On Monday I stood on Vauxhall Bridge counting cyclists. Sad but true. I did the same thing almost exactly a year ago following a startling radio station row about how many people were using the newly-opened, two-way cycle superhighway, CS5, to cross the bridge and how many weren’t bothering. My return last week was in order to see what might have changed in the ensuing 12 months.
Was CS5 being used more or less? Had the overall number of cyclists crossing the bridge increased or reduced? Were cyclists behaving differently?
The cycle superhighway (CS) in question is on the eastern side of the bridge. During the first bitterly cold half hour I spent on the bridge on a Tuesday morning last November, I counted 98 cyclists - a rate of 196 per hour - crossing the bridge on its western side.
The headline on the front page of the Daily Mail made me sit up and take notice.
My first thought was: ah, good, the Mail finally agrees it’s lunacy we have so few decent bike lanes. It seemed gratifying, if unlikely. But then I saw the smaller headline below, and my heart sank: “The new blight paralysing Britain.”
It sank not so much because of an ill-informed article about cycling in the national press – that’s almost to be expected – but for another reason.
This was another example of what you might call post-truth journalism, which has leaped the fence from the internet to the mass media.
Now the Mail has taken the idea mainstream.
The paper’s almost entirely evidence-free, anecdote-based article takes London as a starting point, but goes on to claim that new bike lanes are also causing “traffic chaos” and “gridlock” in places as far afield as Manchester, Cornwall, Gloucester and Cambridge.
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It’s so silly that my first temptation was to ignore it completely. But there’s an argument for saying such myths and inventions should be challenged before they take hold. So here goes.
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Read about the most famous bicycle riders and their blogs about their life. The headline on the front page of the Daily Mail definitely made me sit up and take notice.