The presenter of the recent BBC Panorama investigation, ‘Road Rage: Cars v Bikes’, has responded to the accusation that he jumped a red light while cycling during the controversial programme, an incident which he claims demonstrates “how difficult” some junctions can be to navigate on a bike, as well as the wider “reality of cycling on UK roads”.
The Panorama episode, which aired last week and explored the vulnerability of cyclists on Britain’s roads, received a mixed response from cyclists on social media. While many cycling campaigners praised the programme’s willingness to highlight the dangers faced by cyclists on a daily basis, it was also heavily criticised for the decision to interview – as a counterpoint to the pro-active travel arguments of Cycling UK’s Duncan Dollimore – the notoriously anti-cycling columnist Rod Liddle.
The latest criticism of the programme, however, comes from a rather more unlikely source. In a video uploaded yesterday to his popular YouTube channel, driving instructor Ashley Neal pointed out that, during the documentary, presenter Richard Bilton – who discussed the episode on last week’s instalment of the road.cc Podcast – “jumped a red light” while cycling in London.
“I’m not sure whether much has been said about this incident in this documentary,” the Liverpool-based instructor wrote in the caption to the video, which has been viewed almost 43,000 times on YouTube. “But it makes a little bit of a mockery when the question is asked ‘are the UK roads too dangerous to cycle on?’”
Neal, who described the issues tackled by the programme as “quite close to my heart”, began the eight-minute-long video (above) by criticising what he regards as the typically divisive character of the road safety debate, and praised Bilton for doing “a good, balanced job”.
Nevertheless, the driving instructor continued: “But I’m not sure whether anyone else had picked up on it, but the presenter, around 24 minutes in, jumps a red light.”
In the Panorama clip highlighted by Neal, Bilton attempts to navigate the infamous Holborn gyratory, an intimidating junction which lies at the intersection of two busy routes for cycle commuters and where eight people on bikes have lost their lives in crashes involving lorries and coaches since 2008.
Last month, Camden Council opened an “urgent” consultation, which runs until tomorrow, on changes to the gyratory, which at present provides no physical segregation from motor traffic for cyclists and has been the scene of regular protests by the London Cycling Campaign and Stop Killing Cyclists calling for safety measures to be brought in to prevent people on bikes from being killed there.
In his video, Neal highlights a moment in the Panorama programme where Bilton appears to slowly ride on through a red light at the junction, as pedestrians cross the road.
“Without effective observation, any infrastructure changes are pretty pointless to reduce risk altogether,” Neal narrated over the clip.
“The green walking man symbol is displayed allowing pedestrians to cross this section of road. And even more obvious, the red light is showing on the other side. But our cyclist still goes with the bus coming the other way.”
Using another clip from the junction submitted by one of his viewers to illustrate the point, Neal notes that “the pedestrian crossing area is across the full width of the road – so the journalist from Panorama shouldn’t have been going.”
The driving instructor then remarked that the bus driver – who was turning right at the junction as Bilton approached – “seemed to be taking no prisoners” and that he wasn’t sure whether the cyclist “would have been hit by the bus, but it would have been quite a late, sharp, abrupt stop.”
He continued: “I think the bus driver was saying ‘No, you are not going, I’m going to use my size to deter you from going’. And luckily enough, it worked.”
“It does show you the problems that humans can cause themselves – we miss things.”
Responding to Neal’s comments, Bilton told road.cc: “The point of the programme was to demonstrate the reality of cycling on UK roads. We did so in a balanced fashion.
“We included the sequence with the lights because it demonstrated to a viewer how difficult the Holborn gyratory is to navigate if you’re not familiar with the layout. It was my first time.”
Explaining the situation that led him to ride through the red light before swiftly stopping, the presenter said: “As you wait to enter the junction, there’s a set of lights for cyclists. I thought green allowed me to move across the junction.
“But green only allows you to move forward a couple of yards to another set of lights. I got it wrong and found myself in the path of a bus. As the film shows, I turned back and returned to the original position, commenting to the camera how dangerous the situation felt.
“As I mentioned in the programme, the London Borough of Camden has made some changes to the junction to help cyclists, but that it had recently announced an urgent review of how traffic is managed at this location.”
Ryan joined road.cc as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.