Ken proposes to sock cyclists

Last week Ken Livingstone (mayor of London) announced that he had become convinced of the need for bicycles, and their riders, to be registered and for the bikes to carry number plates in order to deter cyclists from jumping red lights and riding on pavements. The Evening Standard reported on Friday that cyclists were divided over the idea, “with one side bitterly against the move and the other supporting motorists”. He also said he supported banning “jaywalking”, a term which is almost never used over here but refers to crossing a road other than at a crossing and at a given signal.

Of course, the whole issue of cyclists jumping red lights comes up again and again, often on radio phone-in shows where people with nothing better to do are able to moan about things that don’t actually affect them. One of these is the sight of a cyclist getting ahead when he can’t, because he is stuck in a traffic jam in a stiflingly hot car on a hot, sunny day. There are actually good reasons why cyclists jump lights: among them being that the cyclist does not have to deal with traffic when it is at its densest. There are actually areas at many traffic lights where cyclists can stop ahead of motorists, but these are often obstructed by car drivers, leaving the cyclist with no option other than to stop further ahead still, or to risk being run over by an idiot motorist turning left without having seen him because the car in front obstructed the driver’s view of the cyclist.

The fact is that there would be no red lights if there were no motor vehicles. Bicycles are not motor vehicles, and should not be bound by the same rules as motor vehicles. By doing this, Ken is simply bowing to the phone-in moaners when he should be proposing to remove this stupid law which would leave the moaners without their sanctimonious “he’s breaking the law” trump card to play (as if these people’s moral scruples hold strong when they find the speed limit too low for their liking).

Channel 4 notes that Ken “did not say if cyclists would have to pay to register their bikes”, and I wonder if the talk show host was not negligent in not asking him if we would have to pay. As with every government scheme requiring people to take out a licence to do one thing or another, the most likely answer is that we would. The scheme would of course require the employment of numerous bureaucrats and a computer system which, given the recent record of government computer schemes, would probably cost an awful lot and not work properly, and the initial outlay for the taxpayer would have to be paid back by cyclists.

It also casts doubt on Livingstone’s “environmental” credentials. Actually, since he came to power at least two train operating companies around here, South West Trains and Southern, have stopped carrying bicycles at peak times except for folding bikes, which means a cyclist can no longer take his bike and ride the distance from station to work (useful if work is a fifteen-minute walk from the station and the train conveniently arrives five minutes before work starts). He boasts that his congestion charge has allowed for improvements in public transport, but riding the buses has become rather less convenient with the abolition of Routemasters and the increasing refusal of bus drivers to open doors when the bus is stopped in a jam. (Regent Street, not covered by either of the “heritage” Routemasters, is one place which could really do with jump-off buses.)

And frankly, the nanny state and its close cousin, the corporate nanny, is one of the things I most despise in the world. I hate it when some bureaucracy dares to tell me, an adult with a mind of my own, what’s good for me (so that it can cover its back and keep its insurance premiums down). Actually, I hated it just as much when I was at school when the people who presumed to “protect me from myself” were not so willing to protect me from the dangers closer to home, that is, the people I shared a building with. And there is no better example of the nanny state than jaywalking laws which we have somehow managed to do without, as far as I have ever been aware, for decades. Yes, it’s important for children to be told to use crossings and wait for the green man (our equivalent of the “walk” light), because children’s judgement of time and space is not as well-developed as an adult’s. An adult can judge these things, and needs to when the pedestrian crossings are inconveniently located (or are dangerous, as with subways which are used by idiots on mopeds and by loitering youths) and require a long walk back on oneself to use.

I’ve always believed that the mayor’s powers were deliberately limited because the Blair government, which introduced the city mayor system during its first term in office, feared that Ken would be elected and not “their man” (which is what happened, of course, with Ken running against an official Labour candidate and getting kicked out of the party as a result). As for Ken himself, I suspect that he has run out of ideas and has now resorted to appeasing sanctimonious whiners by trying to stick it to an unpopular, but generally harmless, group of people. A mayor of a different persuasion, of course, might now be appealing to other popular prejudices, if not outwardly then with coded “dog whistles”. Are you thinking what he’s thinking?

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