A simple test of cycling policy

The cycling “debate” blunders on. Ostensibly we’re asking “How can we make the roads safer for everybody?” but really it turns into a fight over who gets to have their needs met and who has to change their behaviour. And so many ostensibly sensible, pro-safety suggestions are really being offered in the spirit of trying to punish, rather than protect, cyclists as a group.

So here’s a simple test. When you have a suggestion for making the roads safer, ask yourself:

If this suggestion was put into practice, would I be more or less likely to cycle?

Think honestly about how often you cycle now. If your suggestion became reality, would you get on your bike more or less often?

If your immediate response begins “Well, yes, but I -”, you’re going to have to stop and try again.

If this suggestion was put into practice, would I be more or less likely to cycle?

Perhaps you’ve never been on a bike in your life. In that case, a) it’s interesting that you think you’re qualified to offer advice on cycling; b) you should still ask yourself the question:

If this suggestion was put into practice, would I be more or less likely to cycle?

Perhaps you’re the kind of person who would cycle whatever the circumstances: in the dark, in the snow, with people throwing burning javelins at you. In that case, we’re going to have to adapt the question. Assuming your own suggestion wouldn’t make you personally any less likely to cycle, think about someone you know who doesn’t cycle much, or at all. Maybe your mum, your boss at work, your 10-year-old son.

If this suggestion was put into practice, would that person be more or less likely to cycle?

If the answer is “more likely”, you’ve probably come up with a suggestion that makes cyclists feel safer, possibly one that makes them safer in reality. In other words, you’ve probably got a good suggestion for safer roads.

If the answer is “less likely”, you’ve come up with a suggestion to discourage cycling. If your goal is to discourage cycling, that’s your prerogative; but don’t claim that it’s about making anybody safer. Because it isn’t.

All sorts of policies can be run by this simple test: compulsory helmet laws, segregated cycle lanes, compulsory insurance for cyclists, heavier punishments for running red lights, lower speed limits, higher speed limits, free cycling proficiency training in schools… you name it. Try it. The results are enlightening.

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