I can’t think of a better illustration of the CTC’s preoccupation with appearance over substance than the comments from Chris Peck, their policy co-ordinator, that appear in this Guardian article about ghost bikes.
Despite their eerie poignancy, some cycling campaigners worry that the memorials could, in fact, act in the main to put off would-be cyclists. “While ghost bikes may help ensure road users pay more attention to one another, they make [sic] give the impression that cycling is more dangerous than it actually is,” said Chris Peck, policy co-ordinator for the CTC, the UK’s main national cycling organisation. “Cyclists in general live two years longer than non-cyclists and are in general healthier – even in heavy traffic, a three-mile ride to work is healthier than driving to work every day and failing to get any exercise.”
As far as I can tell, this is the only comment the CTC have made on the story of the death of Min Joo Lee, and on the wider issue of safer junctions in London more generally.
To me, it is quite extraordinary that the CTC’s principal concern here seems to be the message that ghost bikes send out. Evidently it might suggest to people that cycling in London is a hazardous thing to do, when in reality – if we look at the statistics – it would actually extend your life by two years. Even when cycling in heavy traffic! So – hey – put those ghost bikes away, fix your rictus-grin-I’m-really-loving-cycling-amongst-HGVs-oh-yes-really-because-I’m-healthier smile on your face, and enjoy it. Because the last thing we want to do is to send out the tiniest signal that cycling in London is really just a teensy bit dangerous or unpleasant. Someone has died, but let’s ignore that, because cycling will, on balance, extend your life.
This is a strategy that is doomed to failure. No-one is going to be convinced to cycle in London if we hide away the deaths, and the casualty figures. The CTC need to face up to the fact that cycling is seen as dangerous, highly dangerous, not just by the vast majority of people who don’t cycle in London, but even by those that do – with or without the absence of ghost bikes, or ‘danger rides.’ When I told two of my friends – both of whom cycle in London – that I would be cycling around London’s ten most dangerous junctions this Saturday, their immediate response was
Why would you want to do that?!?
These are places in London that cyclists – current cyclists – are desperate to avoid, at all costs. And of course the danger isn’t limited to just the ten junctions we will be visiting tomorrow. I’m sick and tired of the tendency, exhibited by Boris Johnson this week, to just pretend that these places are fine to cycle in. Even if – statistically – I know that my death is very unlikely, at the very minimum they are horribly unpleasant, not least because I continually have to keep my wits about me. It might be good advice to cycle around London assuming that every driver is going to kill you – Boris actually volunteered this nugget of wisdom in that same GLA session! – but, really, should it have to be like this?
Enough sunny optimism – it’s time to get angry. I hope you can join me and more than a hundred others for our ride tomorrow, starting at 10:30 am from St Mark’s Church, Oval. Full details are here and here.