It was a privilege to appear at the APPCG's Inquiry into 'Get Britain Cycling'. It was hugely reassuring that 8 Parliamentarians (including as it happens two of the brightest legal brains of their generation) were willing, together with other MPs who attended last week, to devote their time and energy to this important subject. Much good sense was talked about bringing bikeability into driver training and in reducing speed limits in urban areas with a virtual consensus on what was required (if you leave aside the thorny question of strict liability). There was a discussion of HGVs and the Police/Mineral Products 'Exchanging Places' initiative which I experienced first hand in November 2011. One aspect of this that struck me was that it is not only cyclists' behaviour that we should be seeking to influence, but we really need to knock on the head the idea that it is acceptable for lorries to manoeuvre around our streets with blind spots. The technology is there for all round visibility and we must place the vast bulk of the burden of responsibility on the operators and drivers of such vehicles. Happily the Inquiry has the written evidence of Kate Cairns with her important 'See me, save me' campaign.
I was a bit of a wildcard as the only witness there to represent myself rather than an organisation and I used (possibly abused) this freedom. Clearly though, I was invited as a voice on law enforcement and I repeated the line I have often taken on this blog that I would like to see a tougher approach taken by the police against those who endanger cyclists. Chief Inspector Ian Vincent took my lambast well and assured the Inquiry that roads policing was a priority. However I found myself unable to understand, still less agree with, his view that action could only be taken against a motorist who had endangered (rather than actually run down) a cyclist if the careless (or dangerous) driving had been witnessed by a police officer. It is almost as odd as Ms Davenport of ACPO's assertion that she had legal advice that criminal proceedings based upon video evidence were unlikely to succeed. Mr Vincent did say that original unedited footage would have to be available, which is fair enough, and I am sure generally is available if called for. By way of conciliatory gesture I was very happy to acknowledge that the I have always found the police to be very receptive when my property rights have been infringed by a thief. Mr Vincent did inform the Inquiry that Roadsafe had appointed a dedicated officer to review video submissions with a view to prosecution, a step that I certainly applaud (even though it is surely the very least that we could reasonably have expected at the outset) and I acknowledged to be a modest shift in the right direction. The proof though will be in when a regular stream of bad drivers find themselves with points on their licences.
One thing that did occur to me is that perhaps I should have been there representing the non-cyclist who has the sort of Pauline conversion that we would like now to see in others. For half my adult life I have been a non-cyclist. I was rare at my University in not owning a bike, I preferred to walk everywhere. In my mid 30s, I took up cycling. Looking back at what induced that; I had a more senior colleague at work with whom I shared a room who cycled and I began to become concerned that I was getting fat. It finally dawned on me that if my colleague could cycle from Greenwich, reliably arriving in one piece, I could surely cycle from Kensington. I tried it in normal clothes on the quietest roads I could find. Government exhortation one way or another would not have made any difference to this start. What did make the difference was that I found it a preferable way of getting around than the alternatives. Having tried it I was surprised at how effective and practical it was as a means of transporting myself around London. A desire for greater speed and, once I moved home, greater distance and then participation in charity rides led me incrementally to adopt better equipment, clothing and more direct routes and to morph slowly into the cycling/racing nut that I am today.
We really just have to seek to ensure that cycling is a more convenient, more enjoyable, more reliable and cheaper way of getting around than other modes (particularly the car). For me, the evidence from my very knowledgeable fellow witnesses today reinforced my perception that there are a large number of ways to achieve that. I am convinced it would be a mistake to focus on one solution to the exclusion of all others.
This is not a report of today's proceedings, I would not be able to do that as well as the journalists and organisations present whose material is already available online. I leave with this irreverent thought: looking around Committee Room 12 it was clear to me that the average BMI of the occupants was substantially lower than that of the population at large (and possibly of other Committee Rooms though I did not investigate that). Lately I am finding that I can hardly turn on my television without seeing the gory detail of another unfortunate person getting a gastric band fitted. That alone validates my decision 15 years ago to get a bike. In hindsight of course my deep regret is that I did not do it sooner.