Letters: Data needed to prevent cycling deaths

These letters appear in the Saturday 16th November edition of the Independent

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Simon Usborne gives what is probably useful advice about avoiding injuries while cycling (14 November), but after the horrific toll of five deaths on bicycles in the space of nine days, we should be taking a closer look at the reasons why they occurred. All incidents involved either buses or trucks, a common theme in London’s cycling deaths. A cluster of fatalities like this warrants detailed investigation.

The problem is that although we get information about these high-profile catastrophic tragedies, we know next to nothing about the larger parts of the iceberg of cycling injury which lie underneath. A&E departments in England and Scotland do not collect useful data on injuries which means a proper epidemiological analysis of the cause of cycling injuries, the type of injuries sustained, and even their location, is impossible.

The UK lags behind many other European countries in its injury-surveillance capabilities; only Wales has a decent system in place. All hospitals in England and Scotland should be routinely collecting data on every A&E attendance for injury, including where it occurred, what the person was doing at the time, how the injury happened and whether it was intentional or unintentional, combined with patient characteristics and diagnostic information.

Until this is done it is hard to see how evidence-based planning of cycling safety can take place.

Graham Kirkwood, Research Fellow, Professor Allyson Pollock, Professor of Public Health Research and Policy;  Co-director,  Global Health, Policy & Innovation Unit Centre for Trauma Sciences, Queen Mary University of London, London E1

 

Government funding for cycling infrastructure remains paltry compared to elsewhere in Western Europe. The Dutch spend £30 per head, the European average is about £4 per head, while in the UK we’re spending less than £2. It’s not that there’s a shortage of money; the problem is road planners are putting it in the wrong place. In an attempt to reduce congestion they continue to pour vast sums into schemes designed to squeeze more vehicles through junctions. This is completely unnecessary. In Britain, as elsewhere in the west, the number of car journeys is dropping. Young people in particular are turning away from the car – in the past five years the number taking the driving test has fallen by 10 per cent. If transport planners do nothing, journey times will drop as fewer drivers take to the roads. Instead of persisting with their 1980s attitude to road infrastructure, transport chiefs should look to the future and start diverting money into making the roads safe for everyone.

Martin Gorst, London W13

 

Cycling home in a bus lane recently, a bus passed me, far too close for comfort. So I stopped beside the driver’s window to let him know he had nearly hit me.

His reply that “you shouldn’t have been in the bus lane anyway” left me dumbfounded. It is clearly marked as a a shared bus lane with a large blue sign. Although in other cases I have noted that – perhaps in order to avoid confusion – the white cycle symbol is removed from the large blue bus-lane signs. Most disappointingly, First Bus have yet to reply to my 14 October letter to them.

George Jamison, Bristol

 

Unite is the voice of working people

Unite in Falkirk acted entirely within the laws of the Labour party at that time (editorial, 13 November). Both the Labour Party and Police Scotland looked at events and found no rules were broken.

Yes, Grangemouth was a very bruising dispute; certainly there are brutal lessons for our country to learn from a situation whereby one company can shut down an essential facility. But I answer to the wishes of this union’s members exclusively; it was they who, in Grangemouth, wanted their union to defend their representative and also to take whatever steps were needed to save their jobs, which we did without question – indeed at the mass meeting following the dispute, 100 per cent support was given to the union. 

You are correct to highlight the role of “trade unions working closely with management to minimise job losses” yet you praise the action without acknowledging the actor. Unite members worked tirelessly and creatively to help our major companies like Jaguar LandRover and Vauxhall weather the storm and emerge as the successes they are today.

Unite does not seek “war, not dialogue”, just as workers do not seek strikes. The vast majority of our day-to-day work is resolving problems, and my door is always open to employers who want to work with us constructively.

In a world where power increasingly rests in the hands of the few, I make no apology for the desire of my union and its members to strengthen the voice of working people.  Because that is the path to social justice, and that is a service to us all. 

Len McCluskey, General Secretary, Unite, London WC1

 

The regeneration  of Southwark

“End of an area for notorious Heygate estate” (8 November), trotted out the same old rhetoric about what a dreadful thing Southwark Council is doing by regenerating a run-down part of south London. Yes, there are a few people who owned their own property on the estate and didn’t want to leave, and who may have to move a little further out to find an equivalent property (although at the time the initial offer was made there were many similar properties on Southwark estates available for a comparable price).

However, the council did offer them assistance to stay in the area – for instance they had the opportunity to enter into a shared ownership deal at the Strata Tower in the heart of the Elephant. And of course they were a small minority on the estate – most of its residents were council tenants, all of whom have been rehoused in the borough and offered the right to return once the new homes are complete. Most do not want to return – they are delighted with their new homes, in comparison to the dreary, brutalist blocks they left behind.

Your article failed to explain why Southwark is regenerating Elephant: not to bring in lots of expensive housing, but to use those housing deals with developers to fund brand new affordable housing, a new leisure centre, a huge new park, and to bring 6,000 jobs to the borough.

Elephant and Castle  has been crying out for change for decades. We have no intention of driving anyone out of Southwark,  and a few lone voices should not be the only ones heard  in this debate.

Cllr Fiona Colley, Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Corporate Strategy, Southwark Council, London SE1

 

Why relocate cultural institutions?

The think tank Civitas has suggested that institutions such as the British Museum and Royal Opera House should relocate to cities in the north of England (report, 13 November).

Surely a more realistic way forward would be for each London-based museum or concert hall to be required to be linked with a similar body in the north as a condition of future government funding.

The V&A, with its splendid ceramics galleries, could join up with the wonderful, but disgracefully underfunded, Gladstone Museum in Stoke. As far as I am aware, Stoke council are doing their best in the face of massive cuts from central government. Only last week it was announced that the Royal Academy was awarded £12m of lottery money. How much went to galleries in the north?

Miriam Mazower, London NW11

Time to turn non-urgent cases away from A&E

Surely it’s about time that A&E departments took a stance and refused to treat non-emergency people arriving at their doors and referred them to their GPs?

George Smith

York

 

Breastfeeding  requires courage

No one would want to go back to the days when, if a baby was not breastfed by someone, their mother or wet nurse, he or she died. But it is worth reminding ourselves how far removed we have become from what nature intended. We are the only species that gives the milk of another species to our young. Parents of sick babies are only too aware of how vulnerable babies can be if they become allergic or intolerant to cow’s milk. And yet Grace Dent insinuates that breastfeeding is the thing that is not normal.

It takes a lot of courage, confidence and support to successfully breastfeed in Britain today, particularly within deprived areas of the country. Anything that tries to redress the balance has to be a good thing, even if it is a drop in the ocean; £200 might mean quite a lot to a breastfeeding mother, struggling to do the right thing for her baby.

Jackie Martin

Witham, Essex

Many women do not wish to breastfeed and are happier bottle feeding. They do not have to be mothers in deprived areas or lacking in education or parenting skills. It could be that they weren’t supported sufficiently in hospital, hadn’t the confidence to do so or simply didn’t want to. None of these reasons is wrong or means that the mother is less caring and capable of bonding with a happy, healthy and successful child. There may also be other children in the family and a husband who wants to be part of this special time.

I am concerned that what is a personal choice will be muddled by feelings of guilt and inadequacy.

Judith Phillips

Wigston, Leicestershire

Where in Grace Dent‘s article was there mention of the pernicious and aggressive global marketing by formula milk companies that, over years, has successfully persuaded women living in poverty that formula milk is a better choice for their babies? Or of the hostility that mothers meet when they expose their breast to try to feed their baby in public?

Rebecca Evanson

London SE15

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