Chris Grayling left red-faced following misunderstanding in his area of expertise.
Hard though this must seem, you've got to feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He's the nation's transport secretary so ought to know a thing or two about the rights of road users, but he recently fluffed some lines during questioning in the House of Commons, and one type of road user came down on him like a ton of bricks. Cyclists, that is.
In a December interview with the Evening Standard, the hapless secretary of state seemed to deny that cyclists were road users.
“I don’t think all the cycle lanes in London have been designed as well as they should have been," said Grayling.
“There are places where they perhaps cause too much of a problem for road users ..."
He should have said "motorists" not "road users". And his ignorance was highlighted last week when, in Parliament, he said: “Where you have cycle lanes, cyclists are the users of cycle lanes, and there is a road alongside, motorists are the users of the roads."
He compounded his ignorance by smirking: "It's fairly straightforword to be honest."
Former transport minister David Jamieson called transport secretary Chris Grayling "clumsy" for his ill-judged words.
"Of course cyclists are road users," said Jamieson. "Cyclists, motorists, equestrians, pedestrians: we are all road users."
Jamieson, a former Labour minister and who was Parliamentary Under-Secretary of Transport until 2005, is now the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner. The West Midlands police force is the most active police force in the country on trying to stamp out "close passes" of cyclists.
WATCH: Mr Grayling knocks over a cyclist...
"Mr Grayling's comment was ill-informed and undermines the mutual respect all road users should have for each other to ensure our roads are safe," said Jamieson.
"There is no place for attitudes such as Mr Grayling's, who has, in one clumsy comment, disregarded the safety of the millions of cyclists who regularly use our roads."
Gold medal winner and British Cycling’s policy adviser Chris Boardman said Grayling's comments demonstrate an “astonishing lack of knowledge about how seven million people regularly use the roads in this country. If he truly thinks the roads are not for cyclists then what am I paying my taxes for?"
Boardman added: “The Secretary of State should also know that segregated cycle lanes of sufficient quality are incredibly rare in Britain. In fact, it’s going to be impossible to meet government targets on a diminishing budget of less than £1 per head. This is in stark contrast to the Netherlands and Denmark where more than £20 per head is spent. If there was ever anyone who needed to actually get on a bike and hear about the true state of cycling infrastructure, it is Chris Grayling and I’d be delighted to go on a ride with him.”
As a Cambridge history graduate Grayling would no doubt be interested in how cyclists have equal legal status on the roads as motorists. The legal definition of bicycles as legitimate highway users was solidified in 1888. The Local Government Bill of that year created County Councils. The Cyclists’ Touring Club formed a committee to oversee the progress of this bill through parliament. It was feared that if County Councils were given powers to create their own bye-laws such bye-laws would be used to prohibit bicycles. The CTC had political clout: it asked one of its members – who just so happened to be an MP – to lodge an amendment to the Bill. Sir John Donnington “won a brilliant victory for the Club,” wrote James Lightwood, the author of a 1928 history of the CTC.
When the Act – with the critical amendment – was duly passed, a writer in the Law Journal said the Local Government Act of 1888 was the “Magna Carta de Bicyclis.”
“As a result there disappeared … every enactment which gave to Courts of Sessions, Municipal Corporations and similar bodies in England and Wales power to resist and hamper the movements of cyclists as they might think fit. The new order of things established once and for all the status of the cycle.”
It's often said that, since 1888 to today, cyclists have the right to use the road, motorists only use it by licence. This is technically correct but perhaps a little provocative.
Nevertheless, it does seem strange that the person in charge of Britain's roads doesn't appear to know who has the right to use them, and that cyclists don't have to stick to cycle lanes, which are often rather rubbish. It also doesn't help that Grayling recently opened the door on his ministerial car and floored a passing cyclist. Poor, Christopher Grayling.
Carlton Reid is the executive editor of BikeBiz, and the author of Roads Were Not Built For Cars. He drives his wife's Nissan Note, but rarely.