The Times has today launched the second phase of its Cities fit for Cycling campaign, aiming to create a safer environment for cyclists to encourage more people onto their bikes, following yesterday’s first anniversary of the incident that almost claimed the life of the newspaper’s journalist Mary Bowers when she was struck by a lorry as she cycled to work.
The unveiling of the second phase of the campaign, unveiled in February, coincides with the formal launch today of a Parliamentary inquiry, Get Britain Cycling, with The Times funding its final report, which will partly be based on responses to a survey that the newspaper is sending out to the 36,000 people who have signed up to its Cities fit for Cycling manifesto.
That inquiry will also hear written evidence in the new year, with the report, which will be written by a leading transport academic, due to be published in April, and Dr Julian Huppert, MP for Cambridge and co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group (APPCG) told the newspaper:
“It is time to turn David Cameron’s commitment [to the manifesto] into a year-on-year budget so that when the cycling inquiry releases its findings they can be acted on quickly and efficiently.
“Every day that goes past without action is another day a rider could be seriously injured or killed. This is not a risk any of us wants to take.”
In three pages of coverage as well as a lead article devoted to the campaign in today’s print edition, The Times also analyses the progress being made towards implementing each of the eight points of that manifesto, rating each out of ten and it’s clear that there’s a lot to be done – the highest mark given is 5/10, and the average mark a little under 3/10.
Most progress is seen as being made in the call to identify the 500 most dangerous junctions and to have safety features such as Trixi mirrors installed there (5/10) and in safety equipment being fitted to lorries entering city centres and the implementation of 20mph as the default speed limit in residential areas (both 4/10).
Those scores may still be low, but much more work remains to be done on the other five points of the manifesto.
A national audit of cycling to determine how many people in Britain ride bikes and casualty rates scores jut 2/10, as do the call for 2 per cent of the Highways Agency budget to be dedicated to cycle routes, improvements to driver and cyclist training including cycle safety becoming a core part of the driving test, and the involvement of businesses in sponsoring cycling initiatives.
Lowest of all is the call for all cities to have a dedicated cycling tsar – something that has already happened in Cambridge, for example, and which is supported in principle by Transport Minister Norman Baker, although he insists it is a decision that must be addressed locally rather than imposed by central government.
It’s to The Times’ credit that it has continued to push its campaign, with previous initiatives by other publications tending to generate headlines at their launch then quickly fizzling out.
What its campaign has also done is push the issue of cycle safety up the national political agenda in a way that simply wouldn’t otherwise have been possible.
It’s true that cycle safety was already a key issue in the London mayoral election campaign, and that cycle campaigners ranging from bloggers to established cyclists’ organisations had already worked hard to highlight the subject.
It’s doubtful, however, whether the House of Commons adjournment debate held earlier this year on cycle safety would have taken place had The Times’ campaign not been launched, nor the forthcoming Parliamentary inquiry.
Whether or not you agree with the specific details of the newspaper’s eight-point manifesto, it’s clear that it has given renewed impetus to the efforts of cycle campaigners, and the APPCG and cycle campaigners have been quick to capitalise on that momentum.
It’s not too much of a stretch to see the campaign as having provided a focal point that has filled the vacuum left by the coalition government’s abolition of Cycling England, uniting those who would want to see cycling provision and the safety of riders put at the heart of the country’s cycling policy.
Times journalist Kaya Burgess, a colleague and close friend of Mary Bower’s who has been working on the Cities fit for Cycling campaign since its inception, will be hosting a live webchat to answer questions about the initiative at 1230pm today.
Writing in today’s paper he recounts how the incident that nearly claimed her life had given rise to the newspaper’s campaign and how in her painfully slow recovery, she has no idea of the efforts being made in her name to improve the safety of cyclists throughout the country.
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.