The swing-o-meter is being dusted off, ‘vote wotsisname’ signs are battling for the attention of passers-by alongside estate agents’ boards, and if you have a new arrival in the family you’re probably keeping the nipper indoors lest a passing politician tries to kiss the baby for a photo opportunity. Yes, it’s general election time, and over the next week or so, we will be running the road.cc rule over the various parties’ policies where cycling is concerned.
We could have started this series with a look at the current Labour government’s plans, should they be re-elected, or analysed the proposals of the power-hungry Tory party.
But alerted to its policies by Helen Pidd’s piece today for the Guardian Bike Blog, where else could we start than by looking at the sometimes bonkers, often troubling policies of the UK Independence Party (UKIP)?
Given its name and anti-EU stance, it’s perhaps not surprising that the party isn’t espousing a continental approach to cycling, as epitomised by blogs such as Copenhagenize and Amsterdamize. Although come to think of it, anti-Brusselsize would make a cracking name for a UKIP blog.
Even so, some of the proposals contained in the party’s Transport Policy, prepared by its Transport Policy Group, which includes an Alan Partridge among its members, show that the party is clear about where cyclists figure in the grand scheme of things – and it isn’t necessarily on the road.
Although UKIP says it “supports pedal cycles as a healthy means of personal transport,” examination of its policies suggests otherwise, a commitment to tackling bike theft being the high point from a cyclist’s point of view.
UKIP states that “there needs to be a better balance of rights and responsibilities for pedal cyclists,” although the focus seems to be very much on the latter, with the party claiming there is “too much aggressive abuse of red lights, pedestrian crossings and a lack of basic safety and road courtesy.”
While that’s a sentiment with which a great number of cyclists agree – in a poll earlier this year, road.cc readers cited anti-social cycling as the thing that irritates them most about their fellow cyclists – it does ignore the fact that all too often it is cyclists themselves who are victims of bad or aggressive driving, and that for them the consequences are likely to be more serious and sometimes fatal than for other road users.
One solution UKIP suggests is to “consult on the desirability of minimum third party liability insurance cover for cyclists - a simple annual flat rate registration ‘Cycledisc’, stuck to the bicycle frame, to cover damage to cars and others, which are currently unprotected.” In other words, compulsory third party insurance, and a bike registration scheme in all but name.
According to UKIP, “the Cycledisc should also carry clear identification details, which will help counter bicycle theft, and deter dangerous cyclist behaviour, and the party adds “we support provision of cycle parking at reasonable charges.” As opposed to the free cycle parking currently widely available throughout the UK’s towns and cities, presumably?
Furthermore, although UKIP says it “supports the campaign work of national cycling organizations,” it also says that it “believes that basic cycle and safety training should be made mandatory, and be funded in schools or via local authorities.” Mandatory for all, regardless of age and experience, presumably, which would perhaps give some lucky cyclists the opportunity of lining up next to Victoria Pendleton or Sir Chris Hoy at their Bikeability class.
UKIP maintains that “cycling on safe cycle routes, lanes, tracks and trails should be actively encouraged, particularly as a leisure pursuit,” which is encouraging. But, it adds, the party “believes off road dedicated lanes are preferable to a confusing maze of cycle lanes on unsuitable or dangerous roads, which is problematic for cyclists as well as other road users.” An idea shared by Adolf Hitler but also it has to be admitted, the Dutch.
UKIP leaves perhaps its most alarming – and detrimental cycling – proposal for last, saying “local authorities should be given additional powers to enforce a ‘cyclists dismount’ or ‘no cycling’ regulation where there are safety concerns – such as on busy roundabouts, junctions or bus lanes, or where the road would be too narrowed by cycle lanes and cause unacceptable delays to traffic.”
So, instead of tackling issues such as the disproportionate number of cyclist deaths, particularly among women in London, by left-turning lorries, for instance, the problem can be solved by getting cyclists off the road. And rather than addressing the issue of aggressive behaviour of some bus drivers, cyclists can simply be removed from bus lanes. Genius.
To be fair, some of UKIP’s other transport policies do give food for thought. Its opposition to EU proposals to raise the Gross Laden Weight for lorries to 60 tonnes and introduce Longer Heavier Vehicles of 25 metres may well attract agreement from anyone concerned about road safety, as do the proposed introduction of an offence of Vehicular Manslaughter and the use of US-style traffic schools for bad drivers.
However, those are tucked away among some rather more left-field proposals such as rolling back half a century of transport planning and restoring large chunks of the rail network to its pre-Beeching glory, and using the canal network to help shift the nation’s freight around – good news for breeders of shire horses at least.
Chris Peck, policy co-ordinator at National Cyclists' Organisation CTC, said: "UKIP are living up to their reputation with their cycling policy - it's classic anti-cyclist third-pint-in stuff: registration, compulsory third party insurance and forcing cyclists off the road. That being said, we do think their idea of a new offence 'vehicular manslaughter' and US style remedial driving schools might be worth fleshing out. So far just one of the UKIP candidates contacted has supported CTC's Vote Bike manifesto."
Of course, there’s little prospect of UKIP running the country any time soon, so its proposals for cycling will remain what they are - words in a party policy document. Mind you, a couple of seats going UKIP’s way in the election due to local protest votes and a hung parliament and who knows…?
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.