Simon O'Hagan: Cameron's gleeful cycle spies can just push off

Click to follow
The Independent Online

I suppose one must assume that David Cameron will be voting for Boris Johnson in the upcoming London Mayoral election, but in the privacy of the polling booth, might the Tory leader's pencil at least hover over the box marked Ken Livingstone? I wouldn't blame him if it did.

Even though it's Tory hopeful Boris who rides a bike and Ken who goes by Tube, most cyclists will surely want to back the man who recently unveiled plans to spend £500m on equipping London with the infrastructure to turn it into "Europe's No 1 cycling capital".

The main element of what Ken is proposing is the creation of 12 cycling "superhighways" that will provide those of us on two wheels with exclusive routes into and out of central London. And Cameron could be forgiven for thinking that these facilities can't come soon enough if it means getting the men from the 'Daily Mirror' off his back.

In possibly one of the most pathetic exposés in newspaper history, the 'Mirror' secretly filmed Cameron on his ride to work and, horror of horrors, caught him cycling cautiously through a red light and then the wrong way up a one-way street. TV news delighted in replaying the footage on what appeared to be an endless loop, and the po-faced so-called guardians of road safety queued up to condemn him. Cameron duly apologised, and we all felt a lot better after that, didn't we?

For a mile or so, my own ride to work across central London takes me along the same route as Cameron's, and on a couple of occasions I've found myself next to him. Leaving aside the question of why he carries his helmet on his handlebars rather than putting it on his head, which I do find puzzling, he strikes me as a perfectly sensible cyclist who just wants to keep out of trouble.

He is weighing risk and conducting himself accordingly. In other words, he's no different from any other city commuter on two wheels.

Cycling the wrong way up a one-way street was at worst sneaky. Moving off before the red light changed was more an act of self-preservation. Enlightened countries recognise this "sail-before-steam" principle and enshrine it in their traffic laws. The lights turn green for cyclists before they turn green for motorists. And could I just take this opportunity to point out to drivers what those big boxes at traffic lights with an outline of a bike on the tarmac mean? They mean they're for bikes, not cars.

What this episode really demonstrates, of course, is the motoring lobby's resentment towards anyone on a bike, which, I suspect, is building as the tide of history rolls back and more and more people turn to cycling as the most enjoyable, convenient and sustainable way of moving through the urban environment. The kind of person who never misses an opportunity to have a go at cyclists for jumping red lights is, in my experience, very often the same as the one who thinks that it is outrageous to be "done" for driving at, say, 37mph in a 30mph zone.

The moral high ground is never a very attractive place, and I'll grant that we cyclists are not averse to occupying it. I dare say I'm up there now. But the sheer glee with which Cameron's minor infractions have been greeted is deeply unedifying, and speaks of the Stasi-fication of a society in which spying on others has turned into an extremely creepy national pastime. To these people, I would say, get a bike, and get a life.

Comments