A question most single-minded motorists ask every day. Especially in America where most motorists are married to their car-centric lifestyle. So why should you care about cyclists on the road – or why should you maybe get off your lazy ass and become one yourself? There was a fantastic article written in the The Times in UK back in May of 2013. I’m going to post it below, and you should read it. While it does refer to policies and laws in the UK, most are very nearly the same and applicable in the US.
I don’t ride a bike, why should I support measures to boost cycling?Last updated at 3:20PM, May 2 2013
If you are not a regular cyclist, you may ask why you should support proposals to boost investment in safe cycle routes.
More than three quarters of a million people commute to work by bicycle in Britain every day, but you may not be one of them. So why should you care?
Building safer cycle routes would not only benefit those who cycle. It would also encourage hundreds of thousands more people to use their bikes to make short journeys instead of going by car or by train or bus. This would have benefits for motorists, pedestrians, parents, businesses and taxpayers.
It would lead to less congested streets, less overcrowding on public transport, fewer deaths on the road, less NHS money wasted on obesity, a boost for the high street, less pollution, and a more affordable form of transport for those priced out by rising petrol prices and rail fares.
This will only happen if a greater proportion of the existing transport budget is spent on cycling, however.
Around 2 per cent of journeys in Britain are currently made by bike, leaping to more than 50 per cent in parts of Central London at rush hour and more than 10 per cent in towns like Bristol, York, Oxford and Cambridge. Yet less than 1 per cent of the transport budget is spent on cycle provision. A recent pledge from David Cameron to spend £94 million on cycling over the next three years amounts to just 0.2 per cent of the Department for Transport’s budget over the same period.
The 18 recommendations made in the Get Britain Cycling report –outlined here – can transform Britain’s streets and towns for everyone, regardless of whether or not they ride a bike.
Here are some arguments for why non-cyclists would benefit from these recommendations:
- A motorist
The main roads running through our villages, towns and cities are becoming a traffic-choked nightmare. Roads designed centuries ago for a gentle stream of vehicles are now clogged with millions of cars. For decades, government policy has simply tried to build more roads and force more capacity out of our creaking transport system. But as you will know if you have ever sat in an endless traffic jam or crawled slower than walking pace through a town centre, this approach is not working.
Petrol prices are rocketing, parking spaces are scarce and tailbacks are growing. And yet more than half of all journeys under five miles are made by car. In fact, more than two thirds of all car journeys are of five miles or less.
If the roads were designed with safe cycle lanes, and more secure cycle parking was built at key destinations, more people would be encouraged to use their bicycles for a quick trip to the post office, for popping to the shop for a pint of milk, for taking their kids to school and, indeed, for commuting to work. This would take huge numbers of motor vehicles off the roads, freeing them up for those who still need to use their car.
Furthermore, if junctions were better designed, there would be less conflict between cyclists and motorists when pulling away from traffic lights and turning corners. If cyclists were given their own four-second green-light phase – as currently happens at one roundabout in East London – they would be able to get ahead and clear of other traffic and there would be no risk of collision. If drivers took care not to stop in the cycle boxes at traffic lights, another source of conflict would also be removed. If segregated cycle lanes were installed to help cyclists navigate through or round dangerous crossroads and roundabouts, it would also increase safety and freedom for all road users.
Only a tiny proportion of cyclists misbehave on the roads, but it is still a major source of irritation for motorists when this small minority of cyclists jump red lights or cycle at night without lights. The petition backs calls in the Get Britain Cycling report for there to be better training available for cyclists to ensure they know how to cycle responsibly on the roads.
Research by Westminster Council found that 68 per cent of crashes between drivers and cyclists are the fault of the motorist, compared to 20 per cent which are the fault of the cyclist, so the report also calls for cyclist awareness to be a part of the driving test, so that all new and young drivers learn that giving cyclists extra space and time is crucial in avoiding crashes.
It is also important to note that cyclists are entitled to use the road because they pay council tax and income tax. The maintenance of the roads is not funded out of the “road tax” paid by motorists, which is actually called Vehicle Excise Duty and is linked to a vehicle’s emissions.
Even Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson has praised cycling as a way of getting around. He last year described Copenhagen’s cycling culture as “fan-bleeding-tastic” and said: “Now I know that sounds like the ninth circle of hell, but that’s because you live in Britain, where cars and bikes share the road space. This cannot and does not work. It’s like putting a dog and a cat in a cage and expecting them to get along. They won’t, and as a result London is currently hosting an undeclared war. I am constantly irritated by cyclists and I’m sure they’re constantly irritated by me.
“City fathers have to choose. Cars or bicycles. And in Copenhagen they’ve gone for the bike.”
For these reasons and more, the AA – the country’s biggest motoring organisation – is backing the petition and asking its members to sign up.
- A train, bus or Tube commuter
The Government is desperately seeking ways to alleviate the pressure on the public transport system. Rush-hour commuters packed like sardines into buses and trains are beginning to grumble, while rail fares continue to increase above inflation.
In major cities like London, research shows that new cyclists taking to the road are often abandoning public transport in favour of their bikes. The new Cycle Superhighway to be built along Victoria Embankment will carry 1,000 cyclists an hour – the equivalent of four Tube trains running along the District and Circle lines beneath.
Andrew Gilligan, London’s new cycling commissioner, said: “For a comparatively extremely modest amount of money, we can unlock significant capacity on the Tube.”
The same will be true all across the country. Packed buses and crammed train carriages can be alleviated by encouraging people to make short commutes by bicycles. If the roads are designed in such a way as to make cycling seem safe and inviting, many hundreds of thousands of people who are currently put off from cycling would take to their bikes, leaving you with a free seat on the train.
If more cycle racks were installed at train stations – and if trains had capacity to carry more bikes – people would also be encouraged to cycle rather than drive to the station and even to take their bike on board and cycle to work at the other end. This would reduce the need for packed car parks at train stations and reduce the cost of commuting longer distances by train.
In an age of spiralling rail fares, cycling is also a much more affordable way to travel for those who risk being priced out of public transport by fare hikes. The petition is backing the Get Britain Cycling report in its calls for greater investment in cycling as a means of alleviating pressure on the transport system.
- A parent
Britain languishes near the bottom of the child obesity league tables in Europe. The Government’s own Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, said: “Where it is safe and appropriate to do so, cycling to school can bring important health benefits to children. What’s more, fitter children concentrate better in school. However, we have to make sure that cycling is safe and is seen to be safe.
“Bikeability [training] is a great way of equipping youngsters with the skills and awareness to cycle safely, but we need to educate other road users and create an environment in which children and their parents can cycle with confidence.”
Every parent should encourage their child to be active and take exercise, and cycling to school is a healthy, cheap and efficient way of doing this. But the roads have to be safe and inviting enough for a parent to feel comfortable about cycling to school with their children or letting their kids cycle alone.
Your child’s school should also offer comprehensive cycle training as part of the national curriculum, setting them up for a lifetime of being able to travel in this healthy and affordable way. There should also be safe routes to local schools to keep children safe on their bikes.
The Get Britain Cycling report, backed by The Times’s petition, calls for all these things.
- Trying to get fit and healthy
We are all busy people. Official advice recommends taking 150 minutes – or 2½ hours – of physical activity per week, but we do not always have the time – or inclination – to get down the gym or go for a jog after a long day or long week of work.
Building physical activity in as part of your daily routine is by far the most efficient – and the cheapest – way of getting exercise. If you live within five to 10 miles of your workplace, why not travel by bike instead of sitting in your car or on a bus or train?
A five-mile journey across London takes a little over half an hour at a leisurely pace, giving you an hour a day – and five hours a week – of moderate exercise just while commuting to work.
There are other health benefits too. The Government’s Chief Medical Officer said that cycling can “help to prevent or manage over 20 long-term conditions, including heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes, some cancers and mental health problems”.
She added that the health benefits of cycling “far outweigh the risks”.
If the roads were better designed to protect and encourage cyclists – and if both cyclists and motorists were better trained in sharing the road responsibly – the health benefits for you and for the country would be enormous.
- A taxpayer
The NHS spends around £5 billion each year on tackling preventable diseases exacerbated by inactivity, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and strokes.
Around £16bn is currently being spent on the Crossrail project in London and a further £3bn on upgrades to the A9 road in Scotland. Spending on both of these individual rail and road projects far outstrips the total annual spend on cycling in the entire country. And yet, health experts told the Get Britain Cycling inquiry that investing in cycle provision is by far the most cost-effective form of transport spend, recouping £4 in health savings for every £1 invested.
Municipal authorities in Copenhagen added up the effect on health, productivity, congestion and time saved and found that society as a whole makes a profit of around 13 pence for every kilometre cycledon the roads. By the same criteria, society makes a net loss of 8 pence for every kilometre driven by car.
Furthermore, the maintenance of the roads is paid for out of general taxation, which is paid by motorists, cyclists and pedestrians alike through their council tax and income tax. The “road tax” paid by motorists is in fact called Vehicle Excise Duty and is linked to a car’s emissions. This money does not go back into maintaining the roads, and does not give motorists any greater right than cyclists to use the roads.
At a time of austerity, the Get Britain Cycling report does not call for extra funding to be created for investment in cycling. It instead asks that an appropriate proportion of existing transport budgets and preventative health budgets is reallocated to cycle provision, in order to reap the economic rewards of promoting cycling.
- An employer or business
Sir Richard Branson, Lord Sugar, Barclays Bank, Sainsbury’s,Dragon’s Den dragon Piers Linney, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Business Secretary Vince Cable, and the Confederation of British Industry are all backing the Get Britain Cycling report.
As Edmund King, president of the AA, said: “Implementation of theGet Britain Cycling recommendations would bring tangible business and economic benefits by reducing congestion, absenteeism, NHS costs and by producing a more creative and active workforce.”
Providing cycle racks, lockers and showers for employees encourages physical activity and can lead to a fitter and more alert workforce. Sponsoring local cycle schemes – in the same way that Barclays have sponsored hire bikes in London and Citigroup is doing the same in New York City – gives large companies a stake in the infrastructure that keeps a town moving and keeps its citizens healthy.
Signing up to tax-break cycle-to-work schemes will allow employees to buy bicycles and reap the benefits of cycling as a healthy way to travel. But the recommendations in the Get Britain Cycling report need to be implemented in order to make the roads safe and inviting enough for your employees to be happy to cycle to work.
Research in New York showed that cycle lanes in Manhattan led to a 35 per cent decrease in injuries on 8th Avenue, a 58 per cent decrease in injuries on 9th Avenue and a 49 per cent increase in retail sales on 9th Avenue.
- A pedestrian
Hundreds of pedestrians are killed by motor vehicles on the roads every year. Incidents where pedestrians are killed by cyclists are extremely rare, on average one every couple of years.
Reducing the number of cars on the road would not only benefit motorists who hate traffic jams, it would also make the roads safer for pedestrians, as long as all cycle routes are constructed in a way that is considerate to the needs of pedestrians, as well as cyclists.
People who cycle on pavements, though rare, are understandably seen as a menace by pedestrians. When questioned, many of these cyclists said they felt safer riding on the pavement because the roads were too dangerous.
This does not justify breaking the rules of the road – cyclists who do so should face sanctions from police – but the roads must be designed to make streets and junctions safer for cyclists and not force them to choose between cycling on a poorly designed, dangerous stretch of road or cycling illegally on the pavement.
If the roads were designed with safe and, where possible, segregated cycle lanes, it would keep cyclists safe from motorists and from pedestrians who step out into the road without looking [in collisions between pedestrians and cyclists, Westminster Council found that 60 per cent were the fault of the pedestrian] but it would also protect pedestrians from excessive motor traffic and from cyclists who ride illegally on the pavement.
- A local council official or minister
Local high streets die when they become nothing more than a thoroughfare for motor traffic. Green space gets chewed up by ever more lanes of cars. Health bills rocket as obesity and inactivity grows. Fatal accidents increase in areas with high speed limits. Country lanes become race-tracks for young drivers. Parents no longer let their children play in the street or walk to school. Whole villages and towns become little more than glorified car parks to cope with extra capacity, encouraging local residents to leave at the first opportunity to seek somewhere less oppressive to live.
Transport planning expert Phil Jones said that councils should invest in cycling because: “Places that are pleasant to visit and live near do so much for the economy.” He added that the effect on tourism was also noteworthy.
How can a local council make these changes and, more importantly, how can they afford to? Mr Jones explained: “Local authorities need to identify a junction or stretch of road and set out objectives for how they want to improve it as a public space. They must collect data on who uses that junction and when, and include cyclists and pedestrians.
“They then need to commission a number of designs and have an open process of consultation on those. It does not have to cost millions of pounds. A council can have a vision that it works towards incrementally, collecting money from developments along the way.”
The Get Britain Cycling report calls on the Government to lead the way. It calls for design regulations to provide clearer guidance on best-practice for building cycle lanes. It calls for cycle lanes to be considered as a beneficiary of money spent by developers on the local community. It calls for more funding for schemes to be built and installed. It calls for all local councils to appoint a high-level cycling commissioner to analyse and push through change.
The petition asks the Government to act on these recommendations to help local councils transform their areas for the better.
- A cyclist
Around 2 per of traffic on Britain’s roads is made up by people on bikes. In some towns, like Cambridge, this is as high as 30 per cent. Of all vehicles crossing bridges over the River Thames in London at rush hour, more than half are bicycles. It is time the Government took cycling seriously.
Cyclists have as much right to use the streets as any other road user. While they also have a responsibility to cycle in a law-abiding and considerate manner, they also have the right to be treated with respect by motorists on Britain’s roads. Most cyclists own a car while many motorists ride bikes – they are not two separate tribes, but are largely the same people, all just trying to get from A to B in peace and safety.
Motorists who leave only a few inches when overtaking a cyclist or who drive above the speed limit are endangering people’s lives. Drivers who stop in the cycle boxes at traffic lights are also endangering lives. Lorry firms who do not fit extra mirrors and sensors to detect and protect cyclists and pedestrians are responsible for an unacceptable death toll on the roads.
Cyclists who jump red lights because they cannot be bothered to wait are endangering their own lives, just as those who cycle without lights at night or cycle on busy pavements are taking unacceptable risks.
Everyone has a duty to use the roads responsibly, but the Government has a duty to ensure that those roads are safe enough for cyclists and motorists to share. Where possible, cycle lanes should be built which are segregated from traffic – this will benefit everyone. Every new stretch of road designed in this country must consider cycle provisions from the very outset.
The petition calls on the Government to make the road safe not only for the 760,000 people who already commute to work by bike, but for the millions more who would like to do so, but do not feel safe.
This is the Olympic legacy we were promised. Britain leads the world in competitive cycling, it is time we did the same for our commuters.