When Andrew Mitchell, Chief Whip at the time, was leaving Downing Street, he wasn't allowed through the main gates with his chauffeur-driven colleagues. What should've been seen as a heroic stand against a system that attaches status to drivers and not to cyclists was lost by him losing his temper. As 'Confucius says' he who loses his temper loses his argument, and never has this statement been sadder. British society still seems to place tangible symbols of wealth and power on a pedestal, and I think many see cyclists and view them as lesser forms of transport. Where, in fact, London should attach status to people who walk and cycle above all other forms of transport.
A Cycle Friendly City With A Village Mindset
People who cycle to work not only risk their lives in all weather, but they're actively doing something good - they are contributing to the health of the nation, reducing the burden on the NHS by staying fit and healthy, they contribute towards cleaner air, make our streets safer and reduce congestion. Cyclists, and for that matter pedestrians, need to be rewarded, and should enjoy more safety on the street and more leeway as they travel.
It goes without saying that, like Boris and Ken before me, I'll support TfL's continued investment in access to bikes, cycle superhighways and cycle lanes to make London's streets safer, but there are other things a mayor can do. Londoners shouldn't have to be warriors, speeding along anticipating danger around every corner. An advantage of Boris bikes is their conspicuousness; large, Amsterdam-style bicycles, complete with baskets, have helped car drivers to humanise cyclists and have almost slown down the conversation to one of needing to protect ordinary people as they try to navigate around London. More emphasis needs to be placed on London as a collection of villages; regular people using their bikes to pop to the shops or kids cycling to school, much as you'd expect in a country village.
Fatal and Serious Injuries Have Risen, Not Fallen
As Ashok Sinha from London Cycling Campaign is pushing for, the police probably need to prosecute more car drivers who have killed or seriously harmed cyclists, if nothing other than to raise the stakes of driving in London and to help people to appreciate that driving the car in a city is a privilege that carries an additional responsibility. Last year an investigation found that on average just one in ten drivers see jail when involved in a fatal accident. This is not a problem that's on the decrease. 2014 saw an 8% increase in fatal and serious injuries to cyclists, compared to 2005 it's even more stark with the risk of fatal or serious cycle injury being up 22%.
When I visited London's Air Ambulance, who attend a lot of serious accidents on the street, mostly where the patients are men, they told me that when it comes to cycling, it's the exact opposite- more women are seriously injured on the roads while cycling, usually at junctions crushed by a lorry while waiting with the rest of the track. They concluded that the reason that more women died was because they were more law-abiding and that men had a tendency to creep forward in clear view of the large lorries or cycle out of danger.
Give Cyclists Privileges, But Expect More Responsibility
In many respects, there are some cyclists who have let everyone down with their lack of concern for pedestrians, which I think is very sad. As London becomes more crowded, we're going to need to see us become more polite generally. Anyone who's tried to walk along London's amazing canal paths during commuting hours will appreciate how impolite cyclists can be, bordering on the aggressive. In order to get privileges that I would like cyclists to have, cyclists themselves need to have a conversation about their relationship with pedestrians and how we can share the limited spaces available more peacefully.
Controversially, I'd like to see Cyclists be given a lot of leniency by the police. I'm tired of seeing groups of police hiding out in London stopping and finding minor traffic infringements. Providing the cyclist uses care and attention and doesn't endanger or inconvenience pedestrians, I personally have no problem with them, for example, turning left on red lights; or allowing young children to cycle on pavements.
There's also increased safety - EU legislation is catching up with cyclists' needs and new lorries are coming into service with far better mirrors. Likewise, lower cabs and even glass doors to eliminate fatal blind spots. But change is slow.
There's More We Must Do
One thing a Mayor can do is insist that, on all of TfL's building projects: Crossrail and the vast building works about to commence, like the 500,000 new homes planned for the next few years, that all the lorries used are cycle-friendly. The Mayor can also enforce slower speed limits and, when roads are resurfaced, considering hatching with raised paint to encourage cars to drive more slowly. We can also help facilitate bike storage units in London's train stations so that people arriving in London can keep a bike here, allowing them to cycle easily around London.
We should also reverse the policy of stopping people from tying their bikes to railings, especially in Westminster. This practice was brought into effect about 30 years ago, when the IRA made a lame attempt at a cycle bomb. At the same time, they also banned all bins in stations as the IRA were also planting bombs in bins. 30 years later, the bins have returned, but the rules on tying your bikes continue to survive and should also be overturned (so long as bikes are tied sensibly).
It may even be time to see cycle registration to reduce the thefts - and possibly tagging all bikes and motorcycles in London, with trackers, now that the technology is becoming so affordable. After all, if we can wipe out cycle and motorcycle theft, more people would use bikes. And in the case of motorcycles, it would prevent so many more crimes as these bikes are often taken and used for drive by phone and handbag snatching.
Finally, we need a test, like the Bikeability test, for all. What used to be known as a cycling proficiency test should be guaranteed support, their work has been incredible with an estimated 1.5 million children trained. The training and test both promotes this healthy option to children, but also, from an early age that learning to ride a bike comes with responsibility. Should we not consider (in exchange for promoting cycling, giving more support to cyclists and protecting them) ensuring them to be fully trained to use this machine on roads where other users take a test?