A Conservative infatuation with Russell Crowe?

Consider the gladiatorial amphitheatre as a model for justice and equality.

A very fetching Ray Stevenson in HBO’s Rome

The warrior is not subject to the whims of an arbitrary or artificial power. He (and occasionally she) lives or dies by his own strength, agility and cunning. No liberal intervention will decry the acts undertaken as “brutal” or “disproportionate”. The fighter will not be interrupted by state-armed goons who consider it their duty to “police” the population according to some sort of irrational legal code. In many ways, the arena is the only example of an equal realm, and the most natural form of justice.

Is this convincing? It might have a romantic allure, but I’m not sure it should be the foundation of public policy.

The Conservative Party’s London Assembly Members seem to feel differently. This week, they distanced themselves from the rest of the London Assembly in a report entitled The Future of Road Congestion in London.

Neither the Mayor nor the Government should impose an artificial road user hierarchy as this inevitably has the effect of deliberately slowing down some users.

And in a comment on the Cyclists on the City blog, Tory Assembly Member Andrew Boff tells us:

It is true that we [the Conservatives] are, by instinct, anti-hierarchical and I agree with you that we should be making decisions to accommodate people’s choices not what we think their choices should be.

Street users, like those in the gladiator’s ring, are not created equal. Put them in a situation of conflict and some will suffer and others will thrive.

Sadly (and I mean this), most pedestrians are not Russell Crowe. Look what happens when there are more people than there is available space for them:

Stuck: trying to finish crossing a road in Hackney, yesterday

Is this an absence of hierarchy?

And when there are more motor vehicles than there are space for:

Image from Crap Waltham Forest

When a motor vehicle is in a pedestrian’s space, the motor vehicle wins. When a pedestrian is in a motor vehicle’s space, the result is the same.

The Conservative claim that they are anti-hierarchical is deceptive in two ways:

  1. It is based on idea that not explicitly creating a hierarchy of road users means that you will not end up with one naturally.
  2. Andrew Boff’s quote is even worse, because it is implicitly based on the premise that there are transport choices which are independent of (or prior to) infrastructure. People’s choices are what they are because of the streets which are available to them.

If you avoid an “artificial” hierarchy, you end up with a natural one. I’d prefer our streets to be designed for people who want to use them, than for us all to be subject to some sort of will-of-the-stronger struggle for power where, naturally, it is given to large, fast, heavy vehicles.

But I’m beginning to feel that we’re being left with little choice.


7 Responses to “A Conservative infatuation with Russell Crowe?”

  1. ndru Says:

    That’s a very interesting and well made point. Touche.

  2. ‘Hierarchy’ versus ‘equality’ | As Easy As Riding A Bike Says:

    […] users, what will automatically ensue is ‘equality.’ Cycle of Futility has written an excellent post which explodes that myth. Street users, like those in the gladiator’s ring, are not created […]

  3. mattjuden Says:

    Best post to date. Love it.

  4. East Street, Horsham – A shared space that can’t be shared? | As Easy As Riding A Bike Says:

    […] actually pans out when you have motor vehicles rubbing up alongside pedestrians. This is something Cycle of Futility has written about recently, noting that When a motor vehicle is in a pedestrian’s space, the […]

  5. Paul M Says:

    I had just about convinced myself that the argument about road ierarchy, or the design of Blackfriars Bridge or wherever, was not political but technical – economics, engineering, etc.

    However, I think you are right, and it goes further. The Libertarian Tory tendency personified by Thatcher and by some of her acolytes who remain in office today (Cameron and Boris the most obvious of them) has also infected Labour thinking, at least in the “New” variety, so that “chioce” is the ultimate goal of all policy – except that it is not really choice. At one level it means the powerful can exercise their choice regardless of the choices which would have been made by the powerless, and the road hierarchy of fast-moving metal eloquently expresses that. At another it is the choice of the customer is in reality only the choice of the provider – how much choice does a parent really have about a child’s school, when the school in effect chooses which type of pupils it wants (ie the safe, malleable middle class ones)?

    All I can hope is that Boff and his crew can be convinced (secretly of course – they would not admit this openly) that the existing road user hierarchy harms the people he cares about, ie the wealthier, middle class professionals who quite probably drive their Range Rovers around in Surbiton or Orpington, but when they are here, in the big city, they do what poor people do – they walk.

  6. The chutzpah of Richard Tracey | As Easy As Riding A Bike Says:

    […] detail about the nature of the ‘road user hierarchy’ debate (for background, see here, here, or here) but, in essence, the Conservatives believe that measures to prioritize cycling, walking […]

  7. Artificial road-user hierarchy imposed by a Conservative mayor: a closer analysis of Pedestrian Countdown « Cycle of Futility Says:

    […] In June 2011, the Conservative Party’s London Assembly Members wrote: […]

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