Last week, more than a 1,000 cyclists blocked London traffic as they lay in the road and ‘played dead’ outside the Transport for London offices to protest about recent road deaths; there were six in the last month in London.
It was protests like these in Holland in the 1970s, in response to the tragic deaths of hundreds children, that really put the impetus into Dutch transport policy to separate out bikes from powered vehicles and eventually gave rise to the fantastic system of dedicated cycle-lanes that the Dutch and other European countries now enjoy. You can see an excellent little video about this history here.
“Mass motorisation killed people, cities and the environment.”
Britain has been lagging behind for years: forty years. Of course, cycling is less popular here. We have hills to contend with that the Dutch don’t, and that puts a lot of people off peddling. We have also suffered from a transport policy that has, since WWII, been dominated by the interest of the motor industry. The infamous Dr. Beeching’s decimation of the railways system in the sixties is the prime example – but he may have been unfairly blamed.
Fifty years ago, Ernest Marples was the Minister of Transport – and he was the owner of a road-building company. There was an obvious vested interest in roads, right at the top of policy making. There’s an excellent analysis here if you want to read more. This is the legacy that has led us to our current transport conundrum. Of course, the other policy driver that continues to push in the wrong direction is that cyclists don’t buy huge quantities of oil and machinery, so there’s nowhere near as much profit to be made from us as there is from the motorist.
Having recently visited the capital and watched cyclists whizzing through the rush hour traffic in the dark, it’s easy to see how collisions occur – and faults lie with both motorists and cyclists. From what I saw in half an hour, the principal problems are that motorists just don’t give cyclists enough room as they squeeze past to get ahead and, on the other side of the coin, several cyclists simply didn’t have lights and don’t look behind or signal when changing lanes; and there’s simply no excuse for that.
Until Britain catches up with our continental partners, we are stuck with the road network we have, and we all have to share it responsibly and safely.
So, if you are a British cyclist, here are your responsibilities.
If you want to be part of the change, get organized: join Sustrans, British Cycling or the Cyclists’ Tourist Club.
If you want to help your kids stay safe, keep fit, have fun and save the planet, get them Bikeability trained.
And, if you are a motorist, please, give us space, slow down and remember we are people, not obstacles.