Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Cyclists are the good guys

Dear Emma Glanfield,

After you wrote an article in the Mail Online on air pollution on 27th March, saying that "‘Tens of thousands of people die prematurely in the UK annually because of dangerous air pollution" and that road traffic is "the main cause of most of the UK's pollution," I was really disappointed to read your article on cyclists with 'bad habits' on 9th April.

Disappointed because perhaps you could have seized the opportunity to follow up on your pollution article with a PRO cycling piece. A really exciting article showing how cycling is becoming more and more popular, with interviews with cyclists, cool gadgety advice, cycle routes, even interviews with a few pro-cycling celebs (Richard Hammond comes to mind.  And while we're at it, why not go the whole hog and get Wiggo on board). 

Publishing a video showing a cyclist riding along a deserted towpath with a phone in her hand, or another cyclist riding along a deserted one way street - and associating these cameos with cyclists' deaths by printing those statistics at the end of this article - was just a tad outrageous.

Some of those cyclists were idiots.  Some were cycling safely.  One was filmed having a nasty accident (bit insensitive to publish, do you think?).  If they were cycling dangerously in any way, they were putting themselves in danger.  And if you have just opened your mouth to say that riding on the pavements puts pedestrians at risk - well, you'd be right in one respect. Between 2001 and 2009, 18 pedestrians were killed by cyclists.  But in the same time period, 3,495 were killed by cars.


In 2012, the most recent year we have statistics for, 118 cyclists died.  I've no idea whether the accidents were their 'fault'.  I do know that a recent hit and run near me, resulting in a cyclist's death, was the fault of the car driver. He just drove off and left the cyclist for dead.  Which he was.

Do you cycle in the city, Emma?  If you do, you'll know that it's scary.  That you have to be assertive in order to be seen. We are 'assertively safe' - wearing high viz, helmets, reflectors - anything that will stop the car or the taxi smacking into us from behind (25% of cyclist fatalities are caused this way).  We also need to make sure that we are seen by HGV drivers, who have a habit of squashing us by turning left and cutting us up.  Literally.

Have you ever been on your bike, and been overtaken by a vehicle that it has grazed your handlebars, and it's taken all your energy to keep upright on a busy road?  Have you been knocked off at a junction, when a driver didn't see you - despite the high viz gear?  Have you been passed by a lorry going so quickly that it has literally blown you off your bike?

Have you been spat at by drivers?  Has someone ever leaned out of their car window and tried to push you over, whilst going past you? When cycling up a hill, and your heart feels like it's coming out of your chest, have you had a car driver sit behind you and lean on his horn, for minutes at a time?

I have.

We need to get more people cycling, not fewer.  We need to promote it as a green, healthy, fun way to get from A to B.  We need to share the roads; cars do not own the roads of course, something that drivers seem to forget. In fact, bicycles were here first.  

And the more cyclists there are, the safer it will be.  Smeed's law - look it up.  Safety in numbers.

I'm not banging on about this just because I love cycling, by the way.  (Which I do.)  But if your own papers are to be believed, we need more people to cycle.  In The Metro (owned by Associated Newspapers, a subsidiary of The Daily Mail) on Friday, the front page was swallowed up by a huge article about how poor air quality claimed 29,000 deaths last year.  The main cause?. .... Diesel engines.  

Let's just clarify.  That's 29,000 deaths caused by air pollution, the main cause of which is diesel engines. Plus the 1700 + fatalities caused by powered vehicles year on year.  Plus of course the sedentary nature of driving that is contributing to the county's obesity crisis.

Anyone can see that this isn't good.

We simply need people to get out of their cars, and walk or cycle more.  And as a journalist, you have a responsibility to promote it, as a big idea.  You need to find a way to convince car drivers that cyclists aren't all adrenalin-led junkies with some crazy need for speed.  Most of us just want to stop poisoning everyone else. We're the good guys. But media spin - like the article you published - is not helping our cause.

Why not talk to some cyclists?  Get their views on why they cycle, what scares them, how the roads can be safer for all of us.

If you can do it, you will save lives.  Thousands of them.


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