When bicycles first appeared in the 19th century, they revolutionised Britain’s country life. Suddenly farmers acquired an easy means of courting girls in other villages, thereby reducing inbreeding and improving the nation’s genetic stock.
Cycling quickly became essential transportation for some, entertainment for others, a competitive sport for others still. So far, so good. Now fast-forward to our own time – only to observe that cycling has become downright pernicious.
Rather than simply being good exercise and a cheap way to travel, it has claimed something to which it isn’t entitled: moral ascendancy. Cycling has taken a place next to wind farms, solar panels, public foreplay with trees and hoodies, not smoking, not driving after a pint, not using private medicine and other merit badges of PC modernity.
Overnight a Londoner riding a bike to work stopped being an irresponsible miser willing to risk his life to save a few pennies, or else a health freak prepared to die for stronger leg muscles, or perhaps an impatient chap outracing a bus in rush-hour traffic. He’s now a secular saint doing his bit for environmental and personal health.
Whenever their PC button is pushed, our brainwashed masses respond with a surfeit of enthusiasm and a shortfall of reason. For example, it never occurs to them that cycling has no environmental benefits over public transport – those trains and buses are going to run anyway, so what’s a few passengers more or less? Of course, if most people rode bikes, there would be fewer buses and trains, but even cycling fanatics don’t suggest that such a development is likely.
Now HMG is launching a cross-party enquiry into ways of making cycling safer. No doubt our politicians will bring to the task the same intellectual rigour and scrupulous honesty they display in most of their other endeavours. I don’t know who is spearheading the enquiry, but George Osborne, with his known commitment to cheaper travel, can do nicely.
One can already see which way the enquiry will go in the way statistics are being massaged in our ‘quality’ press. For example, the figure of 3,192 is being waved about like a red rag before a bull. That’s how many cyclists were killed or seriously injured last year.
Do you smell a rat? Here it is: suppose I told you that last year I drank 95 gallons of water, juice and whisky. Does this make me a pathetic drunk or practically a teetotaller? You can’t answer this question unless you know how much of the liquid I consumed was water and juice, and how much of it was whisky.
Let’s try to untangle this statistical knot. In the first 10 months of 2012, 101 cyclists were killed in Britain, about 10 a month. Assuming that roughly the same ratio existed last year, 3,072 of the 3,192 were injured and 120 killed. Suddenly the statistic can be seen in a different light, and that’s even before we defined a serious injury: a broken wrist is more serious than a broken finger, but less so than a broken spine.
Equally false is the figure of 9% more ‘seriously injured or killed’ than last year. Apart from the same lumping the two categories together, this statistic is grossly misleading because it doesn’t take into account the increase in the number of regular cyclists and total distances travelled. This is considerable. For example, between 2009 and now the former number increased by 150,000, making more accidents highly predictable.
The government has earmarked £30 million to make cycling safer – this on top of the uncountable millions spent already on suffocating city traffic with unnecessarily wide cycle lanes. The one on London’s Embankment, for example, is as wide as a car lane, though not even Boris Johnson’s breadth comes close to that of a Mini.
Instead of squandering more of our money, HMG should acknowledge an obvious fact: the streets of our major cities aren’t designed for cycling. London isn’t Amsterdam, where vehicular traffic crawls along the straight canals at a snail’s pace, cycle or no cycles. We have more drivers, more opportunity to drive at the speed limit and more lorries whose drivers are often unsighted. Cyclists will always be in great peril, and the staff of London’s St Thomas Hospital will always refer to them as ‘organ donors’.
The only way to reduce the number of cycling deaths is to reduce the number of cyclists. This can be easily done by practising fair play, something for which the British are so justly famous.
Cyclists using their bikes for anything other than a pleasant ride in the park or in the country must be tested, licensed and made to pay road tax. As it is, they contribute nothing to the upkeep of the roads, leaving drivers, so hated by our liberal establishment, to carry this burden.
Cyclists should also have their bicycles registered and insured. The insurance premiums alone would probably be prohibitive, what with cycling presenting a much higher actuarial risk than driving. Incidentally, it’s not just cyclists themselves who are at risk, but also drivers who often have to swerve to avoid adding another pair of kidneys to the St Thomas’s organ bank.
Also, cyclists must be made either to obey the same traffic rules drivers do or face fines and disqualification. How many times have you had to jump out of a cyclist’s way on a pedestrian crossing? How many of them have you seen running a red light or going hell for leather on a pavement? This must stop.
These measures would be as effective as they’re fair. The number of ‘deaths and serious injuries’ would go down pari passu with the diminishing number of cyclists on city streets. The Exchequer would be millions richer, rather than another £30 million poorer. Drivers would have a much easier life. And, as an important side benefit, fewer bureaucrats would need to be employed.
And the downside? Simple: our PC sensibilities will be so offended that nothing sensible will be done. God forbid people will be encouraged to use their minds rather than emotions – they just might vote for the best candidate on offer: Mr None of the Above