This compelling animation by Lucas Brailsford (whereislucas.com) looks at the high level of "non conformist behaviour" among cyclists in the Netherlands. It's not the sort of narrative you'll usually hear from cycling campaigners - it is hard to be persuasive with Governments and decision-makers if you're also prepared to admit that the people you're championing regularly jump red lights, ride home drunk or generally behave 'badly'.
There's a concept in the Dutch legal system of tolerating lightly illegal behaviour, or changing the framework so that it is no longer illegal. Dutch policy famously allows euthanasia, has legalised prostitution and the use of marijuana, and was the first country in the world to introduce gay marriage. The pragmatic approach seems to be "tolerate things, rather than prohibit them, force them underground and loose control."
When a cyclist barreling down the pavement in the dark nearly knocks you over this pragmatic approach to tolerance might seem frustrating. Likewise if a prostitute sets up (knocking) shop next door. There's no doubt that on an individual level these things could be highly frustrating, or even dangerous, but collectively society just doesn't see it as such a big deal.
Criminal tearaways, no doubt about it...
But this concept of 'turning a blind eye' is not as foreign as we might think. Watching Lucas' video from an emerging cycling culture is a real eye-opener because the non conformist behaviour of some cyclists seems a bit wild. But if a similar video was made here, about our prevalent transport users, you'd find the same. Non conformist behaviour among motorists includes speeding, parking illegally, driving drunk, riding without insurance and knocking down other road users. You don't believe that as many people in cars flout the law as regularly as cyclists ride drunk in Amsterdam? Just try driving around your local town without once exceeding the speed limit and see how your fellow road users like it..
There's no doubt in my mind that good behaviour helps to encourage a literally civil society. But in terms of fixing things, society only tries to resolve the problems it identifies as being a problem. The cyclists of Amsterdam might seem to us to be a bit out of control, but when it comes to non-conformist behaviour I know which sort I'd prefer any day...