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Nigel Hastilow: Cyclists' rights ride roughshod over cars

By Nigel Hastilow | Nigel Hastilow | Published:

As I sat in a queue of traffic trying to escape the motorist-hostile centre of Birmingham, I had time to wonder why everything was moving so slowly.

Maybe cyclists should pay for their use of the new network

It was only three o’clock on a Monday afternoon so it wasn’t the rush-hour, the schools were still in business, the weather was fair. What was the hold-up?

The answer, when we finally got that far, was that two lanes were being funnelled into one. Why? To build a bit more cycle lane, though at the time no work was taking place and there was nobody about who might have been interested in such an endeavour.

Interestingly, while I queued for at least 20 minutes to travel half a mile, I was not overtaken by a single cyclist though such a mythical creature could weave in and out of the traffic or, if necessary, take to the pavement.

The absence of cyclists might be explained by the absence of an elaborate, West Midlands-wide system of lanes designed and built specifically for them.

Or it could have something to do with the fact that most people, most of the time, prefer more convenient modes of transport.

My opportunity to reflect on the growth of cycle lanes, if not the growth in cyclists, came courtesy of our West Midlands Mayor Andy Street.

Our Andy is busily turning himself into the most politically-correct, ineffectual spender of other people’s money this side of London.

He has a mad anti-car scheme to waste £256 million on cycle lanes. He boasts - indeed he gets praised in some quarters - that he will be spending £10 per person per year on cycling in the West Midlands compared with 20 pence in the past.

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Bicycles are right up Andy’s street, it would seem. They are, of course, unlikely to pollute the atmosphere and their use does make us leaner, fitter and less likely to trouble the NHS (assuming we don’t fall off).

In theory, if we all got on our bikes to go to work, the roads might become less congested. But it isn’t going to happen no matter how much Mr Street digs up the roads and makes life as inconvenient as possible for the average motorist.

It can’t have escaped his notice that the region’s economy still depends heavily on the motor industry. Indeed, Mr Street himself is keen to encourage the industry; he’s always banging on about the need for ‘world class’ manufacturing.

Yet he’s at the front of the queue when it comes to pricing motorists off the roads, backing the latest ruse to impose a congestion charge in the region.

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This is, of course, on top of all the other taxes imposed on motorists. We pay two taxes when we buy a car, a tax to use the roads, An insurance tax, a tax every time we need fuel and taxes on servicing and parts.

In return we get ever-greater congestion partly caused by Mr Street and his cycle lanes.

Why must we tolerate his war against motorists without any murmur of dissent?

There may be a place for cycling in the region. It’s an increasingly popular pastime. Some people even enjoy watching the Tour de France. Mamils, middle-aged men in lycra, have become an acronym.

Even so, I find it hard to believe bikes will catch on as a way for commuters - all that weather to get through would be enough to put off all but the most dedicated and unhygienic cyclist.

And why should cyclists get something for nothing? If motorists pay a fortune for the privilege of using the roads, shouldn’t cyclists pay for Andy Street’s network?

Instead of taking £10 per person per year for a decade out of the general taxes endured by everyone living under Mr Street’s regime, who not ask cyclists for a contribution towards the cost of this brave new world.

It’s being created specifically for them, why shouldn’t they make a contribution towards the cost of it all? The average bicycle costs a fortune, not to mention all the gear that goes with it, so a tenner a year to use the cycle lanes isn’t asking a lot.

After all, some cyclists, with their aggressively self-righteous attitude towards pedestrians as well as motorists, think they own the roads already.

Admittedly a £10-a-year licence wouldn’t raise anything like the £256 million Andy is planning to waste on his ridiculous scheme. But it would be a start.

Meanwhile, there is fantastic news for Black Country motorists - we are getting new average-speed cameras.

On the basis that these weapons of law enforcement clock the average speed during an entire journey, rather than just along a short stretch of road, we will never get another speeding fine.

Mr Street’s never-ending road-works mean motorists will be going nowhere fast so we can’t possibly exceed the average speed limit in the course of a journey across the region.

Oh? Is that not how it works?

Nigel Hastilow

By Nigel Hastilow

Express & Star columnist

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