Tuesday 16 September 2014

A tragedy foretold

Firstly, I should declare an interest.  The incident I describe below occurred on an event organised and sponsored by the firm of which I am proud to identify myself as a partner.  This annual JoGLE/LEJoG event has about 800 participants, drawn from our partners and staff, clients and members of the general public who commit to raising sponsorship money for charities.

My senior partner, David Sproul, is a keen cyclist, who has participated in this event himself.  A significant number of his senior board-level colleagues are also keen cyclists.  About a dozen of our partners took part in the event this year, and many more of our staff – a certain number of the places are set aside for the firm’s partners and staff and they are always heavily over-subscribed, such that some staff get the opportunity to take part only by forming “relay teams” who share the riding each day.

My firm is committed to cycling in many other ways.  Our London offices have space for more than 600 cycles in secure parking – for a complement of about 7,000, many of whom spend weeks at a time working at client offices, so this represents in effect more than 10%, well above the new, and especially the old City of London planning standards for cycle parking.  With the parking comes lockers, showers, and even fresh towels for those willing to pay a nominal charge for them.

I talk about “describing” the incident but actually I can’t – the information so far in the media is sketchy.  We know that Sally Preece was involved in a collision with a “car” on the A82 somewhere near Loch Earn, but we don’t as yet know more about the circumstances – whether it was at a junction or not, for example.  (One of the comments on the road.cc article speculates on  sudden emergences of a car from a side road, or a cycle ditto, but in that respect the BBC website article could be misleading – it shows a google image of a junction on the road, but that may signify nothing more than where the road closure to deal with the incident was set up, after all a traffic diversion would require a junction to turn at). There will presumably be an inquest and that is the proper place to determine the facts.

A tragedy was in fact foretold, and perhaps it was inevitable, indeed it has been pointed out that statistically, there should have been one by 2012, so the inevitable  was delayed by two years.  Whatever the underlying reasons, the cause was interaction of a motor vehicle with a vulnerable road user.  (One might well question why the selfish pricks who form the “A82 Partnership” could not just accept that, for less than a half day in this year and possibly alternate years, the passage of 800 cyclists raising millions for charity might trump their selfish need-for-speed, but there you have it).

Now move south, to London, and the ongoing consultations on the East-West Cycle Superhighway, the so-called “Crossrail for Bikes”, and its North-South companion.  These proposals would not have helped Mrs Preece.  They are a matter of London government alone, and sadly there is so far not much sign of other metropolitan areas, or indeed counties, following suit.  However, the dangers cyclists face, in having to mix with fast-moving motor traffic on the roads, are very much the same.  It is my sense that my firm, while supportive of staff cycling, are concerned that they should not push them into doing anything which might put them in peril, so facilitation of cycling falls short of active encouragement.  The two new proposals would specifically address that concern in very large measure, especially as our offices are literally a hundred yards away, on a quiet cul-de-sac which is permeable to bicycles, from the North-South route, and less than a quarter-mile from the junction of the two routes at Blackfriars.  Staff could travel to work from four points of the compass in comfort and safety, and arrive at their desks with the fitness, alertness and vitality that the firm knows comes with active travel to work.

In contrast to the generally welcoming response from cyclists, academics, some NHS bodies and a so-far small group of contrarian businesses, we see an overtly hostile reaction from the City Corporation and from  London First, a membership organisation which purports to speak out for London businesses.  Don’t be fooled by the terminology – anyone who talks about “balancing the needs of all road users” is in practice arguing for the hegemony of the motor vehicle, as has been seen countless times over the last many years.

"benefit all road users" - that tired old canard again

Now, London First purports to represent the interests of its paid-up members but the distinct impression I have gained is that they did not consult any of their members before they launched their offensive against the proposals.  Certainly I don’t have the impression that my firm, with its generally supportive policy on cycling both as sport and as commuter transport, and its Corporate Social Responsibility policy which includes commitments to minimise travel by car or taxi, was canvassed for its opinion in advance.

I am only one of over 700 partners, so I have no authority to speak on behalf of the firm.  Our corporate position will of course take into consideration a whole host of commercial considerations as well as our CSR policy, HR policy, and the interests of the clients we advise.  I think – I hope – that none of this prevents them from coming out firmly in favour of the proposals now.  I know that I am not alone in this.

Update:  in one of those serendipitous events, the Evening Standard has reported on a statement of the bleedin' obvious - most London workers can't find time in their busy lives for proper exercise, but they could sort it out with active travel to work.  The superhighways are just what the doctor ordered.

No comments:

Post a Comment