Mail on Sunday steps up the fight against cycle lanes

Public enemy number one? Apparently so, if your name is Nigel...
The Mail on Sunday appears to have launched a crusade against cycle lanes
The Mail on Sunday appears to have launched a crusade against cycle lanes
Adrian Wills's picture

Mail on Sunday steps up the fight against cycle lanes

The tabloid appears to be on a crusade against the installation of new cycle lanes across the UK, but its latest weapons in the bike-lane backlash have raised a few eyebrows, as well as hackles

It’s not exactly news that the Mail on Sunday isn’t a big fan of people on bikes, but its rage levels seem to have been raised to Defcon One since governments announced they’d be spending more on cycling.

Its ire has been somewhat predictable and its arguments widely discredited – but, like a dog with a bone, the Mail can’t let it go, even though recent research shows the majority of the public is in favour of more cycling infrastructure.

Over the last few weeks, the paper has trotted out the same tired complaints that cycle lanes are the sole reason for an increase in traffic congestion, that no one’s using them, that there’s been no consultation and that they’ve supposedly been holding up ambulances on emergency calls.


The Mail on Sunday appears to have launched a crusade against cycle lanes
The Mail on Sunday appears to have launched a crusade against cycle lanes

But it hasn't stopped there. It’s been a fantastic opportunity for the publication to harp back to one of its favourite bugbears – that cyclists are unable to obey the rules of the road and should be regulated.

In fact, the MOS has taken the cycle-lane threat so seriously, it’s been forced to bring in the big guns, serious heavyweight commentators to spout their opinions.

And who better to pass comment than the unlikely pairing of Nigel Farage and Nigel Havers?

Who better to pass comment than the unlikely pairing of Nigel Farage and Nigel Havers?

That’s right – Nigel Farage, a populist who claims to speak for the common man but has repeatedly failed to be elected to parliament, and the ever-youthful Nigel Havers, actor, soap star and self-confessed car lover.

Surely there can’t be many people in the country more qualified to talk about how to solve our worsening traffic crisis, can there?

Regardless, the Mail on Sunday, in its infinite wisdom, has given a large number of column inches to the two Nigels on consecutive Sundays.


Nigel Farage wants cyclists to be regulated like motorists
Nigel Farage wants cyclists to be regulated like motorists

First it was Farage.

He wanted cyclists to stop being so pious, pay road tax and obey the rules of the road, just like motorists.

What a pity he’d not stopped to check his facts. Anyone who rides a bike would have politely pointed out road tax was abolished in 1937, and even vehicle excise duty (VED) is a tax on emissions and therefore not applicable to bikes.

Never mind that. He swiftly moved on, screaming it was high time bike riders were "regulated, registered and taxed – and subject to the same rules as the drivers of other vehicles".

I wonder if he was referring to the rules that also apply to the 63% of drivers who broke 30mph speed limits during the first lockdown, according to the Mail's own online story this week?

You see, that’s the problem. It’s not cyclists, or drivers, who break rules. People break rules, and their behaviour is usually not dictated by their mode of transport.

Okay, Nigel. Message received. Stand aside.


Traffic jam
Traffic queuing nose-to-tail is likely to only get worse unless people change their travel habits

Roll up Nigel Havers, who was given a mouthpiece to vent his anti-cycling fury in the following week’s paper.

Havers is cross because when he went for a walk with his wife and dog in leafy central London (Kensington High Street to be precise), the air was thick with fumes.

He told us the smell of pollution wafted from "hundreds of cars, vans, lorries and buses stuck nose-to-tail in a horrendous traffic jam".

We agree with you, Nige. That’s appalling. So what was he suggesting should be done? A ban on motor vehicles in the capital? An increase in the congestion charge to encourage drivers to find alternative, less polluting and quicker means of getting around?

Apparently not. You see, the problem wasn’t the traffic itself, he said. It was the cyclists, damn them, he opined. Or more specifically "these dreaded new cycle lanes which have caused havoc across the country".

Really, Nigel? Can you hear yourself?

Again he’s failed to grasp that since the first lockdown was lifted, motor traffic levels have sprung back to pre-Covid levels while a little more than half of the workforce has returned to work.

In other words, there are more cars on the road and it’s only going to get worse as people avoid public transport for fear of catching the virus, unless we can encourage them to cycle or walk more.

Not only are the cycle lanes near Nigel’s house causing congestion, they’re stopping ambulances getting through, he says.

Not cars and vans clogging the roads. It’s the cycle lanes. Seriously?

But that’s not the worst of it. When Nigel looks up and down his street, he sees the cycle lanes are empty. No one’s using them, at least not that he can see.

He forgets, though – or maybe he didn’t take the time to educate himself – that cycle lanes are far more efficient at moving people through a city like London than roads and cars. Maybe that’s why he can see a long line of traffic sitting gridlocked long after the cyclists have sped through?

Nigel’s too angry to even consider that this could be a possibility.


Cycle lanes have been making the Mail on Sunday hot under the collar
Cycle lanes have been making the Mail on Sunday hot under the collar

It’s not a surprise the Mail on Sunday wheeled him out to vent his spleen in what has plainly become a vendetta against government plans to make walking and cycling safer in a post-coronavirus UK.

He has form when it comes to the subject of cyclists. In 2006, he also took aim at "law-breaking cyclists" during an interview with a journalist conducted on his mobile phone while he was in his car. We should have seen him coming.

It’s easy to get hot under the collar when reading these sorts of columns. As cyclists we’re used to hearing the same old tired arguments trotted out by these types of, largely irrelevant, characters.

But it’s not worth letting our blood pressure rise.

Yes, it’s annoying but it’s also desperate and laughable.

56% said they supported the rollout of new cycle lanes, with only 19% opposing them, although people tended to massively overestimate others' objections to them.

Only last week we published the results of a YouGov survey which showed widespread public support for more cycle lanes to make cycling safer.

In fact, 56% said they supported the rollout of new cycle lanes, with only 19% opposing them, although people tended to massively overestimate others' objections to them.

Hardly surprising when they read the rantings of the two Nigels and when the media has been far too willing to pump out stories about local opposition to schemes after listening to the cacophony of a vocal minority instead of paying attention to the facts and the sensible, mainstream point of view.

Opinion pieces from politicians and celebrities don’t help, but remember that publications like the Mail on Sunday rely on stoking up conflict to sell papers.

And when they get a whiff of a populist cause, there’s no stopping them.

So let’s not concentrate on the negatives. Let the two Nigels puff and blow all their hot air until they’re weak at the knees.

Instead, let’s make it our mission to applaud the ambition of councils trying to make cycling safer and more accessible, even if they don’t always get it right.

Speak up, challenge those hackneyed and out-dated anti-cycling sentiments in the comments section of your online paper or your social media platform of choice.

Most of all, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.

Just don’t be a Nigel.


Six reasons why we need cycle lanes
Six reasons why we need cycle lanes

Find out more about what you can do to counter the bike lane backlash, and download our handy bike lane backlash fact file toolkit below.

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