There are nine millions bicycles in the 'Bridge…

Hayley Edwards and Sarah Smith 22 January 2008

Not really. But Cambridge is brimming with cyclists, and a recent cycle count conducted by Cambridge Cycling Campaign found that in the space of 30 minutes on a Thursday morning, 475 cyclists rode up or down Downing Street. If there are so many cyclists in such a small city, what are the consequences for the safety of the students?

Over 15,000 cyclists are killed or injured in accidents on the road each year in the UK.

This is just the reported figure – it is estimated that between 60 and 90 percent of accidents go unreported. Young people account for a quarter of cyclists killed, and one third of those injured. Nearly three quarters of accidents happen at or near a junction, with T-junctions and roundabouts causing the most problems. Males are more likely to be in a cycling accident than females – 80% of

victims are men. 80 percent of accidents take place during the day, with the most dangerous hours being 3pm-6pm when most students are riding home from lectures. Three quarters of cyclists killed suffer major head injuries, and indeed 50 percent of all injuries are to the head and face, with casualties suffering cuts, concussion, and more seriously, brain damage and skull fractures.

Last term an email was circulated to all students stating that a man had been arrested after hundreds of bike parts were found at his house. The man had tampered with cycles all over the city. One victim left her bicycle locked outside the ADC Theatre and returned to find her brakes had been tampered with, and were no longer working: ‘It was genuinely scary. The thought that I could have been riding down the hill from college with brakes that didn’t work is horrifying.’

Over 300 bicycles a month are stolen in the first few months of each academic year in Cambridge. One student had his bike stolen in the first month of term opposite Emmanuel College: “I told the police, but it was never recovered. The lock was cut, and I lost a £300 bike.”

Recent statistics show a bike is stolen every 71 seconds in the UK. The number of bike thefts in Oxford is reaching epidemic proportions, with 16 stolen in East Oxford in November alone, and people being encouraged to take their saddles with them when leaving their bikes unattended.

Recently Cambridge Cycling Campaign circulated 60 000 copies of a map detailing where it is and is not legal to ride in the City Centre. The map aims to clarify areas in which cycling is not allowed, such as Drummer Street Bus Station, Sussex Street, paved passages such as St Edwards Passage and Market Passage, and the footpaths across Christ’s Pieces. In spite of the fact that colleges are issuing copies of this map, many students are still unaware of where they can and cannot cycle in the city.

Laws regarding cycling under the influence of alcohol are also unclear. Under the Licensing Act 1872, it is an offence to be in a state of intoxication and in charge of a carriage, horse, cattle or steam engine.

More recently, Section 30 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 has directed that “A person who, when riding a cycle on a road or other public place, is unfit to ride through drink or drugs (that is to say, is under the influence of drink or a drug to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the cycle) is guilty of an offence.” There is no official legal limit of alcohol when cycling, and this vagueness means many do not see it as a huge problem.

Camcycle said they were unaware of this: “Cycling under the influence of alcohol is clearly not good for safety but is honestly not a problem we have previously had drawn to our attention.” However, this investigation has found that a significant number of students do drink and ride. One student, who admitted to having done it several times, said; “I know loads of people who’ve cycled home after a night out drinking. If it’s a choice between riding down well-lit roads at night when there’s not much traffic, and walking home alone in the dark then you have to wonder which is actually more dangerous.”

Cycling dangerously carries a fine of up to £2500, and further fines can be handed out for those cycling carelessly, cycling on the pavement, or committing any other road traffic offences, such as ignoring traffic signals or signs. Laws for motorists, however (or those in charge of a “mechanically propelled vehicle”), are much stricter, and drink-driving carries a much greater social stigma than drink-riding. If a motorist is caught driving while unfit through the influence of drink or drugs, they can be given a 6 month prison sentence, a £5000 fine, and lose their licence.

CamCycle says it would prefer to focus on more ‘pressing’ issues. In a city where 25% of commuters are cyclists, the Grand Arcade will be opening with a complete lack of cycle parking. The centre has been denounced as a “shameful situation.” Campaigner David Earl said: “It is scandalous that a development on this scale can be allowed to open in Cambridge without the associated cycle parking and that the City Council has allowed them to get away with it.”

Hayley Edwards and Sarah Smith