U-turns appear to be in fashion at the moment.
Last night, while everyone was glued to the latest shenanigans in the lobbies of Westminster, The Times performed its own shocking about-turn by publishing an article on the “increase in cycling” entitled “Two Wheels Good”.
In the editorial, the newspaper described the “boost to cycling from quiet streets” as “among the few beneficial side-effects of the coronavirus crisis”, before arguing that “the rising cost of living in general, and expensive fuel in particular, are having a similar impact”.
The article continues: “Twenty years ago cycling was considered countercultural. Ten years ago it was still viewed as an eccentric activity.
“Now, though, pedal power has re-entered the mainstream of national life, used by millions as a cheap, healthy, reliable and green mode of transport, rather than embraced as a way of life by a minority.
“Today, most cyclists are also motorists and many motorists are also cyclists. Contrary to received wisdom, almost all cyclists, just like motorists, obey the Highway Code. Those that don’t, should.”
> Editorial in The Times – which in 2012 urged ‘Save Our Cyclists’ – calls for dangerous cycling law and riders to be licensed and insured
While it’s hard to argue with those sentiments, for those paying attention to The Times’ recent stance on cycling, the tone of yesterday’s editorial somewhat jars with a lead article, on the same subject, published by the same newspaper just under nine months ago.
In late January, on the eve of the introduction of changes to the Highway Code, The Times called for cyclists to be licensed and insured and for a new offence of causing death by dangerous cycling to be introduced.
That editorial – entitled ‘The Times view on dangerous cycling: Safety Standards’ – argued that a dangerous cycling law “would not penalise cyclists but merely correct an anomaly whereby those who recklessly cause death on two wheels are treated differently from those who do so on four”, while it would “further enhance safety and equity if cyclists were required to hold licences and take out liability insurance, just as motorists are.”
Finally, the article suggested that cyclists should pay to use the road and claimed that the “objection that it would deter legitimate cycling is not persuasive. The road network is a service available to everyone, and it is reasonable to expect those who benefit from it to abide by its regulation and contribute to its upkeep.”
Worlds apart then, you might argue, from yesterday’s editorial lauding the rise of cycling as a low-cost alternative to driving.
> ‘Save Our Cyclists’ – The Times launches major cycle safety campaign
Of course, that January article also represented another significant volte-face from The Times’ previous campaign to ‘Save Our Cyclists’.
Launched on 2 February 2012 – and accompanied by a front-page picture of Mary Bowers, the Times journalist left with life-changing injuries when a lorry driver struck her outside the newspaper’s then-headquarters in Wapping – the ‘Cities Fit For Cycling’ campaign set out an eight-point manifesto calling, among other things, for safety improvements concerning lorries and at junctions, the building of “world class” active travel infrastructure, and for cities to appoint a cycling commissioner.
The campaign sparked a House of Commons debate later that month, with the then-All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group holding a six-week inquiry the following year which culminated in the publication of the Get Britain Cycling report.
Ten years on, The Times’ latest lead article on cycling has praised the work of their award-winning campaign, which it says was instrumental in pushing the cause of cycling safety “up the transport agenda”.
“Increasingly, cars and bikes share the highways safely and amicably. In 2004 134 cyclists were killed on Britain’s roads in the course of 2.56 billion miles cycled. In 2020 fatalities numbered 141 yet the mileage had doubled,” the article notes.
“It is more than a decade since The Times launched our Cities Fit for Cycling campaign and, in pushing the cause up the transport agenda, the effort has been a success.
“No politician, planner or indeed HGV driver can claim to be ignorant of the needs of the growing cycling lobby, unwittingly expanded and empowered as it has been by a virus and a war.
“Sometimes good things happen for bad reasons.”
Absolutely. But we’ll just not mention bad articles published in January…