Monday 8 November 2010

Cycling and the Bradford syndrome

The latest road violence in Bradford:

An elderly man died in a crash between two cars today, which also left six people including two children seriously injured.

Emergency services were scrambled to the accident in Toller Lane, near the junction with Haworth Road, Bradford, at 2pm.

Meanwhile, firefighters had to cut a woman free from a Rover after a two-vehicle crash in Bridge Street, near the Leisure Exchange in Bradford city centre this lunchtime.


With just ten miles of car-free cycle routes and only six independent bike shops, Bradford has been rated Britain’s worst city for cycling.

A survey of the country’s 20 biggest cities by a cycling magazine also found Bradford, which came 20th, to have the lowest number of cycling club members.

However, it’s no surprise whatever to learn that the CTC doesn’t agree:

The Cyclists’ Touring Club’s cycling development officer for Bradford Ginny Leonard said: “We do a lot of work with cycling groups and we have found they are very willing to get involved.

“Saying Bradford is the worst based on numbers is not really fair – when we started working in Bradford we found there is a lot of activity going on but it’s not joined up – that’s what we’re trying to do. There’s a great interest in riding in the city.”

That’s not the view of local cycling activists:

Pam Ashton, of Bradford Cycle Action Group, said of the report: “I totally agree with it. I cycle all the time. I think there’s been a combination of neglect to allow Bradford to become the worst for cycling. We are training hundreds of children to cycle and we want them to be safe, and I want to be safe on the streets of Bradford.

“Cycle lanes help but there is not enough respect for cyclists – we are put in danger every day.”

And in the many comments to this story there’s this:

Last summer i bought bikes for the whole family in an effort to get the kids out in the fresh air, unfortunately what is true is that you can't reasonably cycle anywhere in Bradford because of the hills and the abysmal standard of driving. We load the bikes onto the car and drive to one of the many dedicated cycle paths or canals. It makes a mockery of the green credentials of cycling really but it's the only way to enjoy cycling in this neck of the woods.

But if Bradford is bottom of the charts for cycling, it’s top of the charts for something else:

According to Motor Insurer’s Bureau (MIB), more than 1.7 million people are breaking the law by driving a car without insurance, according to research.

An estimated 13% of all cars in London are uninsured, making it the worst offending area in the country. Merseyside was almost as bad, with 12% of vehicles thought to be uninsured, followed close behind by Greater Manchester at 10%.

Sharing joint fourth place for the highest number of uninsured cars at 7% were West Yorkshire and the West Midlands. Six of the top ten worst postcodes for people illegally driving without cover were also within the West Midlands. However, in Barkerend’s BD3 postcode, in Bradford, West Yorkshire, almost 50% of all vehicles were uninsured.

Which simply reveals how stunningly feeble British policing is in the face of driver criminality.

Automatic numberplate recognition provides instant identification of an uninsured vehicle but the police are signally not bothering to use it except in the most marginal of ways. The car supremacist police are part of the problem, colluding with criminal driving on a massive scale, and institutionally hostile to cyclists who want to complain about dangerous and threatening drivers. But this statistic also raises problems for those who argue that what cyclists need is a strict liability law. You won't get compensation from a driver who has no insurance. The other objection is that such laws bear no relation at all to modal share. Ontario has one and cycling’s modal share there is 2 per cent. There is simply no correlation between strict liability legislation and high modal share.

Those opposed to the introduction of Dutch-style cycling infrastructure which separates cyclists from motor vehicles further argue that this is not necessary because cycling is growing without it, and that a greater priority is to curb bad and inconsiderate driving. They argue that they are realists. The problem is that there is no convincing evidence that cycling really is growing in any significant way, nor is it likely to when even in London cycling is being suppressed. For example, the proposal to ban cycling along a well-used stretch of the South Bank will have a deleterious impact.

Back to Bradford. The modal share statistic from the 2001 census for cycling to work was 0.84 per cent – and modal share is always highest for cycle commuting. It would be interesting to know what cycling’s general modal share in Bradford is today but I haven’t been able to locate the statistic. This older stat comes from an academic paper which discusses cycling in Bradford and elsewhere. Buried away in the jargon is the revelation that

traffic free radial routes can produce a rise of 17 to 101 per cent in cycling