Last week, Cyclenation published a response to The Times’ Cities fit for Cyclists initiative. It was a bit disappointing to see that their response was on the defensive side, Cyclenation seeming to be more concerned with preventing the situation for cyclists degrading even further, rather than seizing the opportunity to engage with an extremely unlikely ally and improve the situation on the roads for both existing and potential cyclists. The impression was that Cyclenation would prefer if The Times’ campaign was concerned with cycle promotion rather than cyclists’ safety.
For example, where the response mentions infrastructure for cyclists, it is more concerned with highlighting the limitations and problems of the infrastructure we have, rather than specifying what should be done instead. The implication is that cycling infrastructure is something best avoided. When touching on the provision for cyclists seen in Copehagen and the LCC’s Go Dutch campaign, the response seems a bit too eager to explain how and why these things will never happen in the UK.
Instead, the report focusses on ‘safety in numbers.’ Safety in numbers is a factoid based on the correlation between cycling numbers and the safety of cyclists; where there are lots of cyclists they are generally safer. Many attribute this correlation to the increase in numbers providing a ‘safety in numbers’ effect. This has since become a factoid through repetition, which seems odd. There are fewer pedestrian deaths where speed limits are lower. Most people would assume that the lower speed limits result in the reduction in pedestrian deaths, rather than the reduction in pedestrian deaths leading to speed limits being lowered. It is the same with cycling, if conditions are less hazardous (and feels so) more people cycle – numbers from safety rather than safety in numbers.
I can understand why Cyclenation wishes to ensure cycling is not seen as excessively dangerous (which might discourage potential new cyclists) but I feel that the fact that cycling is relatively safe (statistically speaking) is mostly attributable to the fact that almost everyone other than small cycling elite consisting of assertive, fit and mostly male cycling enthusiasts would never dream of riding a bike whilst the roads remain as they are. The risk is that this leads to a culture of danger denialism where any discussion of the dangers cyclists are exposed to, and the best way to address them, is stifled for fear of putting off potential new cyclists.
Cyclecraft features too. At present, the techniques taught by Cyclecraft are probably the best way for cyclists to mitigate the atrocious conditions they face on the roads. However, I strongly disagree with Cyclecraft (and the sort of training for cyclists which is based on it) being presented as a viable, long-term strategy for cycling in the UK. It is mitigation of a bad situation and that is all, it should not be treated as a permanent solution to the problems cycling faces.
One area where I do find myself in agreement with the Cyclenation response is on the issue of helmets, which Cyclenation opposes (both compulsion and promotion) in its response. However, considering that helmets do not feature at all in The Times’ eight-point manifesto, and have only been mentioned prominently in peripheral articles (such as this one by helmet-manufacturer Alpina’s spokesperson, James Cracknell) the amount of space given over to helmets in the response seems excessive.
The response from Cyclenation to The Times’ campaign suggests a desire to maintain the status quo out of a fear that any change risks making things even worse for cyclists. It seems a wasted opportunity to take this stance rather than engaging more with the campaign and work with it to make things better on the ground for cyclists. Whilst I do not agree completely with The Times’ cycling manifesto, there is a lot to support. By engaging with it, we can ensure that the rough edges of an otherwise generally good campaign can be smoothed out. Cyclenation’s response to The Times’ suggests that this is not something they wish to do.