I’m sick of cars, and with cycle deaths being blamed on the cyclists themselves

28 Dec

I read this Guardian article on cycle deaths and it made me angry http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/dec/27/cyclist-deaths-rise-recessions.

Here is my response.

Your article on the rise in cyclist deaths fails to capture in any way the realities of cycling on our city streets. The report cited in the article by the Department for Transport ‘revealed’ that ‘the biggest single contributory factor in cycle deaths is the cyclist failing to look properly (25% of fatalities), followed by failing to judge the other person’s path or speed (10%), the cyclist entering the road from the pavement (8%), and careless or reckless behaviour (8%)’. These ‘factors’ are laughable and insulting – cycle deaths are caused by cars – full stop. Every ‘factor’ stated here in the report fails to acknowledge the car and the car drivers’ significant role in the fatality – a cyclist does not die from simply failing to look properly as they cycle along, there is a car involved in this too. I have definitely cycled along the road and admired a cool looking dog on the pavement, ‘failing to look’ perhaps, but did not find myself suddenly dead for this moment of distraction. These ‘factors’ make the cyclists’ deaths seem completely isolated from everything around them – they make a wrong move and suddenly ‘poof’, they’re gone – of course it wasn’t a large speeding car or a badly designed round about, it was solely the cyclist’s fault. The report completely removes the major cause of cyclists’ deaths. It is chilling the way in which the victim is being blamed for the accident.

With this misunderstanding of the causes of cyclist deaths comes equally useless ‘solutions’ from the London Cycling Campaign. Charlie Lloyd’s response to the report is feeble. More cycle safety training and education for children. These are all well and good, but don’t get to the main problem which is dangerous cars and terrible cycle infrastructure. I’ve been cycling in London for years and am a very cautious cyclist – more training will not stop cars speeding towards me, beeping at me unnecessarily, cutting across me. Every time I cycle I encounter a great deal of hostility from cars – we cyclists are treated with absolute disregard by impatient and arrogant car drivers. Cycling in London has become a completely joyless experience for me such is the stress and anxiety I experience as I attempt to navigate our clogged and polluted roads – there have been numerous times when I’ve wanted to give up cycling altogether. The suggestion that better training will help improve cyclists’ safety is akin to teaching a bullied child self defence when the bully is a heavy weight boxer – we don’t stand a chance, and also there is the moral point that why should it be us that has to respond and deal with this danger and aggression in the first place?

As the Reclaim the Streets non-violent direct action group pointed out in the 1990s, cars are privatizing our roads and are causing the obstruction and suffocation of our public spaces – it is up to us to reclaim them to create safer spaces and communities. Today, the Critical Mass bike rides around London on the last Friday of every month bring cyclists together to party in our streets and cycle safely, surrounded by hundreds of other cyclists and by blocking off cars. These are real solutions to making roads safer for cyclists; car free roads – without the toxic cocktail of pollutants, the roaring noise of traffic, the use of petrol causing oil wars, and the deaths of pedestrians and cyclists – can be a reality.

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4 Responses to “I’m sick of cars, and with cycle deaths being blamed on the cyclists themselves”

  1. Roger Geffen January 3, 2012 at 9:23 pm #

    Izzy

    I agree that the Guardian article was shockingly insensitive. It was also factually incorrect.

    CTC pointed this out here:
    http://www.ctc.org.uk/DesktopModules/Articles/ArticlesView.aspx?TabID=0&ItemID=739&mid=13641.

    The good news is that, after several days of badgering, the Guardian have now agreed that they got their facts wrong, and have just issued a correction:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2012/jan/03/corrections-and-clarifications?newsfeed=true.

    Best wishes

    Roger Geffen
    Campaigns & Policy Director,
    CTC, the national cyclists’ organisation
    (and former Reclaim the Streets activist!)

    • izzykoksal January 4, 2012 at 4:43 pm #

      Hi Roger,

      thanks for you message. Your letter to the Guardian is great – very interesting and informative.

      Your point that cyclists are less likely than cars to cause injury to anyone else is discussed I think in this lecture by the statistical geographer Danny Dorling ‘Roads, Casualties and Public Health: The Open Sewers of the 21st Century’ http://www.shef.ac.uk/geography/staff/dorling_danny/lectures Although it’s been a while since I listened to it, so I may be wrong. But Danny is really great and definitely has lots of good statistics to argue with!

      That’s amazing that you were in Reclaim the Streets – I was just a little too young so I missed them, although I think I have a vague memory of a street party happening in Brixton. I love what they did! I recently watched a documentary about it and it was incredible – so audacious and inspiring!

      All the best, Izzy

  2. izzykoksal January 6, 2012 at 1:00 pm #

    Hi Roger,

    What incredible photos of Brixton’s Reclaim the Streets! Makes me so proud to be from Brixton! Beautiful scenes! I would have been ten then, so that’s probably the street party I have vague memories of passing by.

    That’s a really cool Danny Dorling paper – thanks for the link! I’m a really big fan of his work, and it’s wonderful that he ‘bigs up’ bikes a lot! And provides lots of useful statistics on them.

    Thanks for the CTC paper too – interesting statistics that I’ll use in arguing for cycling! I won’t trust the Guardian again that’s for sure! : )

    All the best, Izzy

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