In 2009, I joined the ranks of the estimated quarter of million people who cycle to work on London's roads. Since then I have experienced first hand some of the dangers of negotiating London's congested streets on two wheels, initially reacting with terror, then anger and finally, now, with a resigned sort of nonchalance as cars cut me up, taxis pull out in front of me without indicating and motorcycles come within inches of knocking me off as they, illegally, use the cycle lane to bypass traffic jams.
That's not to say that I regret my decision to ditch my oyster card for a bicycle; the thought has never crossed my mind that I should return my two-wheeler to the shed and opt for a safer commute. And even the less frequent, more bizarre run-ins, such a recent episode involving a pedestrian attempting to kick me in the face, narrowly missing and causing me to swerve into what was luckily, an empty lane of traffic, have failed to deter me from cycling.
But on Friday afternoon, I saw, or rather heard, something that made me think twice about my journey home that evening. It was the scream of a cyclist who had been involved in a collision with a heavy goods vehicle.
With a wall of police offices, paramedics and their vehicles surrounding the scene, I couldn't tell what exactly had happened. Nor have I been able to find out since, although I can only hope that the cyclist has made, or is at least in the process of making, a full recovery. But regardless of the details - what happened or whose fault it was - my reaction to the scene remains: why isn't something done to stop so many cyclists falling victim to accidents on London's roads?
As chance would have it, less than a week later, The Times launched a campaign that aimed to address this very problem. It has outlined eight key requirements for the UK's roads and road users that, if met, would make cycling safer. It is now urging the British public to support these changes by signing an online petition.
For those that don't cycle, or don't know anyone that does, there might not seem like much point in supporting in the Times' campaign. After all why should time and money be spent on something that will benefit such a small proportion of the country's population? But, believe it or not cycling benefits everyone, not just those on a bike.
In 2011, a report from the London School of Economics showed that cycling contributes nearly £3bn a year for the UK economy, creating around 23,000 jobs. With each cyclist reported to spend an average of £233 per year on cycling equipment and maintenance, the value of the industry has the potential to increase substantially if more people take up the hobby, encouraged by safer roads.
As well as the economic benefits, there are also significant public health benefits associated with cycling. Of course everyone knows that cycling can increase the health of the person doing the pedaling, but it also contributes to the well being of those in the peddler's vicinity. Researchers studying the bike hire scheme in Barcelona have found that cyclists there have helped avert 9000 tonnes of carbon dioxide pollution, saving more than 12 lives a year.
Still not convinced? Well here is the clincher for Londoners that use the train, tube, dlr or bus to commute to work. Imagine if people didn't cycle. Imagine if another quarter of a million people were to join you on your daily commute; another 250,000 people cramming, pushing and shoving themselves onto the city's already dangerously overcrowded trains and buses.
The number of people taking the tube is increasing as it is. In 2010/2011 TFL reported that the tube had carried a record number of passengers, with more than 1.1 billion journeys made over the course of the year. On Friday 9th December 2011, a record 4.17 million journeys were made on a single day.
So the last thing we need is even more people on the tube. But if each and every one of London's cyclists were to wake up one morning and decide that cycling in the city was too dangerous, that for safety's sake they would take the tube to and from work, then the half a million journeys made by cyclists would be made on the tube instead.
Now imagine a different scenario. Imagine that, as the Times suggests, more time and money was focused on improving cyclists' safety, and that as a result the number of cyclists increased. This would mean a decrease in the number of people using public transport and, therefore, a more pleasant experience for those still using it.
There would be fewer people per train, and as a result less time spent at each station resulting in faster journey times. It might even mean, heaven forbid, that commuters on the northern line could get a seat in the morning, or at the very least not spend the entire journey smothered against a stranger's armpit. It would no doubt reduce the number of germs and bugs spread everyday by the close proximity of passengers on London's tubes and buses too.
That might sound like improvement enough, but consider the hypothetical impact this scenario could have. People might arrive at work, or back home, in a better frame of mind if they hadn't been forced to endure a long, hot journey with a face pressed against a window, a foot continually trampled on or an elbow digging into their back.
And how much would this utopian-esque scenario cost? Surprisingly little. The Times suggests, that if just 2% of the Highways Agency budget was spent annually on improving cycling routes, the UK could boast word-class cycling infrastructure. Not a great price to pay when you think of the lives that could be saved, the economic benefits that could be reaped, and of course the positive impact that it could have on the environment and public health.
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