Paul Burke

Of course cycling is right-wing

Of course cycling is right-wing
(Photo by Ian Waldie/Getty Images)
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Three cheers for Jeremy Vine. At last someone has pointed out that cycling in cities is inherently right-wing.

Full disclosure: I’m a cyclist. I may not own a square inch of fluorescent or Lycra apparel; I may not terrorise motorists with violently bright and flashing lights but I’ve been riding a bike around London since I was a child.

However, whereas Jeremy celebrates the right-wing triumphalism of cycling — asserting that he and other cyclists 'are acting out of primal selfishness' — I’m mortally embarrassed by it. Cycling is the exclusive preserve of the very few and the very able. As for cycle lanes, which pander to a tiny and privileged elite at the expense of the vast majority, they’re undemocratic and wrong.

This morning, as I sailed down a wide and empty cycle line, I again felt my rucksack weighing me down with guilt and shame at the sight of those poor people alongside me; squashed against their will into 50 per cent of the roads they paid for. Helpless, gridlocked and trapped by authoritarian policies which suggest that their time — their lives — aren’t as important as mine.

I’ve often wondered who they are. Some might be teachers late for school or NHS workers trying to get home to sleep after an exhausting night shift. Sometimes I can see exactly who they are; firefighters, paramedics and delivery drivers prevented from carrying out vital, possibly life-saving work.

But if you’re one of those right-wing cyclists, how much do you care? Isn’t shaving ten minutes off your journey time far more important?

Right-wing people are also stereotypically unconcerned with the environment. This may be why a coterie of cyclists were advocating a scheme to destroy 23 of the large and beautiful trees along Notting Hill Gate to create a five mile cycle lane exclusively for them. They were also quite relaxed at spending a reported £42 million of other people’s money to do this. Fortunately the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea refused to support it. Too right-wing for Kensington & Chelsea? Now that’s saying something.

And as we’ve all seen many times, cycle lanes lay largely empty. During a 15-minute period on the Euston Road in London, for example, just seven cyclists used the cycle lane. Meanwhile, more than 400 vehicles were crammed into what was left of their road space. Hardly democracy in action, is it? According to one observer, 'If they were to measure the pollution, it will be infinitely worse than before cycle lanes were put there'. And who was that observer? Dorothea Hackman from Extinction Rebellion. Evidence, if any more were needed, of just how right-wing cycling has become.

So why aren’t more people using these astoundingly expensive cycle lanes? Quite simply, not enough people want to cycle and you can’t force them. Cycle lanes can also be counter-productive because they always run out. Quite often, very suddenly and dangerously, disgorging cyclists onto roads far busier, more polluted and more perilous than they otherwise might have been.

But also, savvy cyclists avoid main roads. Their bicycles allow them to weave safely through parks and side streets where the air is cleaner and the chances of endangering themselves or anyone else is minimal. They neither need nor want cycle lanes all over their cities.

As a habitual backstreet cyclist, I’m right with them. I’d like a fairer and more socialist use of road space, which is why I’d remove all cycle lanes and the privileges they bestow on an already fortunate elite.

Our roads should be for the many, not the few. Free the people and let them breathe a collective sigh of relief. The millions saved could then be spent on helping those in genuine need.