British Cycling policy adviser Chris Boardman has hit out at the MPs on the government’s Transport Select Committee who yesterday held a two-hour session to investigate the recent spate of deaths on London’s roads, but instead discussed helmets, 'road tax' and cycling registration.
Update: According to a tweet on Tuesday evening from Press Association Transport and Travel Correspondent Peter Woodman, the chair of the committee, Louise Ellman, has invited Boardman to give evidence to the inquiry. On Wednesday, the committee is due to hear from minister for cycling, Robert Goodwill.
The session, Boardman says, was meant to be about why six people died riding bicycles on London’s roads in the space of two weeks but “the MPs demonstrated that they didn’t even know the most basic of facts. Evidence and statistics were bypassed in favour of opinions and anecdotes on sideline topics.”
He said that the MPs “should be embarrassed by their performance.” According to the Guardian’s Peter Walker, the discussion included Labour MP Sarah Champion wondering if helmets could be made compulsory; Conservative Martin Vickers asking if the panel thought cyclists should “contribute” to the upkeep of the roads; and Labour's Jim Dobbin asking if a solution would be to force all cyclists to be registered, tested, and to put their bikes through a sort of MoT test.
Observers were puzzled by the digressions. There’s no evidence that a helmet would have saved the lives of any of the six riders killed on London’s roads in November or the 10 who died elsewhere in the country last month. Nobody in the UK has paid directly for the upkeep of the roads via a ‘road tax’ since it was abolished in 1937. Instead roads are funded out of general taxation.
Jurisdictions that have tried compulsory registration of cyclists have almost always quickly dropped it because it almost impossible to enforce, expensive and has the main effect of suppressing cycling.
Boardman said: “Such a clear demonstration of lack of research and understanding at this level of seniority would, in any other business, be classed as negligent.”
Here’s the full statement from Chris Boardman, issued by British Cycling:
"The MPs that sit on the transport select committee should be embarrassed by their performance yesterday in an inquiry that was meant to be about why six people died riding bicycles on London’s roads in the space of two weeks.
“In front of them sat experts from campaigning bodies, transport research and the police – all ready to get into a proper discussion - and yet the MPs demonstrated that they didn’t even know the most basic of facts. Evidence and statistics were bypassed in favour of opinions and anecdotes on sideline topics.
“Such a clear demonstration of lack of research and understanding at this level of seniority would, in any other business, be classed as negligent.
“This was an opportunity to discuss how we can make our roads fit for people to get around by bicycle, improving our nation’s health, the environment and cutting emissions. This will deliver benefits for everyone, not just cyclists, and to do it we need to transform infrastructure, tackle dangerous junctions and encourage people to use bikes to get around.
“I’d like to see a proper, fruitful evidence session, rather than opinion-based discussion, on how to protect and encourage cycling as a mode of transport. To that end I am going to write to the MPs on the committee asking them to meet with British Cycling representatives to get to work discussing the real issues that can lead to the transformation of not just cycling, but the environments that we live in.”
Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.