The streets of London today are teeming with dangerous
They are easily recognised. Encased in lycra, topped off with pointy helmets
redolent of Buck Rogers cartoons, they can be seen everywhere, from ‘ampstead
to ‘ackney, weaving and wobbling on bicycles like circus clowns, along streets designed
by the Romans to accommodate two passing chariots, but which nowadays are jammed
with big red double-decker buses and construction vehicles the size of jumbo
jets minus the wings.
These demented clown-like figures
are eager participants in a death-defying game of chance. It’s one that was obviously designed especially
for determined martyrs, since its most compelling feature is that the players who
lose usually wind up in hospital – and sometimes in the mortuary. Stranger
still, they’ve been encouraged to engage in this mad enterprise by
environmentalists – mentalists will do – persuaded that they are helping to
save the planet, and somehow in the process their own souls. Some, it is true, simply want to save the
money that would otherwise be spent on ever-rising bus and train fares, but
even they eventually quickly become evangelized by the shining concept of a
great moral crusade.
Most of them actually look quite
mad. Goggle-eyed with rage and
resentment, they hate all motorists.
They yell at us on the slightest pretext, for causing the least inconvenience,
especially our persistently annoying habit of making left turns. Not only do we
have the temerity to get in the way but, as intent on saving the planet as our
pedalling friends are, so it follows that those of us behind the wheels of sleek
expensive petrol-guzzling cars are intent on destroying it, or are at best utterly
insensitive to the prospect.
By proclamation, cyclists occupy the
high moral ground, while the rest of us wallow in our unfeeling degeneracy.
No less a personage than the Mayor
of London, Boris Johnson, has lent the power of his office to the cause of salvation. Some citizens of London even travel the mean streets of the
capital on Boris Bikes, which are provided by the city free of charge for that
purpose. At the national level, the government, ever alert to the emergence of
a new voting bloc, has introduced a scheme offering financial assistance to
purchasers of bicycles.
Cycling has become immensely
popular in recent years. In the year 2000
– I have read – only 2000 bicycle journeys were undertaken in London each day. That figure is apparently now 540,000. Casualty rates are less easy to find, but it is
fair to assume that hundreds are seriously injured every year, and possibly
thousands less seriously. Fatalities – naturally
more carefully recorded than injuries – appear to be running at about two dozen
a year, a rate that seems almost certain to rise steadily in proportion to the
bicycle wheels deployed.
Five bikers have been killed in the
last nine days alone, the newspapers report today.
There exist well known accident
‘black spots’. One such place is a vast
roundabout in Bow, a district of East London, where two cyclists died just this
week. The response of the authorities to
these ‘incidents’, wherever they occur, is usually to put up extra warning
signs, or to paint blue biker lanes on the road. There has been talk of installing traffic lights
that give bikers priority. This
proposition strikes me as particularly futile, as in my experience – and I
vouchsafe that of millions of motorists in every city across the country would
concur – cyclists make a point of ignoring traffic lights, regarding them not
just as needless impediments to their progress, but as symbols of oppression. Well, I suppose we motorists often feel the
same way, but we do at least obey them, if only in the interests of good order.
The death toll will continue to
rise, I imagine. It would be surprising,
on all the statistical evidence, if it did not.
Bicycles, buses, lorries,
delivery vans and heavy goods vehicles all have to share roads which are in
many cases unfit for purpose for each of those classes individually let alone
collectively. If there are practical
solutions that might serve to accommodate all these disparate conveyances, I
can’t pretend to know what they are. The
authorities, it is plain, have no more idea than I do.
Meanwhile, I just wish Mr. Johnson,
and others, would stop hectoring those of us who walk or drive, and drop this campaigning
to convince us that our sunlit futures lie in acquiring a pair of lycra tights
and a cloak of righteousness.