Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A tragic death in the family

Yesterday I learned of the death of my cousin, Jono Parr, a young man, killed by a lorry while cycling to work.

I'm not going to talk at any length about how I feel - this is a public blog, and that is not the sort of thing I do. But I am deeply shocked and saddened, and outraged at the manner of this death. However I am moved to say something about the risks of cycling.

I used to cycle everywhere and I shudder to think of some of the risks I took and near misses I had. After moving to Sheffield and spending a couple of years panting and sweating my way up the hills, I decided I need some assistance and switched to a motorbike. After another near miss or two and lots of freezing weather, I went for the kind of motorbike with 4 wheels and an enclosed cab.

This was all despite being in some ways a fairly militant environmentalist. Today the traffic is worse, cars are constantly weaving around to straddle speed cushions, cycle lanes of 18 inches have been painted at the side of roads to narrow too fit 2 cars and 2 bicycles. I would not consider cycling on these roads. I would rather grow fat. But we hear the message: leave the car at home - you ought to cycle. My reaction: Get a sense of proportion.

Don't get me wrong. If you want to cycle, if you enjoy it, if you need the exercise, if it is the only practical way to get around, if the risks are minimised, then go for it. (And I don't know what Jono's reasons were for cycling.) But don't tell me that it is morally better. It is morally better not to get killed by a lorry.

Environmentalism is stuck in this rut of asking people to make sacrifices. As if somehow environmental problems were insoluble without some great moral reawakening. But this is rubbish - they are just practical problems. You will no more save the planet by cycling or recycling than you will abolish the national debt by donating your share of it to the treasury. Big practical problems need big solutions, involving money, technology, and political will.

And transport related risks are a huge practical problem, not just for cyclists; as are congestion and access to transport. I think one proportionate step would be to remove lorries from the roads during rush hours. Yes, it would push haulage costs up a certain amount, but, frankly, haulage is dirt cheap. And it would ease congestion and improve safety for millions of commuters, cars, bikes and buses. Please sign the petition:


Peter Pigeon said...

Very sad news,Joe.

I agree with your argument.

Dominic Williams said...

Hey Joe
I am with you on the sentiment - Jono was a much loved son and brother of some very dear friends of mine. I came across your blog purely because I can't get the whole tragic affair out of my mind - somehow finding myself googling Jono - and your blog came up.
I am a part-time cyclist in central London, and a user of public transport in London and beyond and..... a 4x4 driver(!!!)
Sorry Ken, but I have 5 kids and we have therefore bought a 7 seater car - with C02 emissions of around 230g/km - ie around 33g/km per person. I don't want to appear too holy here, but how does that compare with the average motorist in, say a Toyota Prius?
I am not a betting man, but I would argue that we in my humble family are being as responsible as we can - we cycle/recycle/use low power light bulbs/switch everything off at night and NEVER fly (we can't afford it!) - my kids either walk/micro-scoot or take the bus/tube to school (my youngest is 10 and she travels alone) and we do all we can to minimise car use - so don't give us any more grief in the form of taxation - especially feeding the coffers of shady organisations sub-contracted to collect these various road tolls - where did they come from?
Said with feeling and empathy for Jono's family - God bless you all.
Dominic Williams