The other day the Games claimed their first victim: an official Olympic bus ferrying journalists hit and killed the 28-year-old cyclist Dan Harris.
Mr Harris chose that mode of transportation to avoid the traffic around the Olympic village close to which he lived. In fact his house in Hackney is near the Olympic velodrome, and if that’s not a gruesome coincidence, I don’t know what is.
The first reaction is to lament the young man’s death and to pray for his soul. The second one is to ponder the whole cycling fad, its death toll and how easy it is to prevent. So far this year, 60 cyclists have been killed in Britain, most of them in big cities, particularly in London. In fact, the staff at St Thomas’s hospital refer to cyclists as ‘organ donors’. It’s easy to see why.
If you’re a driver, recall all the times you’ve been tapped, touched or bumped by other cars. You’ve had a couple of such scrapes, haven’t you? A little scratch here, a tiny dent there, nothing worth bothering the insurance company about, and you do have your no-claims bonus to consider. Well, had you been riding a bike in London, every one of those little pats could have been fatal.
By contrast, only about six Amsterdam cyclists are killed in a year, on average. Of course, Amsterdam is a much smaller place than London, but then 35 percent of all journeys there are taken by bike, compared to only two percent in London.
Two conclusions immediately suggest themselves: first, London isn’t as suited to cycling as Amsterdam is; second, anyone who cycles through London must have his head examined – this regardless of how good a cyclist he is.
Bradley Wiggins isn’t much of a royalist, but he’s a fairly useful biker, as I think you’ll agree. His comments on the fatal accident started with the irrefutable observation that ‘London is a busy city and there’s a lot of traffic…’ And then came a startling admission: ‘I got knocked off several times.’ Being knocked off a bicycle in London constitutes a near-fatal accident, and it’s the world’s best road cyclist we’re talking about. Has Stirling Moss had many such accidents in London, in the centre of which he lives? Has Lewis Hamilton?
So why would reasonably intelligent and responsible people endanger their lives by riding their bikes in a city manifestly not designed for this mode of locomotion? Some do so because they can’t afford to travel in any other way, though one suspects that, for all of Dave’s and George’s efforts, such paupers are few. Some may feel they need the exercise for their health, so if a chap ends up on a morgue slab, at least his corpse will be in prime shape.
But most do so out of sanctimonious self-righteousness, as if pressing their holier-than-thou environmental credentials. Politicians, such as Dave and our jolly-hockey-sticks mayor, have the extra motivation of appearing cool and populist, thereby hoping to counteract their vote-losing Bullingdon past, but this is a separate subject.
As one moves through London by sensible transportation, especially motorcar, one detects the smug look on the face of every cyclist one overtakes. You may be travelling in safety and comfort, he seems to be saying, but I’m striking a blow for the cause dear to every progressive heart.
As with most champions of progressive causes, smugness seamlessly gives way to self-centred rudeness. Cyclists routinely ignore pedestrian crossings, traffic lights, stop signs, lane discipline – and they do so with impunity. After all, they won’t get points off their licence for they haven’t got one. Nor will their insurance premiums go up if they cause an accident – they don’t pay any in the first place.
Neither do they pay any road tax or congestion charges, and yet politicians bend over backwards to accommodate these freeloaders at the expense of drivers, who pay hundreds of pounds for the privilege of being patronised by bikers. For example, the Embankment, which used to be the quickest way of travelling from Chelsea to Westminster, has been reduced to one lane each way to make room for the new bicycle lane, wide enough for three bikers to hold hands as they ride.
Wiggins’s solution to the problem? Same as Dave’s: ‘Make helmets compulsory.’ I’m amazed neither intellectual giant has suggested that cyclists carry a government health warning. Neither of them seems to realise that laws should be instituted to protect people against others, not against their own irresponsibility. A cyclist not wearing a helmet (and most do) endangers no one other than himself, so it’s really none of the state’s business.
However, this doesn’t mean there’s nothing the state can do. Cyclists must be made to take a test, both written and on the road. They must have a licence that can be withdrawn after a specified number of transgressions. They must carry third-party insurance. And they must pay for the privilege of using the roads. I suspect that under such conditions the number of cyclists in London will go down drastically. As will the number of lives taken so needlessly and for such spurious reasons.
Oh well, back to the real world now, one governed by political correctness and self-serving politicians. Dan Harris, RIP.