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'Save Our Cyclists' - The Times launches major cycle safety campaign

"Britain is failing cyclists," says newspaper as it outlines 8-point manifesto to make 'Cities Fit For Cycling'...

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:

  1. Trucks entering a city centre should be required by law to fit sensors, audible truck-turning alarms, extra mirrors and safety bars to stop cyclists being thrown under the wheels.
  2. The 500 most dangerous road junctions must be identified, redesigned or fitted with priority traffic lights for cyclists and Trixi mirrors that allow lorry drivers to see cyclists on their near-side.
  3. A national audit of cycling to find out how many people cycle in Britain and how cyclists are killed or injured should be held to underpin effective cycle safety.
  4. Two per cent of the Highways Agency budget should be earmarked for next generation cycle routes, providing £100 million a year towards world-class cycling infrastructure. Each year cities should be graded on the quality of cycling provision.
  5. The training of cyclists and drivers must improve and cycle safety should become a core part of the driving test.
  6. 20mph should become the default speed limit in residential areas where there are no cycle lanes.
  7. Businesses should be invited to sponsor cycleways and cycling super-highways, mirroring the Barclays-backed bicycle hire scheme in London.
  8. Every city, even those without an elected mayor, should appoint a cycling commissioner to push home reforms.

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 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 joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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arowland | 12 years ago

Another thing lacking from the eight-point "call" is a campaign to require the retraining of road designers. The standard of road design in this country is woeful. A new bypass on my way to work just last year installed so-called cycle facilities that were dangerous, pointless and frustrating. I managed to get the bollards at the ends (supposed to stop motorcycles using the path) removed, but the only way to use the roundabout is to come off the path and mix it with two streams of traffic -- the cycle path takes you right into the path of the traffic and loses the right of way.

What we need is:
1. Compulsory training for all planning officers concerned with roads. County Councils should plan to send a certain number this year and do all over the next two years.
2. To support the change of culture in planning offices, a National Centre of Excellence should be set up to which all plans must be sent for comments and approval -- until best practice becomes entrenched.
3. Requirement to consult local cyclists over any new schemes / road changes.

Bob's Bikes | 12 years ago

With regards to the first point on the Times's manifest an audible truck-turning alarms would surely have to be turned on by the driver (like an indicator) and not all drivers do that!

But good luck to them anything is better than nothing.

Rob Simmonds | 12 years ago

What makes cycling safer is more cyclists on the roads. Not quite sure where a campaign that highlights how dangerous cycling is fits in with that...  39

timlennon replied to Rob Simmonds | 12 years ago

[Edit - this is in reply to Rob Simmons' note above.]

And yet the Dutch, who don't seem overly keen on cycling on the road - but do seem keen as mustard on cycling - appear to have some of the safest cycling there is to be had.

As long as we obsess about everyone being able to cycle on the roads, mass cycling isn't going to happen. Successful cycling nations recognise that (for example) children and parents don't want to mix it with HGVs on the way to school, and provide them with pleasant, safe facilities which don't require the very well documented outright fear of cycling which is endemic in the UK.

couldgetacarforthat | 12 years ago

I'm staying in Michelen tonight. An ordinary town in Belgium. The town common sense approach to managing cyclists, traffic and pedestrians alike would be the envy of any town in the UK. In mainland Europe its increasingly the norm.

We are light years behind.

bikecellar | 12 years ago

British Authorities national and local are failing all road users, the infrastucture, maintainance and design of our roads is abysmal, as is the lack of enforcement of road traffic legislation. We are falling behind many european countries. I feel much safer on unfamiliar Spanish roads than I do here at home (NE England)!

thereverent | 12 years ago

A good start from the Times. I hope they keep it up.

A good start would be to make learning to drive start with teaching on a bike to learn road wareness.

Also stricter penalties for careless and dangerous driving would help. Instead of treating driving as a right.

RhysW | 12 years ago

I pledged my support for an awesome campaign! - I posted my story and proposal ...  1

I commute by bike and train from Enfield going out to Welwyn Garden City each day, on the weekend I often cycle for fitness or to get somewhere. The luke warm treatment of cyclists by some parts of London surprises me, if I cycle into the East End I pass from The half-hearted provision given to cyclists in some areas is disquieting, if I cycle from Enfield through the East End I pass through boroughs where cycle lanes a coloured part of the pavement with lamp posts placed to tease through nice, one crosses the from side to side four times in two miles, dedicated well surfaced Dutch style cycle tracks in parts of Haringey to the Super Highways nearer central London. Partly because of this reason riders on mountain bikes with knobbly tires traveling under 10 mph through to road cyclists flittering around the 20mph mark ride on the roads and are grouped together by motorists.

It would be great to see Commercial driver training coupled cyclist training, a year or so ago I sat in the cab of a truck with a Met Police man, I can only describe the experience as humbling, having worked for a plant hire company I have driven trucks around yards and sat in the cab on London’s roads but still when looking from a cyclists point of view I dug deep and began to give the drivers a bit more of a chance to see me. Back in Southampton in the early 2000’s the city introduced bendy buses, late for uni lectures I pushed hard and passed a bus in a bus stop with just a glance to check it wasn’t indicating – it wasn’t. Moments later the driver pulled and immediately turned right folding me in between the front and rear sections – hard breaking and a shout saved me on that day – whose fault … possibly the question is would 360 training have helped … almost certainly. Yes.

So here’s my proposal Online training for commercial drivers and cylists, from company van drivers to Class 1 drivers and similar for cyclists – no legalities, nothing bound up in red tape which will turn the revolutionaries in us off, but something based online, based around the Driver Risk Assessment part of the Theory Test , it would help cyclists and drivers see the road from each other’s point of view both from a when both are driving perfectly through to our everyday driving style. It would be a big see change but there’s no doubt it would see an increase in mutual respect and it starts with commercial drivers the knowledge would filter down to the grass routes level pretty soon – who would pay … who knows!

richardccarter | 12 years ago

Wasn't the Times the paper that printed Matthew Parris' 'What is smug and deserves to be decapitated?' article re cyclists?
I note he still wrties for them….

oewg | 12 years ago

I've commuted through London for the last 10 years, and if anything the roads seem to be getting more dangerous. If London really is "ahead of the curve" then perhaps they've chosen the wrong curve...

Simon E | 12 years ago

By tomorrow morning it will be forgotten.

The Independent did the same last year, the newspaper "launched a campaign".

Big front page splash, then.... nothing.

Edit: spotted this on LFGSS forum thread and it sums up my thoughts on reading the article:
"The language they use would put anyone off cycling. They've got the wrong end of the stick. Cycling isn't dangerous, (driving is). Why not a 'Tame our drivers" Campaign. I'd sign that one!"

philallan | 12 years ago

Can't really fault the Times for launching their campaign and it should be welcomed. The Times is, of course, a Murdoch paper and is a stablemate of Sky - so there's crossover there, which helps.

What the Times doesn't appear to be calling for - not having read the article in full - is changes to legislation. Drivers would soon pay greater heed of cyclists if the consequences for injuring or killing a rider were more severe, or at least consistent. Road CC has done a great job of highlighting the many cases that come before the court and the relatively trivial sentences handed down to drivers.

If the assumption of criminal responsbility were to be placed on the driver (i.e. they had to prove the WEREN'T to blame, as I believe is the case in many European countries), it would focus minds far quicker and bolster the many road safety campaigners who continue their laudible work.

step-hent replied to philallan | 12 years ago
philallan wrote:

If the assumption of criminal responsbility were to be placed on the driver (i.e. they had to prove the WEREN'T to blame, as I believe is the case in many European countries), it would focus minds far quicker and bolster the many road safety campaigners who continue their laudible work.

Just to be clear, some European countries place a presumption of civil liability on drivers involved in collisions with cyclists. However, an assumption of criminal responsibility would be difficult to get through, legally, and against the 'innocent until proven guilty' principle that underpins all criminal law here.

I agree that the presumed liability system seems like a much more sensible one - put the onus on the most dangerous to prove that they were taking proper care. And if they don't, their insurer picks up the tab and their premium goes up.

philallan replied to step-hent | 12 years ago

"Just to be clear, some European countries place a presumption of civil liability on drivers involved in collisions with cyclists. However, an assumption of criminal responsibility would be difficult to get through, legally, and against the 'innocent until proven guilty' principle that underpins all criminal law here.

I agree that the presumed liability system seems like a much more sensible one - put the onus on the most dangerous to prove that they were taking proper care. And if they don't, their insurer picks up the tab and their premium goes up."

thanks for that - i was always likely to get my facts wrong when responding first then thinking about it later! At least you knew what i was getting at!  7

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