The venerable BBC is a public service organisation, so it is understandable that its broadcasting output will seek to reflect the current huge public interest in cycling following the recent spate of cyclist deaths in the capital (this is true even though the overall number of deaths is low by typical annual standards, and even though the spate is not in itself necessarily statistically significant: randomness never takes the form of an evenly-spaced pattern, because such a pattern is precisely the opposite of random).
For the same public service reasons, it is also understandable that the BBC will seek to be as representative as possible of the public at large, gleaning the full range of opinions that various people are typically expressing on a particular topic.
But, having listened to three of BBC London Radio’s recent phone-in broadcasts on cycling, and having participated in one of them, I still found it depressing to hear so many total ignoramuses phoning in to air their agenda-stealing, clichéd nonsense-views on air.
Indeed, by the end of Boris Johnson’s appearance on Vanessa Feltz’s 9am phone-in show this morning, I was thoroughly annoyed. I had been up since 6am, expecting an ‘early’ call from the BBC to inform me of my required whereabouts at 8.45am for an interview on the breakfast show. The night before I had appeared on the drivetime show and been interviewed, sympathetically in fact, by Eddie Nestor. We talked briefly about the London Cycle Map. After this interview I received a call informing me that I would be needed the next day, with details to follow in the morning. As it turns out, I received a call at 8.50 this morning informing me that there was no time left for me to speak on the breakfast show (although, mercifully, Cycle Lifestyle's assistant editor Rebecca herself had managed to phone in and was, right at the end, given the opportunity to speak very briefly, but brilliantly, about cycling on backstreets in the capital). Undeterred, I immediately dialled the phone-in number for the subsequent Vanessa Feltz show, and was told to expect a call during the show from the studio – the call never came.
What all three shows did feature, mostly, was a torrent of antagonistic, ill-informed tirades from HGV drivers and cabbies moaning about cyclists, and cyclists moaning about HGV drivers and cabbies. It was like the opposite of a peace process, if not quite an all-out war.
Call me pompous if you will, but when I phoned in this morning I made it clear to the producer (or whoever I spoke to) that I am editor of a cycling magazine and have been running a cycling-related campaign for nearly four years, and am generally a well-informed chap with some well-thought out, moderate and pragmatic ideas for reducing the levels of conflict between drivers and cyclists in the capital. Evidently this counted for little – not even the most benevolent sort of elitism, where the people who get the most ‘represented’ in public broadcasts are the people who have made the most effort to render their views worthy of representation, is acceptable in our demotic times.
So I sat and listened to the angry froth that is inevitably thrown up when cyclists, trucks, vans and cabbies all try to share the same major roads and junctions, and I began to despair, to the point where only writing a blog would make me feel better.
To be fair to Boris, I thought he was generally excellent. He strikes me as a man who says what he thinks, and mostly what he says is sensible and inspiring. Which makes it all the more frustrating that his Cycle Superhighways are such a bad idea. Perhaps he was badly informed by the many cycle campaign groups who are currently seeking an ideological confrontation with capitalism.
Whatever the reason, it is perverse to try, as a rule, to crowbar cycling facilities onto the main roads of a huge metropolis such as London, one that simply cannot function properly without those conveyance routes. You wouldn’t try to put a cycle lane along the M1, or the East Coast mainline, or an airport runway, so why has Boris’s cycling revolution picked an unwinnable fight with the capital’s major freight arteries?
If he wants to get cyclists directly and simply from A to B, then all Boris has to do is provide a decent map and easy-to-follow signage for the generally quieter and safer routes comprising the London Cycle Network. Simon Parker’s London Cycle Map shows how the network could be organised as a series of long, straight coloured routes enabling cyclists to get from anywhere to anywhere in the capital by following just a few of those routes, just like on the Tube.
I would have explained this on the BBC this morning, something which would surely have been in the public’s interest. But the public, apparently, would not have been interested.