Britain’s biggest threat to biking turns out to be in the air… or rather policy about the air, to be precise, says MAG chairman Selina Lavender.
I’m talking about Clean Air Zones (CAZs), based on the nutty idea that if we reduce air pollution we’ll live longer. It’s rubbish, but there’s so much momentum behind this idea that we’re in danger of losing our right to ride anything powered by a petrol engine.
One such scheme is the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) planned by London Mayor Sadiq Khan. It starts on 8th April, 2019. If you’re a regular reader and think ‘is she still banging on about that?’ then yes, I bloody well am, and so should you! Clean Air Zones are bad news because they’re based on poor data that just doesn’t add up in terms of the ecology or health. This stuff is all about a political agenda which is being ruled by those who actively seek to curtail the population’s right to drive and ride ‘normal’ vehicles.
I’m not against cycling, but I’m opposed to stupid policy approaches that make pedal cycles more important than just about everything else the human race has invented to travel around on. If they were that great, we’d have gravitated towards them, not away from them as society has become wealthier. The reason we’ve all got mobile phones is because it’s progress. The reason we haven’t all got bicycles is because it’s really not. Sadly, there’s a lobby that pushes cycling and walking as if that’s how a modern society must travel whenever possible. Dream on. Only fanatics depend on cycling for journeys of over, say, 10 miles if they can afford an alternative. The rest of us use ordinary transport, including motorbikes. Taxing us for the privilege of using older bikes, as is being proposed, isn’t based on any level of common sense.
We’re trying to reach the ‘wider audience’ to challenge the bad science and fundamentalist thinking on all this, and that ‘wider audience’ includes you! We’re doing our best to protect your right to ride. Unlike big companies or those with Government backing, we don’t have a big pot of money to do this. Maybe you’re a new rider or don’t usually stop to read this column so it could be you’re learning something new about the dangers of eco-policy gone mad. Just maybe, you will chat to your friends and be enraged enough to stand with us and do something about it.
We held our first Motorcycles Matter event on the streets of London (21st April). And we’ll continue to protest against ULEZ plans to charge older motorcycles £12.50 per day to enter London, exactly the same price as a car or small van, until they have to rethink this policy. MAG knows the data better than just about anyone, and our figures say that such moves will have little influence on the overall quality of the air or on life expectancy. We claim motorists and riders are once again being targeted unfairly.
Lembit (MAG’s director of communications and public affairs) is a complete anorak on the figures. And he can explain why the ‘science’ they use to justify all this is complete nonsense. Get in touch with him via Central Office if you’d like more details. Also, please keep a watch on social media to get involved and support our ‘Motorcycles Matter’ campaign which also calls for the Mayor to listen up and deliver on his pre-election promise of taking riders’ views into account.
CAZ consultations can crop up all over the UK, from Exeter to Edinburgh. It’s not just London or the larger UK conurbations that are at risk. It’s happening in places where people think ‘well, it won’t affect me,’ or ‘yeah, the traffic’s appalling there, but it’s okay here.’ These consultations are spreading; it’s the latest craze. Not all these schemes include motorcycles in their planned restrictions and charging plans so we need to address each one individually. If you spot any consultations going on, respond to them and highlight their existence to MAG’s Central Office or to your local or regional MAG rep.
CAZs are just another wedge to remove combustion-engined vehicles from the streets. I was alerted to a story regarding Shoreditch – yes, the area of London associated with the Bike Shed – where the local council is steaming ahead with plans to close two streets to most combustion-engined vehicles between 7-10am and 4-7pm Monday to Friday from July 2018. Remember, all these plans creep up like rising damp. One day it’s one street and one type of vehicle, but that gentle introduction leads to a framework being forced into place that means that, very easily, more vehicles are added, more streets, and then it becomes commonplace – even though the health risks are a phantom used to scare the public. The more of us who stand up to be counted, the more chance we have of resisting this phantom menace.
Meanwhile on another, equally pressing, issue, we are very active regarding bike theft. It doesn’t affect all areas of the country, but it’s rife in some. Colin Brown (our recently appointed director of campaigns and political engagement) is in contact with the Metropolitan Police to discuss actions and preventive measures. The police have come in for a lot of criticism, but they’re the enforcers of law in this country and we need to work with them where possible. Motorcycle theft deserves to be as high on the agenda as any other form of theft, as riders can run the very real risk of losing their livelihood with the loss of transport. We have also registered a complaint with the BBC about its coverage of ‘moped gangs’, as we felt the programme did not provide a balanced view. Indeed, fellow riders have said they’re concerned it’ll encourage other criminal elements to behave in the same manner. We’re talking to the right people – now we just need to get the right solutions.
Also still on the radar and making news are autonomous vehicles; vehicles capable of running completely free of human intervention. Perhaps you have some on trial near you? Clearly, humans aren’t perfect, but are electronics really any better at detecting riders and people? And if an autonomous vehicle brakes sharply in front of you, how soon are you going to be able to stop? There are still more questions than answers in the world of self-drive cars. We’ll continue to monitor the situation and look for opportunities to register our concerns. At least robots are logical, which is more than can be said for the ‘clean air corps’. Self-driving cars have their problems, but then again, so do self-driven fanatics.