beyond me.

PS Please, Mikael, no more Ben Elton quotes - illuminating though this one was his writing style just makes me itchy - bleurgh.

David Devereux said...

"We call them Redland Mums"

Fun - I call them Dummy Mummies.

didrik said...

Sounds like a typical morning in America too.
I left for work 30 minutes later than normal and got caught in this sort of mess this morning.

Anonymous said...

The issue here is also inability to judge risk. The mother in question doesn't know how many children are killed in car accidents as opposed to pedestrian accidents. Nor does her husband offer her this information. In an fact-free discussion the mother's own anxieties about "am i a good enough mother?" rule. The mother's real fear is based on the guilt that she's an inadequate mother, that others view her as a bad mother. So she takes the most extreme position to signal that she is a good mother. Actual facts would allow her to decouple her own fears from daily practical choices. The UK government has a pamphlet: this shows that more children are killed walking to school or playing on the streets in the evening than in car crashes or riding bicycles. Doesn't this suggest that the UK lacks appropriate pedestrian infrastructure and safe neighborhood playgrounds? If the mother could resolve her own personal anxieties, she could in fact improve child safety by advocating for safe playgrounds and pedestrian street crossings.

Anonymous said...

There is such an easy way to get out of this mess in the mornings - start later. Go to work for 10 am!!! It works beautifully.

Everyone else is in the office by 9am. You leave for work at 9:30am. Take your time and arrive fresh.

Try this once and see how it feels.

As a huge side benefit - during winter you actually get to see more sunlight because you have 2 hours sun in the morning to yourself. Everyone else is commuting and working during the brief dahylight hours.

Obviously, not everyone can do this - but all the more reason for YOU to do so...

Bristol Traffic said...

@anonymous -if you have to get your child to the school at the same time as everyone else, you can't hide from the chaos. That's why the primary risk on the school run is the other parents.

This is why we have such excellent coverage