Well, it turns out that we bike riders aren’t such a bad bunch after all, with the motion ‘cyclists are a menace’ soundly beaten in Monday evening’s debate in London organised by political magazine The Spectator.
The motion was defeated by 96 votes to 45 – a ratio of two to one – in the debate, chaired by broadcaster and journalist Andrew Neill, which brought together what most would agree were a couple of odd pairings arguing each side’s case.
Speaking in favour of the motion were Daily Mail journalist David Thomas and Labour MP Stephen Pound, in a rare case of someone from Middle England’s favourite newspaper expressing solidarity with a representative of the Labour Party.
If that raised eyebrows, however, it was nothing compared to the odd couple arguing against the motion – former London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, and Andrew Gilligan, the journalist who exposed the Iraq Dossier while at the BBC before moving to the London Evening Standard where he did more than most to ensure the end of Livingstone’s reign at City Hall.
According to The Guardian, Thomas’s argument contained several phrases familiar to anyone who has read a Daily Mail article about anti-social cycling, with the term “lycra louts” of course getting a mention.
Meanwhile, Pound, the paper said, provided an “entertaining rant” that “was good theatre and at least had a dash of originality.” It added that he the MP had called on responsible cyclists to rail up against the minority who gave them a bad name.
Quoting much of the speech he gave in his blog for the Daily Telegraph, Gilligan, who cycles daily, acknowledged that the fact that he and Livingstone were united in opposing the motion demonstrated the scale of the problem facing cyclists, saying: “To get me and Ken on the same platform shows the size of the emergency we pro-cycling forces face this evening.”
Gilligan cited road accident statistics, saying: “The number of people killed per year by cyclists averages less than one. The number of cyclists killed per year by motor vehicles is around 120.”
And with on the issue of cyclists causing a danger to pedestrians, a hot topic in recent months, he said: “Again the figures don’t stand that up. Cyclists make up about 1 per cent of the traffic in London, and they also cause 1 per cent of the traffic injuries to pedestrians – almost exactly in proportion with their numbers. The injuries they cause are also, as you’d expect, disproportionately at the lower end of the scale.”
Livingstone, meanwhile, disclosed that his special branch protection officer had warned him against riding a bike, saying that he had been told: “I really don't think you should ride a bike because so many people hate you. Someone is bound to run you off the road."
He also highlighted that continued increase in the level of cycling in London would eventually lead to a situation where attitudes among other road users would change towards bike riders, as he said had happened in Cambridge and Copenhagen.
An intervention from Baroness Sharples, who once used her shopping bag to remonstrate with a cyclist on a pedestrian crossing outside the Houses of Parliament, failed to save the day for the motion’s supporters, although she perhaps summed up the sentiments of many when she said that she wanted to see more politeness from all sides.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.