A question that troubles me a little – and might trouble others, such as London mayor Boris Johnson, even more – is this: how responsible is it to urge people to take to their bikes on the streets of London, Paris or New York? No one is more persuaded than me of the unique powers of the bike – transportational, ecological, and epidemiological. But the virtues of the bicycle need to be accommodated within an integrated transport system and accompanied by public acceptance of the right of two-wheeled traffic to occupy the carriageway.
That is the case in Amsterdam and Copenhagen and Vienna but not in London, where it seems most drivers regard bicycles as a nuisance and treat cyclists with a shocking and sometimes murderous lack of consideration.
I suspect things are not much better in Paris and New York. There is even the ludicrous idea of making cyclists pay a “road tax”, a fiscal measure that was abandoned in the UK in the 1930s. The inevitable consequence of this hostility is a regrettable attitude of retaliatory anarchy among certain cyclists, which risks turning pedestrians into the victims. Cyclists, of course, should not take to the pavement (except where a pavement incorporates bike lanes) but, if you were a cyclist and had a choice between being crushed by a bus or lorry and riding on the pavement, I expect you would take measures to save your life.
The statistics for deaths and serious injuries among cyclists in Britain, including in London, make dispiriting reading for anyone contemplating putting on their cycle helmet. Annual deaths in the past 10 years in London have fluctuated between 20 and eight; last year’s figure was 14, down two on the previous year’s 16.
Serious injuries, at 657 in 2012 compared with 394 in 2002, have risen in number but fallen slightly in proportion to the number of bike trips made.