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Hedge-blog: Transport select committee cycle safety hearing

3rd December 2013

On 2nd December 2013, the Transport Select Committee held an inquiry into cycle safety, following the recent spate of cyclist deaths in London. There were many witnesses, including Ashok Sinha of the London Cycling Campaign, Val Shawcross of TfL, and Commander Dave Martin of the Metropolitan Police.

There were a lot of sensible remarks from the witnesses, in response to a mixture of sensible and stupid questions from the MPs on the committee. 

The first question raised was whether helmets should be compulsory for cyclists. (The answer is no, it will reduce the amount of cycling, and a helmet does not save you from being crushed by the wheels of an HGV or bus, which is what has been happening in London). Other stupid questions were whether cyclists should pay to use the roads. (The answer is they already do, like everyone else, through general taxation; no, there is no such thing as road tax). One MP asked if cyclists should be licensed, and their bikes MOTed. (No, this would be extremely effective in reducing the amount of cycling, which is the exact opposite of current public policy). 

Andrew Gilligan, who is the London Mayor's Cycling Commissioner, was the biggest disappointment. 

The first question to Mr Gilligan was whether it is safe to cycle in London. He said, 'Yes, it is.' He made the distinction between actual safety and perceived safety. He claimed that cycling is getting safer, using some selective statistics, although he had to concede that serious injuries are rising. But he said that 68% of people don't believe that it is safe to ride a bike in London, and perceptions are within the control of others such as the media and cycling campaigns.

Mr Gilligan portrayed himself and Boris Johnson as the victims of newspaper stories about the cycling deaths, and threatened that this might deter politicians from getting involved in cycling in the future. He pointed out that £913m is being invested in infrastructure over the next ten years, front-loaded. He described some of the segregated cycleways that will be built, including from Parliament Square east to the City and beyond; and west over the westway flyover.

Claiming that all this is the fault of newspapers and cycling campaigns is outrageous. The problem is not perceived safety, it is actual safety. Yes, people should continue to cycle in London and elsewhere, but it is idiotic to pretend that it is or feels safe. The reason the inquiry was held yesterday was because of six cyclist deaths in a fortnight. Claiming that the problem is perception is just spin, and it's offensive spin.

Mr Gilligan clearly knows perfectly well that actual safety is the problem - why else would the Mayor being investing all that money in improving infrastructure? 

The truth is that Mr Gilligan and Mr Johnson had to start with what was there already, not from a blank canvas. They made some bad mistakes with their first efforts at 'cycle superhighways', which were not super at all. Now, they are planning to correct the mistakes, and build much better new routes, but it can't be done instantly. They should forget the spin, and tell the truth - they would gain a lot more respect by being honest.

Watch the full inquiry session.

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