Cycling Plus


New cyclist death statistics from 2020 lay bare the folly of the fabled ‘new golden age of cycling’


JOHN WHITNEY DEPUTY EDITOR The longtime Cycling Plus staffer offers his take on all the comments and controvers­y on the frontline of the cycling scene “Experience­d cyclists had never known it so good, novices wondered what took them so long to start”

Just over a year ago, as the UK was coming up for air following the harshest period of lockdown of the whole pandemic, Boris Johnson stood up in Parliament and claimed that this, “should be a new golden age for cycling.” The ‘golden age’ bit and the endless possibilit­ies of such a nirvana was pounced upon over many column inches but seasoned Johnson observers’ eyes will have settled on the dead-weight caveat of ‘should’. BBC political satire The Thick of It built a whole episode around a prime minister’s use of the word ‘should’ not having the certainty that you think it might:

“What did he actually say?” asked the PM’s acidtongue­d spin doctor Malcolm Tucker. “He said this is exactly the sort of thing we should be doing,” replied hapless minister Hugh Abbot. “‘SHOULD’ be doing,” says Malcolm. “‘Should’ does not mean ‘yes’.”

And so, as with Johnson’s “this should be a new golden age for cycling” 14 months later, ‘should’ takes on a whole new meaning.

It’s easy to forget how golden it did actually feel in the spring of 2020, as motor traffic fell through the floor amid stay-at-home orders and people on bikes claimed the largely deserted roads for themselves for their daily constituti­onal – and that’s constituti­onal in both health and law.

Experience­d cyclists had never known it so good, and novices wondered what took them so long to start. But as we all know, it didn’t last and by summer car levels had rebounded right back. By the winter lockdown, restrictio­ns were never quite as severe and the roads never quite as empty, so the sheen, for new cyclists, may have been lost.

So if it felt like the idea of a new golden age was little more than an empty soundbite, there was some hard data on road casualties published in June this year that truly hammered home the fact that this is anything but golden. These provisiona­l results cover the whole of 2020 and make clear at the outset that this is an unusual data set, given that it includes unpreceden­ted periods of travel restrictio­ns. Nonetheles­s, there are some alarming statistics for cyclists, the worst being that cyclist deaths on British roads last year rose by 40 per cent to 140. This despite all other road user types seeing a decrease: car users were down 15 per cent, motorcycli­sts – 16, goods vehicle drivers – 18, and pedestrian­s – 25. AA president Edmund King called the cyclist death figures “staggering”.

The report suggested that as ‘pedal cyclist traffic’ was up by 46 per cent in 2020 on the previous year, the casualty rates (deaths or injuries) per billion miles travelled for cycling dropped by 34 per cent (4891 to 3228) – the biggest drop across all road user types.

“Statistici­ans might expect an increase of cyclist casualties at the same time as more people took to their bikes, but 140 deaths is still 140 tragedies that could have been avoided,” said Duncan Dollimore, Head of Campaigns at Cycling UK. He cited an increase of dangerous driving during the pandemic, despite the drop in driving in 2020, as an area of deep concern that needs tackling. One driver was caught doing 134mph in a 40mph zone in Enfield in London, for example.

New Secretary of State for Health Sajid Javid returned to cabinet trumpeting a “return to normality” to how things were before the pandemic. With such appalling death figures for cyclists through 2020 – on top of things such as the ongoing legal battles to keep initiative­s like pop-up cycle lanes that were laid during the pandemic to allow people to travel safely away from public transport

– a return to the pre-pandemic status quo is the exact opposite of golden. It really could have been a new golden age for cycling.

 ??  ??
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia