Whatever Happened To The Olympic Cycling Boom?
Cut speed limits to get millions more cyclists on the road, urge MPs
We reported post-Olympics about the initial rise in cyclists following Bradley Wiggins Tour de France victory and the success of British cyclists such as Victoria Pembleton and Sir Chris Hoy in the London Olympics 2012 (and also the problems that this could cause), but the expected explosion of pedal pushers onto British roads has yet to materialise.
Maybe the end of British Summer Time and the onset of a pretty rough winter is part of that cause, but I feel that there is a much more deep-seated problem that needs to be looked: the simple fact that cyclists are scared to ride on British roads.
While some of this may well be down to their own inabilities and lack of training in road etiquette (and often plain knowledge of the good old Highway Code), the attitude of car, van and lorry drivers to cyclists is less than pleasant. While it can be understood on the odd occasion (when a whole pack of cyclists are selfishly cycling on a Sunday morning run with a “I am a cyclist; I am God” attitude), intolerance of cyclists is a problem that drivers themselves need to look at because they are as entitled to use the road as much as we are – and the fact that we are driving what, to all intents and purposes, could be labelled a killing machine and they are ‘sauntering’ along on a flimsy piece of metal doesn’t give us carte blanche to dismiss their rights.
With this in mind, the news that a party of MPs is suggesting moves to try and encourage millions more people to take up cycling so that the ‘Olympic Legacy’ isn’t crushed under the wheels of an articulated lorry, as reported in the Independent, is certainly an interesting one.
The manifesto – which advocates a 20mph speed limit in towns, heavier penalties (mainly jail ones) for dangerous drivers, better parking at train stations, more cycling lanes with their own traffic lights, and a ban on heavy lorries using city centre streets at the busiest times – is being presented today (Wednesday) by the Parliamentary Cycling Group. Chairmen of the Group, Labour MP Ian Austin and Liberal Democrat Julian Huppert, said: “We are in danger of squandering the Olympic legacy and failing to create a healthier, more active UK.”
27% of journeys in the Netherlands are made by bicycle, 19% in Denmark and 10% in Germany: all in comparison to less than 2% in Britain. The MPs want an immediate cash increase in governmental spending on the promotion of cycling to the extent that they have a target of an increase in UK bike journeys to 10% by 2025.
And the ‘obvious’ way to obtain this increase, they say, is to cycling safer and more attractive.
More than 120 cyclists were killed last year in “tragic and avoidable” accidents; some of them quite high profile and featured in the national press. Former British boxing champion Gary Mason died in a cycling crash in south London in January 2011 after a collision with a van; Promising actor, 20 year-old David Poblet, who had just auditioned for Rada, was killed in a crash with a skip lorry in South-East London in March 2011; and only today, Nicholas Lovell entered a guilty plea to causing the deaths of tandem riders Ross Simons, 34, and his wife Clare, 30, in a crash in Hanham, near Bristol, on January 27 this year.
These were just some of the ones that got press coverage – many more were just as unfortunate.
Hence the MPs recommendation that 20mph speed limits are set in most urban roads and back limits of 40mph in many rural lanes. They have also called on the police and the courts to take a much tougher approach to speeding and reckless motorists, suggesting that many judges don’t take the offence seriously enough, handing down “trivial sentences” even over collisions resulting in the death of cyclists.
They also want heavy vehicle drivers to undertake specialist training so that they are more aware of cyclists, possibly helped by safety features that could be fitted onto trucks to allow better vision.
Spending on cycling projects at the moment is less than £2 per person in England, and the manifesto wants this to be increased 500% to £10 per head (rising to £20 as the number of bike users increases), initially equivalent to £500m a year, and to be utilised by the creation of more cycle lanes, the improvement of road surfaces, the redesigning of road junctions to make them more bike-friendly and installation of traffic lights for cyclists.
The Chairmen added: “Bike security is also an important factor in people’s decision to cycle and we call for more secure bike parking at both ends of a journey, including at railway stations.”
The committee were backed up Chris Boardman, the cycling Olympic gold medallist, in the urging of the appointment of a national cycling champion to encourage the use of bicycles, and especially to put into place a programme for all children to be taught cycling skills at school. Mr Boardman said: “The benefits of getting more people to cycle in terms of health and improving the places in which we live are clear. We need to be ambitious and set ourselves quantifiable targets to increase the number of people on bikes.”
It may seem that, once again, the vehicle driver is getting all of the barbed comments when it comes to road safety. How many cyclists do you see ignore traffic lights that are red with cars sat at them as they sail straight through, unaware of any side-coming traffic and expecting the to be aware of them? How many cyclists do you (just about) see going along the road without high-visibility vests on and wearing dark clothing and not using a rear red light? How many cyclists wear headphones as they ride, oblivious of any warning noises? How many cyclists do you see not wearing helmets and wobbling along the main road as if they were a new-born Bambi?
Simon Usborne, writing a commentary piece in The Independent, agrees that education is an important part of the cycling process, if road safety is to be maintained at such a level that it is actually safe to cycle. “Education is key if riding is to become everyday for everyone. Training should be mandatory in schools and the driving test should better reflect the needs of the modern road. Non-cyclists should be encouraged to ride – and shown how to.
Nothing makes cycling safer than more cyclists. That also requires proper investment in infrastructure. The report does recommend this, but unless governments listen, fear and antipathy will put the brakes on a boom that should benefit us all.”