Comment: Is a crackdown on “danger cyclists” needed to keep Cambridge streets safe?

22 January 2013

Cambridgeshire’s new Police Commissioner Sir Graham Bright arrived in his new job with a grand vision: that one day our streets will be rid of “anti-social cyclists”. Since then, undercover police have been tackling law-flouting bikers. Fifty- four were caught in one night. TCS asks whether this is a sensible use of police resources.

Yes: If a small number of riders give cyclists a bad name the most vulnerable of road users, pedestrians, will suffer, argues Minah Ghosh.

It’s a savannah out there. Just walk along Tennis Court Road. Who needs David Attenborough when you can experience nature for yourself, red, if not in tooth and claw, then at least in flailing arms and pedalling feet.

With cyclists on alert for the engine-growl of HGVs, and herds of pedestrians listening for the screech of approaching bicycle bells, there’s a ruthless Highway Food Chain.

Hello, from the bottom of the Food Chain! It’s tough on the plankton stratum, as statistics gleefully remind pedestrians.

Year on year more pedestrians are killed or injured on roads than any other travelling group. Although fatalities are rarely due to dangerous cycling it is easy to see why pedestrians get concerned.

Cyclists constantly muddy attempts to separate the walkers from the wheelers. Think about pavements. A bright spark invented them when there were only carts and steaming horse turds in the roads, to avoid getting the edges of his toga soiled.

The ones in Cambridge are narrow and, although they are no longer exclusively for pedestrians, I object to bicycles powering along pavements in the expectation that pedestrians will step into the road to make way for them: doubly ironic when the pedestrian has to make his escape into the cycle lane.

Infrastructure such as pavements and traffic lights are supposed to help pedestrians avoid becoming meals for wheels.

So why do so many cyclists ignore the red light at pelican crossings? Perhaps cyclists have been led to believe that the Highway Code does not apply to their sleek and eco-conscious selves.

It seems arrogant, condescending and, quite frankly, stupid. Ploughing through pedestrians is likely to end badly for everybody involved.

If the cyclist is racing around over the speed limit that even cars adhere to, they should be made to go slower. Speeding bicycles are just as much a hazard to other cyclists and vehicles as they are to pedestrians.

The shame is that most cyclists are harmless and very road-conscious; as the second most predated set of commuters, they have to be. But it’s always the few that give the many a bad name.

Cyclists no doubt complain about pedestrians wearing headphones, texting whilst jaywalking, ignoring crossings and stepping off kerbs. Pedestrians are unpredictable and thus vulnerable.

If we could rebuild our whole cycling culture and infrastructure from square one, we might want to set up speed cameras, microchip bikes, and widen and demarcate cycling lanes better.

But in reality we are in a city with limited road width, limited funds and limited resources. Using undercover police to catch out danger cyclists is something of a shock tactic. However, if the offenders are brought to know that they are a social nuisance, then it seems like a good idea.

What is most necessary between cyclists and pedestrians is some mutual respect. When cyclists are on the pavement, they are guests of the pedestrians and should defer to pedestrians when things look tight. The same applies for joggers in cycling lanes. They should defer to cyclists.

When a pedestrian walks out into the road, cyclists should look out for him, and when cyclists are crossing at a pelican or toucan crossing, pedestrians should give them space.

Please, however, crack down on dangerous cyclists, if not to knock them off their high horses, then at least their self-important saddles. They are an aggravation to anybody using the roads, not just plankton pedestrians.

Minah Ghosh is a third-year Nat-Sci at Emma.

No: We have healthy cycling culture in Cambridge, that we risk losing if we vilify cyclists, argues Zephyr Penoyre.

I’ve been on two wheels almost every day of my life. From the child seat on my mum’s bike, to standing on the crossbar of my dad’s (as fun as it sounds), to finally riding my own, up mountains, through rivers and into more than the occasional accident.

Growing up in London I learned to weave through cars, box out buses and to do everything in my power to dissuade pedestrians from daring to cross roads.

Living in Cambridge, I’m amazed by the attitude to cyclists, especially among motorists. Instead of the “cyclist is always wrong” approach I grew up with, now I see a “two legs good, two wheels better” ethos.

It’s this ethos that we might sacrifice by taking measures to reduce cyclist freedom: forcing cyclists off routes on which they feel safe and on to difficult roads, causing building tension between road users and possibly igniting the kind of ill will to cyclists seen in many other cities.

The greatest danger to cyclists comes from cars. Collisions with pedestrians are surprisingly rare (probably because the vast majority aren’t worth reporting) and the cyclist normally comes off the worst. But car collisions can easily be deadly and it is rarely the cyclist who is at fault.

Boris Johnson recently said that sixty percent of serious bike accidents in London were the cyclist’s fault, a figure which when examined turned out to be closer to six percent, with motor vehicles at fifty-six percent.

So instead of the roads perhaps we should stick to cycle lanes and quiet roads? Don’t be alarmed if you can’t find these; they are easy to miss. They’re the ones with all the pedestrians on them.

Most cycle paths run on the pavement, often filled with potholes, driveways and bus stops. Many streets suffer from what I call ‘Kings Parade symptom’: so filled with gormless wanderers that I’m beginning to believe somewhere in Cambridge is doing two-for-one lobotomies.

But are these “danger cyclists”, people without lights, patience or common sense are not the only ones who will be caught out by this. One-way roads in particular are a difficult point. Personally I believe that all roads in Cambridge should be two-way for cyclists. I’ll certainly keep going the wrong way (frankly I’m not actually sure which the right one is), pulling over to let cars pass.

Worse than experienced cyclists bending the rules, these measures will affect inexperienced and even first time cyclists. Every year we have an influx of people picking up bikes who barely know which end is which, flummoxed enough by sleeping policeman let alone awake ones in disguise. Stopping them using pavements and pedestrian crossings is not just mean spirited but dangerous.

Cars can do a lot more harm to cyclists than bikes to pedestrians, and when an unlucky soul wobbles out in front of a crossroads at the wrong time, it doesn’t really matter whose fault it was in the face of broken bones or much, much worse.

So get lights, wear a helmet, stop for reds and be prepared to dodge the camera touting zombies in the centre. But as long as it continues to be safe, I don’t plan on changing the way I cycle.

A big brother of cycle safety is in danger of causing tension between road users, and fails to address the impossible problem of renegade wandering pedestrians, taking the metaphorical training wheels from new cyclists before it’s safe to do so.

Next time you go the wrong way down Sidney Street, nip onto the pavement to avoid a Korean tour group or turn left where it says right, as long as you are sensible you have my blessing (as much as that’s worth). But if they do catch you, please don’t tell them I said this.

Zephyr Penoyre is a second year Physicist at Trinity Hall.

Photo – smaedli