24 Apr 2012

Time for a joined-up strategy on cycling

It wasn’t quite gamekeeper-turned-poacher, but there was something bizarre about appearing in front of MPs to be questioned about one of my passions – cycling.

The transport select committee has been examining cycle safety in the light of The Times campaign following the desperate damage inflicted upon one of its young star reporters by a turning truck – she is still in a coma six months on.

I appeared with the editor of the Times, James Harding, and with a cycle activist, the vice-president of CTC.

It was hard to divine where the committee is going. They didn’t seem to like the idea of compulsion when it comes to making provision for cyclists. I was asked whether new urban developments should be compelled to make provision for cycle ways. I said yes.

We talked about training motorists – including interacting with cyclists as part of the driving test. We also talked about improving training for cyclists.

But above all, it was accepted that amid the vast surge in cycling in Britain, the present situation is now beyond dangerous.

We asked for leadership in the government – one minister whose sole job was to be responsible for all cycling matters. We wanted a joined-up cycle strategy, and expenditure on infrastructure which would eventually save money in terms of health, education and environment.

I can’t say that anything’s going to change overnight. But it certainly felt like the first time in a long time that the political and media classes had put cycling anywhere near the top of the nation’s priorities.

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12 reader comments

  1. elliot says:

    i was following your appearance via twitter. everything you said makes a lot of sense.

    it seems to me that more training, which the gov’t currently favours, is a smokescreen. it allows drivers to absolve themselves of blame, when actually the safest option is segregated cycle facilities.

    the way i see it: i wouldn’t dream of encouraging a young child to ride on a busy road, but would be happy if they rode on a segregated cycle path beside it.

  2. Jack Thurston says:

    You did well this morning but if you’d have stuck around to hear the ministers give evidence you’re optimism would have evaporated.

    Listen to this, the concluding remarks of Mike Penning (road safety minister) and Norman Baker (cycling minister) in which they claim that cycling is safer in the UK than in the Netherlands and that there’s a lot the Dutch can learn from what the UK is doing on cycling:


    And the real facts, showing that cycling is twice as safe in the Netherlands as in the UK.


    The ministers responsible are wilfully ignorant of the basic facts and refuse to put money or effort into providing what cyclists (and potential cyclists) need. You were spot on to say there’s no leadership in government on cycling.

  3. CrankyAcid says:

    “it was accepted that… the present situation is now beyond dangerous.”

    I thought I heard useless statistics amounting to outright lying were used to present cycling as safer than Netherlands. Absurd.

  4. CycleLove says:

    Go Snow!

    I love the idea of a cycling czar… maybe you would be a good candidate?

  5. GS says:
  6. JonF says:

    Well done & thanks Jon, we need more lucid coherent proponents of cycling like you. The only thing I would add to your powerful persuasion is that provision for cycling is the mark of a civilized society.

  7. Mark Ashby says:

    This is great to hear and I hope it continues to be high on the political agenda. The thing is how long will it take to re-vamp dangerous junctions? The best thing to do, for London certainly would be to have the designated minister personally cycle along various routes and view behaviour of riders, cars etc and earmark urgent action needed. Near Russell Square where there’s just been a new road layout and works done there was no provision for cyclists, why? Just a very dodgy turning that’s now still a dodgy turning with newer tarmac, pure lack of forethought!

    I hope these danger spots are identified and dealt with now, not in 6 months time when the paper’s been written on the matter.
    As for education I recently spent some time in a cab of a lorry the police were showing cyclists at Kings Cross and it was really useful to be reminded just how little the lorries can see. I’m all for education. Stay alert mes amis and leave the headphones at home.

  8. John Kirk says:

    I thought all three of you did very well to lay it on the line, from slightly different perspectives. I do find it slightly comical the way people who don’t cycle ask these questions. It’s as if cyclists are from another planet. I was very encouraged by the discussion, even if it did wander about rather than dealing systematically with all of the issues. The things is that so much needs doing to fix things and encourage more people to cycle. I was knocked off and fairly bashed about with concussion on 1st March but I’m still going. Why should we stop cycling which is something we love because so little is done to help us? Things are changing and for the better.

  9. Moonbeach says:

    For God’s sake. No more Government interference. Life is dangerous, ultimately fatal and, therefore, fun. People get hurt doing what they like.

    From cycling in my 60+ years, I have scraped knees and elbows, sore shoulders and injured pride. I do not wear a stupid ice cream box on my head but thorougly enjoy my bike.

    My choices, my fault if I get hurt!

    Can we not accept that accidents happen. Those injured should accept their role in them!

    More legislation encourages the compensation culture; the free-loaders charter.

    Let our weak willed politicians concentrate on dealing with the economy, bankers pay and cheats amongst their own kind!

  10. Keith Bingham says:

    Cycling conditions cannot improve in the UK unless the government increase the current low spend on cycling from £2 per head of population to at least £5.

    Second, the DfT needs to take control of Local Authorities transport planning in order to put a
    proper cycling strategy in place.

  11. Peter Stewert says:

    Thanks for taking the time to try and get things done about the conditions on UK roads, it was a surprise to see you pop up on BBC Parliament, but a welcome one. Hopefully substantive change will happen in the next few years, as I’d like to get back out myself and because we all deserve better behaviour on the roads.

    One thing I would say needed to be stressed more firmly was the need for road training of all road users. There are an awful lot of little bad behaviours on the road that make life dangerous for everyone, but cyclist particularly. Hardly anyone seems to indicate a turn anymore, and I’ve avoid serious trouble on a number of occasions when lack of indication combine with drivers no longer giving a tap on the brake light when they step of their accelerators… and I’ll stop my rant there before it really gets going. I’ll accept that there are bad cyclists too (just as there are great drivers and cyclists as well), but we need better road training and evaluation in the UK because for cyclists there is no test and for motorists you only ever need to pass it once after who knows how many attempts.

  12. Eddy says:

    I used to live in Bedford where ‘cycling lanes’ had been tacked on in certain areas as a politically correct afterthought. Eg a white line demarked 18″ – 2′ from the kerb… with parked cars littered along it! Or a dedicated cycle path parallel with the main road but where cyclists were obliged to give way to every side road (making it less stressful to ride on the road). Cycling has SO many benefits – it’s simply amazing that so little is done to promote it as a primary means of transport when the cost, relatively, to local authorities is so little. let’s hope that British cycling success will help change things.

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