Media coverage that promotes a “turf war” between people in cars and those on bikes is “divisive, unhelpful and only serves to fuel the problem we have on our roads,” says Chris Boardman, as British Cycling publishes a State of Cycling report which finds that more than two-thirds of its members who responded to its survey believe that conditions have not improved for cyclists within the past five years.
The report, which you can find here, makes for depressing reading. Among the key findings of the research, based on 15,000 respondents to British Cycling’s survey – the largest such exercise it has ever undertaken and equivalent to one in ten of its current membership – are:
70 per cent do not believe that conditions have improved in the last five years
66 per cent are concerned about their safety when riding on Britain’s roads,
87 per cent of cyclists are ‘close passed’ at least once a week
The three most common hazards encountered by people on bikes are close passing (79 per cent), unsafe road surfaces (68% per cent) and vehicle speed (34 per cent)
76 per cent of British Cycling members do not believe that cycling is taken seriously by their local authority, while 81 per cent say the same of national government
77 per cent say their employer could do more to encourage people to cycle to work.
Boardman, who remains a policy advisor to British Cycling in addition to his role as Greater Manchester cycling and walking commissioner, said: “Five years ago I appeared on breakfast television to talk about what would make people on bikes safer, and caused uproar on social media for having the cheek to wear my normal clothes, and not hi-vis and a helmet.
“Despite the evidence repeatedly telling us that it’s sustained investment in better infrastructure that keeps people safe, for 20 years society has continued to tell us that the answer lies in safety equipment.
“It speaks volumes that 96 per cent of those surveyed do wear a helmet on the road, and yet today's report still reveals the shameful fact that the vast majority don’t feel safe.
“I sincerely hope that this will act as a wake-up call for us, to let evidence lead our decision-making and make bold decisions on funding and investment, rather than simply taking the easy option and telling people to look after themselves.”
Some elements of the mainstream media – for example, the Sunday Telegraph last month – continue to report on cyclists and motorists as though they are two mutually exclusive groups, but as British Cycling points out, nine in ten of its adult members hold driving licences.
The governing body’s research resulted in a couple of near-identical levels of response regarding its members’ views of some road users – whether behind the steering wheel, or riding a bike – that could perhaps erroneously reinforce that perceived division.
Those were that while 71 per cent agreed that drivers are often hostile towards people on bikes, 72 per cent said that they often see people on bikes riding in a way which puts themselves in danger.
The government’s review of cycling safety launched in the wake of Charlie Alliston being jailed for causing the death of pedestrian Kim Briggs, leading to calls for an offence of causing death by careless or dangerous cycling, is still ongoing.
Perhaps mindful of that, Boardman, who rejected the divisive language often employed by the media and, acknowledged that people riding bikes needed to do so in a responsible manner, but said that punishment of law-breaking road users needed to be “proportionate.”
He said: “The idea of a turf war between motorists and people on bikes is divisive, unhelpful and only serves to fuel the problem we have on our roads. We know that 90% of our adult members are also drivers, and we are all at some point a pedestrian too.
“We all need to take responsibility for our own actions on the road – whether you’re a cyclist skipping through a red light or a motorist using your phone at the wheel – we need an enforceable commitment to punish people in a way that is proportionate to the danger they pose.”
The three key recommendations of the report, based on the research, which British Cycling believes would “help individuals, businesses and policymakers drive a cultural shift in the future state of cycling in this country,” are:
A public mutual respect campaign for all road users
Ring-fenced funding for cycling and walking in line with levels suggested by the Walking and Cycling Alliance
The establishment of a national network of major employers by the Department of Transport to better understand how the Government can help small and large businesses to get more of their employees riding to work.
British Cycling’s chief executive, Julie Harrington, commented: “Both the growth in our membership and the response to this survey reflect the evolution of the role which cycling plays in Britain today.
“While we have achieved great things within the sport, our biggest battle lies ahead in the towns, cities and communities we are seeking to help transform, and the support of our members is absolutely vital in helping us to drive that forwards.”
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.