The Times, one of Britain’s most influential newspapers, has this morning launched a major campaign to improve the safety of cyclists in Britain’s towns and cities, outlining an eight-point manifesto to make conditions safer for bike riders and encouraging people to write to their MPs to urge them to take action. “Britain is failing cyclists,” it asserts, and “it is time for a change of gear.”
The front page of today's print edition of the newspaper carries the simple headline ‘Save Our Cyclists,’ accompanied by a picture of Mary Bowers, The Times journalist who remains in a coma three months after she was hit by a lorry just yards from the newspaper’s headquarters in Wapping, East London.
Inside, a two-page spread outlines the background to the campaign, including statistics detailing the casualty toll among cyclists on Britain’s roads, as well as an interview with the London Air Ambulance’s trauma surgeon Major Thomas König and a column by Olympic road race champion Nicole Cooke who says “we need to do all we can to improve the safety of cyclists, especially those who are less experienced.”
The article in the print edition (there is also briefer coverage on the non-paywall protected part of The Times website) also outlines the newspaper’s eight-point manifesto for the safety of cyclists in Britain’s towns and cities:
The newspaper once known as ‘The Thunderer’ for its opinion-forming editorials also highlights the campaign in a leader that issues the damning verdict that “cycling in Britain, and particularly in London, is a shockingly dangerous pursuit. In the past decade, cyclists killed on our roads outnumber servicemen killed in Iraq and Afghanistan by a factor of two. In London, this number is rising.”
The Times says that “making Britain fit for cyclists is not simply a matter of painting the occasional stretch of road blue, or of alerting drivers to the dangers they pose. In places, our cities must be re-engineered. Overhead platforms, reclaimed land alongside railways, time-shares on existing roads; nothing should be ruled out.”
Highlighting the type of infrastructure from which cyclists in Copenhagen, where 80 per cent of people take to their bikes once a week, The Times acknowledges that “all of this will cost money, and lots of it.”
Its proposed solution? “Two per cent of the Highways Agency budget should be earmarked for cycling, providing about £100 million a year.”
In response to any thoughts among drivers that cyclists should be required to contribute to the cost of infrastructure, The Times points out that “the vast majority are drivers, too, and already do.”
It adds: “The municipal nature of this campaign cannot be overstated. Britain is poised for a local government revolution, with elections for directly elected mayors across England expected by the end of the year.
“Those who wish to be mayor should be competing to transform their cities into world class bike-friendly zones. Cities ahead of the curve, such as London, should move faster. There should be a Cycling Commissioner directly responsible for cycling infrastructure and safety.
“Britain is failing cyclists,” it adds. “In too many of our cities, the business of commuting on two wheels is unpleasant, dangerous and frightening. Many drivers and pedestrians rightly resent cyclists for their law-breaking; many cyclists resent drivers and pedestrians for their lack of savvy about their fragile companions on the road.”
It’s perhaps unfortunate that The Times didn’t qualify that by saying “some cyclists,” but that does highlight the point that the minority of riders who do break the law by riding through red lights or on pavements are also guilty of reinforcing negative perceptions among many drivers and pedestrians that all cyclists do so.
“All would benefit from a better cycling infrastructure, as seen by the way that, in many European cities, such problems do not exist,” concludes the leading article. “Motoring is getting less dangerous, cycling should be doing the same. It is time for a change of gear.”
While The Times isn’t the first newspaper to launch a campaign on the issue – in April last year, The Independent launched its ‘Save Our Cyclists’ campaign, a year after sister paper the London Evening Standard issued a similar call, while The Guardian is also prominent in covering cycle safety – today’s coverage is a further reflection of the topic moving into the mainstream and even assuming national importance.
In recent months, the safety of cyclists in London has increasingly become a focus of political debate, leading to it becoming one of the key campaigning issues in the run-up top the mayoral elections in May. Meanwhile, as reported on road.cc earlier this week, Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas is supporting a ‘Share The Road’ campaign being launched through British Cycling’s partnership with Fiat.
With Cooke joining the campaign launched by The Times, another of the country’s leading cyclists is lending her voice to calls to improve the safety of Britain’s legions of less heralded cyclists, those who use their bikes for leisure or fitness, or for getting to and from the shops. As The Times says, “Britain leads the world in competitive cycling; it is time that we did the same for the cyclists on our streets.”
The front page article, written by Kaya Burgess, a friend and colleague of Mary Bowers, is a highly personal account that highlights the life-changing injuries suffered by just one cyclist on the streets of London in 2011, a year in which 16 riders in the capital, and dozens of others elsewhere in Britain, lost their lives.
Would The Times have launched its campaign had one of its own employees not been involved in such a horrific incident? That’s impossible to say, but Burgess himself acknowledges at the start of his article that “the reality of any major issue is that it only really touches you when it comes close to home.”
He concludes by saying, “too many cyclists have died on the streets of Britain. Too many families have lost their sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, husbands and wives. It is time for that to change.”
The Times is urging readers to get involved in three ways, outlined on its website: First, to sign up to its campaign so they can be kept up to date with developments; secondly, to spread the word by social media on sites such as Twitter, where the newspaper suggest using the hashtag #cyclesafe; and thirdly, by writing to their MP.
The campaign has already received the support of Sustrans, the London Cycling Campaign, Roadpeace, the CTC, the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, Russell Jones & Walkers Solicitors and the blogs Cyclists in the City and IBikeLondon.
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.