Last month my boyfriend Laurence de Hoest contacted The Guardian with video footage of transport secretary Chris Grayling knocking over a cyclist with his car door outside Westminster. It was reported in The Guardian, and quickly picked up by various other news sources and social-media outlets with varying degrees of outrage or mockery. Many of Grayling's dissenters used the news fuel to stoke the anger over his handling of the ongoing the Southern Rail strikes.
But Laurence didn't send this video to become sensationalist clickbait. He doesn't want a witch hunt against Chris Grayling. It's not about motorists versus cyclists. He's had the video since October, what prompted him to make it public was Grayling's comment that cycle lanes "cause too much of a problem for road users". And last week, the transport secretary suggested in the House of Commons that cyclists don't count as road users. How can a minister who has a duty to protect the safety of all travellers, show such disregard for a growing proportion of commuters who are among the most vulnerable on the roads? TFL figures show 610,000 journeys were taken by bike every day in London in 2014. 13 cyclists were killed in the city that year and many more seriously injured. Nationwide in 2016, an estimated 123 were killed while cycling.
I'd like to be able to say that the Westminster incident was the first time Laurence had witnessed dangerous behaviour towards cyclists on the roads, but it's a frighteningly common occurrence. I'd also like to be able to say that his reasons for buying a camera to mount on his bike were purely down to a love of gadgets or part of an obsessive need to track every kilometre biked. No, it was because he had been feeling unsafe on the 200km per week he rides and wanted to protect himself in case of an accident, to have proof of what really happened should he ever need it.
I love my boyfriend very much, and every time he gets on his bike I worry it'll be the last time I see him. That may sound dramatic, but it's true. Is it fair, that in one of the most modern cities in the world, your chosen mode of transport could threaten your safety to such a degree? I'd like to be able to cycle to work, but feel far too intimidated to try. Laurence, who is more into cycling than most people I know, would love me to get involved too, but he's the first to say he'd worry about my safety too much to ever encourage me to do so in London.
It's such a shame when you think about the benefits more cyclists would bring. Bikes take up far less space on roads than cars or trucks, they create no carbon emissions, and for those of us crammed onto tubes and trains every morning and evening at rush hour, each cyclist is one fewer disgruntled commuter squished in next to you. Air pollution in London is shockingly high - blamed for a death toll of as many as 9,000 people per year - more cyclists and fewer cars seems one obvious antidote. So let's create a cycling- and pedestrian-friendly city. That doesn't mean penalising motorists, it means promoting cycling and protecting vulnerable road users so we can all get around safely. Having a transport secretary who acknowledges the right of cyclists to be on the road in the first place would be a good place to start.