Tuesday, 1 February 2011

A field student complains

I've just returned from the online traffic jam and crash which is,

the new 'government crime map' (government's map of crime) by which we can enter our postcode and visit statistics for crime in the locality. 5 million hits an hour have overwhelmed the facility and so it is not managing to provide the 'instant access' to the details of our contemporary fears and malaise. It was interesting, when I searched for the site via google, the first link for this map comes courtesy of 'Car Rentals', but not so surprising as 'the car' is one of the principle causes of crime - a fulcrum on which much criminal behaviour depends.
While enjoying the refuge of a greasy spoon, 'Bryndlewindle' has been developing a map of Walthamstow violence and murder - here being one of the links to it.
I have just been shocked by a very revealing and stimulating post from Freewheeler, concerning Waltham Forest's 'grey fleet'.
I have worked for the Community Learning and Skills Service (LBWF) and so I can give an (ex)employee's response. I worked part-time on a sessional basis at several of the service's learning centres and used my bike to commute. One of the centres, Chestnut House, has no proper facility for securing bicycles. Indeed (cycling) staff and learners used to lock bicycles to a fire escape.
At another centre, Friday Hill House, there was no cycle stand either. I used to lock my bike to a drain pipe close to the car park at the side. I worried that it did not seem too challenging an opportunity for a cycle thief to engage with and so I imagine other cyclists might have been effectively discouraged.
This is not to say a cycle stand guarantees security. There are cycle stands outside Forest Recycling Project/Hornbeam on Hoe St/Bakers Avenue from which whole bicycles, wheels and saddles have been stolen. This could be the point at which to recall a personal experience which illustrates the indifference and rank inefficiency of the police in dealing with cycle theft and abuse towards cyclists. Another time.
Returning to Friday Hill House. I cycled to and from there (and other centres) frequently heavily loaded with tools and materials for group arts and crafts activities. I did not mind doing this; the point I am getting to is that at no time was this contribution to the service recognised and encouraged let alone 'rewarded'. This is a state of cultural/cognitive dissonance on the part of the council. I assume there is a local reflection of national anxiety (indicated by the 'government crime map') which is a part of the cognitive disonance cited by Freewheeler. Will this be a head on collision or psychic implosion?
Here is a transcript of a hypothesis put forward by Will Self, in August 2008, for the BBC R4, Thinking Allowed - Imagination and the City.
'one of the most interesting, as it were, double bluffs in the urban context, about safety and the individual is, stranger danger, and the way in which the grand narrative is that if you leave your child alone, and we all believe it if you have small children, you buy it at a strange and unconscious level, if you leave your child alone for 10 minutes in the urban context, he or she will be abducted by a paedophile ring. The reality is if you leave your child alone for 5 or 10 minutes in the urban context and he/she steps out from between parked cars she'll be hit by somebody in their SUV and killed. That's the reality of the situation. So in order to cover up our obsession with maintaining private car ownership in the urban context we invented vicious groups of paedophiles'
This analysis might be fanciful, perhaps glib, except that some of the most congested periods on the roads are at school opening and closing times - 'the school run'. Many parents who drive to and from work are likely to take their children to school by car. I wonder if the EST survey of the LBWF grey fleet indicated this sense of necessity from it's drivers? This primal instinct to protect children is exploited by the motor transport system.
How does the council for London Borough of Waltham Forest, monitor the quality of driving by it's employees? While many council vehicles are clearly identifiable - carrying the logo and such like what about this 'grey fleet'? When employees are driving these vehicles on duty, subsidised by the council tax, how are they to be identified and made accountable for driving which abuses the highway code, and other road users?
While I was cycling to work just over a week ago, a LBWF community transport bus failed to give way to me and turned left at a T junction onto Queens Road. I had to break hard to avoid colliding with the bus - carrying children/vulnerable adults, I think. I have no idea if the driver saw me. This is not the first time I have witnessed a community transport bus abusing (i.e. driving without respect for the highway code*) other road users, myself included. The route to work takes me past Low Hall transport depot where the Community Transport Office is. I managed to get the bus registration number, so visited the office to report the incident.
In an office full of prospective drivers, I gave my name, telephone number and details of the incident to the person at the desk. That person apologised on behalf of the driver and assured me the matter would be followed up and that I would be contacted later in the day about any appropriate action taken. I have not been contacted. I do not know if the matter has been followed up.
When leaving the office I wondered if it was wise to make a complaint in person and indeed I have some doubts about the wisdom of reporting about this from a named blog - i.e. not via a psuedonym and the relative security of anonymity.
I am considering visiting the community transport office again to ask about the incident. I would like to know if my complaint has been properly logged - and even if the drivers concede or not, they are monitored, public complaints included. More complaints, when or if they are made, may suggest the driver would be better employed doing something other than driving.
In 'Imagination and the City' there was talk of the cities 'thrown togetherness'. Disonance (the effect of a compromise?) may be the result of this nature of becoming and planning might never be able to keep up with nor anticipate the reality unless it becomes more authoritarian. But who would be the first to feel the force of the authority?
* I reiterate, abuse of the highway code, and no reference to sexual abuse is intended here.


  1. 1. Put a camera on your handlebars or helmet, the veho muvis are cheap, just come with weak mounts (always keep the strap on)

    2. when you go in to complain, bring the bike or helmet into the office, leave it filming.

    then you have a record of the incident and the complaint, it's hard to deny the reporting if you have footage/sound of it.

  2. SteveL, many thanks for this advice. I'll look into it and give some feedback.
    Regards, Julian