When I first saw the Conservatives’ statement on social media yesterday saying “We’re launching a consultation into dangerous cycling so that our most vulnerable road users are protected,” accompanied by a picture of commuters in high-vis, I thought it was a bad joke. I even checked to see if it was a spoof account. It wasn’t.
I received immediate reassurance from transport minister Jesse Norman apologising for this, assuring me it wasn’t the party’s position. To his credit, within hours he had the offending tweet removed and had publicly apologised. But the damage was done. Despite Jesse Norman’s efforts – and in my opinion, he is one of the good guys – the evidence suggests that too many people in Westminster do not consider cycling – a pollution-free, health-giving, low-cost mode of transport – important.
The case of Kim Briggs, who was killed when 18 year old Charlie Alliston collided with her on his bicycle, catalysed this issue. It sparked a statement by the prime minister in the House of Commons no less, and a full parliamentary review. As part of this, evidence was presented that showed of the almost 1,800 road deaths a year, we could expect one or two to be caused by someone riding a bicycle. You are more likely to be killed by Christmas decorations than by somebody on a bike. This is not to trivialise the death of Kim Briggs, nor the behaviour of Charlie Alliston – that death was tragic and significant, as are all the other cases where people die on our roads, often through no fault off their own.
As part of the same review, evidence was also presented (again) that showed around 100 people on bikes are killed on our roads each year. In 2016, one of them was my mother. In fact, evidence also showed that of the almost 1,800 deaths that occur on our roads annually, around 450 are pedestrians in incidents where motor vehicles are involved.
Despite these overwhelming statistics, the government has chosen to focus their time and resources on the 0.5 per cent of people who are killed by people on a bike.
Surely it is a government’s job to prioritise its time and limited resources to protect the majority, to do the most good? For example, if we want more journeys to be made on foot, the government could allow councils to install zebra-crossing style markings at side junctions – something they do in most European cities – so that people feel more protected on local trips.
So, I am angry. I am angry that people in power can simply choose to ignore the very evidence they called for and instead prioritise an area of the legal system that, however well meaning, will do the least good.
That tweet might have been taken down but the point is that it was even constructed in the first place, and that those were the words and pictures chosen. Even if it was one individual within a department, that person, appointed to a position of responsibility, thought it was the right thing to do. It wasn’t.
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