The Time is right: join me for a ride to Parliament to demand safer cycling for all

In just 13 short days The Times cycle safety campaign has ignited an incredible debate here in the UK; after a fellow reporter was crushed by a lorry on her way to work the Times team set to work on creating what must be the fastest growing cycle safety campaign the UK has ever seen.  Some 25,000 people have signed up to the campaign, with thousands calling directly on their MPs to act.

The MP for Cambridge and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Bicycle Group, Julian Huppert, has secured a 3 hour cycle safe debate in Westminster on Thursday February 23rd.  So far as I can tell this will be the most significant debate for 16 years on what we should and could be doing to make cycling safe enough to be attractive to many more people.

As writer and editor Carlton Reid points out in his article on there hasn't been this much political interest in cycling since 1996 when New Labour were seriously courting power for the first time.  Labour were full of platitudes for cycling, as were the Conservatives.  Politicians were clamouring to be seen as pro-bike and a friend of the cyclist, but later when it came to the crunch and putting money where their mouths were, all those promises and platitudes were only so much hot air.  Just enough money was found to paint some terrifying and frankly dangerous cycle lanes and install the occasional bike rack, whilst billions were squandered on widening the M25 (now a comfortable 12 lanes wide in places, vroom vroom!)

Cycling carried on being the preserve of the brave and the few, but in recent years something - certainly here in London - has changed.  For various reasons, the number of people using a bicycle has started to grow.  Now the bike lanes are no longer just the reserve of the couriers and the road racing teams.  Suddenly there are gents on Bromptons pedalling from Waterloo to magic circle City firms.  Chief Execs skittle to boardrooms on Boris Bikes.  Yummy Mummys are ditching their 4x4s and striking out on Christiana cargo bikes instead.  People from all walks of life, from every background, are taking to their bikes.  Many many more would like to do so, if only conditions felt safer for them.

With their cycle safety campaign The Times have caught the zeitgeist fairly and squarely; they know that most people are sick to death of paying through the nose for fuel or exorbitant rail fares and would love to have more travel opportunities if only the terrifying, relentless death toll of cyclists wasn't so aspiration-crushingly high.  More than 10 cyclists have already died on the UK's roads in the first 2 months of this year.  In London alone, 16 people set out on their bikes in 2011 and never made it to their destinations.  As yellow jersey champion and Olympic Gold medal winning cyclist Chris Boardman explains in The Times; "I don’t want people to see cycling as a dangerous mode of transport. It isn’t, but it could be a lot safer, and acting to make it so right now, while it has almost fashion status, will see numbers explode. We are at a tipping point, a crossroads, a moment where we could easily become the next Amsterdam, reducing pollution and congestion as well as improving health and quality of life. ...2012 is the moment to wholeheartedly capitalise on this opportunity.. ...Wouldn’t it be great if by the time of the Rio Olympics in 2016, the school traffic I once tried to avoid was made of young bike riders and their parents?"  I couldn't agree more.  Britain's transport budget is by no means lean, so I'm sure it could afford a percent or two for cycling.  When it comes to building safe cycle facilities we might have to lose a parking space or two here and there, but who in their right mind would argue against that when the trade off is giving our children and families a passport to freedom and independence?

How the Dutch got their cycle paths - all the inspiration you'll ever need when it comes to cycle campaigning!

The Times campaign has very noble aims outlined in its 8 point manifesto; reducing road danger by fitting dangerous lorries with cheap electronic sensors, identifying and making safer Britain's most dangerous junctions, a 20mph default speed limit for residential streets, and allocating at least 2% of the transport budget to building world class architecture.

But unlike in 1996 when there was last a Parliamentary debate about what we should do for cycling, word of mouth is now global, whilst best practise from around the world is now hyper-local.  Because of the internet, everyday and ordinary cyclists can see for themselves how we should be looking to the Dutch and the Danes to design our city streets.  Examples of superb, well-designed, safe and continuous cycling infrastructure are available at just the click of a button.  We know that we don't need any more botch solutions like shared use paths, or cheap fixes like painted lanes that lead us only in to danger.  I believe there is a genuine, palpable sense of people - not just cycle "campaigners" - but everyday and ordinary people wanting here what is second nature just on the other side of the North Sea; sustained investment in cycling, safe cycling and mass cycling for all.

Cycling to be debated in Parliament - it is time to take our demands direct to our MP's door

Some of our elected politicians have a somewhat tabloid view of what constitutes a "cyclist" and their contribution to any debate about increasing safety for cyclists will no doubt focus on more helmets, more high vis, more training, more sticks and no carrots.  All of the things that cycling exactly doesn't need right now.  The time has come not just for us to have a debate about our cycling safety, but for people who want safer, more equitable, fairer and more enjoyable cities to own it for themselves.  We need action, not just platitudes and soothing words from the Government.  The terrifying death rate of cyclists in the UK can no longer be politely ignored; neither can the evident hunger of so many people who would cycle more if only conditions on the most terrifying stretches of road were better and made us feel subjectively as well as statistically safe.

How Parliament Square could be, if there wasn't such paucity of imagination about how we should be designing our cities.

I'm inviting you all to join me, Danny Williams from Cyclists in the City and indeed our friends at the London Cycling Campaign, for a ride to Parliament to highlight Julian Huppert's cycling debate.  All too often protests are about what the Government should not do.  Just last week, the London Cycling Campaign launched their exciting new Love London, Go Dutch campaign; one of their images shows what Parliament Square would look like if it was re-designed to Dutch design principals - only a fool could argue against how much better it would be for everyone, but most especially for whole families who might need to walk or cycle there.  Our ride the night before the debate will not be about telling the Government not to do something, but showing them that we have the answers, it is time they were acted on and that they should come and get them!  If they too grab the zeitgeist and put their money where their mouth is, cycling in Britain could really be on to something this time.  At present, Parliament Square - the very seat of democracy in the United Kingdom - is a traffic choked, stinking, congested, roaring lunatic roundabout stuffed with traffic going nowhere fast.  There are countless junctions just like it all over the country which actively limit people's ability to feel they can be safe riding a bike.  With The Times and their campaign, and the MPs with their debate, we just need to push the pressure high enough to ensure that change comes.
I hope you will join me.

The Ride:

Gather for our Cycle Safe Ride to Parliament at the bottom of Duke of York steps at 6.15PM for a 6.30PM departure on Wednesday 22nd February.  The short continuous ride route will take in Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, Parliament Square, Lambeth Bridge, Westminster Bridge and Bird Cage Walk before returning to the Duke of York steps.   A number of the media have said they will be there, so do come in your finest attire and bring your family and friends with you.  The ride will be lawful, respectful, prompt and fully marshaled - if you'd like to volunteer as a marshal get in touch via the Contact Me page.

Tell Your MP:

Julian Huppert's Early Day Motion will frame a 3 hour debate on cycling on Thursday 23rd February.  I'm writing to my MP to tell them to sign and attend using WriteToThem - why don't you too?

Dear Member,

I have written to you previously about The Times cycle safety campaign which has been growing from strength to strength - some 25,000 people have now signed up to the campaign.  The time for safe cycling for all here in the UK is now.

Member for Cambridge Julien Huppert has tabled an EDM [EDM 2689] calling for cities fit for safer cycling which I would encourage you strongly to support.  There will be a debate on the issue in Westminster Hall on the 23rd February which I would urge you to attend.

Kind regards,

Mark Ames

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Anonymous said...

great idea mark. i want my children to be able to ride independently - we live near elephant and castle. i can train them and they can keep their wits about them but anyone with half a brain can see it is about more than *just* mirrors and training. see you there!

Vocus Dwabe said...

Well done, Mark, and let's hope there's a good turn-out of us utility cyclists in addition to the usual enthusiasts: ordinary clothes and no mindless ugly violence or confrontations with the police.

I've just trailed it on the "Guardian" cycling blog, but I'm far from confident there will be much response from that particular constituency: there's a distinct air of miff that it was the Times that got this going and not them.

Anyway, looking forward to seeing you next Wednesday.

ibikelondon said...

Thanks Vocus! All types of cyclists are welcome as we all share common issues on the road, but absolutely I think the focus of our message is about making cycling accessible and safe for all - so not just more helmets and high vis but actually creating conditions that would allow your Mum or your Nan to cycle. As such it will be very much a family spirited ride with no run ins with the Police (who we are liaising with about the ride) with our great marshals keeping us all together and absolutely no violence!

Thanks for flagging it to the bike blog - will be interesting to see if they pick it up.

Jono said...

Great Post Mark,

Very upset I cant come down with my family, but will encourage some other Kenyons to head down. Best of luck with it, and I will be cheering from Italy!

Anonymous said...

Please choose your words carefully (like Chris Boardman did in his quote). To talk of the "terrifying death rate" in the same sentance as "statistically safe" is just incoherent. Cycling is 'safe', but could be made appreciably safer, and more enjoyable and attractive to people who don't currently cycle, by improved behaviours and infrastructure. Let's please have a sensible debate based on facts rather than emotive language.

ibikelondon said...

Nick, you've misunderstood me. I think the death rate *is* terrifying. Teriffying in the sense that it is a shock that so many people are being killed on the roads every year (and it *is* a lot - 16 in London last year, 0 in Paris) and terrifying in the sense that it is frightening people off from riding bikes. When I talk about statistical safety I mean that in the sense of there being two types of safety: statistical and subjective. One is about actually being safe (as in, statistically unlikely to be hurt or killed) and then there is subjectively safe (as in, feel like you are unlikely to be hurt or killed). Surely it is undoubtable that Britain must do more to improve both?

Beth A said...

Just as a response to Vocus Dwabe. Why ever would there be any 'mindless ugly violence or confrontations with the police'?

..and what is a 'utility cyclist'?

In any event, glad you're coming, sure we can send a real message with the numbers I'm sure will be there.