Minister for cycling Robert Goodwill says he does not feel in danger when cycling in London traffic, although he understands why others might. He also wants to see more women and people in suits riding in the city, rather than cyclists in Lycra – but is sceptical that fully segregated cycle lanes and a rush-hour ban on HGVs is the answer to getting more people cycling in the capital.
Mr Goodwill was speaking after taking to the city’s streets on his Brompton on Friday on a route designed by staff at the Department for Transport to highlight the best and worst of the city’s cycling infrastructure.
His trip came at the end of a month in which six cyclists were killed in London, all of them following collisions with large vehicles such as lorries and buses.
His itinerary took Mr Goodwill, who regularly rides his bike in London as well as in the Scarborough & Whitby constituency he represents, from Kings Cross to Westminster by way of Camden, Southwark and Lambeth reports the London Evening Standard.
“I didn't feel in danger at any time,” he reflected afterwards. “I do cycle in London but I think if I was a London cycling virgin I would have been a little bit nervous, possibly.”
The minister said that he wanted to see more infrastructure of the type in place in Royal College Street in Camden, where ‘armadillo bumps’ and flower planters provide a form of segregation, without being the type of fully segregated lane many cyclists and campaigners are calling for.
"When we came out of Kings Cross, we got on to some quite good segregated routes, some quiet routes I didn't even know existed. We went down Royal College Street where they have spent a lot of money... I thought that was fine and I felt safe. Because of the little armadillos, if the cyclist did need to cross over the road to get to a shop they can weave in between, but a car can't get over.
"In a way, because it's much cheaper [than fully segregated lanes] I would rather see a lot of that and less total segregation, which is quite expensive.”
However, he was less impressed with his experience once he ventured onto the south side of the Thames, saying: “There was a bizarre one in Southwark where I went across the road and there was a cycle lane coming the other way, but the cycle lane on our side started three metres later and then it was on a footpath. It was marked on the footpath but there was no ramp or anything."
Mr Goodwill said that cyclists needed to be assertive when taking position on the road, and noted that perception of danger was a common barrier to would-be cyclists, especially women.
"The advice I get from my officials is women are more nervous about going on the roads than men," he said.
"Also, sadly, women are possibly more likely – or inexperienced older people, men as well – to be at the left-hand side of the road, thinking they are safe near the kerb when actually they should be in the box at the front, behind the advance stop line, taking possession of their lane, making it clear to people behind they are turning or going straight on.
"If people around you know what you intend to do, you're much safer."
Mr Goodwill’s remarks reflect the fact a disproportionate number of cycling fatalities in London in recent years have been of female cyclists killed by left-turning lorries at traffic lights.
Transport for London and Mayor Boris Johnson have come under particular criticism for the design of Barclays Cycle Superhighways that take cyclists along the kerb then.
In October, the coroner in the inquiry of the Brian Dorling case noted the design gives riders a false sense of security and puts them in a position of danger at junctions; Mr Goodwill’s comments about riding away from the gutter suggest he may share that view.
He did say that he appreciated why some people might be fearful of sharing road space with large vehicles: "I can understand why people do feel a bit nervous and why you have to have your wits about you in London - for example, don't cycle when you're drunk.
"I sometimes think people on Boris bikes who have not much experience cycling in London are probably putting themselves in danger - but I didn't feel any danger."
However, he reiterated that he did not see a ban on lorries at rush hour in London and other cities as the solution, something that British Cycling policy advisor Chris Boardman has called on, although he said other measures could be taken.
"There are issues to be looked at in terms of side protection bars on tipper lorries, on skip wagons, on certain other refuse wagons," the minister explained.
"Experience in other countries like Denmark and Holland has shown you can design a network in an urban environment which is safe for cyclists and we do need to do more.
"What we need to do is transplant the best I have seen into some of the areas where I have also seen the worst.
"Some of the worst areas are because of not much investment. But some of them are actually areas where they have spent quite a bit of money but it has not been spent intelligently.
"We need to review some of the road-marking legislation, low-level signals for cyclists so they can see them, there's things like that we can do," he added.
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.