Wednesday 20 January 2010

A journalist's myths about cycling in London

In 2008, 445 cyclists were killed or seriously injured in the capital. It's probably the biggest single reason why more people don't travel by bike.

Wrong. People don’t cycle because of recorded fatality and injury statistics, which most are probably quite unaware of, but because they can see for themselves that cycling is a dangerous, unpleasant and marginalised means of transport in a capital city which is choked by parked motor vehicles and full of recklessly driven motor vehicles.

In fact, cycling in London is getting safer.

Oh yeah? In what sense? This journalist has simply uncritically recycled the CTC’s ‘Safety in Numbers’ leaflet.

The number killed or seriously injured last year was more than 20 per cent down on the average between 1994 and 1998, despite the fact that the number of daily bicycle journeys on London's major roads has roughly doubled since 2000.

In the first place it’s blatantly obvious that the statistics (in themselves dodgy) are being cherry-picked. Why select an average from the years 1994-8 to measure it against 2008? It's a bogus comparison.

In the second place, recorded casualty statistics are not in any sense an index of danger or exposure to risk. As danger reduction proponents point out, measuring ‘road safety’ by such statistics is fallacious. A road with no recorded pedestrian or cyclist injuries may not be intrinsically safe, it may simply be so terrifyingly dangerous that pedestrians and cyclists don’t attempt to use it.

Cycling in London is now more dangerous than ever, because the invention of the mobile phone and the government’s failure to make driving while using one a serious offence meriting instant disqualification, means that the capital’s streets are crammed with drivers steering with one hand while engrossed in a conversation on a mobile phone with the other.

In London

1 in 8 cars are being driven illegally because they were uninsured, the highest proportion for any region.

Similarly, the road haulage industry operates on widespread illegality, with lawless driving and unsafe loads. The prejudiced Metropolitan Police is blatantly failing in its duty of care to vulnerable road users, but don’t expect this sleazy and unaccountable institution to give a toss. And the Brown government would rather suck up to its friends in the business world than ensure that lorries are driven within the law and that all drivers are insured.

Safety is also improved by more cycle lanes.

That’s complete garbage too, as I demonstrated yesterday and the day before.

But much more needs to be done to make cycling safer. It is partly a question of better training for cyclists

No it’s not. Getting more people cycling involves creating the conditions for safe and convenient cycling, neither of which exists in London. It’s about infrastructure and law enforcement, not whether or not cyclists are trained, or dress up in luminous yellow, or wear shiny helmets. Cyclists currently have no infrastructure worth talking about, and are obliged to share the roads with aggressive drivers who have never cycled, with lawless driving at epidemic levels, aided and abetted by the car supremacist Metropolitan Police. Bike theft is also a big problem, and is the second major reason why cycling is being suppressed (I have a friend who quit cycling precisely because her bike was nicked).

Cycling in London is not going to flourish in these conditions, cycling by children has, quite understandably, seriously declined in London in recent years, and the surge in cycling in London may well have peaked and may well decline.