Compared to cycling to work from South London to Silicon Roundabout, cycling around Lake Como in northern Italy might seem to be on a different planet, never mind in a different country. Every twist and turn of the road brings another beautiful scene into view of sun dancing on water and sails, terracotta roofs of the next town in the distance, an olive grove here, a medieval church there – all framed by the stunning mountains.
But anyone who cycles in London will know that it, too, has its views. There is simply nothing to beat the feeling you get when the narrow, crowded streets you’re cycling open suddenly to reveal the Thames. And for a moment as you cycle over the sun-dappled water you could even be back on holiday…
Many proponents of London cycling would not recognise the relaxing and scenic side of a daily commute. For them, to cycle in London is to take your life in your hands. But is it really so dangerous? When Boris Bikes were introduced, some critics predicted many accidents and deaths among the inexperienced, helmetless (possibly inebriated) users. Yet since their launch in July 2010 we’ve only just had the first death.
And although campaigners emphasise the recent growth in deaths of cyclists on the streets of London, it’s still a pretty low figure compared to the number of people who are cycling and the distances they are covering. In fact, taking the long view, cycling in London has never been safer. As Andrew Gilligan pointed out earlier this year: ‘In 2002, there were around 110 million cycle journeys in London, of which 20 ended in death. In 2012, there were around 180 million bike journeys, of which 14 ended in death. That is not carnage, and nor is it growing.’
Today, MPs will be debating how to promote more cycling in Britain. In the lead up to the debate, senior officials and peers took a number of jollies to foreign cities to look at what is being done to encourage cycling elsewhere. But by visiting Amsterdam and Copenhagen they are doing nothing more than finding the answers they want to find. If you visit Amsterdam you’ll of course come home thinking that the best thing to do is shut roads to cars and enact legislation that says motorists are always to blame if they hit a cyclist.