10 popular myths about cycling
1. Bikes cause pollution and gridlock
Bikes themselves cause no pollution apart from sweat (and maybe a few farts).
Bikes and public transport are more space-efficient at moving large groups of people. A car lane can carry 2,000 cars per hour, or 14,000 cycles. 1 person in a car = 10 sq m of highway space; 1 person on a bike = 2 sq m.
In London, the average car occupancy is around 1.4 people per car , less during rush hour, which means when you see a queue of cars, 7, 8 or more out of every 10 cars are likely to have only one person in them. A large amount of road space is being occupied by a small number of people.
40-70% of all trips are under 2 miles, which could be done – with great health benefits – on foot or bike.
Every cyclist is one fewer person using a car or over-crowded public transport.
So if more people walk or cycle, congestion should ease, especially as people are offered a safe and viable alternative.
2. Bikes destroy the local economy
Research shows that people on bikes may spend less per visit, but they visit more often. The convenience of cycle parking means that people on bikes may pop into shops in several locations, and also may stay longer – and spend more – as they are not worrying about parking meters. Cyclists tend to spend less on groceries, but more at restaurants, bars and convenience stores
In terms of parking space, one car park = 6 parked bikes. Traders are surprisingly unreliable on the subject, as research shows they tend to overestimate the percentage of customers arriving by car and insist on the primacy of car parking for shopping.
Making Times Square in New York more walkable (against fierce trader opposition) increased sales by 172%.
3. Bikes slaughter pedestrians
In fact cars slaughter pedestrians (and cyclists). There were 347 pedestrian fatalities 2007-2010 in London; “Fatal collisions involving pedestrians and pedal cycles were too small in number to be able to draw meaningful insights and were therefore excluded.”
During the period 2005-2014 no pedestrians were killed by red light jumping cyclists; meanwhile 5 cyclists were killed by red light jumping cars. In 2015 nine cyclists died in London, all of them hit at intersections.
The number of seriously injured cyclists increased 8.2% in 2014, and has increased every year since 2004, making a total increase in casualties of 31%, partly reflecting the 27% increase in bike use.
4. Only lycra louts cycle
Men do cycle much more than women. Women are far more intelligent than men and realise how dangerous it is – which is why we need cycle lanes. Cycling to work is most common among 30-34 year olds. Only about 2% of children aged 5-10 and 3% of children aged 11-16 cycle – which is why we need cycle lanes. However only 18% of louts wear lycra.
5. Cycling is too dangerous
Yes, it currently is. But that’s why we need to create safe spaces.
Meanwhile, even with current air pollution levels cycling is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. For individuals who shift from car to bicycle, estimates are that beneficial effects are in the range of 3-14months gain in life-years, while societal benefits are even larger.
If every Londoner walked or cycled 20 minutes a day it would save the NHS £1.7bn in treatment costs over the next 25 years.
6. Driving is much safer than cycling in London
Car drivers are 2-4 times more exposed to particles and noxious chemicals than cyclists. The fumes are just as high or higher in the car as outside. NO2 (which impairs lung function, especially in children) is 21% higher inside vehicles than outside.
7. Cyclists are nasty people who jump the lights and cycle on the pavements
There will always be bad apples who break the rules; we do not make excuses for them. Car drivers break rules, pedestrians cross the road while looking at their phones… The reason cyclists use pavements is sometimes because they don’t want to die, sometimes because they’re lazy or in a hurry; sometimes because they want to save energy; sometimes because the road markings are unclear. If they have their own space and feel less threatened, compliance is far more likely; in central London superhighways, eg. Parliament Square, cycle obedience is high.
The vast majority of vehicle-related pedestrian injuries on the pavement involve a motor vehicle – in the years 2005-2014 almost all (98.5%) of footway/verge pedestrian fatalities involved a motor vehicle.
However, we also admit that, in conjunction with providing safe cycle routes, there is also an educational element to be done here.
8. Cyclists don’t pay tax
Roads and other transport infrastructure are built from general and local taxation. Road tax was abolished in 1937. Car tax is based on emissions; therefore, cyclists don’t pay car tax. Hypothecation is a dangerous route to go down – if property taxes are used to pay for infrastructure, does that mean that people in rented accommodation can’t walk on the pavements? Nevertheless, most cyclists, especially the much-maligned lycra-clad commuters, are likely to be tax payers.
9. This isn’t Amsterdam
Amsterdam didn’t use to be like Amsterdam either. Their streets were as car-choked and congested as London’s are today but, after over 400 children were killed in traffic accidents in year 1971, there was a public outcry and they decided to do something about it. The Dutch aren’t anti-car – they have a higher rate of car ownership per head of population than the UK – they just tend to cycle, walk or use public transport for shorter journeys rather than drive everywhere.
10. Cyclists should be licensed
Switzerland used to have this policy, but abolished it in 2010 as the costs far outweighed the revenue. Since stated central and local government policy is to get more people cycling because of the health and environmental benefits, this would be counter-intuitive. It would also be enormously expensive in terms of admin and policing, though as we all know the police are vastly overmanned and have nothing important like terrorism to deal with.