Saturday, 7 January 2012

Considerate Cycling 0

Well the grass looked greener on the other side. So I have gone to see if it really is.  I wrote about "Shared Space" because it has been on my mind for the last month or so and there has been a sudden outbreak of interest in the topic. See: (my new blog, based on recent experience)
(Joe Dunkley's excellent critical review)

Monday, 2 January 2012

Considerate Cycling 8

"The undersigned call on the Women's Institute to reject Resolution 6 calling for compulsory helmet laws and to focus instead on creating conditions in which all members of society will feel safe and comfortable riding a bicycle" link

At the time of writing, this statement has been signed by 750 people. It is addressed to The National Federation of Women's Institutes (WI) by the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. The WI have a shortlist of 6 suggestions, one of which could form the basis of a WI national campaign if its local federations and annual conference agrees. Each shortlisted proposal is to be discussed locally and nationally. A summary of the WI's procedure is here:

A bit of publicity for a cherished cause is no bad thing. But the signatories to the Cycling Embassy petition seem to me to be doing something a bit silly. For one thing, the WI is a voluntary organisation who have their own democratic procedures. They decide things for themselves. They have provided a briefing for members that is even-handed about the pros and cons of each proposal, with evidence that they have made efforts to find out about the views of interested parties (including the CTC) and to let members know about these.

At this stage, the idea that another voluntary organisation can petition a body that has not yet made a democratic decision is one that I don't understand. A petition, in normal use, is a word that refers to a demand or request made by a group of signatories to a recognised authority who have the power to accede to the demand or request. In this case the WI is not a recognised authority. The WI might have influence, but it is not a statutory body and in any case, they haven't finished deciding what to do. Sending them a petition is just a gimmick – a publicity attracting device.

The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain has just got itself into a muddle here. They and those who are signing its petition are making themselves look a bit daft. (sadly, adding an ounce or two to the public perception of cyclists as a bit eccentric). A voluntary association with a specific interest has every right to campaign on whatever it wants to campaign on - calling on another voluntary association to stop a process that would lead to a campaign the Cycling Embassy doesn't like reveals a fairly worrying lack of understanding of democratic processes.

To put it more simply the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, if it wants to, should campaign against compulsory helmets for cyclists. The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, if it wants to, can publish opinions about the WI and one of the WI's membership-generated proposals (even though it has not yet been accepted). But in my opinion The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain should not put itself or its supporters in the non-democratic position of calling on a voluntary association not to mount a campaign. They are meddling in someone else's affairs.

Sorry, I have to say The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain and the 750 "petitioners" have put themselves in a wrong place.

I do, incidentally, agree that compulsory helmet legislation would be a bad idea. As far as I understand it there is good evidence that segregated provision improves safety and that there is no equivalent evidence that compulsion to wear helmets changes the likelihood of casualties. Please let me know if I'm wrong on either of those points. They are, however, nothing to do with what I am saying about the folly of this petition.