An open letter

You’re a journalist are you? A reporter? Excellent. You’ve come here because you’re interested in stories, in the truth, in enlightening your reader as well as entertaining them haven’t you? That’s why you do what you do, why you studied and strived to get where you are. So you’ve decided you want to say something about cycling have you? You probably want to say something about cyclists too don’t you? Well I do the former, so I guess that makes me one of the latter. 

Because I know you’re a reporter, I know you know how important balance is, that impartiality, facts and information matter as much as stories and entertainment. So all I ask is that before you say something about cycling (and cyclists) you take ten minutes to read this. Please.

Because there are some things I would love you to think about…

Think about when our cities were created, and when the first roads were built. Ask yourself why if it was long before cars they are so dominant now. Think about how some of their earliest users of our modern paved roads were riding bikes. Ask yourself if it’s easier to navigate our narrow, higgledy-piggledy streets in a four-wheeled two-tonne metal box or a two-wheeled, ten kilo push bike. 

Think about spending on roads and subsidy to drivers. Think about the fact that nowadays in England we spend £6bn every year building roads, and about £120m making them safer for people on bikes. That’s well over £100 per person for driving to around £2 for riding. 

Think about the fact that in the space occupied on the road by one car, you can comfortably fit eight bikes, and ask yourself whether we’ve got enough space to fit bikes onto our roads. 

Think about why it might be that people used their bikes on only 2% of trips UNDER five miles in 2009, and that three in every five journeys of those short trips are by car.

Ask yourself whether the price of petrol is going to go up or down as oil disappears, and whether the 85% of single-occupant journeys by car are helping tackle climate change or making it worse.

Think about air quality, nitrous oxide emissions and the 60,000 early deaths that air pollution causes. Think about cheating on emissions tests that are already dodgy and giving people tax breaks to buy the dirtiest types of vehicles. Ask yourself if the red lines on the maps that show the most polluted routes are next to cycle paths or alongside roads.

Think about the fact that 60% of adults and 30% of children in the UK are overweight, and that obesity costs the NHS £50bn every year.

Ask yourself if you ever seen a queue of bike riders getting in the way of an ambulance on its way to save a life; a fire engine driving to put out a blaze; a police car going to stop a crime. Think about what it is that is always in their way, every time they try to go anywhere.

Think about how you use words to disenfranchise and alienate people. Think about the power you have to shape a culture. Ask yourself whether you’d group the people walking to work outside together with the chubby bloke jogging round the park, with Mo Farah, and with that mum running for the bus with her toddler. Ask yourself why you think you can do that with people riding bikes.

Think about whether you would dream of saying what you’re about to say to any other group of people simply because you think they share a lifestyle choice (then think about the fact that they don’t – most of them are just getting about the best way for them on the day).

Think about whether you judge any other group as a whole on the basis of the actions of a tiny minority of them? Think about what other sorts of people do that, and what we call them. 

You’re a driver aren’t you? Ask yourself if you’d be happy being judged on the basis of what I saw other drivers doing on my way to work this morning. 

You’re a journalist aren’t you? Ask yourself if you think it’s fair that I judge you on the basis of what other journalists did when they hacked people’s phones, bribed coppers and fabricated stories?

Think about the people you know who ride a bike. Her in the office, him at the gym, your postie probably, and maybe the guy who delivered you takeaway. Maybe your niece, perhaps your uncle, or some of your nuclear family. Ask yourself if you’d say what you’re planning to say to their face? Think about how they would respond.

Think about the children you have or the children you might have. They probably don’t ride a bike now, I doubt you’d be thinking about saying what you’re going to say if they did, but one day they might want to. One day they might have to. Think about the culture that will surround them if they do. Ask yourself if you’d like to help to enable a mutually respectful culture that values everyone’s safety and protects best those who need it most? That protects your children, my children, everyone’s children – no matter how old they are, what they’re wearing and why they’re riding a bike.

Think about the bravery it takes for someone to step onto a bike and wheel away into the traffic knowing that the queue of massive metal boxes behind you, whizzing past at 30, 40, 50, 90 miles an hour probably despise you and have had their hatred stoked by countless pieces in the media demonising people who ride bikes for the sake of a few clicks.

Think about victim blaming. Ask yourself whether you think what someone is wearing or not wearing (an ostentatious watch; a short skirt; a helmet) matters when a crime is committed. Think about the victims, because there’s plenty of them. Think about whether you want to risk creating more or try to help save some.

But really, I’m selfish, so above all else, I’d like you to think about this:

That’s me and my son. Think about the fact that when I’m getting on my bike I’m expecting to get back to him, and he’s expecting me to come back. Ask yourself if what you plan to say is going to make that more likely to happen, or whether there’s the slightest chance it might make it less likely. Ask yourself if you could explain that to him.

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