In your leader (On your bikes, 27 February), you state that “the most dangerous place to ride your bike is down a rural A-road”. This was confirmed recently when I drove along the A580 – the East Lancashire Road – after many years away. A cycle lane had been installed for many miles, yet no cyclists used it, partly because the road wasn’t wide enough to cope, especially as so many vehicles are a lot wider these days. Instead, cyclists were using the single footpath, which carried hardly any other traffic.
So why don’t we adopt this approach elsewhere? True, it would not work in heavily populated areas, and would apply only where there were long roads with suitable footpaths, but there are very many of these. We would need to develop a “footpath code”, perhaps giving priority, in order, to small children, adults with toddlers or baby buggies, wheelchair users, other pedestrians, mobility scooter riders and lastly cyclists. People have enough sense to negotiate their way around each other if they are trusted to do so and prepared to follow such a code.
This would not only absolve many cyclists from danger, it would also reduce the need for highway authorities to set up long cycle lanes in the first place and free the roads for motor traffic. Cycle-friendly paths can be indicated by a few signs rather than long painted lines. It’s quite probable that such measures could be brought in without primary legislation being required.
Lepton, West Yorkshire
• Your editorial rightly notes that cycling is not as dangerous as most people imagine. You are about as unlikely to be killed in a mile of cycling as a mile of walking. Meanwhile, with rising levels of obesity and physical inactivity, there is overwhelming evidence that health benefits of cycling far outweigh the risks involved – in other words, “not cycling” is far more likely to kill you than cycling is.
Cycle use in Britain grew by 20% during the last decade, while cycling casualties fell by 17%. With some even more impressive figures from London and other cities, it is clear more and safer cycling can, and should, go hand in hand.
Yet despite this, safety for Britain’s cyclists has not kept pace with improvements for other road users. Meanwhile people in Denmark and the Netherlands cycle more than 10 times as much as we do, while the risk of cycling there is less than half that on Britain’s roads.
CTC, the national cyclists’ organisation, strongly welcomes transport minister Norman Baker’s announcement of a safety sub-group as part of the cycling forum he launched last autumn. In order to maximise the full range of cycling’s benefits, the forum needs to develop a cross-departmental action plan to promote cycling for people of all ages and backgrounds, while tackling the major deterrents to increased cycle use: traffic speeds, major roads and junctions, irresponsible driving, and lorries. Its aim must be to encourage more as well as safer cycling.
Campaigns and policy director, CTC
• Your comments on a “cultural shift” in public attitudes to cycling, and your support for the Times’s campaign, Cities Fit for Cycling, are welcome. However, the “change in the law” which can consolidate this shift was not identified clearly enough. The majority of countries in Europe, apart from Portugal, the Republic of Ireland and the UK, all have a presumption in law that, in the case of a collision between a motor vehicle and a bicycle, the driver of the motor vehicle (the less vulnerable party) is at fault. While this presumption in favour of cyclists may seem counterintuitive, it is a measure to protect the more vulnerable road user, and to make the user who is protected by a weight of metal more aware of the dangers they pose to cyclists and pedestrians.
A “presumption”, also, can have its validity tested against evidence, if necessary. In countries that have this legal provision, cyclists are less endangered than they are in this country and the rate of cycling is much improved. The capitulation of New Labour to those who, living in a Clarksonian fantasy world, opposed this measure, is regrettable.
Dr KJ Eames
• Your editorial refers positively to both David Cameron’s and Boris Johnson’s use of bikes, and calls for changes in attitude and the law, and for more investment in cycling facilities.
But in congested urban areas like London, it is impossible to increase safe cycle usage (or indeed to have air quality which doesn’t breach international standards, or to have a safe and unthreatening street environment for slow-moving pedestrians) without the elimination of most cars. Yet the politicians you praise are part of a selfish and privileged stratum of society which insists on the right to use private cars whenever desired.
Furthermore, Transport for London – run by Boris – currently has a deliberate policy of remodelling major road junctions in order to increase the throughput of motor vehicles while simultaneously increasing the dangers for cyclists.
It’s small wonder that many cyclists find such politicians, even when on their bikes, to be part of the problem not the solution – hence the need for non-violent direct action by cyclists to defend ourselves.
• I hate to sound a note of scepticism about your upbeat editorial on the future of cycling but the future is not so bright from the frontline. One of the reasons why cycling continues to strike the fear of God into a beginner is the lack of tuition for riding on roads. What we teach in the main is recreational cycling. The efforts of Sustrans and health and transport authorities are concentrated on providing cycle rides and routes off-road. This is of great value, but will not encourage functional cycling, the sort that gets you to work and back and leads to the high uptake of cycling you find in northern Europe.
The present popularity of cycling has encouraged many born-again cyclists to get on their bikes, but they get right off again when they realise how the roads have changed. It can be an intimidating experience and you don’t learn how to deal with it by riding along disused railway tracks.
Cycle instructor, Liverpool
• I used to cycle daily over Vauxhall Bridge via Parliament Square to St Martin’s Lane where I worked. I did it for years – no problems. But, I was seen! I had an orange fluorescent jacket, fluorescent tags on the wheel spokes, a horizontal safety arm and of course good-sized lights fixed both front and back of the bike.
While I fully agree with the latest campaign arguing for a better deal for cyclists, we need also to ensure that cyclists play their part – by ensuring they are are as visible as possible. As a car driver, I know there is room for improvement.