I read the other morning, over my bacon and eggs, that Lord Winston feels it is high time something is done about all the “hoodlums in Lycra” that are gadding about London’s streets these days causing His Lordship no end of anxiousness when he crosses the street in front of the House of Parliament. In this, apparently, he found ready agreement from his fellow peer, Lord Sharkey who described the crossing of the street in front of Parliament House ‘an accident waiting to happen’ especially during the rush hour and all because of cyclists. One could be forgiven for thinking this rather quaint-sounding exchange came from an archived story from The Times, circa 1896, or perhaps something from the pages of P.G. Wodehouse, but no, it was from the BBC’s news website, reporting on a discussion in the House of Lords this week.
I have often wondered where the Wodehousian world had crawled off to die, and now I know: it hasn’t. How very like an English Milord of popular myth to take matters thus in hand. In a city beset by a wave of knife crime, with stabbings and murders taking place routinely, and police resources stretched to breaking point – the wool-gathering Lordships feel that cyclists are the menace that must be tackled if London’s streets are to be made safe.
Their answer of course, as is their answer to most things, is regulation and plenty of it. They know just the stuff to give the troops – licenses and insurance, taxes and bureaucracy and vigorous enforcement of this vast new regulatory environment they envision. With three million new bicycles sold every year, that ought to give everybody plenty to do, what?
As Lord Wills noted, in chiming into this feast of reason and flow of soul, of the 38 police forces to hand out fines to irresponsible cyclists last year, 30 of them had issued fewer than five. Twelve had issued none. Surely, he argued, such a state of affairs can’t be allowed to stand.
Leaving aside all the knife crime, the stretched resources and the mountains of paperwork already burdening Britain’s beleaguered police forces, the detail that of the 1800 people killed on British roads each year, cyclists typically account for between zero and two (if it’s been a bad year) seems to have escaped their Lordships’ notice. As does the fact that according to the government’s own research 86 per cent of motorists exceed the speed limit in 20mph zones, 54 per cent exceed the 30mph limit, and more than a third admit to using a mobile phone while driving. To say nothing of the estimated one million uninsured drivers out there, and the estimated 10,000 motorists who are legally still driving on Britain’s roads despite having accumulated enough points on their licenses through speeding and drink driving to (theoretically) ban them from getting behind the wheel.
If one could but summon the nerve, one would like to doff one’s cap, touch one’s forelock, approach the bench and humbly suggest that perhaps there are more pressing matters of public safety and law enforcement out there in that great wide world beyond the Lords Chamber than the odd errant cyclist, and that if, when crossing the street in front of Parliament House their Lordships lowered their snoots a little, raised their lorgnettes to their eyes and remembered to look both ways, their difficulties with cyclists might just resolve themselves. Who knows? Be worth a try anyway.