Cycling is UK’s top Olympic sport - but there is little regard for cyclists on the roads nor in the courts.
While £Millions are lavished on Britain’s Olympic cyclists who triumphed so spectacularly in the Rio Games, the government slashes funding for cycling as transport.
As a life-long cycle racing enthusiast I delight in the success of our international riders at Rio. But as one also concerned with cyclists’ rights I fumigate at the lack of political will to make UK roads safer and at the indifference shown by our legal system towards cyclists run down by motor vehicles.
For although cycling is now considered to be a top sport in the UK – and since Beijing in 2008 has attracted over a million newcomers - cyclists are still regarded as second-class citizens on the roads and in the courts.
Where do we start this story?
We’ll start with the good news.
Can you believe it; the BBC 10 o’clock news is postponed for over an hour to show Jason Kenny winning gold in final event in the track cycling at the Rio Games! Unheard of.
Clearly, the Beeb had put its money on Kenny in the Keirin, and decided they couldn’t tear themselves away until the race, twice delayed, and was run.
And so Kenny put the finishing touches to a brilliant Games for the GB track cycling team who each won a medal – unprecedented – leaving the rest of the cycling world to ruminate on how they do it.
Kenny won two golds and his fiancée Laura Trott also won two on the track, to become Britain’s top female Olympic medallist with four golds in total.
At Athens 2004, Britain’s cyclists won two gold, one silver and one bronze; at Beijing 2008 they won eight gold, four silver and two bronze; at London 2012 they won eight gold, two silver and two bronze and this year, at Rio 2016, the trackies won six gold, four silver and a bronze.
All this has been achieved on the back of over £66m in Lottery funding provided elite track cycling across the last four Olympics. This is considered a good return by the Lottery people and Government, dishing out the money.
On top of the Lottery-funded track success, British riders have also risen to be a major force in Continental road racing. Mark Cavendish won the world road title and has won 30 stages of the Tour de France, Bradley Wiggins become the first Briton to win the Tour outright in 2012, followed by Chris Froome who this year became a three times Tour winner (2013/15/16).
So cycling’s doing great, right? Well, elite cycling is. Money is pumped into elite track cycling.
But the already low level of funding for improving cycling road safety has been slashed.
The treasury is not prepared to stump up the necessary cash despite there being cross-party support to provide £500m per annum to improve safety for cycling on the roads. Instead the Treasury have provided £300m across three years.
I don’t believe any government will ever provide adequate funding until cycling becomes an election issue.
(See Blog 11, which includes the following extract quoting Cycling UK’s Roger Geffen)
Geffen says that funding is going down instead of up.
“The Government’s funding allocations for walking and cycling between 2017/18 and 2020/21 are set to fall by 71%.”
Or, to put it into monetary perspective, the pitifully low spend per head of population (in England) which has stood at £1.50 for decades, and was advised needed to be raised to £10 per head but was dropped to £1.39 has now been forecast to reduce still further, to 0.72 per pence.
Forget the differentials - £66m for Olympic cycling compared to the vastly more £500m for ordinary cycling may sound an awful lot to you and me. But £500m hardly makes a dent in the pile of gold worth several £billions in the Department for Transport’s safe.
The returns on spending £500m per annum on a cycling strategy promise spectacular savings – in improving the health of the nation, reducing pollution, congestion.
Some might consider this to be worth more than Olympic gold medals - no disrespect to our Olympic champions intended. But you get the drift.
A gong won’t protect riders when they go training on the road! Remember how Bradley Wiggins was knocked off by a white van driver a few years ago?
The bottom line, says Cycling UK’s Geffen, is the politicians have failed us all.
A letter from Roger Knight of Liverpool in The Guardian on Thursday (August 18) raises this very issue. In fact, his letter inspired me to write this blog.
He began, as I did here, in saying how great it is to see the success of our Olympic cyclists in Rio.
And he goes on to ask, is this success reflected among the elite cyclist reflected in the wider public?
No, he says. The following figures he quoted are widely available. According to Cycling UK only 4 per cent of the population cycle every day. So, while the UK tops the Olympic medal table, they remain bottom of the general cycling table.
In this, the UK shares this shameful position with Luxembourg and Spain who have the lowest percentage use of cycles of all 28 EU countries – with the exception of Cyprus (2 per cent) and Malta (1 per cent).
The leaders in this particular “medal” table are of course countries like the Netherlands (43 per cent cycle every day) It’s about 30 per cent in Denmark. Cycling becomes the norm from an early age in these countries. In the Netherlands some 49 per cent of Dutch primary school children cycle to school. In the UK, only about 3 percent of children do so.
Our politicians just don’t get cycling.
Neither do the courts which almost never hand out substantial sentences to drivers who kill and maim.
This week it was reported that a woman who admitted causing the death of a cyclist in a crash in Hampshire was sentenced by Portsmouth magistrates to complete 60 hours of community work.
Jeanette Smith, 69, pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving and was disqualified from driving for 12 months and ordered to pay a total of £165 in costs and fines.
She had driven into Will Houghton, 20, a member of the Amersham Road CC, on the A32 in Wickham on January 28 and he died two days later.
Also reported this week, Julie Dinsdale, 53, who lost a leg when a Tesco lorry drove over her and her bike at a roundabout in central London last year, expressed her huge disappointment that the driver, Florin Oprea, 24, was only fined £625, given five points on his licence and allowed to continue driving!
Oprea pleaded guilty to driving without due care and attention.
Blackfriars crown court heard that a driving assessor had recommended – two days before the collision - that Oprea use his nearside mirrors more. On the day of the collision he was driving unaccompanied for the first time.
* Brake, the road safety charity, says “Drivers who kill, harm and endanger are often let off with grossly inadequate penalties, in some cases for inappropriately-termed charges.”
The charity is advocating a review of charges for causing death and serious injury on the road, to ensure drivers are charged with offences that adequately reflect the risk taken and harm caused.