'Target Rich Environment': a situation in which an attacker is presented with a large number of vulnerable targets.
In the Great War, during 'Bloody April' 1917, novice British reconnaissance pilots were sent into battle after spending just a few hours learning to fly. They were given no training to prepare them for the realities of battle: they learned no combat training or evasion techniques - after all, they could barely fly straight - how could they be expected to learn to fight? Upon arrival at a front line squadron, they were simply given a helmet and ordered to fly their aircraft deep into enemy territory. There, they would form a defensive circle of aircraft, the rearward firing machine guns of each plane supposedly protecting the next - 'safety in numbers'! Veteran German pilots saw things differently - they saw a 'target rich environment' - and they took full advantage of the situation. As a result, the life expectancy of a novice British pilot might be measured in hours.
On our 21st Century roads, there are a few similarities. Novice cyclists are encouraged to get on their bikes with no training whatsoever. Most barely know how to ride. They have little clue as to the rules of the road, how to ride safely or how to avoid collisions with motor vehicles. They are told that if enough of them start cycling, their numbers will magically protect them - again 'safety in numbers'! Like the pilots of April 1917, they too are reminded to wear a helmet. As a result of the failure to properly prepare cyclists, there is a 'target rich environment' in which the roads are filled with vulnerable and clueless potential victims - and London's roads have become more dangerous for cyclists as a result.
Of course, the biggest difference between the situation in the skies above Flanders in 1917 and that of London roads in 2012 is that motorists aren't actively trying to harm cyclists (though there are exceptions). The vast majority of cycling casualties happen by accident, caused by a shared lack of competence and sense of entitlement on the part of motorists and cyclists alike. Motorists seem to think that the fact that they passed a driving test (sometimes decades ago) means they don't need to brush up on the Highway Code, while cyclists think their right to the road means they don't need to do so either. In general, both groups seem to think they can do as they like (as long as they don't get caught breaking the law). Both groups act as if their vehicles are toys. This attitude kills, and as long as it persists, no amount of supposedly 'safe' infrastructure, no amount of green, blue, yellow or white paint, no amount of segregation, no amount of rhetoric and no assurances about 'safety in numbers' will make any real positive difference.
The fact is, 'safety in numbers' doesn't work - at least, it hasn't during the last 5 or 6 years in London; a time when Transport for London and London's 'cycling mayor', Boris Johnson, have implemented a number of schemes intended to encourage people to cycle on the city's new segregated cycle lanes, paths and 'Cycling Superhighways'.
Here's what the Greater London Authority has to say about the situation:
"Our analysis in Graph 1 shows that the safety in numbers effect has not prevented an increase in the cycling casualty rate between 2007 and 2010. Therefore, there remains an imperative for the Mayor and TfL to make improving the safety of cyclists on the roads the top priority in all their cycling programmes."
Safety a top priority? Ya think? Well, that would be a change!
'Safety first' is, admittedly, a novel concept for traffic engineers. Maybe now they'll take some time to consider the actual evidence for and against segregated cycling facilities. Maybe the government will even spend some money teaching novice cyclists how to ride safely on London's roads.
Yeah, right! Who am I kidding?
So just as with the pilots of the Great War, today's cyclists will have to learn purely through survival. The longer they survive on the road, the better their chances of learning the integrated cycling techniques that will keep them safe. They must learn this alone because, according to today's brand of populist cycling advocacy, it's much more important to demonize car culture, to praise the health benefits of cycling and to support questionable infrastructure than it is to teach cyclists how to use the road safely. Like the British soldiers and airmen of the Great War, today's cyclists who dare to go out on the road are 'lions led by donkeys'.