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.