Yesterday’s House of Commons meet of the Transport Committee has been branded a shambles, with numerous MPs steering the intended topic – how to improve safety for cyclists – into the murky waters of non-existant taxes and helmet compulsion.
Guardian journalist Peter Walker tweeted the discussion’s progress live and from the word go the 11 MPs in attendence proceeded to show just how unqualified they were to talk about cycling issues.
Sarah Champion, Labour MP for Rotherham, alongside Tory MP Karen Lumley both diverted the conversation onto the topic of how to make cyclists wear helmets. Even if the pair had their way, helmets are not designed to take on impacts from cars, let alone HGVs, a point eventually made by London Assembly member Val Shawcross.
Lumley also suggested cycling proficiency training make a comeback. With a little research Lumley would have found a little thing called BikeAbility, which has been around for some time and even operates within schools in her own constituency.
Shawcross briefly held the room’s attention, explaining how the current cycle superhighways can often be inherently dangerous, as well as explaining that the majority of cyclists are "fit young men" and that the demographic could expand with the proper infrastructure.
Steering sharply back off course, Tory MP Martin Vickers rattled off a checklist of reasons why cyclists presumably aren’t entitled to road use, beginning with calling for ‘more education’ for cyclists on red light jumping, before committing the biggest faux pas of all – asking if cyclists should pay road tax. This went unchallenged by the room, despite being abolished in 1937. Cyclists, like everyone else, do of course pay for the roads through general taxation.
With plenty of time wasted already and little actual evidence or relevent discussion had, MP Jim Dobbin began telling anecdotes about cyclists ‘scratching paintwork’. No point based on any evidence was made by Dobbin.
Prior to the session drawing on input from the haulage industry, Labour’s Sarah Champion got in one final non-evidence based dig at cyclists, digressing into a rant about the danger cyclists pose to horse riders. Given cyclists and horse riders sharing a certain vulnerability on the road in the face of many tons of metal travelling at speed, this point proved particularly baffling to those in favour of cycling for transport in the room.
With the first half of the meet largely unproductive, it was time to hear from the haulage industry. Despite grilling the cycle lobby on anything but the intended purpose of the meet, the MPs fell strangely silent when listening to Jack Semple, policy head of the Haulage Association, lay the blame squarely at the door of cyclists for having the cheek to end up under a lorries wheels on the way to work.
The Haulage industry has in part began to work with cycling safety campaigners to improve the interaction between road users, however, the meeting skirted around the issue of blind spots, a major cause of incidents between cyclists and large vehicles.
Having recently cycled a section of London’s accident hotspots, Robert Goodwill, minister for cycling, will give evidence at around 5.50pm today.
British Cycling’s policy adviser Chris Boardman shared his dismay at yesterday’s proceedings, telling MPs they should be embarrassed.
He said: “The MPs that sit on the transport select committee should be embarrassed by their performance yesterday in an inquiry that was meant to be about why six people died riding bicycles on London’s roads in the space of two weeks.
“In front of them sat experts from campaigning bodies, transport research and the police – all ready to get into a proper discussion – and yet the MPs demonstrated that they didn’t even know the most basic of facts. Evidence and statistics were bypassed in favour of opinions and anecdotes on sideline topics.
“Such a clear demonstration of lack of research and understanding at this level of seniority would, in any other business, be classed as negligent.
“This was an opportunity to discuss how we can make our roads fit for people to get around by bicycle, improving our nation’s health, the environment and cutting emissions. This will deliver benefits for everyone, not just cyclists, and to do it we need to transform infrastructure, tackle dangerous junctions and encourage people to use bikes to get around.
“I’d like to see a proper, fruitful evidence session, rather than opinion-based discussion, on how to protect and encourage cycling as a mode of transport. To that end I am going to write to the MPs on the committee asking them to meet with British Cycling representatives to get to work discussing the real issues that can lead to the transformation of not just cycling, but the environments that we live in.”
A transcript of the sessions in Parliament will be available early next week.
To read the Guardian’s coverage of the event, see here.