Never criticise until you have walked (cycled) in their shoes

I WRITE in reply to your correspondent in last week’s News Guardian, ‘Is it any wonder folk get annoyed at the cyclists?’.

First of all, as one of the considerate, polite and at times, selfless majority of those people who ride bikes, I would like to offer a sincere and heartfelt apology to your correspondent for the behaviour he has so obviously experienced.

People riding bikes come from a very broad church, and reflect society as a whole.

As such, a tiny minority of cyclists are of the same anti-social disposition, as are a tiny minority of drivers and pedestrians.

They all behave in a manner that falls well short of decent people’s expectations.

The behaviour of a few in any easily identified group can end up with the whole group being unfairly tarred with the same brush.

It is from these actions that distrust, prejudice and persecution arise, to the shame of all involved and the bewilderment of the innocent majority.

However, your correspondent does raise a large number of issues, some of which I would like to explain, and several inaccuracies that should be corrected.

His first point concerns riders’ position on the road, causing traffic delays and dangers for other road users.

Current guidelines from the DfT’s approved text for National Standard Cycle Training says that riders should be at least 18 inches from the kerb, unless they need to emphasise their presence to traffic (i.e. when approaching a side-road), or to prevent drivers from passing safely.

Under these circumstances, the DfT’s text says cyclists should take the centre of the lane.

Examples of this positioning include riding past traffic islands, on roundabouts, or when already cycling at the speed of the surrounding traffic.

In terms of causing delays, I am frequently overtaken by cars, which I again overtake, never to see again, as they queue at junctions or in snail’s pace traffic. Delays are caused by cars, not bikes.

His suggestion of a road or path tax for cyclists is a double-canard.

Firstly, Road Tax was abolished in 1937 by Winston Churchill.

He was concerned that motorists would take the inaccurate view that they had sole right to the roads.

What drivers now pay is Vehicle Excise Duty, based on the vehicle’s CO2 emissions.

The lowest polluting cars pay a rate of £0 per annum, and it is clear that bicycles would fall into this category.

So the scheme would be a tremendous bureaucratic waste of time that would raise no money whatsoever.

Secondly, if cyclists needed to pay ‘path tax’, then surely pedestrians should too?

The fact is that we all already pay this tax – it’s called council tax, a part of which funds the upkeep of the borough’s roads, footways and other paths.

Most of these, cyclists share with motorists, while a few, such as the coastal path, are shared between cyclists and pedestrians.

Finally, they say it is dangerous to attempt to walk along the coastal pathways because of the cyclists.

We don’t have data for this particular route, but we do have extensive data for the country as a whole.

During the last five years for which data is available (2005-09), there were 3,051 pedestrians killed by motorised vehicles (an average of 610 a year).

During the same period there were 11 pedestrian fatalities in cycle collisions – just 2.2 per year.

Of the pedestrian deaths, 226 were on the footway or verge – an average of just less than one person a week being killed by someone driving off the road and onto the pavement.

We have to go back as far as 2000 to get meaningful data on pedestrians being run down on the pavement by cyclists.

We find that in the ten year period 2000-09, there were three such fatalities – an average of one every three or so years.

There were numerous other issues raised by your correspondent with which I disagree.

However, I know that the space in your letters page is limited, and that to deal with them each in turn would be unfair to other writers. So here is my offer to your correspondent:

One should never seek to criticise another until one has walked (or cycled) a mile in their shoes. Let us therefore meet face-to-face. I will walk with you along the routes you find so abused by cyclists, and then you can ride with me to see things from the saddle. I’ll supply the bike, and promise that there’ll be no need for anyone to “dress as an extra from Fame”. Not unless you really, really want to!


Newcastle Cycling Campaign