Comment: Why cyclists should be worried about the unprecedented media coverage of the Charlie Alliston case
Working at a cycling publication, it’s not uncommon to be asked to give an ‘expert’ opinion or analyse incidents that take place on the open road. And none has been more difficult than the Charlie Alliston case.
I am not a fixie rider, and can’t envisage riding around in traffic without a front brake, but I ride most days through London with the ever-increasing number of other cyclists.
I’m certain it would be shocking to most people who have never ridden in the capital that not only are you spending a substantial amount of your time making sure you aren’t taken out by traffic, but how often you have to avoid people who step out into bike lanes and the road in front of you.
What happened to Kim Briggs was truly tragic, and what is most important to remember among any pro- or anti-cycling rhetoric is that someone lost their life here.
For cyclists, what should certainly be learned from this incident is that you need to know whether your bike is roadworthy and meets legal requirements and how you should ride on the road. As much for your own good as for others’.
Nevertheless, the reaction to this case and fixation on some details from a large proportion of the media is increasingly hard to take.
The widely used terms ‘ploughed into’ or ‘ran down’ is something we’d never use in reference to a collision between a motorist and a cyclist, for instance. Likewise, I would never publish an article generalising one party as ‘idiots’.
“The truth is that Britain’s roads are plagued by too many idiots who shoot through the traffic as if they were competing in the Tour de France, their brows furrowed in their self-righteous determination to outwit filthy, polluting motorists at every turn,” writes Damien Thompson of the Daily Mail, a publication seemingly having a field day with a surge of anti-cycling content.
While it’s unfortunately common to see a cyclist take risks that aren’t worth taking, particularly in London, for the most part it’s simply commuters looking to get home in one piece. Just regular people.
“Cyclists must realise that they are traffic too” says David Shariatmadari of the Guardian, which while true, would be easier to swallow if many drivers were able to accept that as well.
The Met’s own unscientific video analysing the stopping distance of a fixed gear bike with no front brake has also become an unfortunate stick with which those with an agenda against cyclists are able to aggressively use.
This is simply not what happens when a cyclist is killed in a collision, a significantly more regular occurrence compared to the rarity of a pedestrian dying as a result of a collision with a rider.
It’s reported, then promptly put away and forgotten to join the many fatalities of the recent past. This should worry cyclists everywhere.
With many people still unwilling to ride simply because of the dangers it can pose, the current reaction will only further discourage people from taking to two wheels as a mode of transport.
What happened that day in 2016 between Alliston and Briggs was extraordinarily unfortunate and avoidable, as are most fatal collisions on the road.
And while Alliston is rightly reprimanded for what happened, the vilification of cyclists here is not good for anyone.
It’s the job of the media to inform and question and help progress issues of society rather than further stoke the flames of two parties constantly on the precipice of another horrible incident.
We’re all responsible for protecting one another on our roads, be that cyclists, pedestrians or motor users. Hopefully one day everyone will understand that.