Channel 4 news presenter and CTC president Jon Snow, Times newspaper editor James Harding, and author and cycling advocate Josie Dew were present at a Government transport committee hearing on cycle safety on Tuesday morning.
Snow, Dew and Harding were there to give evidence to a select committee on all aspects of cycle safety on Britain’s roads as part of inquiry examining the Government’s road safety strategy. Harding’s paper created the ‘Cities Fit for Cycling’ campaign earlier this year, which has raised the plight of cyclists on Britian’s roads up the political agenda.
Road infrastructure came under close scrutiny, coinciding with the Times’ publication of its list of Britain’s worst roads for cycling, as nominated by its readers. Over 4,000 junctions and 2,700 roads have been highlighted showing that there is much work to be done.
“We have an adversarial road system,” said Harding. “If you’re a cyclist you often feel cut up and endangered by drivers and if you’re a driver you often feel cut up and endangered by drivers. The problem lies in the road system.”
Snow also highlighted the lack of overall control over cycling on Britain’s roads, and the lack of representation of cyclists as a group. “There is no leadership from the state at all on cycling and no leadership from the private sector,” said Snow. “Paint on the road is not infrastructure.”
Snow later said: “I’ve never seen anyone prosecuted for driving in a cycle lane. We do more to protect football supporters than to protect cyclists.”
In a second session, road safety minister Mike Penning and cycling minister Norman Baker were questioned by the committee.
Has any money been allocated to cycle safety since the start of the Times campaign? Baker said that £7 million has been allocated for cycling provisions at rail stations and £8 million handed to Sustrans for cycle paths and infrastructure.
However, there did not appear to be any firm plans for the appointment of a ‘cycling tsar’ to champion country-wide cycle safety. Nor has anything so far been put into place to include cycle awareness as part of the driving test, or for solid guidelines to improve dangerous junctions.
Several points appeared to be skirted around by the ministers. When Penning was asked whether the government would set cycle safety targets, he said: “The Government is not a fan of targets.”
And when asked whether the Government would introduce compulsory cycle awareness training for commerical transport drivers, Penning said: “We are a deregulation Government.”
One question that the pair was posed was whether they cycled. Baker said that he cycled reguarly, particularly commuting to work. Penning said that he had a bike, but that it mainly stayed in the garage.
Penning concluded the meeting by quoting European cyclist death figures (per country population) and suggested that the Netherlands should “come and see us, to see how we are making sure that so few people are killed in cycling terms as we increase the number of people cycling. The figures would indicate that we can perhaps do a bit better than they are.”
Although there is some work in progress on cycle safety, the overwhelming feeling from the session is that there is a lack of leadership over cycle safety issues. Clearly, much more work is needed to formulate a cohesive policy on cycle safety in Britain that must then be implemented swiftly.