Grant Shapps’ ‘half-stupid’ ideas slammed by West Sussex cyclists

In an interview with a national newspaper earlier this month, the Tory politician took aim at ‘dangerous’ cyclists by proposing that they have registration numbers, insurance and that they be obliged to respect the speed limits.

However, after some initial teasing, Mr Shapps backtracked on some of his comments, saying he did not want to introduce number plates on the bikes.

His initial opinion piece said the current government had been a “consistent supporter of the cyclist” and that a new version of the traffic laws stipulates a hierarchy of responsibilities on our roads.

Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

But he added that “does not mean we should condone dangerous cycling”.

Geoff Farrell, chairman of umbrella organization the West Sussex Cycle Forum, said the comments were designed to appeal to motorists, of which he is one, who seek fairness, but the argument should be whether any of it will make roads safer and how will it work?

He pointed out that compulsory insurance does not prevent uninsured or untraceable motorists from being implicated in 130 deaths each year, with comparable cycle-related incidents being minimal. Meanwhile, 20mph is ‘actually a pretty good speed on a bike’ with e-bikes cutting out at 15.5mph and would only work if the bikes all had speedometers, while the zones of 20mph ‘is not being monitored to any meaningful extent at the moment’.

And regarding the registration he asked if it would be the bike or the rider as he has a number of different bikes and the process of registering each would be costly for everyone.

Mr Farrell added: “Overall, I think this simplistic idea has already been mooted and dropped as it is impractical and would not help road safety.

“Furthermore, as we should all know by now, cycling is a way to improve personal and public health as well as reduce traffic congestion and pollution and help minimize the effects of climate change.

“A few years ago Australia decided to make the wearing of bicycle helmets compulsory. The result was that fewer people were cycling and Australia’s net health declined. The same would happen here if irrational obstacles reduced the number of cyclists.

“We should encourage cycling and all forms of active travel – as I thought the government was doing with the appointment of Chris Boardman as active travel commissioner. For a government minister to give the Daily Mail this kind of unworkable nonsense – well, it’s impossible to understand why he did it.

Many of these points have been picked up by local cycling forums across the county.

Francis Vernon and Ruth Fletcher, of the Horsham District Cycling Forum, said: “In response to today’s damaging suggestion from Grant Shapps regarding bike registration, we fully support this comment by Edmund King, the chairman of the AA: “It is in the interest of all road users, and indeed our environment, that as a society we encourage greater use of active transportation, such as walking and cycling, as well as the transition to zero-emission vehicles. Introducing more barriers to slow the adoption of safe cycling would be a step backwards. What we really need is better infrastructure for cycling so that some of the current problems on the roads are solved”.

Adam Bell of the Bognor Bike Hub added: ‘His comments are completely contrary to what his department and other government ministers have consistently stated over the years, that it is neither practical nor cost effective to review any form of license or registration for anyone riding a bike. Any country that tried it quickly backpedaled when they realized it was a costly mistake and cycling standards plummeted.

“At a time when the UK is facing increasing levels of obesity, pollution and traffic congestion, why would anyone consider another step back in bureaucracy that would force people to give up cycling? Even the leader of the AA condemned Grant Shapps’ comments.

“Bearing in mind that the number of deaths caused by the actions of irresponsible cyclists is one or two a year, compared to 1,800 caused by drivers, as well as hundreds of thousands of injuries, Grant Shapps should focus his attention on the real threat on the UK roads, which are not people riding bikes.

A spokesperson for Shoreham-By-Cycle said: “We believe this is simply a headline-grabbing tactic by Mr Shapps, with no serious intent. All credible planners and politicians know that the challenge of fixing our transportation mess highlights the task of making cycling easier, not hindering people’s local travel.

“It’s a real shame that distractions like this risk stirring up unnecessary animosity on our streets, when we should be working together to give people more choices for where they travel. We don’t expect these recycled proposals make progress in Parliament, but if there is such a debate, we are ready to work with our MP, Tim Loughton, to bring some reason and perspective to the issue.

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems also criticized what they called Tory bureaucracy and a proposed bicycle tax and urged the government to focus on the cost of living crisis and not on “attacking cyclists”.

Midhurst County Councilor Kate O’Kelly said she wanted to see better cycle routes so less confident cyclists would be encouraged to leave their cars at home to improve health as well as the environment.

Lib Dem District Councilor Adrian Moss added: “We don’t want to discourage cycling by piling layers of bureaucracy on everyone. This is a proposal for even more bureaucracy. It is illiberal, counter-productive and totally unnecessary.

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