Motoring journalist Jeremy Clarkson praises continental-standard cycling provision in Copenhagen

In an unexpected turn of events, motoring journalist and News International columnist Jeremy Clarkson has inadvertently put his weight behind our Love London, Go Dutch campaign by heaping praise on continental cycling culture, including physical separation of bikes and motor vehicles.

Love London, Go Dutch is calling for Dutch-style cycling provision in the capital, including segregated bike lanes on main roads (please sign the petition).

Writing in The Sunday Times on 8 April 2012, Clarkson praises Danish capital Copenhagen as a “fan-bleeding-tastic” city where “best of all: there are no bloody cars cluttering the place up. Almost everyone goes almost everywhere on a bicycle”.

Recognising the importance of segregation of motor and cycling traffic, he writes: “I know that sounds like the ninth circle of hell, but that’s because you live in Britain, where cars and bikes share the road space. This cannot and does not work. It’s like putting a dog and a cat in a cage and expecting them to get along.”

Despite this praise for cycling, Clarkson errs in forgetting that in the UK many of the same people that drive also cycle, and that in Copenhagen there are many shared-use streets where road users coexist comfortably.

Another mistake he makes is to assume urban planners must choose between cars or bikes: “City fathers have to choose: cars or bicycles. And in Copenhagen they’ve gone for the bike.”

As anyone who’s visited Copenhagen (or Amsterdam) knows, these cities are most certainly not devoid of motor traffic; it's simply that planners do much more to encourage cycling.

Nevertheless, despite occasionally returning to bad habits, it’s still something for Clarkson to write that he’s jealous of a city “that works”, saying of Copenhagen: “It’s pleasing to look at. It’s astonishingly quiet. It’s safe. And no one wastes half their life looking for a parking space. I’d live there in a heartbeat.”

Yes, his column contains misunderstandings, but he appears to have grasped the important point that removing conflicts between road users – for example, by allocating road space to cycling – is a significant step towards creating harmony in urban transport.

We’ve invited him to join the Big Ride on 28 April 2012.

We're hopeful he and his family will join our ride calling for a safer and more people-friendly city... just like Copenhagen.

Replies

  • By idavid at 8:04pm 12 April 2012

What JC really craves is for cycling in London to become the normal everyday activity that it is in Copenhagen. He clearly feels that cycling activism is unhelpful - later in his piece he says "in Britain cycling is a political statement. You have a camera on your helmet so that motorists who carve you up can be pilloried on YouTube. You have shorts. You have a beard and an attitude. You wear a uniform. Cycling has become the outdoorsy wing of the NUM and CND".

So, we still have an image problem. Fix that and we'll see more cyclists, more political support and more members.

I don't, I'm afraid, share this optimistic assessment of Jeremy Clarkson's comments. Like many British motorists, he wants segregation because he thinks that will get cyclists out of his way. I've pointed out many times before and in this blogpost, based on an interview I conducted in 2009 with Copenhagen's head of traffic, that the segregation there is not intended as a safety feature. He told me it simply rearranged accidents so that they were concentrated at intersections. We're not going to get in the foreseeable future to any kind of complete segregation between modes and we need to make it clear to motorists and the police that cars have to behave considerately towards cyclists. Road-sharing can work - but it's no surprise to see people like Clarkson don't think it can.

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