Well done to the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association

 

I love cycling and I care about its progress. So I hope it won’t surprise you to learn that I think that the UK should vastly increase the amount we spend on cycle infrastructure.

I am also a bit of a science geek, so I tend to love evidence, even if it doesn’t necessarily chime with my views. Last week, I had one of those moments where I had to smile. It was great.  The Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, filmed cyclists at a selection of junctions, jumping red lights. I would like to thank them for this as I feel a weight has been lifted and the may have move the debate on a step by saying something we cyclists couldn’t until now say about ourselves.

Firstly, what I suspect they have done is “mined” their data. They have chosen junctions where they know many cyclists jump lights, rather than a random selection of junctions. Nonetheless it is shocking that about half of the cyclists jumped the lights. But we have to consider that, at a red light, only one or two cars have the opportunity to jump the light. But because they are much smaller, more bikes can get across.

However, I personally don’t think that is the point, and I am happy to leave all my doubts about their data aside. Let’s accept that they have found some fairly shocking evidence and they have demonstrated something that I think is true.

The cycling lobby, small as it is, does tend to portray cyclists as largely virtuous with a tiny minority of people who jump lights, and that clearly isn’t the case.

I’d like to be one of the first to take this opportunity to be frank and honest. I do sometimes jump reds. Not indiscriminately, and not at junctions. But I also drive a car and at times, break the speed limit. I break both of those rules for the same reason. As a rational person, I sometimes act selfishly and break rules when I don’t think there is any chance I will get caught. I do it for personal gain, I get home quicker. In fact I have an hours ride now and like every other day I will pedal my bike through a park with a “no cycling” sign.

The point is that we shouldn’t expect human behaviour to change. And we shouldn’t accept this view that cyclists and drivers are two distinct groups. They are all people and all equally virtuous. No one is happy with the status quo, but it is the system or more to the point the infrastructure that has to change. If it does, the proportion of cyclists behaving “selfishly” will fall. Science FACT.

When the infrastructure is made better and cyclists are safer, the attitudes amongst cyclists, against cyclists that jump lights will harden.

If you want proof just look at the sexual attitudes survey: It has been shown that both men and women are now less tolerant of cheating because, premarital sex and casual relationships are now acceptable. So there can be no justification to have an extra marital affair. In relationships, it’s fine so long as you are both informed and agree.

A similar thing will happen in the cycling situation. When cyclists are totally safe and not harassed by traffic, there will be no justification for “cheating” and jumping lights. The social contract will be renewed.

That’s why it is important that the infrastructure that is put in place is well designed and fair. If it takes you on convoluted routes or means fast cyclists can’t pass slow ones the cyclists will once again renege.

The battle here is that people who don’t use a bike see cyclists as a homogenous out-group. And when you make your case for better cycling facilities, and they agree, they move into the “they don’t help themselves” cascade. If they can’t blame other adults, they then talk about kids on bikes etc. until they can put you in the in-group with them and “bad” cyclists in an out group. This means the “bad” out group of cyclists become to blame and the status quo gets maintained. Its only when I have time to think about it that I get to realise that the out group is always, just another group of normal people reacting to their situation.

The red lights thing is the fastest way to close this discussion down, because it quickly finds the “bad” out group. If you say you do jump lights then apparently that takes away your authority to speak. It’s like saying: “I am a bad person”. But the truth is this evidence coming to light is great. It makes us face reality. No cyclists are pious; they lie and cheat and so does everyone else. But bikes are a mode of transport which should be available to everyone who lies and cheats, not just fit people in the prime of their lives that lie and cheat.

London in particular needs a dedicated cycle network. Not only to curb the air pollution but also to take the pressure off the rail network. The roads are saturated with cars. We can barely get any more on. If we want more people to be able to move around London at a reasonable speed, clean air that’s safe to breathe and transport that is affordable, then I would suggest that mass cycling is the way to go.

Taxi drivers and cyclists have interests that align. These two groups should not be at each other’s throats. Cars in London travel on average at 9mph. In that context they aren’t vehicles, they are just large polluting mobility aids. And to be fair, there are a lot of cars carting fat people around the capital.

Not everyone can get about on a bike. That’s why it is so tragic that at the moment only the young and fit feel they can cycle to work in London. There are lots of able bodied people in empty cars, spending hard earned cash, to clog up the roads. If we made cycling to work a really attractive offer, we could get most of the able bodied, onto bikes like they have done in Holland. I would love to see London’s roads left for talented professionals like our black cab drivers, delivery vehicles and those with a genuine need, such as the disabled.

What we need is a small amount of protected road space, a carrot to get more people on bikes, and a few rules that leave the majority of the roads to the pros and those with most need.

It’s already happening. Private car ownership peaked in London in the early 90’s, we now have zip car and people like me in their 30’s just rent cars as and when they need them. This is progress. Let’s not get in the way of it. Let’s work together to make sure it happens faster. Cab drivers will get more fares, cyclists have cheap healthy safer routes to work and fewer people will feel the need to haemorrhage their hard earned cash on servicing vehicles and petrol.

Tell me why that wouldn’t be better?