James Daley: The Cycling Column

Saddle up, Ken, and just get real
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Indy Lifestyle Online

It's been wonderful to see London mayor Ken Livingstone finally forced to take a step back from his aggressive stance towards cyclists in recent weeks - conceding that the introduction of bicycle licence plates would not only be costly and impractical, but would also have the unintended consequence of discouraging people from taking to their bikes.

Last time I wrote this column a few weeks ago, criticising Red Ken's half-baked, reactionary policy, he duly responded by suggesting that it was only because of a nasty minority of irresponsible cyclists like me, that he'd been forced to consider such drastic measures in the first place.

"Responsible cyclists... and dare I say it, cycling columnists - need to work with me to persuade the minority of cyclists who do not currently obey the rules of the road, to take a responsible approach," he moaned. In other words, come join me on the dark side and together we can rule the galaxy, Luke. No thanks.

Alas, I don't think Ken and I are going to agree on this one. While he believes that cyclists who jump red lights are irresponsible, I know (and many readers have e-mailed me to say they agree) that as long as it's done with appropriate care, it's often safer than the alternative.

I wonder when was the last time Ken sat on his bike inside one of those green boxes for cyclists, and in front of four lanes of traffic. (Never, I would guess.) The lights change, and before you know it, you've got cars trying to cut you up on all sides. It's pretty intimidating, and occasionally it's life-threatening.

By giving yourself a head start, and staying clear of the traffic, you're much less likely to get knocked off your bike. OK, so you'll be breaking the law. But if it keeps you alive, then so be it.

Although Ken has done much to improve conditions for cyclists in London during his six years in office, his reactionary attitude to the anger of a few selfish motorists over the past few months has been way off the mark. It's pretty clear that he's not a regular cyclist himself (he gets ferried around town in a chauffeur-driven car).

Apparently, last month saw the launch of a new front - dressed up as a crackdown on all irresponsible road users. Cut through the rhetoric, however, and it's pretty clear it's actually an excuse to catch and fine some cocky anarchistic cyclists.

Police have apparently set themselves up at four main junctions around the capital, with the express intention of handing out on-the-spot penalties to red-light jumpers and pavement riders. What a waste of resources.

According to Transport for London, eight people died as a result of red-light jumping last year. Too many, yes. But hardly enough to justify a major police initiative and marketing campaign.

I agree with Ken that Londoners, whether in a car, on a bike or on foot, should be considerate towards each other. But before this, a complete rethink of the traffic laws relating to cyclists is required - not a crackdown to enforce the current draconian regime. In the meantime, catch me if you can.

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