It's Health and Safety Gone Not Nearly Mad Enough


We've already seen the revelation a simple trip to Amsterdam can be for the average British cyclist. Now Sam Smith asks why more of our officials and campaigners don't seem interested in learning from the Dutch.

About a month ago I was sent an email asking if I'd heard of the International Cycling Safety Conference 2012, being held in Helmond, near Eindhoven, in November. I clicked on the link and had a quick read.

"On the 7th and 8th of November 2012 the International Cycling Safety Conference 2012 will be held. This conference is a Dutch initiative of the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, TNO, Fietsberaad, SWOV and Delft University of Technology."

Who knows better about making cycling so safe that you can ride like a complete fool and still not be in any danger than the Dutch? (Before we get any comments about cycling defensively, training, personal responsibility etc, let me remind you how cars are now designed to keep drivers safe even if they're acting like cretins. Some cars can even apply the brakes for you if you're somehow travelling at less than 20mph (although this damages the engine and therefore should never be done))

There are some interesting attendees listed. Amsterdamize will be there. Someone from the Toronto Cyclists Union will be there. Even Kathmandu Cycling Cities are sending a delegate. A team of urban planners working on an "Urban Assistance Mission to the Municipality of Lesparre-Médoc (Gironde)" are going.

But at the time of writing, only two of the participants will be from Britain. Yanbo Jia is a PhD candidate in Engineering, who is researching vulnerable road users in terms of their interactions with HGVsMax Glaskin is a journalist who "writes clearly about how developments in design, engineering and technology affect lives. He also has unmatched experience in cycling" and has written a soon-to-be published book called Cycling Science.

I'm really pleased someone from the UK will be there. They'll learn lots. But it seems to me they're the wrong people to be going.

Perhaps the event is too low-key, organised as it is by a government ministry, a road safety campaign group and the Dutch cycling policy experts. Maybe it's more of a national conference whose organisers are just happy to share the debate with people from anywhere.

But I live in a city where we're heading for an equal, if not higher, cyclist death toll than we had last year, where I seem to hear of a friend being doored (at least) pretty much every week, while others are too frightened to even get on a bike - and where the man who could solve the problem is convinced that navigating some of the most direct routes through the city means mixing with some of the fastest and most aggressive drivers but that's fine "if you keep your wits about you", the way to improve things is a two-day festival, and that the most expensive blue paint in the world is apparently improving cyclist safety:

“I’m not kidding when I say that I’m militant about cycling, and these Superhighways are central to the cycling revolution I’m determined to bring about. No longer will pedal power have to dance and dodge around petrol power – on these routes the bicycle will dominate and that will be clear to all others using them. That should transform the experience of cycling – boosting safety and confidence of everyone using the routes"

To go to the International Cycling Safety Conference costs €150 (including dinner on 7 November) - plus transport, accommodation etc. To a volunteer organisation like the Embassy, that's a lot of money - and time we sort of don't have while not completely taking the mickey at our day jobs.

But for *one* member of the Mayor of London's transport team? For any one of the councils around Britain who are apparently serious about improving road conditions for everyone - not just the people who already have a tonne of metal protecting them? Even - I risk treading on some toes here - someone from one of Britain's bigger cycling organisations? They're starting to talk about some of the same stuff the CEoGB wants to see, so why not go and find out how to do it properly, from the experts? They'll meet engineers and designers and researchers; the kind of people who can give them answers for every single reason they're being told this kind of thing is not possible. And they'll see it working *in real life*, with hundreds of kids and families and old ladies pedalling around in large numbers, in comfort and in safety.