07 May 2009

Safety in Numbers in Britain


The Guardian has an article today about the study trip made by Members of Parliament and Lords of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group to the Netherlands, as we reported about recently.

The article covers the Safety in Numbers angle of cycling. The Cycle Touring Club [CTC] which has been Britian's cycling union for 130 years, champions everyday cycling and, most importantly, marketing cycling as positive. They give towns and cities a cycling safety rating.

"While this is a useful guide, we're also very keen to stress that even the apparently less safe areas aren't actually unsafe, and that it's still much better for your health to cycle than not to cycle, wherever you live," said Chris Peck, the CTC's policy coordinator. "It's important that people are not put off cycling."

The phenomenon of safety in numbers – the name given to a new CTC campaign – can be seen throughout Europe. Other figures compiled by the organisation show that in Denmark, top of the continental league for cycling, the average person rides over 10 times further than his British peer every year but runs only 20% of the risk of being killed.

Struck by the Dutch success, a group of British MPs has just returned from a fact-finding trip to the country. There, along with reams of information about bike lanes and secure parking, they were let in to a less well-known secret for spurring a national cycling culture: throw out the Lycra and the helmets.

The experts, who took the all-party cycling group on a tour of the unparalleled Dutch cycling infrastructure, argued that the best way to tempt people on to bikes is to portray cycling as an everyday activity, not just the preserve of young men with an assertive attitude and a wardrobe full of skin-tight DayGlo jerseys.

"If you really want to have a lot of people cycling, one thing that people need is to feel safe cycling. It is the perceived safety that is so important," said Hans Voerknecht from Holland's Fiets Beraad, or bicycle council.

"It shouldn't be a fringe sub-culture, just for the cyclists you could call the urban guerrillas. You'll never have ordinary people cycling if that's the image they see."

Voerknecht points out that only a tiny minority of Dutch cyclists wear helmets, and while a few enthusiasts take to the roads in full Tour de France gear they are overwhelmingly outnumbered by people pedalling to work, school or the shops in everyday clothes, even formal business suits.

The CTC's Peck, who accompanied the MPs to the Netherlands, agrees that the image of cycling in Britain needs an overhaul.

"Helmets and things like that do give this impression that cycling is inherently dangerous, and this whole urban warrior image is not very helpful," he said. "But of course, a lot of the aggression is also about having to compete for space and priority with cars."


Here's the full article on The Guardian's website.

The CTC's website is right here.

3 comments:

didrik said...

Always nice to start the day with an indication that wisdom and truth has a chance of rising above unwarranted fear.

Now if only my "progressive" (smirk) California would get it.

dyrlægen said...

Go Britons!
On yer bikes!
Hurrah!

Anonymous said...

As a London 'slow cyclist' I've been delighted to see this in the media.

One of the greatest champions is our Mayor, Mr Boris Johnson. He was hounded by the media for not wearing a helmet (and even presented with one in the council chamber by a smugly concerned Labour assembly member).

Sadly his original never-wear-a-helmet stance has been tempered to sometimes-wear-one-to-keep-the-press-happy.

Based on my own observations, helmets are worn by just under 50% of London cyclists, but this proportion increases in central London at rush hour (when cyclists are most visible to others) and some kind of 'cycling gear' - tabards, sundry items of dayglo clothing - are almost universal.

Cycling helmets sadly seem to be catching on even in those most hallowed slow-cycling towns, Oxford and Cambridge.