I promised myself I'd steer clear of "issues" in this column, but the recent groundswell of opinion about the bike rider's place on our increasingly crowded roads means that I feel compelled to look at, well, the issues. Stick with me.
It was the case of a 20-year-old from Dorset that provoked most ire on radio phone-ins. Darren Hall was sent down for seven months for mounting a pavement and striking a pensioner, who died of his injuries. For many, he epitomised the cavalier "rogue riders".
Of course the coverage failed to reveal that Britain's pavements have been the site of three pedestrian deaths caused by cyclists in the past decade, but 400 deaths involving motor vehicles. But it doesn't take much to kick-off a round of cyclist-bashing and, as more of us take to two wheels, the cracks in the relationship between riders and other road users will only widen.
Those cracks are becoming chasms on the thronging thoroughfares of the capital, where the bike-riding mayor, Boris Johnson, is desperate to get more people cycling. It's no surprise more riders means more pavement-riding and red-light-jumping. Police responded last week on Kensington High Street by staging well-publicised patrols and giving on-the-spot fines to riders breaking the Highway Code. Which is fine, but for a more enlightened approach we pedal to Paris. The number of bikes in the French capital has doubled since 2001, boosted by the free- hire "Velib'" scheme. After trying the strong-arm response – the number of fines slapped on cyclists has tripled in the past five years – the city's traffic chiefs are now relaxing laws. Cyclists will soon be allowed, for example, to turn right on red lights at certain junctions.
To which I say, bravo! Jumping reds when it's safer to do so should be encouraged, not penalised. Excuse me for wanting a head start on the bendy buses that fly across south London's terrifying Elephant & Castle roundabout, for example. Of course, as the (exceptional) Hall case shows, the Parisian proposal relies on sensible cycling. But am I naïve to imagine that if riders are encouraged to take more responsibility for their passage along our roads, rather than being boxed in by killer lorries and fine-slapping coppers, our cities will be safer places to cycle?
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