Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Cycling is dangerous

Paul M commented on my last blog post, which dealt with cycling advocacy and understanding the European experience of promoting cycling:
I agree with virtually every word you say, except where you say, more or less explicitly, that cycling is dangerous. It is not, relatively speaking and relatively is the only way you can speak of any type of risk. Cycling is no more dangerous than many other activities or pastimes, and indeed in some respects is less so...
Though, from how his comment develops later, I think in fact he has no real disagreement with me,
Just as people falsely assume that flying is dangerous (although it doesn't seem to stop them doing it) when in fact they are at far greater risk driving to the airport, people fear the danger in cycling, and their fear is not so irrational - a truck passing you at 30 or 40 with only a couple of feet to spare feels dangerous when of course "a miss is as good as a mile", and even if you are coldly rational about the true danger, it feels bloody unpleasant.
I thought I would take up this point. So, here, rather than saying it "more or less explicitly", I'll say it so there is no doubt. Cycling is dangerous. What do I mean? I mean that by any realistic, useful definition of the word, cycling on UK roads is dangerous. So dangerous that the vast majority of people will never do it under current conditions. I will expand on this point.

I'll reveal first of all that, these days, I don't cycle that frequently. Last week, the only days I used my bike were Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday. Tuesday was a journey of only a total length of a mile, so hardly counts. On Wednesday I did a suburban trip through the Borough of Brent that totalled 12 miles, and on Sunday I was on a ride in the Hertfordshire lanes with a group of 10 others that totalled 25 miles. I recall two incidents with traffic clearly from this week of 38 miles cycling in town and country.

On the Wednesday trip I was cycling at about 15mph northbound on Honeypot Lane, Kingsbury NW9, the A4140, at 8:45pm. This is a main road, but it only has one fairly narrow carriageway in either direction at this point. It is further narrowed by pedestrian islands and sporadic parking. It is an extremely unpleasant road to cycle on, with most of the traffic exceeding the 30mph limit, and it carries a lot of heavy freight vehicles. I avoid it as much as I can, and recommend others to avoid it too. As I was passing through on of the pinch points created by a pedestrian island, I was overtaken by a truck travelling at about 30mph, which squeezed through the gap and passed me with about a foot clearance. I was shaken.

The second incident I recall from this week occurred on the ride in the Hertfordshire. On a narrow woodland unclassified lane, an impatient motorist in a small red car forced his way past the group, passing the cyclist at the front of the group, who had not moved in as far as the others, who were cycling in single file, with one foot clearance. As he passed he shouted "Get out of the way!"

Now on the suburban trip I was no doubt passed by many other lorries, whose drivers gave me safe clearance. And on the rural trip, the vast majority of drivers on the lanes of Hertfordshire were courteous to the group of cyclists. But the bad incidents remain in my mind. They could both have turned out very different. Because "a miss" is not "as good as a mile". That is a patently stupid saying, as it is retrospective and therefore totally unhelpful in the context of risk is that is random and statistical. You need an adequate margin for error in a lift-and-death situation. These drivers did not allow sufficient margin for error. Had something been slightly different, has something been wrong with the road surface, or the cyclists been less well in control, the margin for error would have disappeared and they could have been knocked off. Those drivers, without thinking, risked serious injury or death to those cyclists for the sake of a few seconds off their journey.

And this is the typical result of a typical week's cycling. For every 10 to 20 miles cycling, I reckon I witness at least one very close call for me or someone with whom I am cycling, irrespective of the environment. These are incidents that stick in the mind. They are incidents that, occurring to a new cyclist, as they inevitably will, trained or not, are very likely to make them say to themselves, "This is stupid. This is too dangerous. I'm not going to do that again." I believe that most people who try cycling on our roads quickly give it up, and this is the reason. Cycling is dangerous.

Now I am not interested in people giving me statistics on how many deaths per mile there are from various forms of transport. These are totally beside the point. Why? Because they don't measure the real danger of cycling on our roads. Because the cyclists on our roads now are an unrepresentative, self-selected group. Measuring their casualty rate per mile does not measure the true danger of cycling, it measures the risks to a group who are peculiarly able to mitigate the risks of cycling in fast motorised traffic  though their speed, athleticism, confidence and assertiveness. This group consists predominantly of young to middle-aged men – for good reason. Their ability to mitigate the risk through their athleticism and assertiveness and  does not change the fact, that, fundamentally, cycling in the motorised environment is dangerous. It is, simply, objectively dangerous to have metal boxes weighing up to several tons moving at speeds from 20 to 70 mph in the same space as unenclosed human beings. I find this such a blindingly obvious fact that I cannot for the life of me see why we have argument about it.


Paul Gannon was, as well as a cycle campaigner, a keen hillwalker and mountaineer. To pursue that avocation in Wales he left cycle campaigning and London. He would make an analogy between cycling in traffic and mountaineering. Mountaineers have all sorts of equipment that they use to mitigate the risks of their sport. Ropes, crampons, axes, whatever (I have no idea, it's not my field). The point is that their equipment and their skill is able to mitigate the risk to them, but it does not remove the basic danger of what they are doing. Mountain-climbing is without doubt an objectively dangerous activity, in the same way that cycling in fast traffic is.


Let me conduct a Thought Experiment. Thought-experiments are used by physicists, most famously by Einstein, who used them to develop the (now well-proven) Theories of Special and General Relativity. They are used to explore possibilities of reality that cannot be tested by real, practical experiments. Thought Experiments involve suspending certain aspects of reality in order to test others, which is why they are not real experiments. Let us suppose, in this spirit, that we could magically create, in an instant, a million new cyclists on the roads of Britain, distributed all over the non-motorway road system, all on their bikes at once, all appearing from nowhere in the spaces between the moving motor vehicles. Let us further suppose that they are all children and pensioners. What would happen?


Well according to the CTC's theory of "Safety in Numbers", because (they think) there is a necessary relationship between cycling numbers and cycling safety, cycling would, in that moment, suddenly become very safe, and everything would be great – lovely. But I think differently (or different as Steve Jobs might have it). I think they would all be killed. Cycling in traffic is fundamentally dangerous.


Why am I going on in this nonsensical way? Why am I writing all this rubbish about experiments that break the laws of physics that can prove nothing? My point is simply this. Whether I say that cycling is dangerous, or where the CTC or anyone else say that cycling is not dangerous, does not matter two twigs. If I say cycling is dangerous, it will not make one single cyclist stop cycling, nor prevent one single non-cyclist from starting to cycle. If CTC says cycling is not dangerous, it will not make one single non-cyclist cycle. Not of itself. For people make decisions about actions that involve physical risk on he basis of their physical perceptions. They fly in planes because it feels physically safe, not because they have studied the statistics. Similarly for travelling in cars and trains and buses.

Human beings long ago evolved the capability to measure instinctively how dangerous any activity is to themselves; they all have it – it is a visceral feeling, a feeling in their guts, and you will not argue them out of it using statistics, which are a form of abstract thought. That is just not how human beings work, not how they have evolved. A fit young person will be quite happy to jump from a river bank into a boat lying unteathered a couple of feet away, because they know their physical ability and instinctive reactions allow them to do this safely. Someone like my partner, Helen, who has multiple sclerosis, which inhibits the balance and messes up muscular reactions to complex physical situations, will not do this, because they know they can't – it would be too dangerous for them. People know their capabilities and they know what is physically dangerous to them. (Some people might be born who lack this ability, but they will tend to die young.) People make these judgements accurately for themselves. These correct, accurate, personal judgements are what lies at the root of the 1% transport modal share cycling has in Britain. People are calling the danger of cycling correctly for themselves, and all the propaganda that TfL, CTC, or anyone else can put out will never make a blind bit of difference.

In our modern industrialised society we have become risk-averse. Most, even possibly, slightly risky activities (even something as ordinary as organising any public event which might attract more than a handful of people) are institutionally and legally surrounded by the culture of Heath and Safety and risk assessment and control, often to the ludicrous, Nth degree. In this context, cycling on the roads has become a total anomaly. It is legal and uncontrolled, yet totally outside "Heath and Safety" culture – an expression of utterly the reverse, in fact.

People who get on bikes in traffic quickly realise they have no protection other than their own physical capabilities and wits. They discover that they are totally on their own. Nobody and nothing will protect them, not the Highway Code, not the police, not the Crown Prosecution Service, not the courts. And the roads are often designed to make things as dangerous as possible for them. This utterly uncontrolled, socially anomalous danger of cycling is what makes it unique as a legal activity. Being a pedestrian can sometimes have a similar character, but not for so long, as pedestrians are mostly segregated from traffic. Cycling, for a normal activity, that we would hope would be an everyday one, as opposed to a special one like mountaineering or skydiving, is tolerated by our society as uniquely dangerous.

If we want more cycling, we have to reduce the danger of the cycling environment first. We don't do this by trying to alter the cyclists – either by making them more visible, or by giving them plastic hats, or by trying to train them to fit in with the roads as they are. These approaches all fail through ignoring a basic fact of human nature: people don't want to be altered to be made more suitable for doing what others want them to do. People want what they want.

If we want more cycling we have to reduce the danger on the roads. There are many ways in which to do this. But it starts with not denying the danger. It starts with accepting the fact that, currently, cycling is dangerous.

49 comments:

  1. Very good post.

    No matter how many times you or anyone tells me jogging is safe, you can't convince me to do the Pamplona Bull Run. Those bulls are big and they have horns! Even if they didn't mean to kill me, they might poke me with the horns or push me over and trample on me, or crush me against a wall or something.

    Now, jogging on a scenic path through the park, with the bulls grazing on the pasture, safely behind a fence to keep them away from the path...

    ReplyDelete
  2. I follow and enjoy your blog - although you are often different in your approach to life to myself.

    But I was saddened to read this post - it seems a badly constructed argument and I feel lacks direction (though I specialise in lack of direction generally in anything I post).

    I, as an individual who rides every day as a commuter and additionally for fun, am well aware of the risks involved in cycling but I really do not think they are exceptional. Someone serving in Helmand province would laugh at your perception of risk.

    Yes it is easy to reduce this risk, by more segregated cycling lanes etc. etc. But we must learn to deal with what we have now and work towards reducing that risk in a realistic and gradual manner. You and I have different perceptions to how long this will take, I simply base my thoughts on considerable experience of dealing with local and national Government on a number of issues (including cycle paths).

    I don't want to seem argumentative and I really do appreciate your opinion but I do not respect what sometimes seems to be bordering on hysteria as regards road safety and cyclists.

    I do not have the years of experience of cycling - but I am covering about 5,000 miles this year riding on the congested roads of London - and do you know what, it really isn't that bad. There are risks but these risks are within my control and they are within the control of the majority of other cyclists I meet daily on the roads.

    No they are not perfect - only an idiot would say that, but they are not as bad as so may people make out. It seems to me that people are trying to promote cycling but at the same time sitting there and saying how dangerous it is. Do you know what I think it is brilliant cycling into work - I love my commute, it makes me feel alive and I would not change it for the world.

    Currently I am working through the proposition of having to move elsewhere - number one on my lists of a new property is that it will be at least 15 miles from my office - just so I can get a decent ride into work every day.

    Why is there always such a negative image of cycling written? It is great, I love it, and so will many others, why keep frightening them off? There are many other things in life more dangerous than cycling - but do you know what, the risks of cycling are far outweighed by the fun and pleasure. Also do you know what, a majority of people can handle those risks (no not everyone but also people with no legs are going to get the buzz of cycling either).

    All I am asking for is balance - I am married with kids and a well paid job - to an outsider maybe I have a lot to lose. But to me the risks of cycling are so small compared to what it gives me back that I am happy to take that risk.

    ~Maybe I am just a maverick? But to anyone else out there who is thinking about ditching the car or train as your regular means of transport - I implore you to join me cycling - you won't regret it and as for danger - hell what is life without a little spice?

    (I don't want a protracted argument over this post - we are all different- please appreciate my opinion on life, and that I want to live it more often than worry about it, I still respect your different view and in no way would discourage you from thinking differently).

    To anyone else - I'll see you on the road riding a bike at some time soon I hope.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Sorry I disagree. Roads are as dangerous as you make them most of the time and for the largest part poor cyclists don't realise the danger they are in.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Idle Boy, Do your kids cycle to school? If not, why not? Does your shopping arrive by bike? Is your wife happy cycling in your neighbourhood?
    Very few women cycle in this part of Brent; you must be both strong and assertive to survive. Even then, the motorists intimidate. Even if the danger is just 'perceived', people have the right not to be scared witless on our streets. We don't have that here right now.

    ReplyDelete
  5. To Ham: Ah, the problem is "poor cyclists". Of course.

    To Idle Boy: You say my perception of risk might be laughed at by someone serving in Helmand, but I think that is not a very good parallel. Soldiers have, after all, voluntarily signed up to the risks of war, and are being paid to take those risks. Should the simple act of getting on a bike make soldiers of us all?

    You say: "But we must learn to deal with what we have now and work towards reducing that risk in a realistic and gradual manner. You and I have different perceptions to how long this will take." But I don't know what you think my perception is of how long it will take. I don't know which way round we are supposed to be. As a matter of fact I think major improvements could be achieved very quickly (in less than 5 years) with the right national and local policies.

    There isn't always a negative image of cycling written. I certainly am always careful to link to organisations that put out an obstinately positive image of cycling, such as the CTC or Team Green Britain. But at the same time I criticise their approach as being ineffective in generating a cycling culture in the UK. People can read both points of view and form their own opinions. And I am not saying that I do not enjoy cycling overall, otherwise I would not do it.

    Where you say: "There are risks but these risks are within my control and they are within the control of the majority of other cyclists I meet daily on the roads" you are agreeing with me. Those risks are tolerably within the control of those cyclists, like you and me – the self-selected group I wrote of in the post. But I think you make my basic point for me, in a different way, where you refer to the "buzz" of cycling, and say:

    "I implore you to join me cycling - you won't regret it and as for danger - hell what is life without a little spice?"

    I think that "buzz" and "spice" are not what most people want from their daily transport experience.

    Paul Gannon, again, once put this rather well:

    "Now clearly, as LCC, we are primarily interested in cycling as a form of
    ‘transport’, for commuting to work or study, and shopping, and to a lesser extent for leisure trips. But the question of ‘sport’ is still centrally
    relevant, though in a subtly different way. One that is hardly ever
    acknowledged.

    Here it helps to refer to mountaineering again, or specifically to
    ‘Hillwalking’ the training manual for mountain leaders. It says, “The
    presence and taking of risks is a key factor that contributes to most
    people’s enjoyment of the hills”.

    I think we have to acknowledge that this is also a factor in ‘transport’
    cycling. For some, there is pleasure in fast, ‘skillful’ progress through
    traffic; satisfaction in handling the ever present threat of danger,
    anticipating and avoiding it; thrills from the adrenaline rush of a near
    miss coolly taken.

    But if we are honest we have to accept that this, too, is ‘sport’, overlaid
    on what is, or should be, primarily ‘transport’. For some cyclists this
    sport is experienced as an awareness of their refined skill in cycling on
    the roads.

    For others it is anathema. The danger repels rather than excites."

    The fact is, for most people, it repels. It is not true, patently not true, what you say: "do you know what, the majority of people can handle those risks". If they can, why aren't they out there?

    You say your commute makes you "feel alive". I expect soldiers in Helmand feel the same way about their daily experiences. Most people will never be soldiers.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Here we go - despite my best attempts I am going to end up in a flame war on a message board.

    In Response to Ham - I am gathering that you are insinuating that I am a poor cyclist but due to my naivety, I am unaware of this fact (if not please ignore the next sentences). I have driven for around 30 years now - the last 25 without any accident at all. When riding, I have not had fatal accidents with other vehicles - though in my first few months of cycling I did make a few basic errors but I immediately learnt from them. The speed and aggression of my cycling has corresponded directly with my ability. What I am trying to explain is that most moderately intelligent humans will cycle in direct relation to their confidence and experience. Where one cyclist will chance something because they are confident and have experience a less experienced cyclist will not. Every day I see hundreds of cyclists of varying ability, reacting differently to the same situation - this is because humans have evolved (very successfully I might add) by their ability to cope with and manage risk. I choose to be of the opinion, that I don't know better than them and am willing to accept the fact that they can deal with life without my instruction.

    ReplyDelete
  7. With regards to the personal questions posed - although I find it uncomfortable to be so personal in public I will attempt to explain.

    My children go to school 10 miles from home - to cycle, given the fact that the 11 year old has a health condition and they both have more a minimum of 1 hour physical exercise a day often up to 3 hours, coupled with at least 2 hours homework is not practicable, there is not enough time in the day already. Avoiding the practicality argument - I would also like to point out that they do not drive themselves into school. This is because both legally it is not allowed and because I do not feel they are mature enough to deal with the road. This would not change even if they had cycle lanes from door to door.

    I cycle with both my children - when I cycle with them I treat each differently - we take varying risks and travel at different speeds, corresponding to their road skills and physical abilities. They will grow stronger and over time learn the road skills to deal with the risks - they are also learning to manage risks appropriate to their abilities - this is more about life skills than cycling.

    ReplyDelete
  8. My 14 year old plays rugby to a reasonably high level - I see more broken bones, concussions and injuries on the pitch every season than I have seen in a lifetime of driving and cycling - in my opinion rugby is far more dangerous (when played to a higher level) than cycling. It doesn't stop my son wanting to play and it does not stop me from letting him play. This is because he really enjoys playing the game - the risks are well worth the rewards for him - he comes back with injuries, at his school there have been a few boys who have been paralysed from playing (they have also provided two of the current England Squad)but what he gets out of it makes it worth that risk - he has also learnt over the years how to handle himself on the pitch - how to be aggressive and successful without taking stupid chances. Cycling is no different in my opinion, just massively less dangerous.

    As for my wife - yes she does cycle, but she is limited by a bad back currently. I cycle with her, when we go out together my average speed drops from 24 to 10 mph - that is the speed she is comfortable at. She is not aggressive - when at a junction etc - we wait rather than "chance it" the whole approach to the ride is different to that of my daily commute - in other words we manage the risk differently and for me the ride is just as enjoyable.

    As for the shopping bit - if it was financially viable I am sure the supermarkets would offer this service straight away - nothing like saving money and sending out a green message all in one hit.
    I suppose all I am trying to say is that cycling has its risks as with everything in life - but I think we should also not treat people as fools; they are able to manage that risk far more comfortably than we give them credit for. That said those risks for some will not be acceptable. But let us try and not frighten people off by making it seem like a war zone on the roads - because in truth it isn't - the vast majority of car drivers out there are very good and considerate.

    But to miss out on the joy that cycling can bring because of an over accentuated fear of the roads, would be denying people the freedom and joy riding a bike can bring. Let us try and keep the perspective on the fear element, that is all I am trying to say.

    At the end of the day - I don't have to ride - I have a few cars, taxis and trains to move me around - I choose the bike because I love it and it makes me sad that others who would get that same pleasure are frighten off.
    I do 100% agree that facilities should be improved - but if only 2% of people are using bikes then funding will be in proportion to that - there are very sound and good arguments that say this short sighted approach is incorrect and I agree - but until we get more people on the road, until cycling is seen as a norm rather than the preserve of people who think it is a good idea to go up the Mall naked. Cycling will never be seen as anything other than a mode of transport for "other" people.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I am out of this argument now - Please accept the fact that I have a different opinion to yourselves. I do not believe that my opinion is very different to a majority of other cycle commuters I meet either. But I do at the same time respect your opinion - it takes all sorts to make up the world - please accept my different opinion as just that.

    What always makes me laugh is how I read in Blogs that no one ever goes through a red light - yet daily I see more than 80% of cyclists do this (but once again this depends on the junction - people manage the risk).

    People, must keep demanding better facilities and that is why I come to this blog, ordinarily the arguments are well balanced and rational. Personally I was disappointed with this post as I felt it lacked the high standard of the other posts I normally read here - if it gets much worse it would end up being a typical post by me!

    (p.s. this 4,096 character limit on posts is not very conducive to sensible debate)

    ReplyDelete
  10. Sorry David - I did not answer your reply as I was busy doing my mega reply to the others.

    I questioned this post by you - because it was not your usual balanced opinion - I thought I had been careful to make clear that I felt you other posts in this blog gave out that message. Blog posts by their very way of being, are often read in isolation to other items previously or subsequently posted - I feel their needs to be a reasonable balance in every post, I do not feel this is very evident here.

    I have tried to make it clear (though in my later messages) that the risk of cycling can be managed - "buzz" and "spice" are not terms I would use for cycling with my wife - sedate and leisurely would be more correct. This is my point - I can choose how I cycle and how much risks I am willing to take - as can everyone else. Some days when I am tired of just want life to be slower I can almost double my journey time to/from work - I choose that - in direct relation to that the risks I take will vary greatly.

    My argument and example of Helmand was perhaps overly facile and I withdraw it, I said it more for shock value than anything else! Though personally I am not too sure how many people that signed up 12 years ago really expected to be facing that much danger.

    I am 45 not 20 - I am fairly typical of cyclist out there - I take your point that current cyclists out there are more like me in terms of their perception of risk - but they don't need to be - because the roads are not so dangerous that the average person cannot deal with them.

    People such as my wife for example (a more risk adverse person I have yet to meet) now cycle, why, because I bought her a bike and I went out with her, I showed her how to deal with the road (she is foreign and used to driving on the other side of the road, so it was doubly odd for her) but with me to (a) help her and enthuse her (b) riding with a level of risk that she was comfortable with, she now uses a bike (not everyday though because of her back).

    We really need to give the positive and fun message of cycling to people far more often, there is just so much to be gained for us and them by doing this.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I read this blog in isolation.

    Cycling is not dangerous.

    Roads are not dangerous.

    The actions of a minority of road users can create dangerous moments.

    The answer is not as simple as building cycling specific infrastructure everywhere, there're plenty of crap cycle lanes about.

    It's a decisive issue, and one which will continue to hamper promotion of cycling unless folks can move away from a 'single solution' approach.

    P.s. do you have data to back up your many "i think's" in your post and responses?

    ReplyDelete
  12. *devisive* not decisive, HTC autospell strikes again*devisive* not decisive, HTC autospell strikes again

    ReplyDelete
  13. I don’t believe I have ever been directly quoted like that before!

    While I have absolutely no doubt that subjective safety, and the general congeniality of the activity, is a critical factor in persuading more people to cycle, the potential danger to new cyclists is more a perception than a scientific fact. While I have no statistics on general casualty rates for cyclists, I can point to one particular subset, which is head injuries (from cuts and abrasions through to fatal) from the Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation (www.cyclehelmets.org). The following recalled statistic doesn’t come from BHRF, and sadly I no longer recall where it does come from, however, the incidence of head injury for pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicle occupants, measured on a per-travel-hour basis, are really quite similar, with cyclists suffering a slightly higher incidence than pedestrians but lower than motorists. The three modes of transport are of course at very different speeds, and when this is taken into account, the incidence per mile/km is materially less for cycling than for walking, although higher than for motoring. BHRF does quote specific stats for fatalities (only part of the story) which show that cycling is safer than walking. It also quotes stats which show that when you compare cycling with other activities outside the transport arena (and making a comparison within transport is fair enough, but should not be the whole story), only two popular outdoor activities are safer – golf, and rambling (with cycling indexed at 1, Golf is 0.83 and rambling 0.06). Although there are some obviously more risky pursuits, (such as horse riding or climbing), even tennis, swimming and fishing are riskier.

    The point about rambling is interesting – rambling meaning walking – in that the available casualty stats (that I have seen anyway) for pedestrians and cyclists don’t analyse context. It is fairly obvious that motorists’ risk is primarily road accident, but how many pedestrians simply slip on a patch of ice, how many cyclists are injured in a sporting context, mountain biking or racing – the only places in my view where a helmet is essential?

    So I still maintain that on scientific fact, cycling is relatively safe. Arguing that cycling could be dangerous for novice cyclists, were they to start, is purely perceptive, and even that is not necessarily borne out by known stats, as the perhaps surprisingly low level of casualties in the first six months of Boris-biking, compared with popular perceptions, might show.

    None of this argues against the compelling need to make our roads safer for cyclists and that certainly means, in a material proportion of cases, physical separation. In the Netherlands, segregation applies to around 20,000km out of 140,000km total roads, ie about 15%, the rest being managed by other measures.

    But is it helpful to the cause of increased utility cycling, and the infrastructure to support it, to proclaim that cycling is inherently dangerous? Am I just playing safe, falling for the much-derided “elf & safety” culture beloved of the tabloid press, if I fear to encourage people to take up cycling through training, mentoring and other moral support? Why must we paint cycling in such terms? Why is it all Bradley Wiggins or Victoria Pendleton, wrapped in fluorescent lycra, helmet and weird shades? Do I really want to emphasise the risk, the “rush”, the adventure, which will certainly attract some people but arguably the wrong kind? Isn’t that a total turn-off for most potential utility cyclists? When did you last see a family hatchback or saloon promoted with images of Formula 1 drivers in flame-retardant suits and full-face helmets? It would be a total turn-off


    (To be continued)

    ReplyDelete
  14. Continued

    I don’t buy the CTC bull about “safety in numbers”, not because I believe it to be untrue – there really is at least a grain of truth in it – but because it is just about their only policy and as such is woefully inadequate. However, a few cycle campaigners and bloggers are never going to achieve a step-change in government attitudes to cycle infrastructure. That can only come from grass-roots pressure, and the people are not going to march on Downing Street with banners saying “I would love to cycle, but I demand that you build the cycle lanes first”. You need more cyclist on the roads for that.

    And, despite the road lobby’s experience (gained because they have money, and money buys influence) of “predict and provide” or “build it, and they will come” there is a world of difference between evidence of absence and absence of evidence. Saying that a facility will be used if it is built still leaves you with the challenge of proving it. They can always point to existing schemes which are little used, and our rebuttals, that the schemes are crap so it is hardly surprising, fall on deaf ears because the powers don’t realise they are crap, and probably neither do most latent cyclists because they have yet to try them.

    Here I think Blackfriars Bridge makes a useful illustration. No-one can pretend that this is an unqualified victory, but the very fact that more than a third of all vehicles crossing the bridge in the peak time, more than any other category of vehicle, are bicycles, and a significant proportion of those cyclists (more than 500 of them) wrote to TfL, or to their assembly member, and joined the flashride, achieved some results in terms of reinstatement, or widening, or making mandatory, of cycle lanes at or near the northern junction. It wasn’t campaigners or bloggers that achieved this – they merely facilitated it.

    We need more bums on saddles, passionate about improving their experience, pressing their elected representatives for change. Scaring them off won’t help there.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I'm with David. I think cycling IS dangerous. However, I think what’s been lost sight of in all this is the question of exposure to risk, which varies enormously for each individual cyclist, depending not just on how far you cycle but also where you cycle.

    I think exposure to risk has grown massively in recent years. Road traffic policing has been substantially reduced over the past twenty years, hit and runs are up in London, there are staggering numbers of drivers who aren’t insured (some because they are disqualified and can’t obtain insurance), there are new distractions for drivers in the form of SatNav and mobile phones, some cars now have powerful engines which match those of old fashioned racing cars, drivers are increasingly personally protected from the consequences of reckless risk taking by air bags and rigid steel safety cages in the chassis (the John Adams risk compensation theory seems to me very convincing) etc etc.

    “There are risks but these risks are within my control” A cyclist can minimise risk, whether by Bikeability-style training or by unofficial cyclecraft (jumping red lights, cycling on the pavement) but there are many risks outside a cyclist’s control, whether it’s a SMIDSY driver, someone distracted by a mobile phone, or someone who is speeding/drunk who ‘loses control’.

    I don’t find the argument that we first need to get more people cycling in order to argue for infrastructure particularly convincing. If that was true then the two UK cities with the most cyclists (Cambridge and York) would have councils which aggressively promoted cycling at the expense of cars, and made driving routes circuitous and cycling routes direct. That hasn’t happened. Reading their websites, the cycling campaigners in those cities don’t seem too enthralled by their local councils’ commitment to cycling.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Radio Star: The data on which I base my opinions is generally scattered through this blog, but perhaps most importantly, on this page. I am looking for a way to organise the material in this Blog so that the "key posts" on various subjects are more apparent, but Blooger does not make this particularly easy.

    You say: "The answer is not as simple as building cycling specific infrastructure everywhere, there're plenty of crap cycle lanes about." Don't you think it would be a good idea to try and build some good ones?

    On the matter of evidence and data, there is one key claim that my critics, or semi-critics, here, are making, which is backed up by no evidence at all: the claim that by stating "cycling is dangerous" I will have the slightest effect on what people actually do. This is the basic point I am denying here. I am saying that there is no evidence that, in public forums like this, either encouraging people to cycle by telling them how safe it is, or discouraging them by telling them how nasty it is, has the slightest effect in the real world. I know that people are encouraged to start cycling through personal encounters. If one person in an office starts cycling to work, that encourages others to try it, similarly in a family or other social group. But I see no evidence of the effectiveness of "publicity" either way, and, in a broad sense, this blog is "publicity".

    The reason my post seems "unbalanced" to Idle Boy is that is structured in a particular way to achieve a particular rhetorical effect. I was using a specific rhetorical device, that I might term "shattering the shibboleth". You will notice that at the end of every major section of the text I have repeated the title of the piece, or a close variant of it, to hammer it home. This is a "creative writing" aspect of the piece. I adopted this style because I wanted to shatter a shibboleth. I am fed up with this idea, that we get told lot by CTC and LCC, that we must not say that "cycling is dangerous" because it might put people off from cycling and undermine our cause. I just don't think this is right. I think it just makes it look as if we are odd people hiding our heads in the sand. And it is contradictory, because it contradicts our attempts to get the roads made safer to attract more cyclists. If cycling is safe at the moment, why do we need safety improvements, officialdom will always naively say?

    I disagree with Paul M's attitude to campaigning:

    "However, a few cycle campaigners and bloggers are never going to achieve a step-change in government attitudes to cycle infrastructure. That can only come from grass-roots pressure, and the people are not going to march on Downing Street with banners saying “I would love to cycle, but I demand that you build the cycle lanes first”. You need more cyclist on the roads for that."

    No. Campaigning can work, even with few cyclists on the roads. You will see in my post on Camden's cycle tracks how a small group of campaigners, at a time when there were fewer cyclists in London than there are now, achieved infrastructure changes that I am still getting thanked for (not that they were my doing) today. These infrastructure changes I believe did contribute to the rise in cycling in Camden and London over subsequent years. So this is my answer to this eternal discussion about what order things must happen in: do we get more cyclists first, to get the political power to press for change, or do we get the change first, to generate more cyclists? My answer is that we have to do the best we can with what numbers and influence we have now, and, if we are clever and united about it, we can make it work and get into a virtuous circle of increasing numbers and improving provision.

    ReplyDelete
  17. David - "Don't you think it would be a good idea
    to try and build some good ones?"

    There are good ones, wide enough to ride 3 abreast (not permitted though). Called Roads. All the 'danger' scenarios you state are low frequency high impact, as such they add weighting to your argument above the reality of what goes on out there. What's the accident per journey ratio for cycling in uk? Or accident per mile. The numbers simply don't stack up, cycling is not dangerous.

    By all means, decent quality leisure routes should be off-road motor vehicle free where possible, but are you seriously suggesting there should be a big enough high quality separated cycle network for *all* conceivable bike journeys? To run alongside, or separate to roads? London only or nationally?

    If so, where do you suggest they are built?

    ReplyDelete
  18. sorry, more HTC editing and posting trouble - "danger scenarios Freewheeler states" that should read.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Quote "The reason my post seems "unbalanced" to Idle Boy is that is structured in a particular way to achieve a particular rhetorical effect. I was using a specific rhetorical device, that I might term "shattering the shibboleth"."

    You will just have to excuse my total stupidity - quite obviously you were just playing with us and not giving the message to everyone that cycling is dangerous.

    Personally - I think you have forgotten to enjoy life and cycling. In my opinion your view that "Cycling is dangerous" is fundamentally flawed and facile - of course I didn't just disagree with you at all, I was just using alliteration (it was a writing technique and therefore the content is not to be taken at face value by all accounts).

    You like data - I suggest that you look at how many positive posts about cycling recently compared to complaints about the system.

    On a genuine point - I have work for regional, local and national government on many things, both large and small. I promise you one thing - if you don't get bums on saddles then you will never get the representation top make a change - yes there will be the occasional one off (e.g. Camden)but these are the exception and not the norm - they will do next to nothing to increase real cycling numbers.

    I can only tell you this from years of working on many things in this area - from real hands on experience - raw numbers of cyclists is the only way you will achieve anything significant - you can of course ignore this hands on experience and extrapolate proof from you vast data that a negative blog will change cycling in the UK forever.

    I wish you luck but sadly feel you are blinkered in your views too much now. Which is a real shame in my opinion.

    .

    ReplyDelete
  20. Radio Star, you need to read the rest of this blog to understand the model of mass cycling it is promoting. Or go to The Netherlands and see it in action there. Or, the next best thing, read David Hembrow's blog View from the Cycle Path for a while. Or study the information in the Wiki section of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain website.

    Idle Boy, you are just going over old ground, and your post makes little sense. While you are right that "raw numbers of cyclists is the only way you will achieve anything significant", you are proposing no practical strategy for achieving that. I am explaining a strategy, which has worked in the past and will work again. You think my blog is "negative", but it is your view which is negative, as you seem to believe we are stuck. My message is positive – I am the one with the positive view of how we can take cycling forwards. We won't do it by treating people as idiots: telling them "cycling is safe" when it ain't. It is your view, the view that this is what we should do, that is "facile". It is a failed strategy.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Ha! I saw this post before there were any comments... I knew it would generate a debate (and traffic :-) )

    As a full time cycle trainer, I get this "cycling is dangerous" thing all the time. Well of course it is! So is any activity to some degree. The thing is to get it into a sensible context. Being a diabetic fattie is dangerous too. Too often the risks of cycling are taken in isolation. When one considers all risks to an individual we see that there are far more risky things then normal urban cycling. One of those things is not cycling at all...

    People I meet are always shocked it the low accident rate on the Boris Bikes or that the numbers killed on bikes in London are counted in the 10s not 100s or even 1000s!

    The "danger" of cycling is greatly overstated, although I agree with Freewheeler that it has gotten worse over the last 10 years or so.

    "Bums on saddles" is the only way forward.... By every/any means. More flash mobs and twitter/blog agitation!

    ReplyDelete
  22. So, londonneur, you are saying that cycling in the UK/London is safe since the deathtoll is only counted in tens and not in thousands. You just have to know how to dodge the cars and lorries. That's 'safe'.

    Well, so is being stationed in Iran or Afghanistan. Sure, people might shoot at you or blow you up, but of all the thousands of troops stationed there, the actual casualties are relatively low. So it's 'safe'. You just need to know how to dodge the bullits.

    Weirdly, being a soft Dutchie, my idea of going shopping, visiting my mother or going to work does not include dodging lorries at 60 mph. I would as rather negotiate a minefield as London traffic. Yeah, sure, most of the time I would get out unscathed, alive to cycle another day, but why should I want to?

    Yes, of course I know that driving a car is just as dangerous, but that most people won't see this so because the car itself gives the illusion of safety, but turn this around and admit that even if people feel vulnerable, they won't cycle. Then go one step further and admit that being a 15 mph cyclist of flesh and bone amidst 60 mph raging tonnes of metal will make people vulnerable, just as being a flesh and blood human amidst volleys of sniper bullits will make you feel vulnerable.

    Then go one step even further and understand that you can't make people cycle by telling them that their fears are silly and unjustified (nor will you stop them from cycling by admitting that throwing cyclist amongst 60 mph or even 30 mhp traffic is inherently dangerous).

    People who cycle are the pit-canaries of any city; canaries sing if the pit runs out of air and people won't cycle if they know it's dangerous, and no amount of reasoning will stop the canaries from singing.

    I'm a 46 yo woman who's afraid of heights. No way will you get me to bungeejump, even though I know that accidents rarely happen. Your passionate pleas that it's really, really safe won't budge me. I will look at you as a thrillseeking idiot, and then I will go and cook dinner, or walk the dog, and forget about you.
    Nor will other acrophobics influence me. Telling me how scary heights and bungees are will have me nod, and then I will go and cook dinner, or walk the dog, and forget about you.
    I'm afraid of bungee-jumping because I am afraid, not because of what other say.

    My fear of heights won't hold me from travelling in airplanes, however, so it's not the *actual* hight that has me terrified, nor the *actual* fear of dying (I know bungees are safe), but its that standing-on-the-ledge utter terror of hurtling down that make me puke.

    So why would I even want to do that if I can avoid bungees altogether? So why would any mother ride her toddler to pre-school on a bike, why would any middleaged woman go groceryshopping with her bike, why would any senior citizin cycle to their allotment, running the gauntlet of lorries and cars, if they can avoid it?

    I think that the cyclist who argue loudly for 'vehicular cycling' and against better cycling infrastructure secrectly don't want mothers, middle-aged women and senior citizins in their exclusive little club, though. Bungee-jumpers wouldn't want those people bungee-jumping either. It would destroy the whole image of daring, thrill-seeking, death-defying, it-make-you-feel-alive daredevils that they project.

    ReplyDelete
  23. David - I'd prefer for you to answer my questions rather than deflect me to other blogs / wikis.

    Marion - those arguing loudly for infrastructure at the expense of everything else are creating a campaign that can never be fulfilled. As a business model, this is great - no end point, as a potential solution - terrible.

    All - Cycling is not dangerous. Roads are not dangerous. The actions of a minority of road users create dangerous situations. Tackle the problem, then everyone and everyone can realise the true safety of cycling.

    By lobbying with a 'Cycling is Dangerous' message, you'll more than likely succeed in getting cycling banned. No cycling = no cycling related death or injury. I've heard of Road Safety staff who believe this in some authorities. This is a cheaper solution than investment in infrastructure, or education. Is that what you want?

    Cycling is not Dangerous. Your campaign message is.

    ReplyDelete
  24. radio star - Saying that asking for better infrastructure would be futile because it will never happen anyway is a rather defeatist attitude, isn't it? You would never get *anything* done in life with that 'tude. Nothing worthwile, anywhile.

    And 'at the expense of everything else'? What 'evertything else'? This sounds worse than defeatist thinking, this is forlock-tugging appeasement. This is the voice of someone who sat in stinging nettles his entire life, but was afraid to get up to search for a better spot for fear that someone would come along and pinch his seat! Afraid that if you rock the boat too much, the little what you have will be taken away from you ("you'll more than likely succeed in getting cycling banned", indeed!)

    If you don't strife for the better, indeed if you 'campaign' by ridiculing and bullying those who want a better seat than the stinging nettles, just for fear that Big Bully Over There might take your stinging nettles away, than you don't deserve any better.

    Besides, I thought this post of Vole O'Speed was about how it *doesn't matter* wether you tell people that cycling is dangerous or safe as people know what they think what is safe and/or dangerous by just looking outside for themselves, thank you very much.

    Look, it's no skin of my nose, as I am lucky enough to live in a country where good infrastructure is provided (most of my fellow countrymen don't even realise how lucky they are as they take this entirely for granted) but internet allows me to look over the borders and I'm appalled by the back-biting and cowing by one cyclist to another just because some of you would rather have more to eat than the scraps of the motorist lobby's table.

    ReplyDelete
  25. David, I enjoyed this post - a good thought-provoking piece.

    It's undeniable that the majority of UK cyclists have a sporting orientation (no doubt derived from John Franklin's 'Cyclecraft') that encourages them to accelerate away from danger and to 'negotiate' (i.e. take risks) with motorised traffic.

    I agree with your evaluation of the perception of danger - I would say that I experience a 'near miss' where usually a van passes me with insufficient clearance about once in every 5 miles I ride.

    The Dutch have critical mass in cycling because using the bike is simply quicker and more convenient than using the car. We have a long way to go in the UK, however, we can improve subjective safety by persuading local authorities to reduce speed differentials (more 20 mph limits) and signposting cycle routes on minor roads which run parallel to arterial routes in the way that the Dutch do by closing off rat runs but allowing 'permeability' for cyclists.

    ReplyDelete
  26. "By lobbying with a 'Cycling is Dangerous' message, you'll more than likely succeed in getting cycling banned."

    Sorry radio star, another fundamental mistake you are making here. It already is banned. 99% of people won't cycle under current conditions. The ban already exists de-facto. The government could hardly ban it more effectively if it tried. The government bans motorists exceeding 70mph on motorways, and 30 in towns, but most of them do these things. The de-facto ban we have at the moment on cycling is more effective than anything the government could do deliberately. And it has been achieved despite all these people like you saying "Cycling is safe, believe me, try it!" Failed strategy. There is an alternative strategy which succeeds. Separating bikes from motor vehicles on fast or busy roads. The details of policies which work are on the sites that I mentioned and there is no point going into them further here. At War with the Motorist also has a very good post on this subject here.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Marion - are you not aware of schemes to educate road users rather than just build more stuff? There's more than infrastructure to creating a cycling culture.

    I'm not sat in stinging nettles or whichever analogy you choose to jump to next. Merely looking for reason and balance amongst cycle campaign messages being put out there. Single solution campaigning is not the way forward, especially when pushing unhelpful messages about danger. Besides all that you seem to have re-interpreted my last post to make your own argument.

    You defeat your argument though. If cycling is dangerous, and people are self selecting, then why do so many kids own bikes? Why do self selecting parents expose children to the danger of cycling? Won't someone think of the poor children...

    Go back to my description of the situation:

    "Cycling is not dangerous. Roads are not
    dangerous. The actions of a minority of road
    users create dangerous situations."

    Is the solution really to change infrastructure, not behaviour? Would a balanced approach focusing on both not work better?

    ReplyDelete
  28. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  29. David - that's a strange viewpoint. How many people have you worked with to establish their barriers to cycling? Perceived Danger is one of many barriers. Perceived distance, perceived mechanical complexity or cost, perceived sweatiness, perceived need to wear lycra and silly hat, perceived cyclists = weirdy beardies, perceived it takes longer, and more. Key one to think about. Perceived cycling = poor. Car is status symbol for many of your target audience.

    All form bigger picture in which infrastructure is not the cure-all solution.David - that's a strange viewpoint. How many people have you worked with to establish their barriers to cycling? Perceived Danger is one of many barriers. Perceived distance, perceived mechanical complexity or cost, perceived sweatiness, perceived need to wear lycra and silly hat, perceived cyclists = weirdy beardies, perceived it takes longer, and more. Key one to think about. Perceived cycling = poor. Car is status symbol for many of your target audience.

    All form bigger picture in which infrastructure is not the cure-all solution.

    ReplyDelete
  30. apologies again for HTC vs your blog incompatability, make sense the above as best you can.apologies again for HTC vs your blog incompatability, make sense the above as best you can.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Kids ride bikes cos it's fun. They dont ride bikes to go to school or for other utility purposes round here. I think that's due to parental anxiety for their safety. Adults don't ride bikes for very much in this neighbourhood. No amount of training will make it fun. It does not feel safe either.

    ReplyDelete
  32. could you do an equally brillinat article on the dangers of reproduction as there are peados on every street corner?

    Idiot. Your article has now made cycling more dangerous for those that choose to cycle. Well done!

    ReplyDelete
  33. Well that's ^ what the non cycling 'journos' type in their 'news' papers.

    ReplyDelete
  34. No, I just don't accept your account, radio star, so I think we will have to agree to differ. Perceived danger is not merely "one of many barriers". It is THE barrier. All the other "barriers" you mention are "secondary excuses" that people use that are on a completely different plane. These so-called barriers all disappear by themselves in places where the infrastructure is right and people feel safe. I agree with the analysis by Dave Horton of Lancaster University. The evidence is there. It is all over Europe. And it exists in places in London as well, as I will show in future posts This is a solved problem, and we don't need to pretend it is more complicated than it is.

    ReplyDelete
  35. We seem to be going round in circles. Let me have a go at summarising the pro cycling people here - sorry if I get it wrong (I am using a new "misunderstand what people post" creative writing technique)

    I think we all agree that more infrastructure is needed. The "cycling is not too dangerous relatively speaking" people here are saying that the risks are acceptable compared to the benefits; personal things such as health and global benefits to reducing traffic congestion (and for me time - it is faster to cycle the 12 miles to work than taking the train).

    What the "cycling is dangerous" group are saying is that the risk is enough either to stop them cycling altogether or greatly reduce the amount of cycling they do.

    There seems to be an obvious difference in degree of risks we are willing to take in life amongst us. I feel sorry, personally, for those who feel the risk is too great. I used words like "buzz" and they have been misinterpreted as meaning I am some sort of adrenalin junkie. I meant it to imply the feeling of contentment and happiness I get from my freedom and exercise through cycling.

    The truth is that people will judge the level of risk they want in life.

    I have tried, though been ignored totally, to make the point that the risk is dependant on how you cycle - no you will not remove all risk but there is a massive variation in my opinion dependant on how you cycle.

    In my opinion - to say "Cycling is dangerous" is sending out the wrong message - it is up to people to try cycling for themselves and make their own decision.

    I don't think any of the pro cycling people here have at any time said it is not without risk, what they have said though, is that those risks are not out of proportion with other activities in life be they sporting or transport.

    I don't hear the message for cars being "it is dangerous" - what I hear is, driving dangerously or without care is dangerous. This should be the message for cyclists also.

    David is making this "cycling is dangerous" statement then, to get across his message about the need for more infrastructure.

    What the pro cycling people are saying is that this is the wrong message to send out - because your campaign, with this message, will do more harm than good. That is because we believe that the only way you are going to get the improvements we all want is by increasing the number of cyclist and not scaring them off (which David doesn't think it will do). Well David you may be only one person but maybe you are the thin edge of the wedge - people will read your blog (as I did before I bought a bike) and never make that purchase.

    I have also tried to say that I have worked to a high level in the decision making process of how our hard earned money is spent - I have even managed to get a a couple of hundred thousand spent on a cycle path (before I was a cyclist). If I had used the cycling is dangerous argument I would have not got a penny! I used the beneficial elements of cycling - and how it could help people get to work, health etc. it was all based around the ODPM (office of the deputy prime minister) sustainable communities fund. I could not have done this without there being a need amongst real people (namely voters).

    David you complained in an earlier post about the message the CTC where giving out in their magazine (I agreed with that by the way). In the opinion of many posters here, you are also sending out the wrong message with the aim of achieving you goals - I like many others feel your message will have the opposite effect of what you are trying to achieve.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Well summarised IB.

    David - last post from me, you seem to be arguing that you are right because you say you're right because you know what's right.

    There's no real discussion here, despite attempts to engage on my part, just continued imposition of your view.

    Cycling is not Dangerous.

    ReplyDelete
  37. @Idle Boy

    I don't think your labels are helpful. Surely someone advocating investment in infrastructure is pro-cycling too?

    David and others have made a fair point - the majority perceive that cycling in this country is too big a risk for them personally to take. Otherwise we would have a higher modal share than 2%.

    Dave Horton's research captures people's thinking well. On Dave's blog he reports on the presentation by the head of transport strategy in New York who identified four categories of cyclists. Most aren't prepared to take the risk.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Azor Rider - I only used those titles because I was afraid of hitting the character limit for posts - for "pro cycling" please read - "people who don't think cycling is so dangerous, it is not worth doing".

    Dave Horton research is just what it says on the box - research.

    I have long tried to make the point here - still not understood - that all the research in the world will not get hard earned tax money spent - it can support the argument yes - but only sheer numbers of voters / riders will get the money allocated to the group of users.

    The risk is not so great to stop 20% (instead of 2%) of people using bikes regularly - since starting riding I have got 4 other people onto a bike. This is not done by telling them about how dangerous it is - they are big enough and ugly enough to make that decision for themselves. What I told them about was the positive aspects as well as the risks.

    This post (due to the creative writing technique employed - or as I prefer to think - the words used)does not offer that balanced point of view. And in my stupid opinion hiding behind using a "creative writing technique" as an excuse does not redeem this article. I can see it now Goebbles at Nuremberg trials - "my message may have been distasteful but it is OK because I was using creative writing techniques" to make my point.

    ReplyDelete
  39. no willpower, oh well.

    survey: why don't you cycle?

    [a] I'm too lazy / car convenient
    [b] I fear loss of status amongst peers
    [c] It's too dangerous


    respondent: "hmmm.... which option doesn't make me look bad? ah-ha, option [c] will do - it's all someone else's fault that way."

    There's a statistical/psychological term for this I'm sure.no willpower, oh well.

    survey: why don't you cycle?

    [a] I'm too lazy / car convenient
    [b] I fear loss of status amongst peers
    [c] It's too dangerous


    respondent: "hmmm.... which option doesn't make me look bad? ah-ha, option [c] will do - it's all someone else's fault that way."

    There's a statistical/psychological term for this I'm sure.

    ReplyDelete
  40. I'm beginning to detest HTC.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Idle Boy, the reason we seem to be going round in circles is because you still don't get the point. The scale of your misunderstanding is clear in your incorrect summary of what I and others are saying:

    "The "cycling is not too dangerous relatively speaking" people here are saying that the risks are acceptable compared to the benefits; personal things such as health and global benefits to reducing traffic congestion (and for me time - it is faster to cycle the 12 miles to work than taking the train).

    What the "cycling is dangerous" group are saying is that the risk is enough either to stop them cycling altogether or greatly reduce the amount of cycling they do."

    No. All wrong. That's not what we are saying. No-one is saying anything about how the risks influence their own personal behaviour. If I believed cycling was too dangerous for me, I would not cycle. For me, personally, my thinking is in agreement with your first paragraph. I do evaluate the benefits to me and to society at large of me cycling as being greater than the risks. What I am doing is making an external, objective evaluation of why, at a population level, more cycling is not going on. I am saying it is due to the danger, which has to be reduced to make more people assess the relative risks in the way that you and I are doing, and start cycling.

    Now the real debate is around how to reduce that danger. Yes, an approach is to not separate cyclists and motorists through infrastructure, but to try to "tame" the car. The problem with that one is that is has never worked anywhere. Campaigners have been trying for years and not getting very far. That's because "taming" the car tries to work against human nature. Give people a powerful toy, and some of them will use it to its full potential, whatever you do. They haven't "tamed" the car in The Netherlands, where they have 40% modal share by bike. They have largely separated the car from the bike.

    "In my opinion - to say "Cycling is dangerous" is sending out the wrong message - it is up to people to try cycling for themselves and make their own decision."

    Of course it is. And this is what they do. This is precisely the whole point I am making. There are more bikes in this country than cars. It's not a matter of people making purchases or not. People have the equipment. They have tried cycling, and 99% of them don't continue. It's nothing to do with what I or anyone else writing on the internet say. It's the conditions. I just find this whole idea that people are not cycling because I, or other people writing things on the internet or in the papers, tell them it is dangerous, to be totally laughable. Even more ludicrous is the idea that someone wrote here that through writing something on the internet I am making cycling more dangerous! These ideas are not the real world. In the real world, most people don't cycle because of what they experience on the roads. The danger is out there, it is objective.

    ReplyDelete
  42. Your misunderstanding is even more evidenced by this sentence:

    "I don't hear the message for cars being "it is dangerous" - what I hear is, driving dangerously or without care is dangerous. This should be the message for cyclists also."

    This is all confused. The dangers in driving are not due to cyclists. Cyclists are not a danger to cars, cars are a danger to cyclists. The situation is asymmetrical, so your point is wrong. Dangerous driving is dangerous to drivers, but far more dangerous to cyclists and pedestrians. Dangerous cycling is a totally different thing, as a cycle or pedestrian is not a ton of metal moving at 40mph. The pretence that we can have a symmetrical, shared mixing of cyclists and drivers, with the risks shared, is part of the problem. The risks are never shared where the space is shared between different transport modes. That's why we need separation. This is not controversial for pedestrians, but is peculiarly controversial for bikes. The danger is fundamental to the properties of the mixed traffic environment (unless speeds are very low) and it is not a function of the behaviour of individual road users. This is a point you just "don't get", like the other guy, who thought the problem was "poor cycling".

    It is impossible to argue with you because you contradict yourself at every turn.

    "The risk is not so great to stop 20% (instead of 2%) of people using bikes regularly - since starting riding I have got 4 other people onto a bike. This is not done by telling them about how dangerous it is - they are big enough and ugly enough to make that decision for themselves."

    I don't know where you get 20% from. It is clear that 20% of the UK population are certainly not cycling. And you say "they are big enough and ugly enough to make that decision for themselves". But that's what the whole of my post is saying! People make decisions for themselves.

    But I can't win. Because I am either told I am just giving my own opinions, which have no no basis, or, when I give the basis, you say "That's just research". What you mean it is it is research you don't like.

    I presume all these replies are from cyclists. It would be interesting to have some from non-cyclists. Then all you non-cyclists could tell us why you are not cycling. Is it because I (or someone else) has told you it is dangerous? Do you just believe whatever someone writes on the internet? Or do you take the decision from the results of your own experience? In other words, are you a stupid programmable robot, or a decision-making human being? Please tell us.

    ReplyDelete
  43. You start your blog with

    "I'll reveal first of all that, these days, I don't cycle that frequently. Last week, the only days I used my bike were Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday. Tuesday was a journey of only a total length of a mile, so hardly counts. On Wednesday I did a suburban trip through the Borough of Brent that totalled 12 miles, and on Sunday I was on a ride in the Hertfordshire lanes with a group of 10 others that totalled 25 miles"

    And the point of that statement is what?

    This directly contradicts when you say
    "I do evaluate the benefits to me and to society at large of me cycling as being greater than the risks"

    So in your post you are saying (with examples) you cycle so little now that it "hardly counts" with the direct intention of that being a lead in to how dangerous cycling is post.

    And I am the one contradicting myself?

    Really - you are twisting the whole point of what I am saying and either through ignorance, lack of of intelligence, or belligerence (the one I would plump for) are missing the point of everything I am trying to say.

    The point I made about 20% - is not a statistic - it is a premise saying that if each rider persuaded 10 people over the next couple of years to try cycling then the number would increase ten fold - then change would happen.

    I cannot believe that you have totally misunderstood the;

    "I don't hear the message for cars being "it is dangerous" - what I hear is, driving dangerously or without care is dangerous. This should be the message for cyclists also."

    The point here is not about your beloved statistics - it is about the message we give out about our chosen form of transport - I am trying to explain to you the message about "propaganda" not about death rates etc.

    Honestly I think you are a nice guy but you are far too literal about what you read - you lack the ability to identify with another persons opinion and therefore follow their argument.

    ReplyDelete
  44. @Marion

    Wow! That's quite a rant. Hard to know where to start. I'll quote you in my reply...

    “you are saying that cycling in the UK/London is safe since the deathtoll is only counted in tens and not in thousands. You just have to know how to dodge the cars and lorries. That's 'safe'.”

    No I don't. I say that people often have an overinflated idea of the numbers killed. Every death is a needless tragedy that I spend my working life attempting to stop.

    “Well, so is being stationed in Iran or Afghanistan.....”

    Bizarre and irrelevant.

    “Weirdly, being a soft Dutchie, my idea of going shopping, visiting my mother or going to work does not include dodging lorries at 60 mph.”

    There are other places to ride besides the North Circular Road. I never mix with 60 mph traffic. Sounds like you need some Cycle Training.

    “admit that being a 15 mph cyclist of flesh and bone amidst 60 mph raging tonnes of metal will make people vulnerable, just as being a flesh and blood human amidst volleys of sniper bullits will make you feel vulnerable.”

    There you go again with the 60 mph thing and the war analogies.... you seem tense.

    “Then go one step even further and understand that you can't make people cycle by telling them that their fears are silly and unjustified “

    You seem confused about cycle training. We don't “make” anyone do anything and we don't tell people they are silly. Cycle training is for the small group who just need a little help to get started. They come to us.... in fact we cannot keep up with demand! CT helps people who WANT to ride now. That is all. To get the big lump of the population onto their bikes we need good dutch style infrastructure (amongst other things).

    “People who cycle are the pit-canaries of any city; canaries sing if the pit runs out of air and people won't cycle if they know it's dangerous, and no amount of reasoning will stop the canaries from singing.”

    Tell you what.... No amount of reasoning will make this sentence make any sense. Pit Canaries?!?? Are you high?

    cont...

    ReplyDelete
  45. @Marion

    “I'm a 46 yo woman who's afraid of heights. No way will you get me to bungeejump, even though I know that accidents rarely happen. Your passionate pleas that it's really, really safe won't budge me. I will look at you as a thrillseeking idiot, and then I will go and cook dinner, or walk the dog, and forget about you.”

    Again, you seem really confused and somewhat hysterical. What “passionate plea” are you referring to? You don't seem particularly knowledgeable, perhaps it is actually you who is an “idiot”.

    “So why would any mother ride her toddler to pre-school on a bike, why would any middleaged woman go groceryshopping with her bike, why would any senior citizin cycle to their allotment, running the gauntlet of lorries and cars, if they can avoid it?”

    Actually, it's mothers and school children who make up the majority of my trainees so yet again we see that you aren't really across how this works in London.

    “I think that the cyclist who argue loudly for 'vehicular cycling' and against better cycling infrastructure secretly don't want mothers, middle-aged women and senior citizins in their exclusive little club, though.”

    Where is my “loud argument”? For the record: I ride a sit up bike. I ride relatively slowly and do not race. I teach Vehicular techniques because that it is the best way to ride under current conditions. I agitate for(and sometimes consult on ) hard segregated infrastructure at the local councils I work for, because that is the future.

    The only way forward is to get more bums on saddles in EVERY way. Please don't be so ready to attack others. Everyone on two wheels are my brothers and sisters. Vehicular/Segregationist or Roadie/Shopper are all false dichotomies. Just ride!

    -L

    ReplyDelete
  46. Oh londonneur, londonneur... I understand why you are so foaming-at-the-mouth mad at me, I really do. You are a 'full-time cycletrainer'. You train cyclists to navigate through car-dominated space for a living. People come to you because they percieve the streets to be too dangerous to cycle without special training. Your whole livelyhood is dependant on the fact that cyclists percieve the streets to be dangerous. You would have no livelyhood peddling your skills in the Netherlands, let me tell you. If the UK would get, overnight, Dutch-style infrastructure and legislation, you would be out of a job!

    But at the same time, openly acknowledging that the populace (98,5 percent of people) are too afraid to cycle threatens you, because your training consists for a large part in convincing people that they have nothing to fear, as long as they do what you teach them.

    It's no suprise that a majority of your trainees are mothers and schoolchildren. You train people who are afraid to cycle the dangerous streets for a living. Mothers and parents of schoolchildren would be the most concerned with safety. I very much doubt you would get many of the 'thrillseekers', the young men who, as someone on this blog said, 'felt alive' courting the dangers of the road.

    But tell me, what do you say to those mothers and the parents of those schoolchildren who come to you to train because they feel that roads are too dangerous to attempt without training? Do you tell them they are hysterical too? Gee, that must go down well! It's so original as well! It's not as if no man ever labeled women's valid fears and opinions as 'hysterical' before now, is it?

    ReplyDelete
  47. @Marion

    But what are you doing? I am working for change and may well be out of a job one day if all goes well!

    What are you doing? Enjoy your dog walking

    ReplyDelete
  48. No, Idle Boy, you have misunderstood the import of the opening of this blog piece, where I say "I don't cycle that frequently". This passage is meant to be taken as colouring in the background in a slightly self-deprecating way. It is, again, an admixture of creative writing into a serious "political" piece, but you have taken it the wrong way. I was not saying I am not a cyclist, though I do cycle less than I did once, and I was not saying that because I cycle less than I once did, my opinions do not count as those of a "cyclist". I would, without doubt, cycle more though, if the conditions in the area where I lived were better. As would lots of people. The "not counting" was the 1 mile journey: I was saying that hardly counted as a cycle journey – as is actually absolutely clear from what I wrote. I do check what I write carefully to ensure it says exactly what I intend – even in these comments.

    The flaw in your 20% argument:

    "The point I made about 20% - is not a statistic - it is a premise saying that if each rider persuaded 10 people over the next couple of years to try cycling then the number would increase ten fold - then change would happen."

    is that it assumes zero recidivism, that is, it assumes those who are persuaded to cycle all go on doing it. But this is not what happens. People give up under current conditions. They give up as fast as new people are persuaded to give cycling a try, so we have "churn" in the cycling population, but little overall change in cycling numbers, as TfL's study Analysis of cycling Potential in London stated. This is the problem we have to break through.

    I am going to close this correspondence now as it has become too personal and bad-tempered, and nothing more is being gained.

    ReplyDelete