I would like to thank everyone who helped out with my #GetBritainCycling speech. Here’s what I said in the debate yesterday. Everyone who submitted comments by email or on jimfitzpatrickmp.org will receive a full response this week.
Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mike Thornton). I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) and the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), the co-chairs of the all-party group, of which I am a member, on the report. It is sponsored by The Times, which I congratulate too. I should declare that The Times is still in Wapping in my constituency, so there is a little bit of self-interest there. Other national newspapers—The Guardian and The Independent—have been trying to catch up and are supporting the campaign. My comments will be made as a Londoner and as a London cyclist, and will not necessarily reflect issues in other parts of the country.
I invited my constituents, through the social media of Twitter, Facebook and the East London Advertiser,to contribute to the debate by raising issues that they thought I might want to mention. I was staggered by the response—more than 50 people e-mailed or tweeted issues that are of importance to them. I am very limited for time and cannot name them all, but I will list some of them. Before doing that, I want to thank the cycle firms in my constituency, in particular Bikeworks, a social entrepreneurial group that does great work and made a running repair to my bike in half an hour last Wednesday morning to get me back on the road, and also Halfords and Evans, which are national organisations that support cycling in Tower Hamlets and in the community.
I will run through the list of issues raised by my constituents: keeping cycle routes clear when there are roadworks and parking problems; cycle superhighways not being up to the necessary standard—my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) raised the incident of the Aldgate East fatality—with just a coat of paint on a road and nothing more; and lower speed limits, an issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North. Cycle training and education in schools was mentioned by several hon. Members. That is critical. I am doing an Industry and Parliament Trust Fellowship on logistics. I spent some time with TNT, which trains its postal delivery people to ride bikes. When they have down time, they partner local schools to train the kids there. If TNT can do it, the question to the Minister is this: is Royal Mail doing it? There must be other companies out there that could contribute, too.
Questions have been raised about HGVs and the fear factor, a road deaths investigation board and improved statistics on serious injuries and fatalities. The Home Office and the Department for Transport have always resisted a fatalities inquiry board for road traffic fatalities because there are just too many of them, but we have to raise the bar and look more seriously at investigating more thoroughly the fatalities on our roads.
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Other issues raised include: congestion charging and road closures to force traffic to surrender more space to cyclists; advanced stop areas; earlier green lights for cyclists; blitz enforcement of transgressors—whether car drivers or cyclists—in advance areas; cycle storage; and mandatory helmets. I know that many people are opposed to making helmets mandatory. I am in favour, but it is not going to happen. The evidence against it coming from Australia and America is somewhat time-limited. If we get our kids using helmets in schools, they will graduate into wearing them.
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): No one who is favour of cycling should be against encouraging people to wear helmets, but will my hon. Friend accept that the overwhelming evidence—not just in Australia, but from all over the world—is that where cycle helmets have been made compulsory the impact on cycling has been negative, and therefore the overall public health impact has been negative?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I hear what my right hon. Friend says and there is a cultural question here. I am sure we all watched the 100th Tour de France this year. All the way down the decades of historic footage, none of the cyclists were wearing helmets. Every Tour de France rider now wears a helmet. That is professional leadership. They are in the game of minimising and mitigating risk, and they give a lead to all cyclists.
The last two negatives raised related to fatalities and punishment to fit the crime. We all hear tragic stories from constituents about punishments that do not fit the crime. On the conversion of wider pavements, Boris Johnson certainly has that in London, particularly on the Embankment.
What I find fascinating is the counter-culture that comes through from my cyclist constituents. They complained about bad cycling behaviour and said that the cycle demographic in our country is mainly young, white, aggressive and male. That is why we do not “go Dutch” and why many people are put off cycling: they see a race track and do not want to join it. We need to address that problem, and the only way we are going to do so is through enforcement against those who cross red lights and pedestrian crossings.
People complained about cyclists who disregard the rules by wearing earphones; running red lights; crashing pedestrian crossings; not signalling whether they are turning left or right; not warning when they are overtaking; riding on pavements; using mobile phones; speeding on the Thames path; not ringing to alert pedestrians or other cyclists that they are overtaking on tow paths; swearing at pedestrians—some cyclists, like some drivers, think that they are entitled to a free run at the road; not dismounting in foot tunnels; not having lights; not having bells and not wearing high-visibility clothing. Cyclists are not perfect. We have to give a lead to
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cyclists to say, “We should show a better example in the way we behave, to ensure that drivers behave in the way we want them to.”
In conclusion, my wife Sheila and I visited Amsterdam and Copenhagen recently. There is less racing, more sensible cycling and a much wider demographic; there is a different culture. We must have that more varied cycling demographic in our country. My hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State recently asked two questions of the Government. First, why do we have annual road and rail budgets to 2021, but not one for cycling? Secondly, why do we not have cycle safety assessments, similar to economic and equality impact assessments, for all road schemes?
Dr Huppert: The issue with cycle helmets is that although they might save some lives, the countervailing loss of life from people not cycling and being less fit massively outweighs that. Indeed, one academic analysis suggested an extra 250 or so deaths a year net.
My final question to the Minister is this. The report says that we should have national, regional and city champions. It is not clear from the Government’s response whether he is the national champion or not. If he is not, he should be. When will he recruit his regional and city-wide teams?