I am wearing a false beard and moustache to make sure that nobody recognizes me. I take a deep breath, and, here goes – the bicycle has no place in the modern world!
Yes, yes, I hear you. The bike is green and will save the planet; it’s healthy and will save you. Twenty bicycles can be parked in the space needed for just one car, and a bike produces no pollution. There are many reasons to prefer a bicycle over a polluting car.
But, cyclists on our overcrowded roads are risking their lives riding among cars, trucks and buses. There is no way that a cyclist, travelling at 20 kph can safely mix with traffic travelling at more than 90 kph. Although motorists believe that cyclists are the cause of accidents between bikes and cars, in fact it is usually the motorist who is at fault. This, of course, is of little comfort to a dead cyclist.
The most common type of crash occurs at an intersection when a motorist fails to stop at a stop sign, or proceeds before it’s safe to do so. Other causes are unsafe overtaking and opening a car door into the path of an oncoming cyclist. The cyclist has little, or no, control over these situations.
Last year in the UK, for example, some 21,000 cyclists were injured. Key factors in the increase in accidents are more cyclists riding lighter and faster bikes alongside bigger, more powerful cars on roads that are the same width they’ve always been. Here in Israel, the number of people killed while riding electric bicycles rose 350% in 2016.
So, for their own safety, we should keep cyclists off our roads. But, if we do, they will ride on the sidewalk, endangering pedestrians, young and old. So, for the safety of pedestrians, we must keep bikes off our sidewalks. Unless, and until, there are dedicated lanes for cyclists, clearly and physically separated from both vehicles and pedestrians, the bike should be banned.
In the UK there are plans to extend dangerous driving laws to cyclists following several fatal accidents involving cyclists and pedestrians. For the trial of a cyclist who killed a mother of two, when riding a bike without front brakes, prosecutors had to use an 1861 law that was intended to cover offences by drivers of horse-drawn carriages, as there is no law that applies to cyclists who cause death or injury.
The situation is further complicated by the unregulated use of electric bicycles on both the roads and sidewalks. These cycles, a growing plague, are motor vehicles in every respect but do not require an annual safety check, have no license plates, and can be driven without a driving license. Recently introduced legislation limits their maximum speed to 25 kph, although how this is to be enforced is not clear. Most models can reach speeds up to 35 kph. Are we to have police radar traps hidden in shop doorways to catch offenders on the sidewalks?
And while we are ridding our sidewalks of cycles, let us not forget to ban electric scooters, self-balancing boards (hoverboards), Segways, and electric skateboards that have turned the simple pleasure of walking around town into a life-threatening experience.
There will be benefits for pedestrians. In the UK, the number of pedestrians left dead, or seriously injured, after being hit by cyclists has doubled in the past decade.
There will also be health benefits for cyclists who give up their dangerous habit. Cyclists riding regularly in traffic are susceptible to lung pollution. A study conducted in London found that cyclists had 2.3 times more black carbon in their lungs than pedestrians.
After the success of his first two Len Palmer Mysteries, Snow Job and Not My Job, the author is working on Do Your Job.