I'd like to offer an apology. A couple of weeks ago I wrote a column that ridiculed Transport for London's "you're better off by bike" campaign and criticised the behaviour of some cyclists (for jumping red lights and so on). I said cycling on busy roads was dangerous. I thought cyclists ought to be insured for the admittedly extremely rare damage they do to cars, if they happened to scrape their bodywork, say. The solution, I argued, was for cyclists to be insured (compulsorily), licensed, and to be steered away from the busiest roads. There should be a small fee to help cover costs.
I clearly upset some reader-cyclists, and for that I'm sorry. The rest just thought I was a fool who ought to be in the Daily Mail. Neither outcome was intended. Nor was the vulgar abuse. When I called some cyclists "foul-mouthed yobs" I didn't expect a couple to e-mail to prove my point for me. One called me a "fuckwit columnist "; another left it at "full of shit". I was compared with Bernard Manning and, most upsetting of all, Jeremy Clarkson. (If only....)
Most correspondents were civilised, however, and my thanks to them.
It's safety that's the sorest point. I have known too many people knocked about while on their cycles to be complacent. I own one and use it on quiet streets or the park. Nothing would tempt me to take it on my journey to work in London. Despite all the "cycling is safe" stats apparently to the contrary - I have seen the studies cited in your e-mails - I think that mine is a rational choice.
When I make the calculation about getting from A to B, I do so with the knowledge that there are, as all cyclists know, some awful drivers out there. They shouldn't be on the road, but they are. It is mostly they, I concede, who make cycling (and driving for that matter) hazardous. There are more bad drivers than bad cyclists, proportionately, and bad drivers do more damage, for sure. The national picture suggests that cycling is safer than driving or indeed walking. Maybe, but if I'm going to be hit by an idiot holding his mobile phone instead of the steering wheel, then I want that to happen when I'm in my Honda, and not on a bike.
But even if all drivers were careful, I'm still not sure about riding to work. When I contemplate the huge lorries, the vastly long bendy buses, the sheer volume of cars and vans and the lack of space to move between them, I cannot stake my life on a Transport for London slogan or a statistical survey, no matter how soundly based. This is a genuine, open question for readers: how can so much traffic with such variation in size and speed, from artics at 40mph or 50mph plus, to cycles doing 10mph, share crowded roads safely?
As to whether, in cities, cycling is faster than driving, I am devising a test. Independent cyclists may be invited to take part and humiliate me ... if I'm wrong I'll say so.
So let's be clear. Car drivers pollute, and car drivers kill. Cyclists don't. Having condemned bad drivers, I hope I can castigate bad cyclists who jump red lights and go the wrong way down one-way streets. That's not "anti-bike". Agreed?Reuse content