Recent events (September 2013)

Three bits of news in the cycling world recently: one promising; one disheartening but expected; and one devastating. In reverse order, then.

Gary McCourt’s sentence review fails

Back in April an Edinburgh chap was found guilty of killing a cyclist through careless driving. For the second time. His most recent victim was Audrey Fyfe, who was from all accounts a spirited 75-year-old who cycled regularly and was looking forwards to many more years of life. Gary failed to spot Audrey whilst turning right across her path, knocked her off her bike, and died from severe head injuries two days later.

As an aside there was some truly awful reporting at the time, with pride of place going to the Scotsman’s opening statement ‘an elderly woman was in a critical condition in hospital last night after hitting a car while riding her bicycle’, which manages to paint a completely different picture from the actual facts. I digress.

Anyway, in his writeup of the case Sheriff James Scott tooka few things into account when sentencing. The offense of failing to look before turning right across oncoming traffic was judge at the lowest level of severity. He decided that Audrey’s lack of a helmet ‘contributed significantly’ to her death (slightly startling both the prosection and defence, neither of whom had uncovered any evidence that this was the case), and the fact that Gary had previously killed the student George Dalgity through reckless driving in 1986 only bumped the overall conviction up into the lower-middle severity category. Gary was also very sorry that he’d killed two people through his own incompetence. As a result of all of this, he got a sentence of 300 hours of unpaid work and a 5 year driving ban.

This was regarded as nonsense by the majority of people asked for comment, and the Crown appealed on the grounds the sentence was unduly lenient.

The full result of this appeal was published a few days ago. The Sheriff was rebuked for making up his own medical evidence, but everything else stayed the same.

I’ll quote two tweets, which neatly summarise my thoughts. Firstly, Uberuce: ‘Those with the state actually out to get them have it worse, but today’s feeling of the state being fatally indifferent to me is still shit’. Next, BezTweets: ‘How do you get a lifetime disqualification from driving? We need to know. It may be the gateway to another dimension.’

In any other aspect of life, if you ended the lives of two people in separate incidents through being generally rubbish at operating heavy machinery, you would be prevented from operating that equipment ever again. Unless it’s a car, in which case have a few years off, then have another go. Try not to kill a third time, there’s a good chap.

Moving on to the disheartening…

Norman Baker tells great big lies about cycle funding

Norman Baker is the Parliamentary Under Secretary for the Deparment for Transport, and is either unable to grasp basic concepts fundamental to his job, or just lies his way out of tricky questions. I’m not sure which is worse.

Entertaining aside: Norman claimed last year that the Netherlands could learn a lot from the UK about cycle safety, as we have fewer cycling injuries per year than they do. He was quoting total injuries per person per country per year. The fact that the average Dutch person cycles a couple of hundred times further in that year than the average Brit was deemed irrelevant.

Anyway, Norman recently claimed that the Coalition Government level of funding for cycling ‘compares very favourably with other European Countries’. He went on to quote a UK figure of €4.20 per person per year, compared to €4 in Denmark and € in the Netherlands.

This caused much scratching of heads. He’s clearly completely wrong, but the tricky bit was working out how on earth dear Norman had arrived at these figures.

Thankfully the As Easy As Riding A Bike blog has worked it out – see this post for full details. In summary, Norm has got the UK figure from the entirety of the UK central government and local council budgets for cycling, and then added in all the Local Sustainable Transport Fund for good measure (only about 10-30% of which is actually on cycling stuff). This gives the UK figure of €4.20 a head.

Looking abroad, he’s then taken only the central government pot from the Netherlands, divvied that up amongst the population to come up with €3 per person, and then given himself a good slap on the back for a job well done. Sadly, the Dutch primarily fund cycling infrastructure out of the local council pots, which he’s ignored. Factor that in, and we jump up to €26 per person annually. Not looking so rosy now.

It gets worse, as that Dutch figure doesn’t include funds for cycle parking or non-infrastructure projects (remember Scotland’s glorious Niceway Code? – Norman counted that in the UK total). Plus most Dutch road building includes cycle infrastructure by default, so most of the sexy stuff you see in photos you get ‘for free’ anyway.

Norman Baker; dangerously incompetent or a liar. Plus ça change…

Good news! £20m extra cash found in Scotland for next two years

Hurrah, something promising!

The Scottish Government has had a rummage down the back of the sofa and found an extra £20m to go towards cycling stuff. Transport Minister Keith ‘dual carriageway all the things’ Brown has perhaps decided that slapping tarmac down all over the countryside may not actually deal with the conjestion problem…

Spokes has dug through the numbers and come to the surprisingly conclusion that this is actually new money, rather than rebadging existing funds. Annual investment over the next four years now looks like £18m, £20m, £30m and £25m in 2015/16.

Of course, it’s still nowhere near enough to enable the Government to reach its earlier target of 10% of journeys by cycle by 2020, so they’ve quietly slipped that down to an ‘aspiration’. Oh well.

A bonus thing

London Cycling Campaign have suggested that having lots of different messages about cycling is confusing our poor politicians, so have distilled all of their demands down to the catchphrase ‘space for cycling’ (or #space4cycling on Twitter). You can get some free ‘bike plates’ with the slogan on if you give them your details at the moment.

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