Dear John Gummer: A cycling enthusiast urges the Environment Secretary to start a government U-turn and support the London riverside route

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Indy Lifestyle Online
We know what you think about women priests and vegetarians (not keen on either: goodness knows how you react to women vegetarian priests). The key question of the moment is: What do you think about cyclists?

It's a pertinent matter because some time this month you will be asked to lend your support to a plan for a 44-mile London riverside cycle route running from Hampton Court to Dartford.

It has to be said that your government has not been a conspicuous supporter of cycling. True, Norman Tebbit was once keen for people to get on their bikes. But this was purely metaphorical.

And while in his Mansion House speech last April John Major was enthusiastic about old maids bicycling to Holy Communion through the morning mist, he was just working up his Back To Basics policy, rather than providing a clarion Call to Saddles.

In the 15 years of Tory rule it is impossible to find anything that the Government has done to advance the cause of cycling. Which is a pity. Because while other European countries have developed co-ordinated national transport policies with cycling as a key component, in Britain the cyclist is officially regarded as something of a nuisance.

In Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany, for example, cyclists have priority over motorists at road junctions. In Britain the car is king: on our highways cyclists are left to pedal for their lives. Not surprising, therefore, that in Denmark, for example, 20 per cent of all journeys are by bike - in Britain the figure is just 3 per cent.

This lack of concern about cycling can be measured in the risks faced by cyclists on British roads, where they are 10 times more likely to have an accident than cyclists in Denmark, the Netherlands or Sweden. If nothing else, the Government's chief medical officer can tell you that by promoting cycling, you will be improving the nation's health.

With children of your own, you will no doubt be aware of recent reports which show that Britain's children are getting less exercise than they need since most are now driven to school. In Germany 60 per cent of children cycle to school. Do you know what the equivalent figure is in Britain? Three per cent.

Think of the PR mileage you can extract from the Government throwing its weight behind the London cyclepath plan. A grand opening, with Mr J S Gummer cutting the ribbon: concerned speech about tackling urban transport policy, kiddies' health (photo opportunity here for a Gummer child on a bike), Britons getting on their bikes - a PR person could organise a photo of an old maid riding along the path on her way to Holy Communion through the morning mist.

And think of the savings. In these times of government austerity you could build a 44-mile cyclepath for the same price as 200 yards of the M25. And here's a slogan to win over John Major: Back To Basic Transport - Back to Bikes.

(Photograph omitted)

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