Mary Dejevsky: Why we should all fear for friends who insist on cycling in the city


Mary Dejevsky
Wednesday 01 February 2012 01:00 GMT

Early in the morning, with the wind in my hair, the sun dappling the streets and the parks a-quiver with birds and ducks, I'm almost tempted to cycle in the city. Almost, but not quite. My reverie is invariably interrupted by a thundering juggernaut – what are they doing in city streets anyway? – or the news, from a colleague, from a friend, of the latest casualty. This week, one of those casualties was none other than the transport minister, Theresa Villiers. She broke her collar-bone while cycling to work.

After a couple of years when fatalities among London cyclists fell, last year they rose, with 16 people killed. But the decline was always deceptive. The serious injury toll has hovered around 400; that is eight a week. Last year, these figures included a colleague, James Moore, who received multiple injuries and testified in court (on crutches) earlier this week, when the driver of the tanker that ran him over was acquitted of careless driving. The year before, another colleague fractured his pelvis in a cycling accident; a young journalist on The Times has been in a coma since an accident last November.

As a pedestrian and a weekend car driver, I'm under no illusions about how pesky (and dangerous) cyclists can be. The one-handed talker, wobbling everywhere as he uses his phone, is a particular hate. So are the tourists on "Boris-bikes" who have no clue about the rules of the road, even if they manage to stay on. There is also the scourge of headphones that insulate road-users from noise they should heed.

But the fact is that, however competent the cyclist, in a contest between motor- and pedal-power, motor-power will win. Cycling through the parks on a special path is one thing; mixing it with buses, lorries and cabs on a major road is quite another. However clearly demarcated a cycle lane might be – and some are painted bright blue – they are only as protective as the other traffic allows them to be. If, as on many roads, cyclists and buses must share a lane, the consequences can be lethal.

Given the enthusiasm with which London and its visitors have embraced "Boris bikes" and the recent efforts to signpost cycle routes, you would have thought that just a bit more thought (and cash) could have been earmarked for kerbing off cycle lanes, as in most Continental cities. This might entail expensive reapportioning of pavement and road space – but this is already being done in some of the most central areas, without any more space allocated to cyclists.

This is a missed opportunity, and it blights what should be an enjoyable experience. A letter-writer to The Independent last year observed that London cyclists seemed to be waging an angry crusade, compared with their more relaxed peers elsewhere. I agree. But as long as so many city cycle routes remain a hostile environment, our cyclists – or so they might argue – must stay angry to survive.

Please, doc, don't let me be first!

Zapping around the TV channels last week, I paused at a scene that looked familiar. It turned out to be the opening episode of Junior Doctors, whose new series is set at the Chelsea and Westminster. The familiarity was because this is where I was an all-too frequent visitor last winter after breaking my foot (not in a cycling accident). And I have to say it was pretty scary to watch, courtesy of BBC3, what our brand-new doctors were doing just days after graduation: their first blood test, their first cardiac arrest, their first death certificate. Most terrifying, though – unless the camera was lying for dramatic effect – was the conspicuous absence in many cases of a consultant. Surely there should always be an experienced doctor there to supervise, even in A&E and even on the night shift? Of course, new doctors have to practise on someone, but, as I said to myself selfishly, please not on me!

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