Cycling — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:46 pm on 10th February 2016.

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Photo of Lord Taverne Lord Taverne Liberal Democrat 7:46 pm, 10th February 2016

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Young, for raising this question, because this House does not seem to like cyclists. Some noble Lords hate cyclists and seem to object to their very existence. Every time the subject is raised at Question Time, some Peer will almost explode at their experience of the terrible behaviour of some cyclist that they have witnessed. Others complain about special separated cycle lanes blocking the road at the expense of space for cars, and generally about the inconvenience they cause to those invariably well-behaved, law-abiding, environment-enhancing motorists.

I remember at one Question Time, when the Question was on safety after another young woman had been crushed to death by a heavy lorry, the majority of follow-up questions were complaints about cyclists talking on their mobiles. Of course there are cyclists who are rude and who break traffic laws. Their behaviour is to be deplored. But do car drivers never behave rudely, break traffic laws and talk on their mobiles? At least cyclists do not kill people.

My wife and I gave up our car in 1974. We could do so because we live in central London. It was a liberation: no worry about finding a parking place or about drinking if you go out to dinner—as long as you do not get drunk so you are not safe on a bike. There was no more sitting exasperated in traffic jams, or arriving late or even missing meetings because you could not find a taxi. By bike you can get where you want to be on time and you do not suffer the annoyance of discovering someone has dented or scratched your car.

Cycling, even in London, enhances life’s pleasures. You can look around you as you travel about wonderful London. Fellow cyclists, even policemen, talk to you at traffic lights. Beautiful days make it a pleasure to be out in the open. On rainy days you are snug in your rain gear while cars are snarled up in traffic jams and public transport is unpleasantly overcrowded. It helps to keep you fit, and, not least, we improve the environment: we reduce congestion and air pollution. So, for very good reasons, our family motto is, “Two wheels good, four wheels bad”.

Safety? My wife and I have each had one relatively minor accident in more than 40 years. A comparison on an actuarial basis done some 10 years ago showed that for every life-year lost through accidents, 20 are gained through improved health. Since then, the ratio will have improved because the more, the merrier, as the noble Lord said: the more people cycle, the more the proportion killed or injured falls. Increasing the number of cyclists is probably the best thing we can do to improve safety. So, nationally, let us disregard the perverse view common in this House and follow the example set by the Danes and the Dutch: we have a lot to learn from them.