It’s been an up and down week. Molly hadn’t been to London for two years and now she’s been twice in one week. Last Tuesday she gave school a miss so that we could leave home at 6am and cycle ten-odd miles in the rain to the railway station. As it was rush hour I wasn’t sure whether we would actually be able to get on the train with our bikes. Unlike the good old slam-door trains of old which had big, spacious caged guard’s vans which could fit a large gaggle of bikes, modern trains just provide a token gesture of space. When I had asked at the station a few days before about putting on our bikes in rush hour, the ticket office man told me it was at the discretion of the guard – which roughly translates as: if you get a nice jolly chap, you can. But if you get a gruff bloke who doesn’t like bikes, you can’t. None of which is terribly reassuring when you’ve got to get to the Houses of Parliament by 9.30am to give evidence at a Transport Select Committee meeting on cycle safety.
But, on the morning in question, no guard was to be seen so Molly and I carted our bikes on board the train and sat crammed among a thick throng of be-suited commuters.
It’s a strange sensation going from talking to a one-year-old and five-year-old every day (like I do at home) to suddenly having to talk in front of a TV camera and a committee of Parliamentary-type people. But I tried my best to put my point across, i.e. the government has been pretty spectacularly hopeless at putting money into cycling and that speeding drivers and poor enforcement of speed limits on rural roads were major issues for cyclists outside cities. I also called for an extension of 20mph speed limits in residential zones and that, to encourage more people to cycle, something must be done about bad driving, high-speed traffic, dangerous roads, junctions and lorries. Decent, Dutch-like dedicated space for cyclists needs to be provided alongside main roads and priority should be given to cyclists on roundabouts (as they are in Holland). I also said cycle safety should become part of the driving test and that cyclists should be allowed to turn left on a red light i.e. to get out of the way of the stationary traffic before it revs off at speed up your rear. I also suggested that Norman Baker, the minister responsible for cycling, and Mike Penning, the Road Safety Minister, spend at least a month on a jolly cycle tour around the Netherlands to see how the Dutch are so brilliant at all things bike. (Incidentally, after we were ushered out of the room and the aforesaid ministers were ushered in, Mike Penning commented that the Dutch should take lessons from Britain on cycle safety, on the grounds that, per head of population, cycling is over four times safer in the UK. Mike Penning is now known as Mr Ministry of Silly Statistics as he failed to take into account that in reality, the Dutch cycle over ten times more than us and therefore the risk per mile traveled is far lower. When you hear comments like this from people in power it’s maybe no wonder the country’s going to the dogs. My advice is put a cyclist in charge of cycling and road safety because it takes a cyclist to understand what it is like on the roads on a bike.
PS On Sunday 6th May I will be opening a bridge in Weymouth, Dorset. It’s the Newstead Road Bridge and the opening event marks the culmination of four years work by Sustrans and Dorset County Council.
The official ribbon-snipping ceremony takes place at 1pm on the bridge, though the whole event lasts from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and comprises of:
BMX stunt displays, bouncy castle, cycle training, police, fire and health displays, bike maintenance, face painting and treasure hunt.
All this takes place at the Weymouth Outdoor Education Centre, Knightsdale Road, Weymouth.
So I’ll be there with various family members attached about my bike – and there may even be a zebra’s head on the loose.