You’d be forgiven for thinking that cyclists are irresponsible, reckless and potentially deadly if you believe the mainstream press and politicians.
London pedestrian Kim Briggs died last year after Charlie Alliston, riding a track bike that typically doesn’t have front brakes, ran into her. Alliston was convicted of “wanton or furious driving” and handed an 18 month sentence.
The case led to calls for a review of criminal offences for dangerous cycling. But the vast majority of pedestrians who die on roads in Britain are killed by motorists.
And deaths of cyclists provoke much less comment. A female cyclist died after being run over by a lorry in west London on Wednesday of last week.
In Manchester on 1 September Oliwia Franchesca Wojciechowka was killed after being crushed by a lorry in Salford. Six days previously another cyclist had been killed in Trafford.
The press often describe deaths caused by cars almost as if they are a natural phenomenon.
One Guardian article dispassionately describes a person involved in a fatal crash as “the driver of a car that hit a cyclist who later died”. In the rare cases where a cyclist causes a death they are described as “thrill seekers” who “mowed down” people.
Tory transport minister Jesse Norman launched an “urgent” review of dangerous cycling last month.
The first phase, set to report in 2018, will assess the case for new criminal offences for causing death or injury by dangerous cycling.
But the real problem is a lack of political will from those at the top to do anything meaningful about the rising number of fatalities.
In 2016, 400 pedestrians died on roads in Britain. Office for National Statistics figures show that, between 2006 and 2010, 14 pedestrians were killed in incidents involving bicycles.
In the same period, 1,083 pedestrians were killed in incidents involving cars, pick-ups and trucks.
Just two pedestrians were killed by cyclists in 2015. Some 100 cyclists were killed on the roads that year. More than 3,200 were seriously injured and over 15,500 were slightly injured. And the figures only include those cases reported to the cops.
Neither harsher sentencing guidelines for cyclists involved in incidents that lead to deaths, or crackdowns on motorists, will make people safer.
Well funded public transport would reduce congestion and make roads safer.
So would limiting the time heavy goods vehicles are allowed into city centres, which has been partially introduced. And real investment in cycling infrastructure is needed.
Last year the Tories announced the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, detailing £300 million investment over five years. That’s just over £1 for every person in Britain.
Transport systems designed primarily for the needs of capital and not for ordinary people will never place people’s safety first.