Friday, December 28, 2007

Matthew Parris ‘humorously’ advocates killing cyclists

Newspaper columnist Matthew Parris wrote a piece in The Times (27th Dec) that said, “A festive custom we could do worse than foster would be stringing piano wire across country lanes to decapitate cyclists….. Driving or walking, don’t you just hate the way that, riding two or three abreast, they shout and curse at you or whir their angry little bells, as though it’s your problem that they need to clear the way?”

As if we need to add to the 2006 death toll of 146 cyclists, 599 motorcyclists, 675 pedestrians and 1,612 drivers and passengers killed on the roads. (Road Casualties 2006)

The article attracted a lot of comment, neatly polarized between the usual deranged cycle-haters and cyclists. I’m not really sure that it deserves much comment yet if some enraged motorist does string wire across a lane, would Parris have any liability? As one of the commentators pointed out, Mr Justice Hughes, when sentencing Abu Hamza to seven years for incitement to murder, said "No one can say now what damage your words may have caused - no one can say whether any of your audiences, present or wider acted on your words."

Another correspondent pointed to an April 2007 story in The Times headlined, " Biker killed by barbed wire: A farmer is under investigation for manslaughter after the death of an Italian motocross enthusiast who was practically decapitated by barbed wire stretched across a country track. Marco Badiali, 48, who was married with two children, bled to death from a “deep wound across his throat”.

Finally, riding two abreast is perfectly legal and is safer: it forces drivers to slow down and overtake properly instead of squeezing past. Cyclists do not need to “clear the way”!
For the record, the Highway Code, Rule 66, states, “You should never ride more than two abreast.”

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Transport for London cycling statistics

I have been trying to make sense of the data in Tfl’s Travel Report 2007. Some of the data is hard to pin down, but here are some highlights:

- On an average day in 2005 there were just over 27 million journey stages in London. 2% were by cycle versus 40% by car. Tfl quotes the figure of 480,000 bike journeys per day

- Table 1.4.1: 17,000 cyclists enter central London in the morning peak compared to 84,000 cars. That is more than 20%.

- Table 1.6.1: 3% of people working in central London commute by bike, versus 9% by car and 68% by train and tube. I’m not sure what to make of that 1:3 rate of cyclists to drivers in central London. Perhaps the point is that the selfish 9% take up 90% of the road space, cause all of the 3,700 annual deaths and serious injuries and, of course, most of the pollution.

- Chart 3.5.4: 43,000 cyclists cross the River Thames screenline every day. Hmm: how should I reconcile that with the 17,000 entering central London in the morning peak? This must imply many many more cyclists entering central London every day, but no figures are given.

- Chart 3.5.5 shows the proportion of people cycling to work by borough. There is a huge variation with a general tendency towards greater cycle use by residents of the centre and west of London. Is this because cycling is an affluent middle class hobby?

- In a separate report, Transport 2025, Tfl says: "6.6.9 Cycling: London has experienced unprecedented growth in cycling in recent years. The aim is to build on this success in the future with a target to increase cycling trips by more than 400 per cent by 2025. This could increase the mode share of cycling in London from one percent now up to five per cent by 2025, equating to more than one million extra trips every day."

It is not easy to reconcile all the figures but it is clear that by 2025 there will be more cyclists than cars in central London. Actually cycling in central London rose 20% from 2004 to 2005. Maybe it won’t take 17 years for cyclists to be in the majority.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Riding pavement and ad hominem arguments

I’m new to cycling activism and am taken aback by the venom of the attacks on cycling. Actually a lot of the debate about all aspects of cycle provision seems to be more ideological than economic.

I posted a comment on the Evening Standard story about Cross Rail noting the disparity between the £16 billion to be spent on that and the £3.5 million awarded for the Sustrans schemes. The first riposte from George McKenzie of Leicester said,

“Cyclist might start to get a better deal if they were less arrogant, obeyed traffic signals, and kept off the pavement. And why are they always in a hurry? Two days ago I saw a young girl carrying a coffee hit by a stupid cyclist who, to cut by a red light, mounted the pavement, rounded the corner and SPLAT!. Luckily she was uninjured but her clothes were a mess. Why do it?”

The latest issue of The Spectator magazine has a Festive Notebook by Joan Collins in which she writes,

“A friend of mine was walking to pick up her grandson when a punk on a bike smashed her to the ground on Kensington High Street. He didn’t even stop. Her leg was broken.”

In George’s case it is not clear what his anecdote has to do with the cost effectiveness of Cross Rail versus more cycle routes, or whether he is talking about Leicester or London. Nor do I understand what he means by mounting the pavement to cut a red light. In Joan’s case I simply don’t believe her story – at least I can’t find any online reference to what would undoubtedly have been a newsworthy incident.

I cycle in London every day and very rarely see cyclists on the pavement. When you do there are normally extenuating circumstances such as road works that have created additional dangerous choke points. Sometimes beginner cyclists take to the pavement in particularly dangerous areas but they are not a danger to pedestrians.

So why do anti-cyclists resort to these ad hominem arguments? (Ad hominem meaning an argument based on emotions and not reason or logic, or attacking an opponent’s motives or character). Is it because they know that the economic case for more cycling provision is so strong? Or is it that motorists get infuriated by cyclists overtaking them?

Is there any data? There are some 480,000 cyclists riding in central London every day. If any do ride on the pavements it must be the tiniest of percentages, and certainly much lower than the percentage of drivers speeding, jumping lights, ignoring advanced boxes or using their mobiles. Let’s keep things in perspective.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Crossrail £16 billion. London cycle routes £3.5 million

Three bits of news last Friday prompted me to start this blog.

1. “£16billion Crossrail plan clears Commons”

2. “£3.5m for London cycle routes

3. “Surveys suggest that about a quarter of Londoners would cycle if it were easier

So London cycle routes are going to get 0.02% of what is going to be spent on Crossrail even though 25% of Londoners would cycle. What percentage of Londoners will use Crossrail?

The London cycle routes, and the Sustrans schemes, seem geared more towards leisure cyclists than commuters.
Where are the plans for real cycle routes, dedicated trunk roads for cyclists?

It would be good to have four major routes:

a) East-West

b) North-South

c) NorthWest-SouthEast

d) SouthWest-NorthEast

I could suggest any number of routes. For East-West we could start with Goldhawk Road, Shepherd’s Bush Green, Holland Park Avenue, Notting Hill Gate, Bayswater Road, Oxford Street, New Oxford Street, Holborn, London Wall.

If that were a dedicated cycle route we would have tens of thousands of extra cycling commuters at a fraction of the cost of Crossrail.