Campaign forces students to see the light

Jennifer Boon - News Reporter 7 November 2009

The “Have You Seen the Light?” cycling and driving campaign began last week in Cambridge city centre. The project, which involves Cambridgeshire Constabulary and the Cambridgeshire County Council, aims to improve road safety by ensuring that motorists and cyclists travel with correctly working lights. Police officers and council officials are setting up check points around the city to watch for incorrectly lit bikes or cars.

On the night of Monday 26th October the police agreed to let two reporters from The Cambridge Student (TCS) observe one of their operations. The check point was established on Sidney Street between 5.30pm and 9.00pm and involved a number of police officers as well as officials from the local council.

Any cyclist stopped for having an inadequately lit bike was issued with a £30 fine by one of the police officers and then given free bike lights by council officials. PC Matt Smith was keen to emphasise that this is a system of “enforcement and rewards” and that the purpose of the project is to improve safety and not to raise money for the council.

In addition to the bike lights, anyone stopped by the police was also offered a free hour long cycling proficiency lesson by Simon Haydn representing the Cycle Cambridge Team. These lessons, which are also free for all students, aim to show cyclists how to improve their road safety and reduce the chance of accidents. Although Mr Haydn admitted that he was “not expecting a lot of take-up” from cyclists who had just been fined, this year he did sign up 95 students at the freshers’ fair to take part in the training.

Everyone involved in the project was keen to emphasise that they were not especially targeting students, or even cyclists. At the same time as the cycle check point was in operation a patrol car was driving around Cambridge looking for motorists without lights. Haydn remarked that people tend to focus criticism on students because “they’re young, they’re on bikes, they’re an easy target,” whereas in fact the problem is more widespread.

TCS spoke to several cyclists after they had been fined, with most seeming fairly unruffled by the experience. Alex Greere, a third year engineer from Magdalene, had started cycling in the morning only to discover that his supervision had been moved back by two hours. Caught without lights on his way home, he said: “It’s annoying to be caught on a one off, but the project is basically a good thing. Safety is important.”

Echoing Mr Greer, Will Gamester, a third year philosopher from Girton, remarked, “It sucks for me, but it’s a good thing generally and now I have lights.” Many of those fined did appear placated by the free bike lights and no one was seen to behave rudely or aggressively towards the officials.

Paul Griffin from the Cambridge Community Safety Partnership told TCS that the cycling initiative had come as a response to public concerns. Apparently, issues over cycle safety are frequently raised in Area Committee Meetings. Over the course of the evening, several members of the public approached the officials and expressed satisfaction that action was being taken to improve cycle safety.

Mr Griffin acknowledged that the problem of traffic safety in Cambridge cannot be solved with just a week long project. According to him, this is a big issue which will not be solved in a year or two of action, but will require time and resources in order to be successful. On the Monday night alone 42 fines were issued followed by a further 25 on Tuesday evening, a high proportion of both being student offences.

When asked for their response on the County Council campaign, Cambridge University Students’ Union (CUSU) Welfare Officer, Amiya Batia, told TCS: “CUSU coordinates free cycle proficiency lessons with the County Council, and we are encouraged by the way “Have you seen the light?” campaign is also acknowledging that, in addition to cycle lights, bike safety education is integral to safer cycling.”

Jennifer Boon – News Reporter