Monday, 21 November 2011

I make no apologies for the length of the following post. It's the text of an email I sent to, in response to one of the shoddiest PRs I have ever seen, which, ironically, was accompanied by quite a good video about a motorised commuter who tried cycle commuting for a week.

I'd recommend reading's PR, watching the video, then setting your blood pressure to "simmer" ...

Here is the link:

Maybe if enough people read the page, it'll crash their web site - justice, I'd say!


This is probably just one of many tens or possibly hundreds of mails that you'll get from both sides of this debate, so I'll not expect a response to it, but I would like to make a few points ... perhaps having seen fit to enter the debate, might like to publish a digest of reaction from those touched by it?

First, I'll set my stall out - I am a cyclist and have ridden on the road for 35 years or more, covering 12,000 plus miles a year on a bicycle in training for and participation in, road racing events, for at least 10 of those years. That's more annual mileage than the "average" motorist clocks up, even in these car-hungry days. Annually now, I suppose I ride more like 8,000 miles a year, not for "training" as such, but for the pleasure of maintaining something like good physical condition - so I still ride around the average annual mileage that most drivers cover in a car. I'm also a motorist, licencing a car. Note "licencing", not "taxing" ... one error in your PR that needs correction.

Most adult cyclists are, incidentally, also motorists - so it's not quite all "them'n'us".

In the course of running Velotech Cycling Ltd, and providing the services it offers, I drive my own vehicle and others under basically normal travel circumstances (i.e. excluding what we do in race convoys and the like) upwards of 40,000 miles a year predominantly in the UK, but also in Belgium, France, Switzerland, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands - so I see a lot of road, a lot of cyclists, in a lot of countries, from both the saddle and from behind the wheel.

The essential problem I'm afraid, is that many drivers in the UK (by no means all - I think your article is unnecessarily inflammatory on this point) see motor vehicles as having some inherent hegemony over the road. What must be understood is that this is a misconception both in law and in reason.

In other countries, the laws vary, as does the general view of cyclists, but even in the Netherlands, where there is far higher population density than here, the general European attitude is one of greater tolerance. In terms of the other countries that I have direct experience of, only in Switzerland are cyclists licensed & registered and only in Switzerland do they pay any form of permit fee to use the road ... and if motorists here think they have it rough, they should try life under Swiss rules of car or especially goods vehicle ownership, operation and taxation.

In the UK, private motorists pay "car tax" or, more accurately "vehicle excise duty (VED)". This is also true of commercial operators. This has not been a tax levied for the maintenance of the roads since 1937. Roads are paid for by general taxation, to which everyone who buys anything bar raw foodstuffs, children's clothing and some safety equipment is inherently contributing via VAT. Even then it can be argued that they still are as VAT is levied on raw materials, fuel, delivery charges and the like - so cyclists are already taxed, even if they are unemployed and not paying income tax or any form of National Insurance, or are being paid at below the threshold of those particular payments.

This is an important point in two ways - if the amount of VED paid has any influence over a "right" of usage, then older cars that cover less miles might have less right on the road than more recent, bigger cars that do more miles, more fuel-efficient and cleaner cars might have less right than less efficient and dirtier ones, HGVs would beat everyone hands down ... but that's not the case & it would be unlikely to win support that it should be made so by the motoring fraternity.

The second way in which the "Motorists pay tax, cyclists don't" argument comes unglued is different, but related - because pedestrians, horse-riders and cyclists are free in law to use the roads without paying VED, motorists are not ... but the roads themselves have no relation to VED other than where the revenues raised can be considered as "general taxation". Following this argument through, if the payment of a marginally higher rate of general taxation (be it direct or indirect - say, as in the note above, via VAT for instance) can be considered as conferring extra "rights" in some way, then someone earning £200k a year and paying perhaps three times as much tax or more as someone earning £60k a year should have 3 times or more as much "right" to use the roads, the NHS, education services ... everything that is paid for out of general taxation. That is contrary to the whole idea of redistribution of wealth ... and so the vast majority wouldn't subscribe to it as a sensible view, if not least because the vast majority (in fact, all bar one) would therefore be "behind" someone paying more tax in the "queue".

So to turn to your two leader points in the article:

# A quarter of drivers say cyclists should pay road tax
# More than one in eight cyclists have been knocked off their bike by a motorist

I think we've dealt with the first one pretty comprehensively above.

The second one - you don't quote a statistic to define whether the cyclists or the motorists were found to be in breach of road use law or good practice at the time of the incident - so it is a meaningless statement in the context of the debate, other than serving to make it clear that a level of mutual respect needs to exist & the current level, for at least one in eight cyclists, whether the failure was on their side or that of the motorist, is insufficient.

To quote from your PR further -

A survey of 1,000 motorists and 1,000 cyclists carried out by identifies what sends cyclists into a ‘two-wheel tantrum’ and turns car drivers ‘cyclo-pathic’:
72% of drivers have experienced one or more of the following incidents involving a cyclist during the last two years, broken down as follows:

* A cyclist caused me to swerve in my car [31%]
* A cyclist slowed down my journey and made me late [22%]
* A cyclist caused an accident which I was involved in [5%]
* Someone I know was involved in an accident involving a cyclist [11%]
* A cyclist went through red lights [39%]
* Cyclists riding on the pavement or in an area with a 'no cycling' sign [26%]

To deal with them in order -

* a cyclist might "cause you to swerve your car" ... if (s)he did something unexpected - but then by any reasonable argument, in the event of a collision with a cyclist, the likelihood is that the motorist will come off a good deal better than the cyclist so a duty of care exists on the motorist to bear in mind the vulnerability of the other road user and to act accordingly - in many cases, meaning that the motorist should slow down and wait. Leads us neatly into point 2:
* "A cyclist slowed down my journey and made me late" - sorry, that just doesn't stand up. In a 30 mph zone, for instance, a car traveling at 30 mph takes 2 minutes to do a mile. A cyclist at a (fairly typical) 12mph takes 5 minutes. So even if a motorist sat behind a cyclist for a whole mile, the difference in arrival times between the two journey times is three minutes. So what these respondents meant was, I didn't allow myself anything like adequate time for my journey and cyclists make a convenient scapegoat ...
* Point 3 is an interesting statistic if you add it to your "one in 8 cyclists have been knocked off their bike by a motorist" ... we don't of course know what form the accidents in question took ...
* The same points could be made about your fourth statistic.
* Cyclists and red lights - no debate from most cyclists that I know and ride with - it's stupid and it only weakens the credibility of the cycling fraternity - in addition to which & most importantly it's illegal, so we shouldn't do it, in just the same way as motorists should not speed - two wrongs don't make a right.
* Cyclists on the pavement is a red herring in the context of this debate - if they are on the pavement (which is actually illegal anyway & cyclists are prosecuted for it from time to time) a motorist would struggle to collide with one, be delayed by one or be otherwise affected by one, unless he or she of course was not driving at the time - unless the cyclist in question were to leave the pavement into the path of the car - in which case the cyclist might well be at fault.

46% of drivers say that they are sometimes annoyed by cyclists being on the road and they have suggested some ways to handle them (drivers were permitted to choose more than one solution):

A quarter (25%) of these drivers are keen to see cyclists pay road tax meanwhile 14% of angry drivers want to see cyclists displaying number plates on their bikes.
>>Neither of these measures would actually affect the relative positions of the two groups of road users - in fact, motorists might be further inconvenienced - if cyclists were asked to pay a fee to use the roads, many would just pay the fee (status quo ante retained) and those that didn't might well take to making the same journey by bus or car, so increasing the very congestion about which the motorists making the suggestion are complaining about. This is about envy, not reason.

Getting cyclists to pass a version of the driving test before they can ride on the road is a popular idea with 44% of annoyed motorists
>> Well, since a good number of motorists don't appear to know the rules of the road, the width of their own vehicles or indeed whether they pay tax or VED or not, I can't see how this would help much as it's clearly not helping the motoring fraternity :-)

while 43% say that they would like to see cyclists taking out a form of insurance in case they cause a collision.
>> Many of us do, and for myself and practically every cyclist I know who has, via our memberships of an assortment of associations and federations, I have never had cause to use it. It's a red herring again - it's along the same lines as "if we make it cost them, there will be fewer of them" - well, that's as maybe, but those same journeys are in most cases still going to be made, increasing traffic loadings and so slowing traffic down.

Catching those who cycle through red lights was seen as the top solution with 59% of car drivers saying they’d like to see cyclists caught for doing this.
>> I agree with 'em.

Almost one third of motorists (31%) feel that cycling on the pavement (which the Highway Code states is illegal) should be stopped.
>> see the earlier point with regard to this issue ..

Meanwhile, almost a quarter of cyclists have been beeped at or sworn at by a motorist and more than one in eight have been knocked off their bike by a motorist. Over the last 2 years cyclists had the following unpleasant experiences:

* 13% have been knocked off their bike by a motorist
* 24% have been sworn at or beeped at by a motorist
* 14% say they have been run off the road by a motorist
* 11% were hit by a car door being opened
* 4% were CHASED by a motorist
* Luckily for half of those interviewed they had not experienced any of those incidents

I can sympathise with the above - on average, whilst I have "only" been knocked off once every ten years over the last 35 (thankfully never in a way that has caused significant injury), I get sworn at, abused or beeped most days (as does my wife who rides as much as I do - probably more often in her case), I have been run off the road a couple of times, the last time I was knocked off was a car door being opened and I have twice been physically assulted by a motorist, in fact once, having been run off the road by the same, particularly disagreeable, individual.

I've been lucky - I have several friends who have been knocked off and suffered significant injuries, and one team-mate killed by a motorist ...

I think the guy from Sustrans has the right attitude - it is all about mutual respect - and that is something that needs to be instilled from birth - not just within the narrow confines of the motorist vs cyclist debate, but across the board.

As a motorist I try to be courteous and accommodating to all road users, and appreciative of the hazards that they face ... as a cyclist I expect the same - I don't expect to be treated as a hazard - cyclists are not "hazards", "obstacles" or "delays" they are people, to whom the motoring (and all other fraternities) owe the same duty of care and the same respect as they would expect themselves were circumstances reversed. It is for that reason that all road traffic should be & remain integrated - don't even start me on segregation & cycle paths or we'll start having the "HGVs shouldn't be on the same roads as cars / motorbikes" debate ....

Regards, etc"

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