The response of the Mayor of London to the death of Philippine De Gerin-Ricard, who was riding a Boris Bike on one of his so-called Cycle Superhighways exposes the true extent of his shortcomings. Boris Johnson said the key to tackling the cycling dangers is for “safety in numbers”. This is a dangerous myth. Whilst more cyclists on our roads will marginally encourage motorists to keep an eye out for them, it shows a contemptible lack of vision or action. It’s a shrug-your-shoulders approach.
There has been a distinct rise in the number of cyclists in inner and central London, and safety in numbers might help at rush hour. But out of those times and the further away from the centre of London you cycle, the fewer cyclists you will encounter, especially in the car-dominated suburbs.
I regularly cycle around Croydon, Streatham, Clapham and Brixton. Sometimes I can cycle for 2 or 3 miles and not see one other cyclist en route, especially going into Croydon. That shows that the feeble impact of the cycling `revolution’ which is not filtering down to the suburbs. And the reason is because most people do not feel safe on two wheels as they mix with impatient and easily distracted motorists.
Boris Johnson’s previous comments insisting that it is safe to cycle on busy roads providing you “man up” and “keep your wits about you” – for example when tackling the notorious Elephant & Castle roundabout – reveal his shockingly negligent attitude. He might be an experienced cyclist, but for a cycling `revolution’ it must be safe for older children and adults of all ages to ride a bike. That clearly is not the case today, despite the irony of London having a cycling Mayor.
London v Amsterdam
This is the Mayor who claims he would make cycling in London “better than Amsterdam”. At 2% of journeys made by bicycle across Greater London we have hardly begun to scratch the surface. As someone who has regularly cycled in Amsterdam and across the Netherlands I can confirm that this claim is PR soundbite `wiff waff’. He ping pongs on the issue of safety because HE isn’t prepared to `man up’ and take the decisive action desperately needed to protect cyclists (and pedestrians for that matter). The reason is his libertarian political philosophy. Boris could not possibly do anything that hinders the rights of the motorist or that does not prioritising keeping London’s traffic flowing.
A splash of blue paint (which fades in colour to a dirty grey thanks to oil from all the passing vehicles) is a pathetic quick fix. I was quite hopefully before Boris opened CS 7 from Tooting to the City. At last, something local-ish. But there are some white-knuckle death traps along CS7 such as near Clapham Common station and around Oval. And yet when Boris is called to account on cycle safety, he only offers waffle and promises of jam tomorrow. More traffic jams, rather than decent and safe infrastructure.
Boris wants his cake and eat it
What we are witnessing is a pathetic resignation and abdication of responsibility from the Mayor to protect Londoners. Typically Boris wants his cake and eat it. He encourages everyone to cycle despite failing to make cycling safer. Equally, he maintains that cars deserve to be able to speed along unhindered. Traffic flow, as Boris frequently says, must not be impaired.
But keeping the traffic flowing with fast vehicles and only a bit of blue paint for protection is a recipe for disaster. And don’t forget the recent study showing the dangers of pollution on main roads as London continues to have the worst pollution of any capital city in Europe, regularly breaching EU limits.
Holland in the 1970s
If you click on the link you will see a short video of footage from 1970 in Holland and how they invested in cycle infrastructure. In the 1970s the Netherlands was where we are now. They had the same problems as us. Roads full of traffic – a chaotic and dangerous environment for cyclists. Then they boosted public transport (especially reliable fast trams and trains), blocked certain roads to cars and built high-quality often segregated cycle routes.
Those who say London’s streets do not have the space for bikes have obviously never been to Amsterdam or the Netherlands. Some of their roads are equally as narrow and yet they bravely reduced space for cars and provided an excellent, affordable public transport network. The result? Fewer cars, cleaner air, more people walking and cycling – and a fitter nation.
Irresponsible media commentators
In London and Britain, part of the problem has been years of talk show radio presenters and columnists in the tabloids demonising cyclists. Those commentators may not realise it, but the drip-drip effect of motorists having their prejudices reinforced by endless complaints about bad cyclists jumping red lights, weaving in and out of the traffic only adds to motorists’ sense of entitlement and places them at the top of the pecking order.
It kills any emotional awareness that drivers would ordinarily have to their fellow human beings. It encourages drivers to be more like the Michael Shumacher of old, rather than my mantra of driving considerately `like a Buddhist’.
Aim High, Go Dutch
The goal should be for it to be safe for 8-to-80 year olds to ride a bike. At the moment cycling is general the preserve of young, fit and brave men. Less super fit people like myself are in the minority.
To achieve this, sacrifices have to be made. The main cycle superhighways could be converted and improved for the fitness fanatics, but for the rest of us the London Cycle Network of quieter almost traffic-free back street routes needs a huge upgraded. Currently too many are used as rat runs by impatient drivers and can be intimidating. Local authorities such as Croydon who refuse to take cycle safety seriously are part of the problem.
So Boris Johnson’s answer to the death of a cyclist using his superhighway on a hire bike is appallingly dangerous. Cycle superhighways are a joke for anyone who has seen how cycling has flourished across the North Sea. It is painful to hear him talk up cycling whilst failing to take bold and visionary steps as seen in Copenhagen and Amsterdam.
If only Boris would stop talking Double Dutch, but instead just Go Dutch.