Cycling, like politics, is not for wimps

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The Independent Online

Uh oh, watch out: the Government is "encouraging" something. You know you should worry if the Government starts encouraging something that you do, because it only ever encourages things that are somewhere between futile and completely suicidal. Remember when it attempted to solve the crisis of too many single households by "encouraging marriage"? Or when its best policy to get us out of a recession was to "encourage spending"? When governments "encourage" things, it means that it would be better for the country if people acted as no sane individual could be persuaded to. Well, now it is encouraging cycling.

A cross-party group of MPs has come up with a sensible list of proposals that they believe would increase cycling fivefold and therefore cut congestion, pollution and spending on health. The Prime Minister's reaction? "The report has many good points," David Cameron said. "We should be doing much more in our country to encourage cycling …. I hope local authorities can … do more" (i.e."These are all good ideas, but they're going to cost money in the short term so let's not bother.")

This came in a week of bad news for cyclists. A Norfolk police chief recommended changing the law to allow "good drivers" to drive as fast as they like. (Hasn't he seen the famous study of "illusory superiority" in which 80 per cent of people rated themselves as above- average drivers?) Then a study by Direct Line showed that car drivers do not see 19 per cent of cyclists on the roads. Then the rugby player Danny Cipriani walked out in front of a bus after doing "beer bongs" on a 14-pub pub crawl. The bus came off pretty badly, but its passengers must have thanked luck and good sense that they were riding on a bus and not a bike when they hit him.

The good news is that there is to be a crackdown on drivers of HGVs who put cyclists at risk – but only in London. I cycled to work last week and I nearly died a dozen times on Kensington High Street alone. I must have been among the 19 per cent of cyclists that are invisible to motorists, because the bloke on Kew Bridge in the red Fiesta didn't even see me when I peered through his passenger window shouting "Please stop texting while merging lanes."

In the capital there is not much need to reduce the speed of the cars any further, but some of the MPs' other recommendations would be helpful, such as more segregated cycle routes, improved lorry design and driver training (not just in London), and stricter enforcement of the law. Perhaps bus drivers could be taught to indicate before they pull out, not after. Unfortunately, last time I politely suggested this to a bus driver he spent the next 400 yards angrily trying to squash me and my bike into the side of the road.

David Cameron has cycled in London so he knows all this, which is presumably why he uses these dispiriting words. Still, I'd like to encourage him to put his money where his mouth is. Cyclists vote, too – if they live long enough.