Will the Parliamentary debate do any good?


 Photo: Jack Thurston (The Bike Show)

Last night RDRF Committee members Dr. Robert Davis and Ken Spence took part in the “flashride” organised to show cyclists’ presence to MPs ahead of today’s debate. It was a happy and peaceful event with hundreds (or more)  turning out to support ways to reduce danger to cyclists and others. We’re pleased to be part of this movement, not least with the joyful way it manifests itself.

Unfortunately, my view is that little of benefit will come from today’s debate. I hope this is wrong – but here’s why I’m pessimistic.

Let’s look at the motion:

That this House believes that cycling is an extremely efficient form of transport which is good for health and the environment; supports successive governments’ commitment to encourage the use of bikes and reduce the number of cyclist-related accidents; notes with concern that the number of cyclists killed on Britain’s roads rose by 7 per cent. between 2009 and 2010; further notes that a disproportionate number of cycling accidents involve vans and lorries; supports The Times’ Cities Fit for Cycling campaign; and calls on the Government to take further action to improve cycling infrastructure and reduce the number of casualties on roads.

Julian Huppert MP, who is behind it, can be counted on to say sensible things about cycling. But what exactly does the motion amount to? Consider the following:

  • “…supports successive government’s commitment…” Yes, I have heard this since my first “road safety” conference in 1984: the government, then with Lynda Chalker MP as Minister, “supports” cycling. Except, is this “support” actually support?

* “…reduce the number of casualties on roads”. Which can be taken – and will in the debate – to mean more or less whatever you want. There is a long history of “road safety” interventions which have no beneficial, or even a negative, effect. As we have noted continually, and most recently here, “fewer casualties” does not actually mean that the cyclist environment has become safer, or even if the chances of being hurt or killed (the rate per journey travelled) have gone down. If we had more civilised society, with (for example) three times as much cycling and half as high a chance of being injured or killed, we would have more casualties amongst cyclists.

  • “…Improve cycling infrastructure…” First of all, almost all cycling will be carried out on areas where there is no “cycling infrastructure”. Secondly, what exactly is being referred to here? – what kind of “infrastructure” – off-road routes, segregated tracks, Advisory Cycle Lanes? It is rather worrying that the Editor of The Times, whose campaign has sparked off the debate, is talking about cyclists “not being a hindrance” to motorists. Is “cycling infrastructure” about getting cyclists out ofthe wayof motorists?


  • “…Government to take further action…” A cynic might note that it could hardly take less. The issue is of course that the current government is locked into a programme based on car dependence and unsustainable transport policy.


 As transport professionals we are used to politely working with other organisations and proceeding quietly with whatever incremental progress we can get. But ultimately we keep on coming up the same old problems which are likely to prevent us from moving forward after today’s parliamentary debate.

Essentially, the objective for cyclists – and for all road users – is to reduce danger at source: danger from the (ab)use of motor vehicles in general. It involves questioning the basic sense of entitlement involved in car culture. It involves thinking about the kind of transport system we have, and not just in cities – as if cyclists cease to exist outside them.

More specifically:

  • There is nothing in The Times campaign about the kind of law we need and the enforcement of even existing law.
  • While The Times campaign has back of the envelope figure for funding, there is no mention of financial commitment in the EDM. Should it be too difficult to talk about 1 or 2% levels of funding for cycle specific budgets out of the Transport for London budget, for example?
  • Throughout, the whole discussion is exemplified by the Prime Minister’s comment that cyclists are “taking their lives in their hands” when cycling in London. We have commented on the “dangerising” of cycling  – suffice it to say that this will probably not help us to reduce road danger but continue the prejudice that urban cyclists are “asking for trouble”.
  • Watch out in the debate for discussion of “mutual respect” which glosses over the difference in potential lethality to others of drivers on the one hand, and cyclists on the other.
  • Watch out for discussion of “cycleways”, “cycle tracks”, cycle paths”, “cycle infrastructure” based on the idea that some (generally unspecified) engineering can sort out the problems created by motorisation – basically by getting cyclists out of the motorists’ “way”.

I hope I’m wrong. But do watch out see if road danger is properly addressed, or absent from proper discussion. Yet again.