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Go Dutch to help prevent air pollution deaths, urges Sunday Times

Newspaper’s appeal follows year in which it has published a succession of anti-cycling articles

The Sunday Times has urged the country to ‘Go Dutch’ and embrace the bicycle to help prevent air pollution deaths, in an apparent change of editorial policy at the end of a year in which it has published a number of anti-cycling articles.

In a lead article that appeared in yesterday’s edition of the newspaper, The Sunday Times hailed what it termed “a landmark ruling,” referring to a coroner’s conclusion last week that the death in 2013 of nine-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, who lived near London’s South Circular Road, was due in part to air pollution.

The newspaper said that it is “intolerable” that air pollution is thought to contribute to 40,000 early deaths each year in the UK.

Referring to a separate piece in yesterday’s News Review section written by Tim Smedley, author of the book, Clearing the Air: The Beginning and End of Air Pollution, the newspaper said that he “notes the efforts being made, including London’s ultra-low emissions zone and proposed clean-air charge zones in other cities.

“But he suggests that ultimately we should go Dutch. Cities in the land of the bicycling kingdom were once as car-centric as Britain’s, but they changed,” The Sunday Times added. “We have to change too.”

In his article, Smedley outlines measures such as clean air zones being taken in some UK cities to combat air pollution. “But it raises another obvious solution,” he wrote. “Moving away from cars.”

He said: “Diesel fumes have been recognised as a group 1 carcinogen since 2012 – but petrol isn’t much better. The government has committed to phase out the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030. That still leaves the problem of what to do with their fumes in the meantime. All signs point to making zero-emissions transport – walking, cycling and electric buses – the easiest option.

“Becoming a car-free or less car-dependent city may seem impossible, but there are plenty of examples,” he continued, going on to explain how the 1970s Stop de Kindermoord (Stop the Child Murder) campaign in the Netherlands initially met with resistance from motorists and shop-owners, similar to those nowadays often voiced here, but ultimately led to the country shifting from a car-centric transport model to the active travel one with which it is synonymous today.

“We drive because we have to,” he pointed out. “Redesigning roads to incorporate walking, cycling and electric buses increases choice while improving public health.”

He concluded: “A nine-year-old girl should not have had to die to remind us of what Holland knew in the 1970s, and Londoners in the 1950s, after the Great Smog. The least we can do is finally learn the lesson.

The newspaper’s appeal comes at the end of a year in which it has regularly published anti-cycling pieces.

In April, during the initial lockdown period in England, the newspaper ‘named and shamed’ cyclists who had been posting rides of up to 100 miles on Strava, despite emergency legislation setting no limits on time or distance spent exercising.

> Sunday Times names and shames cyclists racking up miles on Strava

A column by Rod Liddle in May in which he said he found it “tempting” to “tie piano wire at neck height across the road” to target cyclists.

The newspaper said that the article was “not intended to be taken seriously” – a response that had been correctly predicted by Cycling UK.

> Sunday Times says Rod Liddle “piano wire” column “not intended to be taken seriously”

A complaint lodged against the newspaper was subsequently rejected by the Independent Press Standards Office, saying that some issues raised were more of a police matter, and that others fell outside the scope of the Editors’ Code.

> Press watchdog rejects complaints over Rod Liddle “piano wire” column

In August, the newspaper’s transport editor, Nicholas Heller, declared that “Some cyclists are really getting away with” breaking the law as he compared changes in the number of enforcement actions by the Metropolitan Police against cyclists during the first six months of 2020 compared to last year with those against motorists.

> Cyclists “getting away with” breaking the law claims Sunday Times

That claim was refuted in the article itself by former Metropolitan Police Detective Superintendent Andy Cox, at the time the force’s lead on Vision Zero, who said: “I’ve been really, really super-clear to our staff that our priority is to target the most risky issues and people. And that is about protecting the cyclist, not targeting the cyclist.”

A fortnight later, at the start of September, The Sunday Times was at it again – this time implying that “weekend warrior” cyclists chasing KOMs on Strava were somehow to blame for a rise in casualties among people riding bicycles on rural roads.

> “Weekend warriors” to blame for rural cyclist casualties, Sunday Times implies

Many cyclistys will cautiously welcome the newspaper’s call to follow the example of the Netherlands, while keeping vigilant for any repeat of articles such as those highlighted above – even (or especially?) those that are “not intended to be taken seriously.”

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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pockstone | 3 years ago
1 like

Interesting article about space sharing in Barcelona:

Not a single picture of Michael Portillo, so safe to view.

Muddy Ford | 3 years ago
1 like

This is a potentially pivotal moment when this rag realises they might have been on the wrong side of the argument. It should be supported, and perhaps they will no longer support hate articles written by their lazy contribitors.

Shades | 3 years ago

Unfortunately our cycling boom of recent years came from cycling as a sport, as opposed to cycling as a means of transport; as such the motoring lobby would rather shoot themselves than give ground to cycling.  Look at Berlin (yes it's pan flat), for example, literally hundreds of, as Chris Boardman puts it, people in normal clothes riding bikes.  In 3 days there, using a hire bike (a 3 spd tank; which everyone uses there) to get about, I spotted 1 lycra clad roadie; I'd wager the vast majority of the cyclists I was sharing the road with didn't even own any lycra, let alone a road bike.  The cycle infrastructre isn't particulary segregated or special; drivers just respect cyclists.  That culture has to be developed from the perspective of cycling as a transport mode; the UK has a long way to go.

David9694 replied to Shades | 3 years ago

Watching Michael Portillo* walk around European city centres, it's an idyllic picture of few cars, trams, lovely squares with roadsters gently pooling about.   Emigration seems more tempting than ever!

* Great Continental Rail Journeys on the Yesterday channel. 


pockstone replied to David9694 | 3 years ago
1 like

Give me Hammersmith gyratory any day of the week. Very little chance of bumping into the pastelclad slimeball.

(And what is it with the BBC fast track presenters career pathway for ex-Tory cabinet ministers?...looking at you Matthew 'LDRCFC' Parris.)

Awavey | 3 years ago

quite frankly the award for most anti cycling newspaper this year should go to the Telegraph, having printed on average at least 2 articles per week since July criticising LTNs, pop up cycling lanes and council spending the transport emergency fund. Most of the Daily Mails anti cycling stuff (outside of its Kensington high street campaign) has just been quoting articles from the Telegraph.

So the Times coverage feels positively balanced in comparison

ktache replied to Awavey | 3 years ago

I get the Telegraph free with my shop from Waitrose, for me it is very pro cycling, the way the broadsheet catches the mud that my bicycles bring in from the countryside and helps me limit the filth going everywhere when spannering.  Occasionally I mange to read a headline while walking on it and I am disgusted at myself.

Rich_cb | 3 years ago

Good newspapers often have a plurality of viewpoints and allow their columnists to stray from the editorial line.

The pro-cycling editorial is a good thing but doesn't mean that every single article will be pro-cycling.

pockstone replied to Rich_cb | 3 years ago

They don't have to be murderous calls to violence against cyclists ...just for balance.

See Matthew 'Lets decapitate random cyclists for Christmas' Parris's psychotic rant, or Rod 'prone to a little temptation' Liddle's incitement to GBH.

Secret_squirrel | 3 years ago

Newspapers exist to sell advertising space, any consistency is purely for a particular demographic. 

hawkinspeter | 3 years ago

I'd like to say that it's great that they're finally seeing the writing on the wall, but I'm not convinced that they'll stop posting anti-cyclist propaganda anytime soon.

mdavidford | 3 years ago


the newspaper ‘named and shamed’ cyclists who had been posting rides of up to 100 miles on Strava

But was fine with those doing over 100 miles?

jollygoodvelo | 3 years ago

Schrodinger's Cyclist rears its head again.

I can no longer understand why anyone buys a newspaper at all.

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