Taking your life in your hands – David Cameron’s response to the Times’ Cities Fit for Cycling campaign

I’m grateful to the Youtube user who has uploaded this video of David Cameron’s response, in Prime Minister’s Questions today, to Julian Huppert’s question on the Times’ Cities Fit For Cycling campaign, and on the issue of cycle promotion generally.

Huppert -

Tomorrow members of this House will have the chance to debate the importance of cycling, following the Times’ Cities Fit For Cycling campaign. The Minister for Cycling – the member for Lewes – has made some welcome announcements and investment. There is still much more to do. Will the Prime Minister commit the government to support the Times’ campaign, increase investment in cycling, and take much greater steps to promote cycling across the country?

Cameron -

I think the Times’ campaign is an excellent campaign. I strongly support what they’re trying to do. Anyone who’s got on a bicycle – particularly in one of our busier cities – knows that you are taking your life into your hands every time you do so. And so we do need to do more to try and make cycling safer. The government is making it easier for councils to install mirrors at junctions. We’re putting 11 million pounds into training for children, and 15 million pounds for better cycle routes and facilities across the country. I think if we want to encourage the growth in cycling we’ve seen in recent years, we need to get behind campaigns like this.

This is really quite an extraordinary response, not least for the fact that our Prime Minister has openly stated that using a bicycle in Britain – not just in our busiest cities – involves lethal risk.

Cameron then reels off a list of sums of money that are obviously designed to sound impressive, but which are in reality pitifully small, a miniscule fraction of our country’s transport spending. For instance, the two sums he mentions, when combined, amount to less than 1% of the cost of widening only 22 miles of the M25.

Given that these sums are supposed to represent an attempt to deal with the lack of safety – the lethal lack of safety – involved in riding bicycles that Cameron acknowledges, it’s verging on insulting, not least for the fact that this shouldn’t really be about money, at all.

It should be about a commitment - a commitment to change the guidelines that govern the way our roads and streets are designed and built, to make them safer, both subjectively and objectively, for bicycle use. That kind of commitment would be magnitudes more valuable than the 11 million pounds Cameron has presented for sticking-plaster measures like cycle training for children, and the installation of mirrors. I have no problem, of course, with training, especially for children, but I resent it being used, as in this case, as a substitute for concrete action to change the environment. Training children will do nothing to address the dangerous nature of our roads and streets that Cameron himself recognises.

The money Cameron talks about, just like his support for the campaign, is nothing more than a fob-off.

Don’t be fooled.

A City ‘Fit for Cycling’? I don’t think so. Will mirrors and training make this street look any different? I don’t think so. 

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This entry was posted in Cycling policy, David Cameron, Infrastructure, Road safety, The Times' Cities Safe for Cycling campaign, Transport policy. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Taking your life in your hands – David Cameron’s response to the Times’ Cities Fit for Cycling campaign

  1. simonnurse says:

    An excellent assessment. I’m not sure I need to add more.

  2. iomadh says:

    Regarding training, I don’t think it is cyclists that need it (although that is very welcome as well). In terms of safety, training is needed for car drivers, bus drivers, lorry drivers etc who are the ones that really cause the accidents and fatalities.

    How many car drivers after an accident with a cyclist are sent for training to modify their behaviour so that it doesn’t happen again?

    I hope the protest today goes really well, I’m looking down from Scotland.

  3. Kim says:

    It just goes to show how little interest Cameron has in making any significant change. Saying that “Anyone who’s got on a bicycle – particularly in one of our busier cities – knows that you are taking your life into your hands every time you do so”, then suggesting that giving children a wee bit of training, so that they can go play with HGV, is tantamount corporate manslaughter! We need real change!!

  4. monchberter says:

    If he’d announced mandatory training for any road user prosecuted for an incident involving a cyclist, or lower car insurance premiums for people with Bikeability level 3 then i’d be happy.

    Sticking plaster is the right word for it. Until we tackle the ingrained lack of respect on our roads then nothing much is going to change. All this will do is gainfully employ a few more cycle instructors (alternative career here I come!) and install a few more crap cycle lanes.

  5. Ryan says:

    I’ll give Cameron credit for one thing…He actually mentioned cycling. Our Prime Minister here in Canada has one thing on his mind…Oil. If he had it his way he would make sure every Canadian was in an SUV so they could consume more of it.

    At least our former opposition leader (who unfortunately passed away last year to cancer) cycled regularly to work. His wife (who is also a politician) has put forth a private members bill to make it mandatory for all trucks to have side guards and has been trying to do so for years. She to is a cyclist (as is there son – also a politician). Of course the current pro-oil government shot the bill down right away.

    Judging from that last video, with that amount of people cycling and the amount of traffic, mirrors and training is an utter waste of money…I don’t understand the training anyway. When you go to get your license for the first time, isn’t how to safely pass a cyclist in it?

  6. Well it already looks like you’ve read my thoughts on this, Cam’s suggested tactics for dealing with this IMHO amount to nothing more then a pile of spin, as you say some impressive sounding numbers, which are a drop in the ocean, and some talk about mirrors. Unless these mirrors can magically erect a forcefield around all cyclists in the vicinity, then they are really a waste of money.
    I use CS7 each day where the Trixi mirrors are already installed, looking into them I can’t *really* see how they are any use unless they work much better when viewed from inside a HGV cab?

    I mean between David “taking your life in your hands” Cameron and Boris “Keep your wits about you” Jonhston it’s no wonder we are left in this sorry state of affairs for cyclists…..

  7. Kim says:

    Oh and let not forget that Cameron also recently told a meeting of Conservative councillors at informal reception in Downing Street that money for roadbuilding was available for those who “shout the loudest”. I am quite willing to bet, that there will be no requirements for cycle safety to be taken into account when building these road schemes.

  8. monchberter says:

    I smell a U-turn! Allocating money for cycle training?

    Much like that the abolished Cycling England used to offer!

  9. Rad Wagon says:

    Made my (similar to above) thoughts clear on the YouTube area, think that’ll be seen by more non-cyclists.

    BTW, RTaylorUK is an independent political blogger in Cambridge. He’s put together quite a bit about cycling, amongst a lot of other things, on his blogs.

    http://www.rtaylor.co.uk and http://www.twitter.com/RTaylorUK

  10. Joe Dunckley says:

    Don’t think it’s a U-turn. The coalition have always been committed to Bikeability training. It’s the one thing that they kept when Cycling England and the other quangos were going up in flames. They made a big deal out of it at the time, Norman Baker still desperately mentions it every couple of weeks, and the usual suspects still give them credit for keeping Bikeability.

    It used to be £18 million per year, though. I’ve not been paying much attention to the latest news on training. Is the £11 million for “training for children” something new, is just the portion of the £18m Bikeability fund that goes to schools rather than adult training, or has the £18m been quietly cut?

  11. Bob Dole says:

    £15 million for the entire country.

    Cost of ONE “super highway” in London = £8m – £11million

    Proof that Cumron doesn’t give a shit.

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  13. This is a negotiation.

    The Times asked for 100 million. Cameron has offered a quarter of this. Perhaps the end of this saga will be that the government agrees to 50 – 60 million, which will then look like a good part of what The Times asked for. At that point, nearly everyone can go home happy. The newspaper can say they had success, the government will say that they’ve “done something” and however many MPs backed this will be able to say that they worked as hard as they could on supporting cyclists.

    The only problem is that not nearly enough money will have been committed to actually improving conditions for cycling.

    The root problem is, of course, that the Times’ campaign set the bar so amazingly low to begin with. They should never have asked for 100 million pounds, because 1.53 per person per year is not even close to enough to pay for “world class” cycling infrastructure. The Dutch spend €30 ( ~25 pounds) per person per year. To achieve equivalent results in the UK would require spending 16 times The Times’ request, or 1.6 billion pounds per year. However, even if this negotiation process results in everything The Times asked for, it will still be hopelessly inadequate.

    Unfortunately this is something that it was very easy to see coming. I wrote about it a couple of times before. Unfortunately for Britain’s cyclists, the LCC is making exactly the same mistake at the same time with their campaign, and they’ve compounded it by producing their own inadequate designs for new infrastructure. With both The Times and the LCC doing this simultaneously, and both producing lots of glossy publicity and achieving a higher profile than than cycling usually achieves, these are dark days for cycling in the UK. Between them, they will have spoiled the chances of proper reform for years.

    Not understanding about how to negotiate is such a fundamental mistake to make that it’s laughable. It’s much like going into a job interview with a hope of achieving a salary of 50 K a year and asking your potential new employer for “more than minimum wage”. In such a situation, any negotiation which takes place will be about how many pennies more per hour than the legal minimum that you get, not about whether you’ll earn something close to, or above, 50K per year. No-one would do this in a job interview, so why do it when you’re trying to achieve decent conditions for cyclists in Britain ?

    Cyclists must stop bargaining themselves down before negotiations even start. Negotiations should start when the negotiating starts, not before.

  14. I rode with my daughter to a local farm shop last summer.

    The problem isn’t that she’s riding incorrectly, it’s that enough drivers simply don’t give a toss, even about a cyclist who is obviously a child. No amount of training HER is going to stop these knobheads tailgating, close passing, or any number of the idiocies most of us are all too familiar with.

    Cameron isn’t a stupid man, and has cycled himself, so it’s hard for me to look at this response and think well of him.

  15. Toby Adam says:

    Looks like we’ve got the mirrors. Add some smoke and it’ll be sorted.

  16. Marion Ros says:

    On a totally unrelated note; I can’t access David Hembrow’s blog anymore. Does anyone else have the same problem?

  17. Mike G. says:

    For some reason he decided to delete his entire blog. See his twitter feed. I don’t get it. I hope all that great stuff he wrote isn’t really lost.

  18. It’s just a part of the same culture which leads to the deaths caused by road design and driver behaviour being treated the same as natural disasters. It is time government realised that these things can be changed and controlled, and it is their responsibility to do so too. Training us to deal with the danger the government puts us in is simply not enough.

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