Two cycle trips into York took up part of my day yesterday. Once at midday for a coffee with my wife, then again at night to meet friends at the new Brewdog pub (lovely beer, but the industrial look has been taken so far in that place it is possible to wonder when they will get around to finishing the job).
On both occasions, I used the road. At least that’s what I thought I’d done. The transport secretary Chris Grayling has different ideas. He wasn’t watching my progress or anything like that. But he did say yesterday morning that cyclists don’t count as road users.
The Labour MP Danial Zeichner questioned Grayling about saying in an interview late last year that the new protected cycle lanes in London “perhaps cause too much of a problem for road users”.
Zeichner asked if cyclists were not road users too.
Here is what the never knowingly reasonable Grayling said in reply: “What I would say to him, of course, is where you have cycle lanes, cyclists are the users of cycle lanes. And there’s a road alongside – motorists are the road users, the users of the roads. It’s fairly straightforward, to be honest.”
Here are three things worth knowing about Grayling: 1) He’s a bit of a berk – it’s fairly straightforward, to be honest. 2) Last month he suddenly opened the door to his ministerial car in Westminster and knocked a cyclist off his bike; 3) when he was justice secretary, he tried to ban prisoners from being sent books – a spot of mean-mindedness that was later overturned in the courts.
In the incident of the car door, Grayling did get out to quickly check on the cyclist, but left the scene reportedly without giving his name.
Luckily for the cyclist, Jaiqi Liu, film footage of the incident – from another cyclist’s helmet, by the look of it – was published by the Guardian. Grayling may face a private prosecution over the incident.
The transport secretary’s latest brush with cyclists and cycling has stirred up what newspapers like to call a storm of protest. And quite right, too. What a charmless twerp that man is, forever confidently striding forward without being properly armed with a clue.
Zeichner later retweeted a section of the 1888 Local Government Act, which formalised the status of “bicycle, tricycles, velocipedes and other similar machines” as what were then still known as “carriages”.
Cycling groups and others were baffled by Grayling’s remarks, but then he does spread general bafflement wherever he goes, raising what must be a common question: How does that man keep getting new jobs in government?
Among those amazed by the transport secretary’s comments was Chris Boardman, the former Olympic cyclist and now policy adviser to British Cycling. He said: “I feel embarrassed for him. If he truly thinks the roads are not for cyclists, then what am I paying my taxes for?”
Boardman also pointed out that despite committing to doubling cycling levels, the government was still spending less than £1 per person per year on making that possible – compared with more than £20 in the Netherlands and Denmark, nations where bikes are more accepted.
Boardman said that Grayling should get out on a bike to discover the true state of our cycling infrastructure. “I’d be delighted to go on a ride with him,” he said. That’s a good idea. How about starting at the top of a steep hill in the Yorkshire Dales after his brakes have been ‘adjusted’? I know just the one on the road past Pen-y-Ghent.
After Grayling’s careless moment with a ministerial car door, a letter writer to the Guardian pointed out that in Holland car drivers are trained to open the car door with their opposite hand. “This forces the body to swivel, and your eyes to look backwards, thus spotting a passing cyclist. Drivers must demonstrate this to pass their driving test,” wrote Henry Stewart of London.
What an excellent idea. Well done to those cycle-friendly Dutch people – and why don’t we do the same?
As for Chris Grayling, perhaps he could train himself to swivel round and have a look the next time he is about to open his mouth.