Ever since the death on the A167 Darlington to Croft road in June 2008 of cyclist Norman Fay, and the serious injuries sustained by his friend and fellow cyclist John Stephenson, I have been meaning to blog about the circumstances, and the wider ramifications, of this tragedy. The Cycling Campaign has for some years now been calling for a separated cycle path along this stretch of road. As is clear from the picture above, for most of the length of the road, this is eminently possible on the grass verge. It is widely recognised as one of the most dangerous for cyclists in Darlington, and indeed discourages many residents of Croft and Hurworth with whom we have talked in the past from cycling at all.
When Norman and John’s accident occurred, the Cycling Campaign raised the incident at the following Borough Council’s Transport Forum (which has now, by the way, been abolished). The response was appalling. One death, and another life-threatening injury it seems, was not enough to justify considering any kind of cycling facility. Some members of the committee took it upon themselves to laugh at our concern.
We also attended the inquest into the tragedy, which took place in September 2009 in Chester-le-Street. The inquest was extensively reported here in the Northern Echo. As the article noted, in this accident the driver of the car involved never faced prosecution.
This incident reflects the two core problems for cyclists in the UK – lack of infrastructure where it is actually needed, and motorist behaviour. But it also reflects a third and related problem – the attitude of our establishment to cyclist safety. This was brought home to us all, literally, in last night’s episode of Top Gear, when cyclists’ “favourite” Jeremy Clarkson jokingly suggested that cyclists deserve to be “cut up” because they don’t pay road tax. Top Gear is one of the BBC’s top income earners from sales abroad. A campaign of complaints to the BBC about the show has already been initiated, and follows hard on the heels of comedian Steve Coogan’s attack on the programme’s presenters for their casual racism.
Disinterest in cyclist safety locally, and institutionalised backing for aggression nationally, reflects a deeper belief in the UK that cyclist safety is something the cyclist should worry about, not wider society. So the one element of Cycling England that gets retained following its demise next month will be Bikeability, the cycle training programme – training, that is, for survival on our car-oriented road system. If cycling safety was really deemed a collective concern, society at large would take much greater responsibility for developing safer infrastructure. Now, what little that was being developed nationally is to be dropped. Cyclist safety will be strictly a private affair.
Contrast the reaction in Darlington to the Croft tragedy, and the BBC’s love of Top Gear, with how the media in the Netherlands dealt with an accident involving cyclists and a car, as described in this great little video from Mark Wagenbuur.
EDIT: In the light of all the Jeremy Clarkson hoo-ha today, one member of the Cycling Campaign has suggested we jest back: