Transport minister Jesse Norman today told a walking and cycling conference that the recently announced Cycle Safety Review would be opened to public consultation, and therefore would be influenced by evidence rather than be a “knee jerk reaction”.
The minister for roads was speaking to 150 delegates at the Department-for-Transport-sponsored Cycling + Walking Innovations 2017 conference. Organised by Landor Links, the full-day conference was staged at the Oval in London.
Norman, who is also minister for local transport, stressed he was a daily cyclist.
“The joys of walking and cycling have tangible benefits – air quality reduction, reduced congestion on our roads. Let me say that again – reduced congestion on our roads! That’s why supporting walking and cycling have become such a priority for this government.
“I had the joy of leaping on to my bicycle when I biked in this morning - it was an enormous amount of fun run in. It was quick! I knew almost to the minute when I was going to arrive. It was fantastic exercise. I got here with an endorphin high. I felt like I was one with nature and I went my own way.”
He highlighted e-bikes as important innovations and added that the spread of dockless bike share bikes will “make an enormous difference to urban cycling.”
He then described the thinking behind the recent – and surprise – announcement of the Cycle Safety Review.
“We very much believe cyclists have to feel safe,” said the minister. “There has to be harmonious interaction between all road users.
“We have to get over the perception that cycling is somehow unsafe around busy roads when the reality is that we have some of the very safest roads in the world.”
[This widely-held-in-government view that British roads are some of the safest in the world was later disputed by a questioner.]
Cycling UK's Roger Geffen bends Jesse Norman's ear in the John Major Room at the Kia Oval
Norman was clearly stung by criticism he received on social media and in The Guardian for his creation of the Cycle Safety Review: “When I announced we were going to have a Cycle Safety Review the heavens opened and I was dumped-on from a great height by an enormous amount of people with very distinct views on the matter who hadn’t read the release we put out.”
He added, with gusto: “Utter hypocrisy would be a light description of the view that was taken of government.”
He stressed he had been using a bike for transport since he was 7-years-old, and then went on to describe how the review would be carried out.
“This Cycle Safety Review has two parts – the first is to address a potential gap in the law to protect pedestrians and other road users against the possibility of bodily harm or death being inflicted while cycling.”
This is a reference to the campaign launched by Matthew Briggs following the death of his wife, Kim, after she was hit by a cyclist in London in 2016.
“The second,” continued the minister, “will be launched with a consultation in the new year, and will be a wider and more embracing look at how safety can be improved for cyclists and other road users in relation to cycling. That could be infrastructure, education, signage and other things which could contribute to a successful and effective transition to a world in which walking and cycling are enormous.
“It’s not going to be based on any knee jerk reaction; it will be based on solid evidence. And if you haven’t lined yourself up to make a contribution to that consultation when it takes place I very much hope you will, and encourage your mates to do so as well.”
When questioned on the adoption of a National Standard for cycle infrastructure after his speech by transport consultant Mark Strong the minister answered that “whether there should be a National Standard for cycling could be addressed in the review when it goes out for public discussion.”
Transport correspondent for the Sunday Times Mark Hookham asked the minister “Do you wear hi-vis and a cycle helmet when cycling and do you think they should be compulsory?”
Norman replied: “I have made it perfectly clear in previous conversations that I don’t take a position on hi-via or helmets. That is something in relation to the Cycle Safety Review where we will see what the evidence and the submissions say.
“If you want to have a society where a 12-year-old can get on a bicycle it’s a serious issue as to whether you’re going to mandate hi-vis or helmets and there will be many arguments about whether the safety benefits outweigh or do not outweigh the deterrent effect that might have on people cycling. So we’re going to leave that to the review.”
A recording of the above speech from Jesse Norman – and one from Chris Boardman – can be heard on the latest Spokesmen podcast.