In Europe’s top three cycling nations — Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands — timorous old people cycle, women as often as men, children bike off unaccompanied to school. Cycling is not a moral manifesto or a carbon offset. It does not require DayGlo or £500 alloy wheels or attitude. Cycling is, as it should be, banal. Because it is safe.
Only 1 per cent of our journeys are on bikes, in the Netherlands it is 27 per cent. And the reason is simple: a British cyclist is three times more likely than a Dutch one to die per miles travelled — even though only 3 per cent of Dutch cyclists wear a helmet. In Britain safety is seen as a matter for the individual, not government policy: yet it is highways, not helmets, that save lives.
And with quite extraordinary far-sightedness, these three countries built endless miles of barriered lanes along major roads but, more importantly, in many residential streets cars were slowed to a crawl and compelled to give way to bikes. And to enforce this, the law assumed, unless otherwise proved, that in an accident between a vehicle and a cyclist, the driver was at fault. Last week when that very principle was suggested here by Cycling England, there was a predictable furore about a (snore) Lycra louts’ charter.
But maybe it would make the idiot motorists who pelt down my 20mph street obey the law. Maybe it would have encouraged the left-turning HGV lorries who in London this year killed six female cyclists (women being vulnerable because we tend to ride defensively, hugging the kerb) to check their mirrors. Two fitness instructors, a film producer, a Goldsmiths’ graduate, a City director and an architect