A picture is worth a thousand words, but which thousand words exactly? Wouldn’t it be hopelessly verbose to try to find a whole thousand words for this picture, or am I missing the point because you don’t need the words if you have the picture?
Here goes. Semiotic analysis of sign, apologies to Roland Barthes. The sign is metallic. It is municipal. High and hard, it speaks with the voice of authority, but it is removed, uncaring authority. This is a mass-produced sign, from a factory, perhaps in Taiwan. This sign has no relationship with where it finds itself, in Lawton Rd, Alsager, except for the fact of it being there. Beyond language, it speaks in the universal code of pictures.
This sign is cruel. It features a bicycle icon, beloved of millions, only to forbid its use beyond the sign. And for what reason? Why should a bike not meander down this quiet path between the houses? The sign does not bother to give reasons. It stands aloof, arrogant, forbidding, like the Whites Only signs of Apartheid South Africa.
What story lies behind the erection of this sign? Did a council surveyor turn up one day and carefully measure the dimensions of the path, or count the users of the path to see if their median age was over 60, or conduct psychometric tests on them to see whether they would be unduly startled by the sudden appearance of a bicycle? Did a meeting of bureaucrats simply rubber-stamp a general decision to ban all bikes from all footpaths regardless of the circumstances? Did anybody ever get hurt at this path?
This sign is rude. It tries to take away a personal freedom without negotiation or reason. It is like a domineering patriarch who must be obeyed, and who will have a lonely old age when his captives finally flee the nest. And like him it is ignored. Does anybody think that this sign has ever stopped a single bike from being ridden down this path? It doesn’t stop semi-respectable middle-aged cyclists like me, and it certainly won’t stop teenage boys.
This sign is a waste of ratepayers’ money. How much does it cost to put up a sign? Someone must know. They are all over the place. Alsager does not have any bike paths. More money has been spent preventing cycling than encouraging it!
Here is another sign, from the ramp down to the Wheelock Rail Trail:
A wooden sign! Organic and artisanal! Speaking in a human voice… This sign is ambivalent, seductive in its homemade woodenness yet still anonymous, still bossy, still forbidding. Why the abruptness? Why not Cyclists Please be Careful! as a message?
Who made this? Was it a local resident whose auntie was alarmed by a bike going down the ramp? Was it one of the dog-walkers whose pooches foul the path? With what authority do they speak? Was this a corporate decision by the committee that runs the railtrail to be rustic with signage?
We cyclists today are yersterday’s Egyptians, quiescent, watchful, waiting for our moment to arrive, as it must, because we are the future. One day the signs will come down like that statue of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Have your hacksaw ready!