Another conference – and why getting the numbers right is important

Forgive us for highlighting what should be a rather obvious statistical mistake. However, it reveals, yet again, an underlying mind-set which has seriously negative implications for real road safety and sustainable transport policy. Hopefully this matter will be raised at the forthcoming “Cycle Summit 2012” .

The latest example of what we discuss below is in one of the innumerable “surveys” which drop into the mail boxes of news organisations, often to be printed verbatim by last journalists.

As the CTC summarise it:

When Virgin Money claimed that Britain’s top cycling town was  Plymouth, CTC was surprised. The survey rated 60 towns and cities in the UK by number of crashes and availability of cycle facilities and Cambridge came last. In fact, Cambridge, a well-known cycle-friendly town, has a low cyclist casualty rate due to higher cycle use.

Often only the attentive, like BikeBiz, manage to pick this up .

The reason why this is important is because it is based on a feature of “road safety” ideology and practice we have last highlighted here : the way statistics on cycling are presented is based on the fundamental assumption that:

Cycling is basically a problem. The more of it there is, the more of a problem it becomes.

The last time this hit the headlines was recently with the dreadful comments by the two Ministers responsible for cyclists’ safety . One of them, Norman Baker, will be speaking
at Cycle Summit 2012: Policy, infrastructure and safety Hopefully delegates will remind him of just how wrong he was in his comments on cycle safety in the Netherlands and the UK. It really is important, not least if we are to take the Minister at all seriously.

The blurb for this conference tells us:

“Where there’s a will there’s a way. And when it comes to supporting and promoting greater use of cycling in urban Britain, the political will is readily apparent. The way, though, is much less clear” .

Actually, “the way” is often very clear indeed.

It involves opposing discrimination against cycling: whether in terms of reducing anger from motor traffic or allocating the same sort of funding to cyclists – and that can mean cyclists themselves, rather than just “cycle schemes”, that other forms of transport get.

(Ideally this would mean some form of subsidy to cycling of the same order as the “external costs” of motoring, but that is unlikely at the moment.) A subsidy of the same order as that received by public transport in London, with some extra to nominally account for the health benefits of cycling, would be pretty good.

But whatever the precise ways forward, the RDRF does not agree that: “the political will is readily apparent”. One thing is certain: if the Government is going to be taken seriously on any attempt to support cycling, Mr Baker will have to reverse his comments on the measurement of cyclists’ safety for a very basic “the way” forward.