Well, we Asked the Minister...

Last week, people (including the Embassy) were tweeting their questions to ask the minister. Today saw the Commons Select Committee talk to transport ministers Mike Penning and Norman Baker.

In a largely disappointing session, which dispensed with the entire subject in less than two hours, there were a few items, although government policy on cycling seems as moribund as ever, focusing on tinkering at the edges with bicycle training and providing parking at train stations.

Formal minutes aren’t yet available, but the Times’ feed provides some of the highlights:

Jon Snow of Channel 4 told the inquiry “Paint on the road is not infrastructure”, and followed up, explaining that although cycling is his ‘lifeblood’, he won’t be encouraging his two daughters to cycle in London. He also defended cyclists who chose to jump red lights, saying: “Sometimes cyclists have to break the law to stay safe. There are moments when it is safer to go across a junction at red if there is no traffic than to hang about.”

After Jon Snow came Times Editor James Harding, and Josie Dew – who said

“Being on a bike dehumanises you. If I were a pedestrian, it would be all right, but drivers think: ‘It is just a cyclist, so I can barge past.”

The committee moved on to question the two ministers. In a fairly short session, we found out:

  • They’re not interested in any form of default liability requiring motorists to prove their innocence in collisions with pedestrians or cyclists
  • A budget announcement of £15m is seen as something to shout about, as far as the DfT is concerned
  • Ministers will ‘look at’ the possibility of providing official guidance on road design for cycling
  • They’re not interested in mandating the fitting of additional safety equipment to large vehicles. Despite agreeing that companies have a ‘responsibility’, the government is more interested in a supposed focus on de-regulation than safety requirements
  • Not being ‘fans of targets’, the government has no idea whether or not it will reach any of its unambitious goals for cycling
  • And best of all, Mike Penning – road safety minister – thinks that the United Kingdom can teach the Dutch something about safety for cyclists

On this last point, bloggers and campaigners have been quick to respond, with Drawing Rings providing figures for cyclist deaths per billion km cycled (a much more useful measure than the minister's figure of cycle deaths per head of population) while Roelof Wittink of the Dutch Cycling Embassy responded in the Times.  We know who we'd rather be getting our advice on cycling safety from, and it's not the UK government.