Do Pedestrians Deserve to Die Too?

Much of the usual cyclist / motorist outcry after the series of deaths on London’s roads.

The rational of Twitter have been out in force on the anti-cyclist side. The main weird argument I’ve seen basically argues that, because some cyclists jump red lights, the people who died had it coming to them.

To be fair, the argument sounds fatuous when put like that. But that’s only because it is fatuous, and it also really does seem to be what people believe. But if we extend that reasoning we get:

1. Because some motorists don’t signal, they all deserve to be crushed by steam rollers at crossroads.

2. Because some Labour politicians jump red lights, they all deserve to be fox-hunted.

3. Because some gypsies did not, in fact, abduct children, Nick Clegg should warn all the Roma in England to behave better.

Actually, I’m thinking number 2 has more than a grain of truth in it. But then we come to a group of people who actually do behave quite badly on the roads.

As every Central London cyclist knows, pedestrians are a terror. If the pavements are full of other, slow moving pedestrians, then the quicker walkers will often jump into the gutter and walk there. This is bad news for any cyclist who believes the attitude of some motorists – as some drivers actually reckon it’s cyclists who should use the gutter, as if it’s a very narrow cycle-lane. Unless a tipper truck needs it to do some wild right-turn, obviously.

And don’t talk to me about running red lights. The worst red-light runners in London – quite literally – are pedestrians. They’ll see the Green Person has turned to a Red Person on the pelican crossing. Then they check that the traffic lights still are on red. Then they reckon “No more than 30 yards? I’ll make that.”

Sometimes they’ll be stuck on the zig-zags, white with fear,  as traffic passes either side.

The results of which are much as you might expect. Pedestrian deaths make up the majority of deaths on the roads in London.

The stats for dead pedestrians look like this:

Pedestrians on a pedestrian crossing (25%)
Drunk pedestrians (23%)
Pedestrians not on a pedestrian crossing (19%)
Pedestrians hit by buses or coaches (17%)
Pedestrians hit by speeding vehicles (16%)
Pedestrians hit by HGVs (14%)
Pedestrians hit by motorcycles (7%)
Pedestrians hit by vehicles while on a footpath (6%)

A few things to note – one is that a pedestrian crossing is statistically a terribly dangerous place to be. Another is that there is no breakdown for those killed by cyclists in this list. If you drill into their stats on the report on pedestrians killed in London, you will find that is because none were killed by cyclists – despite the “some cyclists ride on the pavement so some others deserve to die on the road” argument.

Nearly a quarter were drunk. The hardhearted would argue they therefore deserved it. The more extreme anti-cyclers would no doubt derive from this that therefore some of the other pedestrians also deserved to die.

The largest number of pedestrian deaths were caused by head injuries. Therefore some campaigners would argue that all pedestrians should wear helmets.

Given 6% of deaths were caused by vehicles on the pavement, you could even argue to cyclists that not even the pavement is safe. (Pavements are rubbish places to cycle, as well – you have to give way at every junction, and they’re full of the most random of all road users, pedestrians.)

Overall far more pedestrians die on the roads than cyclists. And yet there seems to be no proper outcry. And I think this is because of a tribal issue. Cyclists, to a degree, identify with each other. They share the problems of getting soaked, getting their vehicles on trains, punctures. To a degree, they share a uniform – often, hideous Lycra that reveals far more than it should, hi-viz, increasingly those randomly and disputable useful helmets. Some of the more macho ones share an obsession with gadgetry – lights on their heads, incredibly bright lights, helmet cams – some look more like RoboCop than a human being. But it creates a bond. The more dorky the trousers they wear, the more they can exult in their common dorkiness. The more motorists hate them, the more they can hate motorists. They are other – and in big enough numbers these days that they have a voice.

But not pedestrians – we’re nearly all pedestrians. If a pedestrian dies, that’s just another person. No tribal link – just the nearly-meaningless bond of common humanity in ythe abstract. The locals will pile up flowers and, according to age, teddy bears. But to everyone else – it’s just another statistic.

And so cyclists share the advantage of pressure groups , hash tags, flash roundabout takeovers. Pedestrians just shuffle on.

And this helps obscure one more theme. Protecting cyclists properly with proper infrastructure is good. But the typical use of cars in modern Britain is ridiculous. Who burns 2 litres of fuel, and takes on the responsibility of moving a 2-ton metal box around, then finding somewhere to leave their metal box, for the sake of going into town to pick up some shopping? Pretty well everyone, is the answer to that. Who thinks that the streets of Central  London are a good place to manoeuvre tipper trucks during the day? Pretty well nobody, but it still happens. Why is the flow of people sitting in large tin boxes more important than the convenience of everybody else? Why does 1 mile of motorway cost more than the entire improvements to the annual cycling budget the Government announced the other month?

Is it because we’ve come to see motoring as the norm, as just a force of nature, rather than the exception it should be? Is it because politicians are so dependent on fuel tax and car VAT that they can’t afford to kill that golden goose, whatever wind-farm taxes they impose under the pretence that they actually care about the level of CO2 in the atmosphere? Is it because we’re all just too lazy?

To be sure, cars have their place. In the country, where journeys are infeasibly long and there is no economic way of developing public transport. But the less motorised transport we use, the more we advantage other ways of getting around, and the more we protect the cyclist and the  pedestrian – even the drunk, red-light-jumping pedestrian on the phone while listening to music and not wearing a helmet – the safer, happier and healthier we will all be.

People don’t kill people. Cycles don’t kill people. Motorised transport kills people.

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