Cycling — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:04 pm on 10th February 2016.

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Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative 8:04 pm, 10th February 2016

My Lords, I declare an interest as a bicyclist. I cycled to my local village school when I was a boy and I have been cycling in London for many years. I remember cycling around Hyde Park Corner before there were traffic lights—that was a hazardous business at the best of times. I am also a motorist, so I fulfil the criteria that my noble friend who introduced this good debate mentioned of somebody who might be able to take a slightly wider perspective.

We undoubtedly have a lot to learn from the Dutch and the Danes and I agree with much of what has been suggested. But I follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote, in saying that this is not solely a matter for the Government, or for local government. It is also a matter for cycling groups and cyclists themselves. It would be a massive step forward if some of the cycle groups acknowledged that they have a problem which they have to face up to. My noble friend Lord Freeman mentioned some of the basic elements.

I used to travel a lot on the Underground but since my accident I go more often by car as a passenger. I am horrified by the bicycle chase down Victoria Embankment at rush hour. Mixed up in some very sensible bicyclists are a whole lot of mad ones texting, wearing earphones, listening to music, not concentrating and not riding in the bicycle lane but swerving across the middle lane. They are a real hazardous menace. The Government’s policy must suit all road users, not just one type. If bicyclists and bicycle groups would acknowledge that they have a problem to sort out, a lot of us would be much happier.

In mentioning that policy must be made for all road users, it is interesting to note that in Kensington Gardens one of the paths that bicyclists use has been dug up and had cobbles put in the middle. I presume that this is a bicycle-traffic calming measure. I say “presume” because there was nobody in the Royal Parks office this afternoon when I rang and the duty manager refused to talk to me—but I will follow that up separately.

Having spent the recent past in a wheelchair, I can say that cobbles are a nightmare. Kensington Gardens is one of my favourite walks. When I walk here with my wife, as I often do, we go down that path. If she is pushing me in a wheelchair, it will be a nightmare; it will be hard to push and it will be pretty darn uncomfortable for me. If they are cycle-calming measures, they have not been properly thought through—and nor have the interests of everyone else who uses that path been taken into account.

I want to hear from the Minister. As so much has been said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, and my noble friend Lord Freeman, I will terminate my remarks. I just plead once again for the cycle groups to be more realistic and not just say it is always somebody else’s fault.