Cycling UK says that the Mail on Sunday is peddling “alternative facts” on the impact of cycle lanes on the emergency services after it quoted a spokesman for the College of Paramedics claiming that cycling infrastructure and low traffic neighbourhoods were delaying ambulances and putting people’s lives at risk.
The claim, made in an article published today, is one that has regularly been employed in recent months by opponents of emergency active travel infrastructure, although it is not supported by facts, says the national cycling charity.
In the article, Richard Webber, the national spokesman for the College of Paramedics, was quoted as saying: “If you are having a cardiac arrest, your chance of survival decreases by ten per cent for every minute’s delay.
“If ambulances are stuck waiting for someone to open a barrier or taking a long route around to your house, then you’ve got a big problem.
“Lots of areas have segregated roads now in such a way that you physically can’t get down the road and therefore we’ve had to do long detours,” he claimed.
“In some areas where they once had two lanes, they have now gone down to one lane of traffic and a cycle lane and the problem with that is there is nowhere to go.
“People can’t get out of the way and ambulances get stuck in traffic. It has been the same in various city centres.”
Calling on local authorities to consult with ambulance services before introducing such measures, he added: “They need to think that if someone was having a heart attack, could the ambulance get to them as quickly as it could now? But I don’t think the councils are thinking like that.”
It is unclear to what extent the newspaper was selectively quoting the spokesman to reinforce the overall tone of an article that is distinctly anti-cycling and highly critical of efforts to promote active travel.
However, as Cycling UK’s head of campaigns, Duncan Dollimore pointed out, it would not be the first time the mainstream media had misrepresented comments made by him on behalf of the paramedics’ body.
“Back in 2017, The Telegraph interviewed Mr Webber as the spokesperson for the College of Paramedics, publishing an article claiming the College was warning that cycle lanes were putting patient’s lives at risk by delaying ambulances.”
The College said that the point it was making when it supplied a quote for that article was that “Segregated cycle lanes save lives, however ‘raised curbs’ can obstruct drivers from allowing ambulances to pass” and that “we are disappointed with how these comments have been reported and request that emergency vehicles are considered when planning highways.”
Dollimore continued: “Clarifications such as this tend to be needed when claims are made without data to back them up, with Mr Webber accepting in 2017 that he didn’t have NHS data to establish whether cycle lanes were hampering swift response times, relying instead upon a ‘general feeling among paramedics’, yet in August 2020 he was once again warning, on behalf of the College, that the ‘Green roads revolution will risk lives’,” highlighting a Daily Mail article.
Mainstream media focus on investment in cycle lanes and LTNs has sharpened this week following the announcement of the second tranche of emergency active travel funding by transport secretary Grant Shapps.
The £175 million allocated to councils in England is not new money – it forms part of a £2 billion investment in active travel over the current five-year parliament announced before the coronavirus pandemic struck – but it has sparked predictable outrage from the likes of ‘Mr Loophole’ lawyer Nick Freeman, who in today’s Sunday Express called for cyclists to be given “very narrow” so “they can cycle in a single file and let’s hand the roads back to motorists who urgently need it.”
It’s the second week in succession that the Mail on Sunday has published an anti-cycling piece, with last week seeing a column written by former UKIP and Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage in which the ex-MEP rolled out a succession of well-worn anti-cycling tropes, all of which are easily refuted.
“We’re used to click bait articles from the Mail on Sunday, blaming cycle lanes for all of society’s ills whilst demonising those who choose to ride a bike,” said Dollimore, “but when someone speaks to them on behalf of a distinguished and reputable body such as the College, it would be helpful hear what evidence or statistics they have to support their claims?
He continued: “We heard late on Friday afternoon that the Mail on Sunday was running this article today, and the gist of Mr Webber’s comments to them, following which we contacted the College for clarification of their position on cycle lanes in general, and on temporary cycle lanes introduced this summer during COVID – given that Mr Webber appears to object to both – and whether Mr Webber’s comments accurately reflect the position of the College.
“We’ve yet to hear back from the College, but as indicated to them on Friday, are still happy to meet with then virtually early this week to discuss any concerns they may have.
“To date, no Health Trust or body representing emergency service personnel has contacted us to express concerns about separated cycle lanes, whether permanent or temporary, and neither have we seen any evidence to substantiate ‘general feelings’ or anecdotal comments.
“Of course, it’s important that whenever any highways scheme is implemented that consultation takes place with the emergency services, but reading the Mail on Sunday report you’d think that no emergency vehicle had ever been delayed in traffic before some temporary cycle lanes were installed this summer, and that cycle lanes are the sole cause of congestion, both of which are ‘alternative facts’ that exist only in the mind of someone with a blind eye to the telescope,” he added.
On Twitter, meanwhile, cycling campaigner Adam Tranter, who is Coventry’s Bicycle Mayor, today wrote a lengthy thread countering the claims contained in the Mail on Sunday article, including that “cycle lanes were actually being used on 999 calls to cut past congestion caused by motor vehicles,” and that “if you look at Waltham Forest, [one of London’s ‘mini Holland’ boroughs] home to more cycle lanes and low traffic neighbourhoods than any other borough, response times have decreased from pre-LTNs and cycle lane times.”
Today you might read that cycle lanes will have an impact on ambulance response times, which naturally sounds concerning. But the more you look into it, the more baseless it becomes; quotes from just one individual used by media with an agenda. (Thread)https://t.co/InITzwH2uN
— Adam Tranter (@adamtranter) November 15, 2020
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.