Wednesday, October 10, 2012

then they came for the cyclists

Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin told this week's Conservative Party Conference that cyclists have to 'do their bit' for road safety. It got loud applause despite not having any detail about what it actually meant.

Cars privatise road space. As a privately owned vehicle - the most expensive thing you buy apart from your house, an item sold to you harder than any other product - they give the driver a sense of entitlement. They also isolate the driver from other road users. Drivers will unironically complain about the problem of traffic without thinking that they are who every other driver is blaming.

Having other road users appear in your space, especially ones slower than you, feels like having someone dawdle in to your living room off the street and stand in front of your telly.

Being seriously conditioned by the adverts of motoring liberty - wide open roads and freedom, nipping through traffic and getting where you want when you want, yet finding themselves perpetually stuck in traffic - drivers find cyclists a psychological irritant. Bikes really are the quickest way around the city, zipping to the front at junctions and have free parking at - or even in - every building they go to. Also, the bike is much cheaper than the car. Spending money should buy privilege so why am I being constrained by traffic they simply pour through?

Obviously the motorist cannot admit jealousy so they must find a rationalisation, however ill-founded. They declare cyclists dangerous and demand they be taken in hand.

The truth shows the opposite; it is motorists who pose the risk to cyclists. Transport for London found that the cyclist's law-breaking is at fault in 6% of cases where cyclists are killed or seriously injured. In the clear majority of cases it was caused by a motoring offence.

For national figures a Department for Transport study found that, where cyclists were seriously injured in collisions, police said that the rider disobeyed a stop sign or traffic light in just 2% of cases. Wearing dark clothing at night was seen as a potential cause in about 2.5% of cases, and failure to use lights was mentioned 2% of the time.

The figures were slightly higher when the cyclist was killed. But even then, when we only have the driver's word for what happened, police found the driver solely responsible in about 60%-75% of all cases.

And actually, cyclists breaking certain laws may protect them. Our traffic systems have been designed to favour motor vehicles and ignore other road users. Those who push to the front and then jump the red light put themselves ahead of the traffic, in sight but out of range.

A 2007 report by Transport for London's road safety unit found that 86% of the women cyclists killed in London between 1999 and 2004 collided with a lorry, whilst lorries killed less than half of male cyclists.The report plainly said

Women may be over-represented in (collisions with goods vehicles) because they are less likely than men to disobey red lights

Obviously Transport for London couldn't be seen to encourage unlawful road use even if it saved lives, so they decided not to publish the report.

The Secretary of State for Transport, were he inclined to be proportionate, would have given his speech ten times the emphasis on dangerous motoring as to cycling. But he did not. The overarching ideology of this government is how best to provide for the rich. The rest of his speech included other projects for the wealthy such as the environmentally disastrous carbon nightmare of rich-only high-speed trains and proposing a new airport for the South East of England. They are not interested in what's fair or right, nor even what's sensible or has any credible supporting evidence.

So instead of looking at the facts of who's to blame between cars and bikes, ask only 'who is richest?'. The car costs more therefore the car is right. It's War on the Poor. Again.

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