Questions have been raised about how safe it is to cycle in London after six cyclists were killed in just two weeks. While it is agreed that safety must improve, there is much disagreement about how this should happen. Some have blamed the attitudes and behaviour of cyclists and drivers, while others have focused on the issue of improving many of London’s aging horse-and-cart-sized roads. Both issues are important.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, contributed to the debate by saying that he would not cycle in London because it’s too dangerous. Very helpful comment. The benefits of cycling are obvious in terms of the environment, personal health, and cost compared to other forms of transport. Rather than making comments that only discourage people from cycling, perhaps the Police Commissioner should focus on ways to make cycling in London more appealing and less dangerous.

The Olympics aside, Britain is clearly trailing behind most European countries on cycling. In 2012 there were 38 deaths per billion miles cycled in Britain, in The Netherlands it was only 22. The Netherlands is well-known for spending more on cyclists. Cycle hire in Amsterdam is famously cheap, while Boris quietly doubled the price of the Boris Bikes (apparently also called Barclays’ Bikes). Cyclists in the Netherlands may also benefit from an effect known as “Smeed’s Law”. This is a theory which essentially means that if there are more cyclists on the road then there will be ‘safety in numbers’, as drivers will be more likely to adjust their driving to accommodate for them. Many link this to The Netherlands’ impressive safety record with its high proportion of cyclists.

…promoted as a healthier and cheaper way of getting to work…

France also has a good record; I have cycled in France before, and the difference is stark. The cycle paths are excellent and cars show great respect for cyclists. The infrastructure is better, and attitudes to cycling are different. Cycling is more established as a part of their culture, rather than just occasionally promoted as a healthier and cheaper way of getting to work.

Following the recent tragic deaths, the government put 2,500 police officers on the streets. They were there to informed cyclist and other road users about safety issues, and hand out fines to anyone jumping a red light. This sudden police presence is only a short-term quick-fix though, as when they leave the roads will be as dangerous as before.

…cycling is good and needs to be made less dangerous in London…

This also shows that Boris was trying to shift the debate away from infrastructure onto the road users. Surly, both debates are important. The way we use our roads could improve (both cyclists and drivers) and the road infrastructure could be considerably improved. Importantly, I think we should not let the Police Commissioner or anyone else put people off the simple, self-evident notion that cycling is good and needs to be made less dangerous in London.

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