When Simon Jenkins reached for his keyboard yesterday (we presume, perhaps he dictates?) to disparage The Times' Cities Fit for Cycling campaign, it stirred a memory. Oh yes, that’s it — the Evening Standard once had a Cycling campaign of its own. Join us on a journey back in time...
In April 2007 the Standard launched a "major campaign...encouraging Londoners to take to two wheels". Andrew Gilligan declared: “Cycling is a simply matchless way to travel. It has all the flexibility of the car, with none of the flaws. It will change your view of London, and renew your affection for the capital.” He wrote on: “What would do more than anything to capture would-be cyclists' imagination, and quell their fears, would be a proper cycle network, a network with complete, continuous, flagship routes at all main points of the compass.”
If anything, the Standard was ahead of the curve — there’s a feeling among some campaigners that lingering on the casualty rate will not help their goal of mass cycling, and a fear that cycle lanes could see the freedom of the road removed. Both have shifted in the past year as high profile deaths, notably two at Bow, and the Blackfriars bridge protests have shown that the limits of mass cycling in London are imposed by the TfL road network as much as anything else.
They, like The Times, had a manifesto — bolder than that proposed by the national:
The Standard's charter for cyclists (2007)
- A real cycle network across London
- Better cycle lanes with proper segregation
- Enforcement of special advanced stop lines for cyclists
- HGVs to be fitted with special cyclist safety mirrors
- Compulsory cyclist awareness training for all bus drivers and new HGV drivers
- Cycle-friendly streets: fewer one-way systems that funnel cyclists into the middle of traffic
- More cycle parking across London
- Police crackdown on bike theft
- Make safe the Thames bridges: some of the most dangerous places for cyclists
- Campaign to alert the self-employed that they can claim a 20p-a-mile cycling allowance against tax
- Better cycle-bus-rail co-ordination: adequate parking at stations
- Cycle training for all children and any adult who wants it
They ran stories on the Safer Cycling Campaign for most of 2007, claiming credit for, among other things, the Cycle Superhighways and a promised lifting of the DLR bike ban (which sadly never happened).
Yesterday’s article couldn’t be further from that optimistic tone. Jenkins celebrates that “In 2010 the number killed fell from 13 to 10” — perhaps, but last year, as his paper reported, 16 people died. Nor is the premise that ‘more people having accidents is acceptable, because more people are cycling’ one that we're willing to put up with. How many cyclists died in Paris last year? Zero, or — as the French say — Zero. And that’s despite faster roads, a larger cycle hire scheme, more tourists, French driving and much, much cheaper wine.
He moves on to sing the praises of the latest passion, the shared space — best (though not necessarily well) exemplified in London by the recently completed Exhibition Road scheme. Jenkins ignores the clear difference between a road such as this and the main routes of London’s traffic. He applauds the Dutch example inspired by Monderman, but ignores the fact that Holland has more than 19,000 km of segregated cycle lanes.
The Standard does some great reporting on cycling issues, Ross Lydall notably giving it good coverage, so it’s sad that after such a bold head start the Standard should find itself so far behind. It’d be great to see some of that old vision for a better city return to its editorial pages.
Finally, it is curious that Jenkins' article should follow this one (from the above-quoted Mr Gilligan) so closely, if we were of a more suspicious disposition it would seem that someone is briefing certain journalists to downplay cycling casualties last year...