Why I support The Times' "Cities fit for Cycling" campaign

Something truly astonishing happened today; The Times (yes, that Times) dedicated it's entire front page to a new campaign; "Save our cyclists" thundered the headlines, asking readers to sign up and express their support for an 8 point manifesto aiming to create "Cities Fit For Cyclists".

The campaign was spurred on by the personal experience of reporters at The Times - their colleague Mary Bowers was struck by a lorry just moments from News International's HQ in Wapping as she cycled to work.  Unlike 16 other cyclists in London last year she did not die; she remains in intensive care with life changing injuries; a smashed pelvis, broken arms and broken legs.  Three months on from the collision and Mary is still in a coma.  Her friends and family keep vigil at her bedside, hoping for a sign of improvement in her condition and praying for her recovery.

The realisation that there are thousands of people just like Mary who are injured every year has moved The Times to action.  But this is a sophisticated and compelling campaign; all too easily the paper could have called for compulsory helmets, high vis vests for children or even a ban on cycling.  But the rhetoric and tone of the "Cities fit for cyclists" campaign is to be welcomed:  it recognises that riding a bike is now a legitimate means of getting about for many thousands of us, and that the cycling rate will only increase as time goes on.  It seems to me a theme is emerging which recognises that we should be focusing on the source of danger rather than trying to mitigate against being exposed to the danger in the first place.

And this campaign has its finger firmly on the button when it comes to international best precedent; it talks about the importance of high quality cycling infrastructure and looking overseas to the Netherlands and Denmark for ideas on how to really provide safe and comfortable experiences for people on bikes.

If I'm honest I never thought I would see a national newspaper (a Murdoch newspaper none the less!) making such a commitment but I am hugely encouraged and extremely happy to offer ibikelondon's support to the "Cities fit for Cyclists" campaign, along with many other excellent and indeed influential institutions.

Aldgate gyratory - left to right - a University, pubs and restaurants, office towers, hotel and local houses.  Up to 6 lanes of traffic but "no room" for safe cycling infrastructure.

 East India / A13; spot the places where people live.

I live in Tower Hamlets, the borough where News International is head quartered and where Mary was struck by the lorry.  At one end of the borough we have the Bow Roundabout; a terrifying, outdated and dangerous piece of motorway-style road where two cyclists were killed just before Christmas.  At the other ends we have the "three ring circus"; East India, Aldgate and Tower Hill gyratories.  In between all this we have Cycle Superhighway 2 - possibly London's most laughable and indeed most terrifying examples of poor cycle infrastructure - where people on bikes and buses, lorries and fast moving vehicles perform a macabre dance on a splash of bright blue painted road.  And yet in this inner-city high-density borough we have many thousands of children who live in an area with some of the highest levels of urban deprivation and childhood obesity in all of Western Europe.  Despite the roads being choked with traffic which has travelled to the borough from afar, car ownership amongst residents hovers at less than 50%.  If you wanted an example of how important - and indeed how necessary - conditions for safe cycling are you need not look far from the offices of News International.  I ride these streets every day and would like nothing more than to share them with children, young people, Mums, Grans, the less able and indeed everyone else.  These people deserve the urban independence and benefits that riding a bicycle can provide, but most of all they need to be able to do it in a safe and secure way.  The future is coming; the need for action to provide subjective and statistical safety has never been so urgent.  I support "Cities fit for cycling" and I hope you will too.

Get involved!  You can sign up to show you support "Cities safe for cycling" at The Times website here (no paywall)

Spread the word; tweet, write to your MP, and pledge today!

The Times has launched a public campaign and 8-point manifesto calling for cities to be made fit for cyclists:
  1. Trucks entering a city centre should be required by law to fit sensors, audible truck-turning alarms, extra mirrors and safety bars to stop cyclists being thrown under the wheels.
  2. The 500 most dangerous road junctions must be identified, redesigned or fitted with priority traffic lights for cyclists and Trixi mirrors that allow lorry drivers to see cyclists on their near-side.
  3. A national audit of cycling to find out how many people cycle in Britain and how cyclists are killed or injured should be held to underpin effective cycle safety.
  4. Two per cent of the Highways Agency budget should be earmarked for next generation cycle routes, providing £100 million a year towards world-class cycling infrastructure. Each year cities should be graded on the quality of cycling provision.
  5. The training of cyclists and drivers must improve and cycle safety should become a core part of the driving test.
  6. 20mph should become the default speed limit in residential areas where there are no cycle lanes.
  7. Businesses should be invited to sponsor cycleways and cycling super-highways, mirroring the Barclays-backed bicycle hire scheme in London.
  8. Every city, even those without an elected mayor, should appoint a cycling commissioner to push home reforms.

Share |


Mike Smith said...

I read the Times today and I'm impressed, the points in the manifesto are positive, good demands which have been made by groups such as SPOKES, SCCS and others. The 2% of highway budget on cycling is one of my favourites, as is 20mph on residential roads.
I think one thing that is missing, which is probably due to being politically difficult is something like "9. Cycle safety should be prioritised over traffic flow/motorist convenience". (In Edinburgh 'on-road cycle path means 'parking bay': many "cycle paths" have 24hour parking on them...).

It feels like more and more people are supporting good cycle infrastructure from both ends of the political spectrum, and the numbers cycling here in Edinburgh's has been going up every year. I think it might be time to feel a little optimistic?


Mark S said...

Maybe getting the backing from a Murdoch owned paper could be just what the cycling fraternity needs. He may not be everyones favourite person at the moment but if he does have some clout in Westminster it may be a good thing ;-)

As Mark has already said I'd love to share the roads with many other people, not just the die-hard cyclists who are brave enough to tackle busy roads and mix it with the road traffic. I still get a pang of excitement as I hit that lovely straight part of CS7 heading from Stockwell towards Clapham and can see a veritable sea of red lights and hi-vis ahead of me :-) However this same site is rare on most other roads! Seeing this replicated all over town will I think signify the "cycling revolution" that Boris keeps harping on about but has so far failed to deliver.

Anonymous said...

It's very encouraging to see a mainstream paper campaign on cycling - particularly one not really associated with this sort of thing. It goes to show how mainstream cycling has become, and how political parties who ignore safety (Boris Johnson and the tory AMs who refuse to debate the issue) do so at their electoral peril.

ibikelondon said...

@Mike I'm impressed too, which is why I've been prepared to put my voice to the campaign. Let's hope it makes a difference. I agree, 2% of the highways budget would be easily absorbed by the DfT but would make a HUGE difference on the ground. Seems fair to me; bikes make 2% of the journeys, let's have 2% of the budget, increasing with each % point of modal share.

@MarkS I know exactly the feeling you are talking about when you see a trail of bikes ahead of you in the road, it gives me hope too. But I do worry about just how safe all these cyclists are really - I'm yet to be swayed by a convincing argument that proves the safety in numbers effect works in the UK. Perhaps the backing of a Murdoch paper will help to get some really big and bold things done.

@Anonymous I quite agree!

Mark S said...

@ibikelondon - Some of the riding I see can leave me worrying (I've submitted a few clips for Silly Cyclists from along there!) it's mainly people filtering to dangerous positions alongside cars/lorries and the usual RLJing/pavement hopping to get round stopped vehicles. I can't help but think that those riders should just chill out a bit and enjoy the ride! We're already considerably faster then those in cars and it only serves to give them ammunition to moan at as ALL about.

Hugh said...

Greetings from across the pond.
It is very sad that so many have to be injured or killed before anyone takes notice. Here in Highland Mi. where I live most people I talk to just consider cyclists a nuisance. I refer to the 4inch wide stripe at the edge of the pavement as "Our bike lane". Some of the motorists blast their horns and shout obscenities just for riding that 4 inch line. Every time I ride the 1 & 1/2 mile road into town, I feel like I am risking my life.
Not every city or town here is like what I have described. However, I would say that most are just like that.
If I do get run-down one day, I hope it generates some real interest in the safety and rights of cyclists here. Keep fighting the good fight! Godspeed

johnrawlins said...

It is wonderful to see a national paper take up the cyclists' cause - just a shame that one of their staff had to suffer an accident first.

I believe that one key point is missing from the eight point manifesto announced by The Times. Namely, we should be focusing on getting the clear and explicit right to use the middle of the lane. Of course, we already have this right, but the vast majority of motorists are unaware of this fact.

Many motorists become aggressive with cyclists not because the cyclists are in the way - but because the motorists believe that the cyclists should not be in the way and should be hugging the curb. As a result, motorists feel that cyclists who 'take the lane' are themselves being aggressive and bloody-minded.

We urgently need drivers to become aware that cyclists have the same right to road space as they do. The best way to achieve this would be a simple change to the Highway Code stating that cyclists can cycle in the middle of the lane on urban roads.

Some city councils in Spain have recently introduced this legislative amendment (Spanish local councils have some powers over roads) and I can confirm from personal experience that drivers' attitudes have changed as a result.

Of course, Spanish cyclists implicitly had this right beforehand - yet the majority of drivers did not know or care. The situation is the same in the UK.

Anonymous said...

News International are a bunch of international criminals intent on buying off governments around the world. The Times is one of their outlets, and it is simply jumping on the Sustrans bandwaggon to try and buy votes amongst the liberal left.

ibikelondon said...

@Anonymous Okay.....(!)

congokid said...

It's good that a major newspaper is trying to do something positive to make cities safer places in which to cycle.

But it would be even more encouraging if The Times could rein in the excesses of one of its columnists who sees cyclists as fair game for his ill-informed, bitter and downright dangerous rants.

Matthew Parris has in the past used his column to denigrate and even incite violence against cyclists - he suggested that they were responsible for littering countryside hedgerows with drinks cans, and on another occasion suggested that readers string piano wire across lanes to decapitate cyclists.

I wonder how he feels about one of his colleagues now lying comatose in a hospital as a result of an accident while cycling.