The Times, one of Britain’s most influential newspapers, has this morning launched a major campaign to improve the safety of cyclists in Britain’s towns and cities, outlining an eight-point manifesto to make conditions safer for bike riders and encouraging people to write to their MPs to urge them to take action. “Britain is failing cyclists,” it asserts, and “it is time for a change of gear.”
The front page of today's print edition of the newspaper carries the simple headline ‘Save Our Cyclists,’ accompanied by a picture of Mary Bowers, The Times journalist who remains in a coma three months after she was hit by a lorry just yards from the newspaper’s headquarters in Wapping, East London.
Inside, a two-page spread outlines the background to the campaign, including statistics detailing the casualty toll among cyclists on Britain’s roads, as well as an interview with the London Air Ambulance’s trauma surgeon Major Thomas König and a column by Olympic road race champion Nicole Cooke who says “we need to do all we can to improve the safety of cyclists, especially those who are less experienced.”
The article in the print edition (there is also briefer coverage on the non-paywall protected part of The Times website) also outlines the newspaper’s eight-point manifesto for the safety of cyclists in Britain’s towns and cities:
- Trucks entering a city centre should be required by law to fit sensors, audible truck-turning alarms, extra mirrors and safety bars to stop cyclists being thrown under the wheels.
- The 500 most dangerous road junctions must be identified, redesigned or fitted with priority traffic lights for cyclists and Trixi mirrors that allow lorry drivers to see cyclists on their near-side.
- A national audit of cycling to find out how many people cycle in Britain and how cyclists are killed or injured should be held to underpin effective cycle safety.
- Two per cent of the Highways Agency budget should be earmarked for next generation cycle routes, providing £100 million a year towards world-class cycling infrastructure. Each year cities should be graded on the quality of cycling provision.
- The training of cyclists and drivers must improve and cycle safety should become a core part of the driving test.
- 20mph should become the default speed limit in residential areas where there are no cycle lanes.
- Businesses should be invited to sponsor cycleways and cycling super-highways, mirroring the Barclays-backed bicycle hire scheme in London.
- Every city, even those without an elected mayor, should appoint a cycling commissioner to push home reforms.
The newspaper once known as ‘The Thunderer’ for its opinion-forming editorials also highlights the campaign in a leader that issues the damning verdict that “cycling in Britain, and particularly in London, is a shockingly dangerous pursuit. In the past decade, cyclists killed on our roads outnumber servicemen killed in Iraq and Afghanistan by a factor of two. In London, this number is rising.”
The Times says that “making Britain fit for cyclists is not simply a matter of painting the occasional stretch of road blue, or of alerting drivers to the dangers they pose. In places, our cities must be re-engineered. Overhead platforms, reclaimed land alongside railways, time-shares on existing roads; nothing should be ruled out.”
Highlighting the type of infrastructure from which cyclists in Copenhagen, where 80 per cent of people take to their bikes once a week, The Times acknowledges that “all of this will cost money, and lots of it.”
Its proposed solution? “Two per cent of the Highways Agency budget should be earmarked for cycling, providing about £100 million a year.”
In response to any thoughts among drivers that cyclists should be required to contribute to the cost of infrastructure, The Times points out that “the vast majority are drivers, too, and already do.”
It adds: “The municipal nature of this campaign cannot be overstated. Britain is poised for a local government revolution, with elections for directly elected mayors across England expected by the end of the year.
“Those who wish to be mayor should be competing to transform their cities into world class bike-friendly zones. Cities ahead of the curve, such as London, should move faster. There should be a Cycling Commissioner directly responsible for cycling infrastructure and safety.
“Britain is failing cyclists,” it adds. “In too many of our cities, the business of commuting on two wheels is unpleasant, dangerous and frightening. Many drivers and pedestrians rightly resent cyclists for their law-breaking; many cyclists resent drivers and pedestrians for their lack of savvy about their fragile companions on the road.”
It’s perhaps unfortunate that The Times didn’t qualify that by saying “some cyclists,” but that does highlight the point that the minority of riders who do break the law by riding through red lights or on pavements are also guilty of reinforcing negative perceptions among many drivers and pedestrians that all cyclists do so.
“All would benefit from a better cycling infrastructure, as seen by the way that, in many European cities, such problems do not exist,” concludes the leading article. “Motoring is getting less dangerous, cycling should be doing the same. It is time for a change of gear.”
While The Times isn’t the first newspaper to launch a campaign on the issue – in April last year, The Independent launched its ‘Save Our Cyclists’ campaign, a year after sister paper the London Evening Standard issued a similar call, while The Guardian is also prominent in covering cycle safety – today’s coverage is a further reflection of the topic moving into the mainstream and even assuming national importance.
In recent months, the safety of cyclists in London has increasingly become a focus of political debate, leading to it becoming one of the key campaigning issues in the run-up top the mayoral elections in May. Meanwhile, as reported on road.cc earlier this week, Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas is supporting a ‘Share The Road’ campaign being launched through British Cycling’s partnership with Fiat.
With Cooke joining the campaign launched by The Times, another of the country’s leading cyclists is lending her voice to calls to improve the safety of Britain’s legions of less heralded cyclists, those who use their bikes for leisure or fitness, or for getting to and from the shops. As The Times says, “Britain leads the world in competitive cycling; it is time that we did the same for the cyclists on our streets.”
The front page article, written by Kaya Burgess, a friend and colleague of Mary Bowers, is a highly personal account that highlights the life-changing injuries suffered by just one cyclist on the streets of London in 2011, a year in which 16 riders in the capital, and dozens of others elsewhere in Britain, lost their lives.
Would The Times have launched its campaign had one of its own employees not been involved in such a horrific incident? That’s impossible to say, but Burgess himself acknowledges at the start of his article that “the reality of any major issue is that it only really touches you when it comes close to home.”
He concludes by saying, “too many cyclists have died on the streets of Britain. Too many families have lost their sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, husbands and wives. It is time for that to change.”
The Times is urging readers to get involved in three ways, outlined on its website: First, to sign up to its campaign so they can be kept up to date with developments; secondly, to spread the word by social media on sites such as Twitter, where the newspaper suggest using the hashtag #cyclesafe; and thirdly, by writing to their MP.
The campaign has already received the support of Sustrans, the London Cycling Campaign, Roadpeace, the CTC, the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, Russell Jones & Walkers Solicitors and the blogs Cyclists in the City and IBikeLondon.
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.