Smokescreen

Road.cc reports this week on ‘crackdowns on so-called anti-social cycling, with initiatives targeting bike riders who commit transgressions such as ignoring red traffic lights and cycling on the pavement under way in cities such as Chester and Bath, while councillors in Middlesbrough are calling for police there to tackle the problem’.

As a cycle campaigner I certainly support such moves to a point. I passed my cycling proficiency in 1979 and have always carried the mentality that the safest place to be on the road is moving with the flow of traffic obeying all signs and signals. As soon as you break lights or hop on the pavement then in my opinion not only are you being selfish but you’re just creating more problems for yourself where you can be prosecuted (if caught by the law) or sued for damages. The Highway Code isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly a passport to relatively stress free cycling.

However, I wrote ‘to a point’. Many councils paint bicycle symbols on pavements, calling them ‘Cycle Infrastructure’. This conveniently gets cyclists off the roads and leaves those that persist with the roads open to abuse. The roads become more dangerous with fewer cyclists about and then everyone scratches their heads as to why novice cyclists would use pavements that don’t have cycle symbols on them too. I would class this as an irritant as opposed to something requiring such heavy handed levels of policing. My point is that if this level of policing is part of a wider clampdown in the name of road safety, then what is being done about the far greater problem of motorists breaking the law?

Not much, it would appear. In the same week, RoSPA (the organisation that originally set up Cycling Proficiency), along with CTC have issued a joint communiqué to councils that are considering turning off their speed cameras to reconsider.

We also read that Cycling England, a Government quango set up by Department for Transport with responsibility for Cycling Proficiency (or ‘Bikeability’ as it’s now known) may be abolished. The worst case scenario would see an end to cycle training in our schools with no-one able to administer it and a Government no longer wanting to support it.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State for Transport Philip Hammond is said to be “far from convinced that it would be a good thing” to reduce the UK’s legal drink-driving limit and is set to reject an expert review that recommended that the country fall into line with the lower levels found in several other major countries in western Europe.

I can’t help but feel a that there is a little bit of a smokescreen going on here covering the fact that no-one is prepared to tackle the really big issues that kill and seriously injure every day. Making an example of cyclists that break red lights and ride on pavements is all very well. But speeding, drink-driving or mobile phone use whilst driving creates far more havoc for our society and its emergency services. Yet it’s ‘Demon Cyclists’ or ‘Lycra Louts’ or, even worse, ‘Middle Aged Lycra Louts’ that hit the headlines. Or Jon Snow being trailed by that tabloid Ku Klux Klan, the Daily Mail. Road safety, particularly for its more vulnerable users, is clearly no match for the motoring and drinks lobbies! 

Another recent example of victimising groups and creating a smokescreen is the surge of interest in ‘dole cheats’. These fraudsters are fleecing the innocent taxpayer of billions! That’s all very well, and £5 billion a year is certainly a problem. But what about the high level tax avoidance of the rich that’s costing the nation (it has been estimated) £50-60 billion a year? Again, the bigger issue disappears behind a smokescreen because it’s too difficult to face and the lobbying too powerful.

Think what could be done if that £50-60 billion went directly to cycling! A fully segregated cycle network could be created across the country linking villages with towns, children with schools, adults with shops and places of work. I have a dream, Brothers and Sisters. You’d have a lot of change out of that money too.

There’ll be a smokescreen though. With all the money snaffled by ‘consultancy fees‘ and used to plug other holes in Government & Council spending, so we’ll end up with this, this and this everywhere. Again

I draw two conclusions; firstly, this country simply doesn’t know how to deal with something like cycling because we have been so primed for ever bigger roads and car use that we cannot get our heads around catering for something so blissfully simple as riding a bicycle. As a result, it will always be treated like a stubborn stain that won’t go away unless there is a culture shift. Secondly, and pardon the language, but self confessed motor loving Philip Hammond MP seems to be about as much use as tits on a bull. I hope the lobbying perks are worth it.

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