OPINION

More rubbish about cycleways as the Telegraph manufactures a story from a paramedic's evidence-free 'feeling'

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"Cycleways delay ambulances" claims paramedic, presenting exactly no supporting data at all

Cycling campaigners have expressed mystification at claims that protected cycleways cause delays to ambulances, when no evidence supports those claims, and data from other emergency services shows new cycling facilities to have had no effect on response times.

The claim was made to the Telegraph by Richard Webber, Communications Director of the College of Paramedics. Webber told Telegraph science and health reporter Henry Bodkin that there was a general feeling among paramedics that protected cycleways are having a negative effect on the ability of ambulances to reach patients.

“We understand the need to segregate cyclists because there have been a number of horrific fatalities, but it can be a double-edged sword,” Webber said.

“You can’t allow it to slow things down for everyone else.”

Where's the data? Oh.

However, Webber also told the Telegraph that NHS data is not sufficiently detailed to discern the extent to which cycle lanes are hampering response times. In which case, it seems unlikely that cycle lanes are affecting emergency response times at all.

In response, Simon Munk, infrastructure campaigner at London Cycle Campaign got straight to the heart of the problem.

"The issue fundamentally is congestion," he said."The safer we can make cycling the less people will drive the fewer cars there will be on the road.

"The best evidence we have contradicts the view of the paramedics."

Munk later told road.cc: "Kerb separation is hardly a reason cars can't get out of the way or that ambulances can't get through.

"We would love to work more with emergency services to ensure design details work for them. But also there is loads of international evidence as to what does and doesn't work they should be drawing on as we do."

That evidence includes data (actual numbers, like the ones the College of Paramedics doesn’t have) from London Fire Brigade.

The London Fire Brigade supplied response times in a Freedom of Information response to questions about the effect of Waltham Forest road closures. The Brigade’s response said that road closures could in theory cause delays, but said: “Road closures are a frequently occurring feature of London’s infrastructure and, so far, they have never caused a detrimental delay to our emergency response.”

Commenting on the data itself, the Brigade spokesperson said: “My review of this performance does not show any sustained degradation in attendance time performance in the borough. … More importantly, performance in Waltham Forest is comfortably within the Brigade’s target to achieve the arrival of a first appliance in six minutes, on average, and a second (where needed) in an average of eight minutes.”

It seems reasonable to assume that if actually closing roads doesn’t delay something as large as a fire engine, then allocating a lane to cycling rather than motor vehicles isn’t going to have a worse effect on ambilances.

As an aside, the FOI request in this case was clearly a desperate fishing expedition to find a genuine excuse to oppose the mini-Holland, and the responder knew this. The Brigade responder wrote: “some of the matters which you have asked me to review require an opinion of the Brigade, and not the provision of data we hold. Under FOIA, you only have a right to the data we hold.”

Paramedics respond on Twitter

The College of Paramedics seems to have been somewhat embarrassed at the way the Telegraph reported this story and the reception on Twitter from cycling advocates.

It tweeted: “Point made to @Telegraph: Segregated cycle lanes save lives, however 'raised curbs' can obstruct drivers from allowing ambulances to pass.

“We are disappointed with how these comments have been reported and request that emergency vehicles are considered when planning highways.”

In its response to consultation comments on the East-West Cycle Superhighway (now Cycle Superhighway 3) Transport for London mentions emergency services and emergency access no less than 30 times.

In the response to consultation on Cycle Superhighway 11, Transport for London said: “We have liaised with emergency services to ensure that they are aware of the proposed changes to the road network and that their requirements have been considered. We will continue to engage with emergency services while we finalise our detailed designs.”

And then there's this, which needs no further comment from me:

Disappointing

It’s disappointing — to say the least — that a professional body whose work depends on the roads didn’t know its members’ needs had been taken into account.

It’s even more disappointing that a professional body in health care feels it’s appropriate to attack cycleways — a proven way of increasing active travel and therefore improving public health — on the basis of no evidence whatsoever.

Finally, a science and health reporter should know better than to base a story on ‘a general feeling’. Henry Bodkin should consider going back to the University of Durham, where he gained a degree in philosophy in 2009, and getting himself a science qualification.

Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.