Sky’s Adam Boulton really has his finger on the pulse. You probably thought that everyone in the country was 100 per cent sold on cycling, but in a Sunday Times article, he exclusively reveals that “a backlash could be stirring against cyclophilia.”
Boulton, it seems, is auditioning to lead it.
“At last the wheels are coming off our senseless worship of bicycles” is the headline; “Forget about zombies and North Koreans: the cyclists are coming,” is the opening line.
Finally, someone’s bringing a little bit of balance to the cycling debate.
Sky has championed everyday cycling via its sponsorship of British Cycling and is of course still involved with bike racing via its pro team, but the editor-at-large of Sky News is clearly on a different page from his employer.
“Cycling is still a minority activity and likely to remain so. Lawmakers should balance how they cater to cyclists against the interests of the vast majority who don’t cycle,” he recommends.
“There is fear — for pedestrians of not seeing a fast and largely silent projectile; for motorists of being in an accident with someone who may not obey the rules of the road. There is inconvenience too. Inner-city cycle lanes, largely deserted outside rush hours, cause congestion on squeezed roads.”
Boulton continues by inadvertently writing a parody of The Birds, which would presumably be called The Bikes.
“Many urban businesses are now having to provide showers for their Lycra-clad workers, and bikes are being brought into the office because their owners fear to leave them outside. Meanwhile, official documents commend cyclists for avoiding overcrowded commuter transport and then advocate more space for bikes on trains.”
At one point he expresses his belief that, “anyone who complains that cycling is evolving in the UK without proper regulation and at the expense of pedestrians and motorists faces ridicule and online abuse.”
So what’s his beef?
A motorist has today been charged with causing a cyclist’s death by dangerous driving in Timperley, while a London motorist has been arrested on suspicion of the same offence. These incidents will not inspire any Sunday newspaper columnists.
In contrast, Charlie Alliston, convicted last week over the death of Kim Briggs after he struck her on his bike, is seen by some as being somehow symptomatic of a broader cycling “problem”.
You get the sense that this is Boulton’s view; that there is a defined cycling subculture that is getting away with all manner of rule breaking, in part thanks to powerful “lobby groups”.
Boulton accuses Cycling UK of “cherrypicking facts” in relation to pedestrian deaths caused by cyclists – before proceeding to show them how it’s done.
He writes that: “[Cycling UK] claims on its website: ‘In 2005-14, no pedestrians were killed by red-light-jumping cyclists, while around five a year were killed by red-light-jumping drivers.’ This may well be true, but broader government statistics show that cyclists killed 23 pedestrians between 2002 and 2012.”
Boulton has very much cherry picked the charity’s red light jumping statistic to make it seem like the organisation has been guilty of cherry picking. That stat is quite literally one bullet point within a broader list comparing the threat presented to pedestrians by motorists and cyclists respectively.
If he genuinely wanted to provide a clear picture, the very same list states that in Great Britain, from 2011 to 2015, "Mile-for-mile, motor vehicles were more likely than a cycle to seriously injure a pedestrian and over twice as likely as a cycle to kill them."
He closes with a plea. “Zombies and North Koreans are famously impervious to rational argument. For all our sakes, Britain’s cycling organisations need to engage their brains as well as their pedals and brakes.”
The column has lost the newspaper at least one subscriber, Martin Porter QC tweeting:
— Martin Porter QC (@MartinPorter6) August 28, 2017
Kaya Burgess was the lead journalist on The Times’ award-winning safety campaign, Cities Fit For Cyclists.
He responded to point out that The Times and Sunday Times are separate newspapers and do not share editorial staff or campaigns – although Porter said the newspaper had “also disappointed in recent days.”
For more on the anti-cycling backlash in the media in the aftermath of the Alliston trial, you can read Peter Walker’s piece for Porter’s now-preferred newspaper. Richard Madeley’s Partridgesque meltdown on Friday was another good example of the phenomenon.