Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Cycling is dangerous

Vole O'Speed: Cycling is dangerous (a belated response)

I agree with everyone! No, that's not true. Not radio star. Definitely not radio star. Definitely not MG, either. Not londonneur.

I agree with Paul M, who said that cycling is not dangerous, relatively speaking, and relatively is the only way you can speak of any type of risk.

I agree with Vole O'Speed, when he says that by any realistic, useful definition of the word, cycling on UK roads is dangerous; so dangerous that the vast majority of people will never do it under current conditions.

I agree with timooohz, who says no matter how many people tell him jogging is safe and fun, the Pamplona Bull Run is always going to be just a little bit too frantic for his taste. Those bulls are big! Even if they don't mean to kill you, they might run over you, or crush you up against a wall, or something. Not that he minds the bulls, particularly. It's just that, if he were to go jogging, he'd prefer that they had their own space, you know, behind a fence or something, to keep them away from the path.

I agree with Idle Boy, who, like everyone it seems, accepts that more infrastructure is needed. But, he says, we must also learn to deal with what we have now, and work towards reducing that risk in a realistic and gradual manner. I agree with that.

I agree with freewheeler, who said something like putting the cart before the horse has never worked in the past, so it's anybody's guess why it is thought befitting to get more people to cycle before we set about creating the appropriate infrastructure.

I agree with Azor_rider, who reckons the Dutch have critical mass in cycling because using the bike is simply quicker and more convenient in Holland than using the car. We can improve subjective safety, he says, by encouraging local authorities to reduce speed differentials (more 20 mph limits), and by developing cycle routes which run parallel to arterial roads, in the way that the Dutch do (i.e., by closing off rat runs but allowing 'permeability' for cyclists). He thinks that cyclists would have a higher modal share than 1% were it not for the fact that the majority perceive cycling in this country to be too risky.

I agree with marion, who's appalled by the back-biting and cowing, just because someone wants to eat more than the crumbs off the motorist lobby's table.

I agree with hellibird: Kids ride bikes 'cos it's fun. They don't ride bikes to go to school or for other utility purposes round here. I think that's due to parental anxiety for their safety. Adults don't ride bikes very much in this neighbourhood either. No amount of training will make it fun. It does not feel safe either.

So anyway, I'm sorry that I didn't take part in the debate as it happened. I'm a bit new to this, as it goes, and besides, I much prefer talking to myself.

Idle Boy:

I do 100% agree that facilities should be improved, but if only 2% of people are using bikes in London then funding will be in proportion to that. There are very sound and good arguments that say this short-sighted approach is incorrect, and I agree. But until we get more people on the road - until cycling is seen as a norm rather than the preserve of people who think it is a good idea to go up the Mall naked - cycling will never be seen as anything other than a mode of transport for "other" people.

We really need to give the positive and fun message of cycling to people far more often. There is just so much to be gained for us and them by doing this. To miss out on the joy that cycling can bring because of an over-accentuated fear of the roads would be denying people the freedom and joy riding a bike can bring. Let us try and keep a sense of perspective on the fear element.

On a genuine point, I have worked for regional, local and national government on many things, both large and small. I promise you one thing: if you don't get bums on saddles then you will never get the representation at the top to make a change. Yes, there will be the occasional one-offs (e.g. Camden), but these are the exception and not the norm. They will do next to nothing to increase real cycling numbers. I can only tell you this from years of working on many things in this area - from real hands-on experience - raw numbers of cyclists is the only way you will achieve anything significant.

Let me go further: all the research in the world will not get hard-earned tax money spent. It can support the argument, yes, but only sheer numbers of voters / riders will get the money allocated to the group of users.

Paul M:

A truck passing by you with only a couple of feet to spare feels dangerous, and even if you are coldly rational about the true danger, it feels bloody unpleasant. But I maintain that, in fact, cycling is relatively safe. Arguing that cycling could be dangerous for novice cyclists, were they to start, is purely perceptive, and even that is not necessarily borne out by known stats, as the perhaps surprisingly low level of casualties in the first six months of Boris-biking might show.

None of this argues against the compelling need to make our roads safer for cyclists and that certainly means, in a material proportion of cases, physical separation. In the Netherlands, segregation applies to around 15% of the total road network, the rest being managed by other measures.

But is it helpful to the cause of increased utility cycling, and the infrastructure to support it, to proclaim that cycling is inherently dangerous? Am I just playing safe, falling for the much-derided “elf & safety” culture beloved of the tabloid press, if I fear to encourage people to take up cycling through training, mentoring and other moral support? Why must we paint cycling in such terms? Why is it all Bradley Wiggins or Victoria Pendleton, wrapped in fluorescent lycra, helmet and weird shades? Do I really want to emphasise the risk, the “rush”, the adventure, which will certainly attract some people, but arguably the wrong kind? [Pay attention, radio star and MG, he's talking about you.] Isn’t that a total turn-off for most potential utility cyclists? When did you last see a family hatchback or saloon promoted with images of Formula 1 drivers in flame-retardant suits and full-face helmets? It would be a total turn-off.

I don’t buy the CTC bull about “safety in numbers”, not because I believe it to be untrue – there really is at least a grain of truth in it – but because it is just about their only policy, and as such is woefully inadequate. However, a few cycle campaigners and bloggers are never going to achieve a step-change in government attitudes to cycle infrastructure. [Ahem.] That can only come from grass-roots pressure, and the people are not going to march on Downing Street with banners saying, “I would love to cycle, but I demand that you build the cycle lanes first!” You need more cyclists on the roads for that.

Consider what's happened at Blackfriars Bridge. No one can pretend that this is an unqualified victory, but the very fact that more than 500 cyclists joined the flashride and wrote to TfL, or to their assembly member, achieved some results in terms of the reinstatement of cycle lanes at or near the northern junction. We need more bums on saddles, passionate about improving their experience, pressing their elected representatives for change. Scaring them off won’t help there.