Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Is Cycling Dangerous? - Debate

Recently I entered in to a debate on whether people should cycle at all. The primary topic was the question: Is cycling dangerous? And goes on to explore the associated issues.

The parties are; Urban Commuter, and Broken Leg Man who (all by himself) fell off his bike, and believes because he fell off, everybody in the world ought to stop cycling. Now!

The debate starts like this:

Broken Leg Man said...

Cycling in london is dangerous.

Urban-Commuter said... (In response to the theme and purpose of broken leg man's anti-cycling rant blog).

These are the kind of emails we're advised to write as part of the recovery process. These are the kind of letters we write to ex-partners, enemies, and people who have left a negative imprint on our life. These are the kind of emails we write (as a process of grieving etc), but we do not actually send them.

I think you quite clearly are in a phase of post-trauma anger, in desperate need of an outlet, hence the blog. And this I can understand. However, your red-mist clouded judgement at this time, is obvious to see. To then advise that all cycling in London be stopped, because "someone might fall off" is totally unrealistic.

Your email is just a rant, to try and provoke reactions, and yeah - it worked for me :-) But also an act of lashing-out to deflect blame on to others than yourself (for what sounds like; overlooking a simple saddle fixing).

If you actually research the topic you are wildly rampaging in to, you will find that in 2004: 34,351 people were killed or seriously injured on our UK roads. The number of cyclists killed was a regrettable 109.

109 too many, but still a comparably low statistic. Especially when you realise that being a pedestrian is statistically MORE DANGEROUS than cycling, noting that 666 pedestrians were KILLED in the same year - 2004.

I hope you have a speedy recovery, and calm down enough to gain perspective on what you are publishing.

Broken Leg Man said...

with all due respect, i think you haven't understood my point. i am not advocating the banning of cycling in london, although i admit that that would be an ideal. what i am concerned about is the promotion of cycling in london which would encourage unskilled riders to purchase a bicycle and risk life and limb on the roads in london.

if you want to start quoting statistics, i was reading an article on the web last week that showed potentially that statistically cycling is perhaps one of the most dangerous methods of transport known to man.

you mention pedestrians. half of those killed were probably intoxicated. have you ever been injured walking down the street? no, i haven't either. but i have had previous accidents on my bike. you are selective with your so called statistical evidence.

i wish you luck on your bike in london. you'll need it.

Urban-Commuter said...

Thank you for your email,

Honestly, I think your idea to chart your recovery via a blog is a very good one, It must have positive therapeutic qualities for you. And I wish you every success with it.

I do genuinely think you are somewhat caught-up in all the emotion at the moment.

My detached perspective is as a car driver and cyclist. There are some points I'd like to make:

1) "my so-called statistical evidence" is not mine, it is the government's Department for Transport audited statistics for 2004.

2) All new road-users (be it drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, HGV drivers, horse-riders, motorcyclists, etc) begin using the road with little or no experience. Experience by-default, is gained by time spent using the roads. Everybody has to start somewhere. However...

3) Nobody is encouraging people to take risks beyond their skill level, in fact there are an increasing pool of cycling instructors offering adult coaching to build rider confidence and increase rider safety. Very many local councils are commonly providing primary school based cycle-coaching to ensure young riders are equipped with safe base riding skills from an early age.

4) The safety of a cyclist is very much in the hands of the rider in question. An experienced, competent cyclist who practices skilled road-craft and judgement of a similar standard to police traffic riders, is likely to experience a very safe cycling career indeed. Of course learning, experience, and practice are all required to achieve such a high skill-level.

5) As the number of cyclists on the road increases, the number of cyclists injured decreases. (Source: TFL) How does that make sense? Well a higher number of cyclists in the same area, means that drivers have the opportunity to gain experience of how best to interact around cyclists. Newer cyclists are more likely to witness how other experienced cyclists deal with hazards on their route, so have more opportunity to learn by observation. Drivers learn how much room is needed to overtake cyclists (a lot more than one may think), and drivers begin to learn the capability cycles can have (a lot faster than one may think). Drivers begin to understand that the many cyclists needs are not identical to a powered vehicle, and the drivers can then make allowances for this, thereby reducing the mis-understanding, ignorance, and assumption, which play a part in many accidents.

6) Life is not without risk. Random things can happen at any time - struck by lightning, victim of violent attack, puncture on motorway, tennis elbow, broken neck in rugby, etc, etc, Cycling is no exception. However there must be reasons why the number of cyclists on the road is mushrooming. Let's not forget that cycling can be great fun, even in the heaviest traffic- a rewarding challenge. The regular exercise benefiting many people's long-term health, and reducing associated threats from obesity, heart-disease (Britain's number 1 killer), cancer, and improving general quality of life, are some of the many reasons cycling is booming in popularity this summer.

7) This trend is only likely to see increased rider numbers in future, given the volatility of world oil prices and thus UK forecourt fuel costs, which could spike alarmingly high at any point in the future, regarding the global politics surrounding energy security (oil). Provoking many people to review their transport mode options available. There is of course the environmentally-responsible characteristic of cycling, where people are consciously choosing not to pollute as much as they may have done in the past. Cycling has many benefits, which you have not balanced your argument with.

Kind Regards,


Broken Leg Man said...

like you, if you had met me before the 24th april i would have reeled off similar facts and statistics arguing the benefits of cycling. however, when you are lying in a hospital bed having nearly had your foot ripped off while riding a bike, the health benefits don't seem very convincing.

yes, i was aware that supposedly the more cyclists on the road there are, the safer it becomes. i have been cycling for 31 years. but if a lorry runs you over and squashes your leg, you can't jump up and tell him "oi, you're not supposed to turn left wiothout indicating." its too late.

i don't think that i would be able to convince you not to cycle nor many others but i'm just interested in telling my story while i can't walk.

So there you have it. An interesting debate, from polarised positions. The story broken-leg-man tells incidentally, can be summed up like this:
Failed to do basic safety checks on his bike. Saddle came loose, and suffered a freak injury involving no other vehicles or people. But spends the next few months ranting about how dangerous cycling is amongst all those vehicles and people!

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