Saturday 16 November 2013

BBC Breakfast Buffoonery

Yesterday I was contacted by the BBC...... A few years ago that would have filled me with excitement.

The BBC....want to speak to me?!? Wow.

I am of course a little bit longer in the tooth now and treat every approach by the media, who want me to talk about cycling, with caution. In fact I was recently contacted by a media company who were keen on 'doing a documentary based on my videos'. When I wrote back pointing out that I would want details of the scope, the narrative, and information on who else who would be taking part in the documentary.....I never heard from them again.

BBC: We would like to discuss the issues surrounding the recent cycling deaths in London.

Tragic. Absolutely tragic. Five people who happened to be cycling dying in the space of 9 days is a terrible statistic. Yes it may be a statistical anomaly that they have been group together in such a small time frame, but each death is a terrible loss, and five at once only serves to strengthen the feeling that much, MUCH more needs to be done to make cycling safer.

Mmm....I thought....this is the BBC, surely they would take this issue seriously considering the gravity of the situation. They wouldn't fall into the cliché of victim blaming....would they?

So on Friday morning I dragged myself out of bed early, left the bike behind (such a shame as it looked like a nice morning for a cycle) an hopped into a tax payer funded taxi, on my way to the BBC Scotland studios for my remote link up with the BBC Breakfast studios in Salford. On the way I noted how much the taxi driver loved being very, very close to the vehicle in front. Luckily he never came across any cyclists as I only saw one cyclist, and he was going the other way....

Once at the BBC and once they realised that, yes, I was actually supposed to be there (to be fair the chap on reception was very nice!), and after I remembered that today was Children in Need (which explained why a few folk were running around looking stressed), I was whisked off upstairs to the surprisingly open studio.

My dreams were shattered when I saw that the view of Glasgow behind Glasgow interviewees was not a window, but a camera feed.....

After a slight mix up, when the technical people thought I was in the studio on the floor below and had hooked up the wrong studio.....I was linked in and could hear that my item was starting. The piece itself started off as expected with a question to the British Cycling chap in the Salford studio first and then the inevitable showing of my 20cm from Death video with me talking through it. I knew this was of interest, but I didn't want to talk too much about it. I wanted to leave time to say the important bits .... infrastructure .....people not cyclists...etc.

And then I heard Charlie utter the word 'but...'

Instantly both myself and the British Cycling chap (Martin Key) knew what was coming. The, 'yes it's all very good that you want to be safer, but we car drivers are more important' rebuttal. The only question was, which rebuttal would oor Charlie (I feel like I'm on first name terms with him now...) use.

.....but......cyclists often run red lights.....blah, blah, blah....

Oh well, at least it wasn't road tax.

The BC chap took the brunt of it, and I was left to fume a little off camera, frustrated by the fact that I was far to far away to point my finger angrily (yes I am avoiding thoughts of violence...) in wee Charlie's face, whilst pouring scorn on such an insulting comment. By the time the question had come back around to me my logical brain had kicked in and I rebutted his rebuttal with what I hope people think is common sense.

Here is the video.

Was my form of reply the best approach? Probably. Did I want to to turn around to Charlie and point out that in fact we have no information on the cause of the recent deaths, and that it was frankly insulting to insinuate that the cyclists were at fault when in fact there was no evidence of that, and he was in fact falling into the same old prejudices that many commentators do?


I didn't, but that's why I'm glad I can say it here.

So how do we combat this prejudiced approach to cyclists?

Did you see what I did there?

I gave you a clue in the question. I used the word cyclists. We have reached a situation when the word cyclist is synonymous with 'red light jumping', 'pavement cycling', 'Lycra louts' and any other prejudice bingo term you'd care to mention. We need to stop talking about cyclists, we need to stop talking about drivers, and we need to stop talking about pedestrians.

We need to start talking about people.

Start talking about people, and start talking about people who are road users. Yes, some of those road users are using different forms of transport, but each one has a equal right to use the roads, and each one has an equal right to safety. We also need to recognise that all of these transport choices are not equal in other ways, that is their effect on the environment, their effect on pollution and most importantly their effect on the safety of other road users. Then we need to look at each and every road and work out how we can level the playing field so that everyone can be, equally safe.

Look at the BBC Breakfast video again. Watch it closely. Watch the video of my incident and the video of the 'cyclist on cyclist' incident. There is one very big difference. Firstly, in my incident there was no collision. Thank God for that. Had there been, then I would likely have been a statistic, my children would have lost their dad and this blog would never have existed. In the other incident, the two (and I'll revert back to my preferred nomenclature here) road users on bikes, actually do collide and at a reasonable speed. Yet, both of them remain standing, both of them probably didn't suffer a scratch and both of them can walk away and tell the story about what an idiot the other road user was.

Has there ever been a clearer, unintended, media example of the differences in risk associated with different forms of transport? The cycling road users posed only a very small risk to each other. Yes, one of them was a complete idiot, but the greatest risk he posed was to himself, should he have come into conflict with a larger road user. The HGV on the other hand could have killed me with even the slightest of contact.

Should we ban HGVs from the roads? No, though London does have some short term issues to deal with in that regard. Should we waste our energy blaming cyclists for running red lights when in fact they risk almost only themselves? Or, should we perhaps move past these petty playground arguments and face the reality that our roads, as they stand are not designed for cyclists and just get on with the job of rectifying that anomaly?

What do you think Charlie?


  1. Ina recent interaction with Surrey road police, who ever was in charge of the feed that night claimed they are regualrly involved in serious incidents involving cyclists only. The exchange was infuriating, because if those who are charged with protecting us can spout such nonsense publicly, surely we're all doomed?

  2. I had to watch the video again because I didn't even see two cyclists colliding. All I saw was a clogged up road full of massive buses and vans parked on cycle lanes, with a few brave people on bikes slowly picking their way through. On the other hand, no one can possibly have missed the lorry trying to kill you!

    One interesting blog I read today referred to "child lanes". Powerful stuff, the language used definitely does change how you view things!

    1. Calling them Child Lanes is an interesting idea. That is exactly who they should be designed for.

  3. We are in this mess because of the vilification of mainstream media. Remember the M5 pile uplast year - or was it the year before? I didn't hear anyone say "yes, but drivers do silly things like using mobiles, tailgating and speeding". Did you? No. They even tried to blame thee death of 7 people on the bloke that displayed the fireworks!

  4. Had to watch again, aswell. I'd say, you made the best out of the slim opportunity the BBC bothered to offer. The BC guy did also a good job in coming along sensible and making a point.
    However, a special kudos to you for the genius at the end of the piece, squeezing in the bit on the benefit for all, even motorists, that was excellent. The last few words are what klings to peoples minds the most.

    I think, believe, hope the current momentum might enable some kind of 'stop de kindermoord' movement across Britain.
    Keep it up!

    1. Thanks for your kind words Andre.

      I agree there is a momentum behind cycling at the moment, however, that is yet to translate into political will. We need to keep upping the pressure.

  5. "Should we ban HGVs from the roads?"

    You say no, but why not, or at least why not require smaller vehicles, keep them off the roads at peak times, and life bans for anyone who kills or seriously injures someone with an HGV? After all, we hear lots about how terribly difficult it is to drive these things safely, so shouldn't we relieve people of this terrible responsibility?

    Yes, it would increase costs if we selectively banned HGVs, but it's an interesting question whether these costs would be higher than the savings from such actions.

  6. Can somebody please answer me this.

    Almost every HGV in London now has signs on the back warning cyclists not to pass them on the nearside when stationary. They indicate when turning left at junctions with almost religious observance. Some even have loudspeakers, that work in conjunction with the indicators, to warn cyclists that the HGV is turning left.

    So WHY do cyclists continue to pass large vehicles that are obviously turning left on the nearside, and why do the cycle lobby blame the nasty HGV drivers when it all goes wrong? Exhorting cyclists not to undertake silly maneouvres isn't victim-blaming; it's sensible advice!

    1. Why cyclists pass vehicles on the left? Well, this is what the infrastructure tells you to do (see feeder lanes into advanced stop zones).

      Another problem is many of those safety features you cite are only included on the minority of vehicles, with the haulage industry generally resistant to further regulation. Also, it’s not always obvious where a cyclist has positioned themselves. If the HGV is unable to see where the cyclist is positioned alongside them, a left turn from a right hand lane may effectively trap and crush a cyclist.

      Remember the problem here – vehicles killing cyclists, not the other way round. Nobody wants to put themselves in a potentially life threatening situation and no one does this intentionally. The root cause is generally design and layout of our roads and the conflict created as a result. Not heeding sensible advice is really not the issue here (although may have saved some lives in a few instances, but not for most). Although this subtetly is not always obvious, blaming cyclist for lorries running over is a bizarre mind-set if you consider not all road users are equal with some having a greater duty of care as a result of the risks posed virtue of their transport mode.

    2. Cyclists in the Netherlands are never in the position where they even have to think about this. The infrastructure automatically keeps them out of the danger spot.