From today’s House of Commons Transport Committee on Cycling Safety. You can listen to this guff yourself, if you wish, at about the 11:56 mark.
Ellman [chair]– Can we learn anything on safe cycling from countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark?
Baker – Well, I’m always happy to look for lessons from elsewhere. I think we should be always open to that. And I’ve been over to look at cycling in Holland, in particular, which is very well known for that. I think that my colleague Mike referred earlier on to the rate per 100,000 of the population, in terms of cycle deaths, and we actually come above the Netherlands. We’ve got a better record on that. So what we can learn from the Netherlands, in my view, is probably not safety issues, particularly; what we can learn from the Netherlands is how to encourage people to cycle more, to improve the infrastructure, the public infrastructure, the public realm, to join up different modes of transport, like rail and cycle. That’s what we can learn from the Netherlands, rather than safety. I mean, I went to, I think it was Leiden station, and I think I’m right in saying that when I got to Leiden station – a medium-sized town – there’s something like 13,000 bicycles parked there every day. And no cars. Or hardly any cars. We’re never going to get to that situation, but we can make a lot more progress on that. So they’re the lessons we can learn, I think, rather than necessarily safety lessons.
Why stop there? If nobody cycled in Britain, we’d be infinitely safer for cycling than the Netherlands. A new policy strategy clearly beckons.
And then Penning’s response –
Penning – I think there’s a classic example, where as you massively increase the amount of people that cycle, your figures for deaths… [trails off, consults paperwork] For instance, on the European table I have here, the Netherlands is fourth from the bottom, with 0.84 [deaths] per 100,000 population. Where we are, I think, is seventh, with 0.71 [deaths per 100,000 population]. That is not because they don’t care about cycle safety, that is because there are so many people cycling in the Netherlands. So you will get those ratios going up. I think the Netherlands may want to come and see us, to see how we are making sure that so few people are killed cycling, in terms… as we increase the numbers of people cycling, because the figures would indicate we’re doing a bit better than they are [smug look, and smile]
So cycling gets safer the more people do it, except it doesn’t, because more people get killed in the Netherlands, because more people cycle there, except that we’re increasing our numbers here, so we’re safer. So we should stop people cycling. I think.
I was going to attempt to pick the bones out of this, but as I’ve typed it up, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s self-contradictory gibberish that doesn’t really merit any response whatsoever.
It’s frankly insulting that transport ministers can turn up to a meeting about cycling safety and spout this kind of evasive, dishonest and misleading rubbish. They just don’t care.
As Jim points out in the comments below, per km travelled (a sensible measure, rather than the meaningless ‘absolute number’ measure Penning and Baker decided to use) Dutch cyclists are more than twice as safe as British ones, with 9 fatalities per billion km cycled in 2009, compared with 21 fatalities per billion km cycled over the same period in the UK. His full analysis is here.