PETER HITCHENS: Every time I set out on my bike I prepare for war. It’s time for peace on the roads


I confess it. I am a cyclist. But no, I am not the sort of cyclist who squeezes himself into Lycra shorts. I do not wear a periscope on my head, or a camera, like Jeremy Vine, or radar devices. In fact, I dress quite normally – though I use lights at night and carry a reflective backpack so that I glow in the dark.

I signal my turns and stop at red lights. I pay lots of tax and much of it is spent on roads. I am insured. I am licensed to drive both cars and motorbikes and know what it looks like from the other side.

I have been bicycling in big cities for nearly 50 years. If more people were like me, the country would be better in many ways. The air would be far cleaner, our cities would be pleasantly quieter and we would be less dependent on horrible despots for noxious fuel.

I confess it. I am a cyclist. But no, I am not the sort of cyclist who squeezes himself into Lycra shorts. I do not wear a periscope on my head, or a camera, like Jeremy Vine, or radar devices (Pictured: Peter Hitchens cycling)

I confess it. I am a cyclist. But no, I am not the sort of cyclist who squeezes himself into Lycra shorts. I do not wear a periscope on my head, or a camera, like Jeremy Vine, or radar devices (Pictured: Peter Hitchens cycling)

Perhaps most important of all, we would all be much healthier and need fewer expensive drugs and operations. It becomes clearer every day that moderate exercise fends off heart disease and sustains health in general. It is also one of the best defences against the depression that is now so common. Most people find exercise for its own sake boring, so the best way to do it is to make it part of your daily life.

Anyone who really believes in saving the planet or saving the NHS should be an active supporter of cycling. But governments which claim to be so are in fact the allies of the car. The whole of our transport policy is still based on a 1950s belief that the car is supreme.

Yes, I know about congestion charges and speed limits and speed bumps and traffic jams. But these things are the result of car mania.

Anyone who really believes in saving the planet or saving the NHS should be an active supporter of cycling (file photo)

Anyone who really believes in saving the planet or saving the NHS should be an active supporter of cycling (file photo)

The Government has for 60 years built cities round the needs of cars and lorries. But it doesn’t work, because all these motorways and bypasses have increased the number of cars and will always do so. We will never catch up with the demand our policies have created. Within a year or so of any new motorway opening, it is full. You’ve seen it a dozen times. Now, I know that cars are sometimes essential. I know that most people don’t want to get wet on the way to work, that some parts of the country are so hilly that a bike is no use to them. I know that tradesmen and small businesses need vans.

But I also know that the roads are too full because so many people are using cars – a ton of steel, rubber and glass – for short, easy journeys they could easily do by bike. Many thousands of schoolchildren, likewise, are chauffeured to school as if they were tycoons or emperors, when they could walk or ride.

Most adults don’t ride bikes because they are reasonably afraid to do so. Parents also don’t want to let their children cycle. I agree with them. Traffic is too thick and too fast. Seat belts, better brakes, airbags and side-impact protection make people in cars feel too safe, so they drive more recklessly. Cycling can be very dangerous, and every time I set out, I prepare for war. It is time for peace on the roads.

Yet there is no sign of it. A survey for BBC’s Panorama last week showed that one driver in three believes cyclists shouldn’t even be allowed on public highways and should be confined to cycle paths.

It becomes clearer every day that moderate exercise fends off heart disease and sustains health in general (file photo of a family cycling)

It becomes clearer every day that moderate exercise fends off heart disease and sustains health in general (file photo of a family cycling)

The same number – who are probably the same people – also said they felt too much cash had been spent improving infrastructure for cyclists. This is plainly a mad attitude. If you don’t spend money on cycle paths, then there won’t be any cycle paths for us annoying cyclists to ride on. Or the paths that exist will be the useless sort that force us on to crowded pavements with pedestrians, or which consist of a line of paint which suddenly stops just when you need it most. There’s also the fact that so many drivers think the words ‘cycle track’ in fact mean ‘free car park’. More proof our schools aren’t up to much.

AND of course there is the dire influence of broadcaster and farmer Jeremy Clarkson, who has declared that each cyclist ‘is a guest on roads that are paid for by motorists’. Every cyclist has heard drivers regurgitating this bilge, snarling at us: ‘You don’t pay road tax.’ But we do. The excise duty charged to car-owners, and the fuel tax at the pumps (held down for years by Chancellors afraid of a drivers’ rebellion), is not spent on roads anyway. We all pay for roads, through VAT, income tax, council tax and all the other ways in which the Government reaches its hand into our pockets.

Anyway many cyclists also own and drive cars. Perhaps the solution might be a summit between me and Mr Clarkson, at which he withdraws his foolish words. Then this country might become as healthy and happy as the Netherlands, which was once as car-mad as us, but decided not to be so silly any more.

Secret of defeating spies

Liz Truss’s phone is now imprisoned in a safe because the authorities think it was tapped. Of course it was tapped. Phones just are tapped, though those who bug them will never have time to listen to most of what they record.

I learned to relax about this during my years in Moscow, when the KGB crazily suspected me of working for MI6. My flat was bugged. My computer was bugged. My car was bugged. My phone would stop working every few hours when the tapes ran out, and I would go to the telephone exchange and bang on the door. Beautiful Russian girls would poke their heads out of the window and assure me it would be working again by the time I got home. It was.

My mobile has never been the same since the North Koreans ‘looked after it’ during my visit. The solution is simple. If you have anything secret to say, go for a walk and leave your phone behind.

Tact will fix migrant crisis, not Chinooks

I am baffled by Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s Chinook helicopter visit to Kent. There are perfectly good railways there, or even roads, both of which I used on my recent visit to the undefended beaches near Rye, just over the East Sussex border.

Chinooks are vast, noisy machines, surely not ideal for such a trip anyway. It reminds me a bit of Lord Heseltine storming about the country in a camouflage jacket in the 1980s when Liz Truss was helping her mother campaign against the West’s nuclear defences. Heseltine’s militaristic garb only drew attention to his remarkably brief spell as a National Service soldier in 1959.

We have had noisily militant Home Secretaries before, such as Theresa May. She sent vans round London warning falsely that the authorities were closing in on illegal migrants. The truth remains that British governments manage to get rid of only a tiny number of illegal migrants. The Rwanda plan has obviously flopped. It’s also clear that we cannot lawfully stop migrants once they have set off from French beaches.

I’ll say it again. The only serious policy involves getting France to stop the migrants embarking in the first place.

All the tact, money and diplomacy we have should be used to achieve this. You won’t need a helicopter. 



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