London cycling campaigners must learn from the Charlie Alliston case

by Dave Hill

Even the most ardent of the many London cycling advocates in the AB social class parts of the media have been noticeably quiet about the 18 month custodial sentence given yesterday to Charlie Alliston, the young man from Bermondsey convicted last month of causing bodily harm by “wanton or furious driving” to pedestrian Kim Briggs, who died from the injuries she sustained when he collided with her in Old Street.

Perhaps the outpouring of accusations at the time of the guilty verdict that Alliston is a victim of legal double standards born of anti-cyclist bias simply couldn’t be sustained in the face of the judge’s comment when handing down the punishment that Alliston was “an accident waiting to happen” – a view contrasting sharply with Alliston’s prior social media complaint that, “It’s not my fault people…have zero respect for cyclists”.

Perhaps it’s dawned on those pundits who expend such energy insisting that bad behaviour by cyclists on London streets is rare and trivial that, in fact, quite a lot of reckless and selfish cycling goes on, and that indignant whataboutery is a weak response to it.

Perhaps some of them are even beginning to accept that disquiet about the conduct of too many London cyclists is not confined to “dinosaurs” and “petrolheads” but felt by a wide range of Londoners, including plenty who would otherwise welcome the city’s streets being more amenable to riding a bike.

This might be too much to hope for, given how ingrained is the self-righteousness of cycling’s more blinkered advocates. But whatever the rights or wrongs of Alliston’s prosecution, the high level of public interest in his case demonstrates that the issue of dangerous cycling is a big one with many people in London.

That should come as no surprise. Cyclists slaloming down pavements, cyclists ignoring red lights or cyclists hurtling from behind high-sided motor vehicles when people on foot are trying to cross roads have become a routine, sometimes forgivable, sometimes annoying and sometimes nerve-wracking part of getting round the capital. Passengers on 254 buses in Whitechapel are now warned to watch out for the “superhighway” track as they alight at floating bus stops. What is convenient for speedy cycling can be an unexpected hazard for others.

Campaigners claim that more segregated bikes lanes will make London more like Cophenhagen, whose cycling culture is deep-rooted and exemplary. Creating such change is nothing like that simple. And the civility and consideration of Copenhagen’s cyclists could hardly be more different from the thoughtless and aggressive mindset of too many London cyclists, including on those superhighways. As Jan Gehl has said, dedicated infrastructure should not be there for “people who consider cycling an extreme sport”.

It goes without saying that the great majority of London’s cyclists would never be guilty of the terrible and tragic actions of Charlie Alliston, just as it goes way beyond the obvious that bicycles are far less potentially lethal than motor vehicles. But that does not mean cyclists don’t have responsibilities to other street-users. Campaigners could do their cause a lot of good if they were more willing to acknowledge them.

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