On a fold-up bike with a business suit under his hi-viz jacket, the recently-appointed Minister for Cycling could have been any other two-wheeled commuter yesterday morning.
Only the two Department of Transport aides cautiously pedalling behind on his hour-long tour of the capital gave any hint that Robert Goodwill MP’s journey was in fact a ministerial fact-finding cycle, not a daily commute.
Speaking at a debate on cycling safety in Westminster Hall on Tuesday, Mr Goodwill had promised to take his Brompton on a ride from King’s Cross to Westminster on Friday to get a feel for London’s “best and worse” cycling infrastructure after a month which saw six cyclists killed on the capital’s roads, in addition to two other cyclists killed in Yorkshire and Chesire.
The Independent wasn’t invited, but set off to ride the route and speak to those who cycle the roads every day to see what they think should be the minister’s priorities.
There was no sign of Mr Goodwill at the start of morning rush-hour at King’s Cross, where a cyclist was killed in 2011. Two Metropolitan Police officers monitoring traffic had seen nothing unusual. They were there as part of Operation Safeway, which in response to cycling deaths has seen 2,500 police officers take to the capital’s streets and issue 1,392 fixed penalty notices to drivers and 755 to cyclists in three days.
With no sightings of Mr Goodwill at the controversial Bow roundabout – where 24-year-old Russian tech entrepreneur Venera Minakhmetova was killed this month – The Independent cycled on to the centre of town.
Peter Dickinson, 54, who works near the Houses of Parliament said: “Tell him to stop local authorities picking on cyclists. We need to enforce the existing laws of the road on all road users, not just cyclists.” Annie Rennie, a cyclist in Westminster, agreed. “It’s impossible,” she said. “There isn’t enough room for proper cycle lanes in London, so we just all have to be responsible for our own safety.”
Intercepted as he arrived at College Green by the Houses of Parliament, an ever-so-slightly out of breath Mr Goodwill said that his route had been an “eye opener” and would have been a “baptism of fire” for someone cycling in the capital for the first time.
The minster himself cycles from Waterloo Station to Westminster when he is in Parliament and says he has a “passion” for cycling.
He said: “I didn’t feel in danger at any time – I do cycle in London but I think if I was a London cycling virgin I would have been a little bit nervous possibly. When we came out of King’s Cross, we got on to some quite good segregated routes. But other areas are not so good.”
Yesterday evening hundreds of cyclists joined a “die-in” at Transport for London headquarters in Southwark, calling for Dutch levels of cycling funding and a peak time ban on vehicles, such as HGVs, whose drivers cannot see adjacent roadusers.
Mr Goodwill added: “We’re spending a shedload of money on cycle safety but it needs to be spent intelligently”. He promised to cut red tape from “Department for Transport tomes” governing junctions to make roads more responsive to the needs of cyclists.