Campaign LogoPedal Power

Issue 65
November 2006

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Cyclists and Public Relations
a letter from Nick Moss (a solicitor) of Nottingham Pedals submitted to the CTC for publication.

What I have come to realise over recent months is that cyclists and the cycle campaigning industry are significantly responsible for many of the problems cyclists face on the roads, the inability to get proper road safety laws and decent cycle facilities. The poor attitude of many road users towards cyclists, the cause of accidents and the failure of national and local government to fully provide for cyclists comes down to how we as individuals and organisations behave.

Too many cyclists, possibly a significant majority, pay little or no heed to basic road laws. It is all too common to see cyclists jumping red lights, cycling at night without lights, riding inappropriately and in an anti-social way on pavements. Not every cyclist behaves like this on a regular basis but neither is it the preserve of a few bad apples. Whenever such complaints are raised in the media or by politicians too many cycling representatives seek to explain away, justify, excuse or even support what is going on.

The behaviour of far too many cyclists and the refusal by those that represent their interests to be seen to be criticising or condemning what is going on has led to an all too common perception that we are lawless, believe we are above the law and then have the gall to complain about problems that arise because other road users fail to provide cyclists with sufficient respect.

Whatever views we have of ourselves, cyclists on the road are a minority. Whether we like it or not the majority of users on the road are in cars/lorries/buses. Our requests for facilities to be provided to make it safer and easier for people to cycle are all too frequently met with a resistance that is difficult to understand. Whatever legitimate arguments are put forward for new facilities they are undermined because the underlying public perception is cyclists are lawless and therefore should not be rewarded for their criminal acts.

It is basic human nature to have little sympathy for the wishes of a group of people who are seen as criminal and anti-social. Whether it is fair or not the illegal, unsafe and anti-social behaviour of far too many cyclists tars us all with the same brush. Every day drivers, and cyclists, see crazy behaviour on the roads by people riding bikes. Local and national politicians, local authorities, national government departments, local and national media all receive massive numbers of complaints about the behaviour of far too many cyclists. We are losing, if we have not already lost, the PR war. Where a group of people is perceived as being lawless and above the law they become easy targets for anger, negative comment, prejudice and even violence. It has become acceptable for national broadcasters to make comments that running over a cyclist is doing society a favour. Imagine such a person saying that because some Muslims have been responsible for committing atrocious terrorist acts it justifies attacking any Muslim. Judges, jurors, magistrates, the police, insurance companies are full of people who see the everyday things that go on our roads and experience the appalling behaviour of far too many cyclists. That daily experience impacts on how they approach cases involving cyclists. It is difficult to show sympathy for the plight of cyclists or to give them the benefit of the doubt when daily experience suggests they are a reckless and lawless lot; why should they be rewarded.

Every time a cyclist jumps a red light they reinforce the public's negative and hostile approach towards cyclists. Every time a cycle campaigner refuses to condemn such behaviour or even accept it is a problem hardens public opinion against us. Each of the above encourages more drivers to treat our presence on the road with contempt.

It is completely irrelevant whether we like the laws of the road or not. They have been passed by a democratically elected parliament and for that reason alone we should abide by them. You cannot pick and choose which laws of the land you want to abide by. Everybody from the most heinous terrorist to those who drop litter can make an argument justifying their action and why they should not abide by the laws of the land. We soon descend into anarchy if we follow that line of reasoning. That is not to prevent people having legitimate arguments to try and change the law but unless and until the law is changed we have to abide by it.

We need to start a national, properly funded and professionally organised marketing campaign with the financial and administrative support of the DFT and all national and local cycle campaigning groups to show that we will not tolerate illegal and anti-social behaviour by cyclists, that we will support national and local campaigns to prosecute those who behave in such a way and, we support a national training scheme to increase the standards of cycling generally and reinforce the need to abide by the laws of the road. We need to show to the public loudly and clearly that we are responsible law-abiding members of society and that we are being seen to do something to stop those who behave illegally and in an anti-social way. We need ammunition to throw back at those who condemn us for doing nothing about the illegal acts of too many cyclists. We need to be seen to be winning the hearts and minds of cyclists to behave properly and to root out bad behaviour whenever we see it. If the majority of cyclists are law abiding members of the public then we need to prove it by the way we behave, by the way we react to those who misbehave and by public statements. Every time someone jumps a red light, rides a bike without lights, behaves atrociously on a pavement and every time cycle campaigners refuse to condemn such action, or even try and justify it, it makes the roads less safe and pleasant for those that I love, my friends and me.

Cars speared in urban jungle
based on an article from CTC Newsnet

We like to keep an eye on traffic-calming measures, so we were interested to discover that car drivers in Manchester who try to tail-gate buses as they enter an otherwise pedestrianised area of the city centre are getting more than they bargained for. Metal poles have been installed to prevent vehicles other than buses, post office vans and emergency services using St Mary's Gate – authorised vehicles are fitted with a remote sensor, which causes the bollards to lower into the ground and let them through. But cars have been speared when they have tailgated behind a bus.

Charnwood Cycle Map

For those with web access a copy of the Charnwood Cycle Map can be obtained using this link: http://www.leics.gov.uk/charnwood_cycle_map.pdf

Expensive way of measuring sloth
Based on a report in CTC newsnet

Following the biggest fitness survey in Europe, which revealed that half the adult population of England takes no exercise, Minister for Sport, Richard Caborn, has pledged continuing investment in sports facilities. However, somewhat buried in the reporting of the results is the fact that recreational cycling is the fourth most popular pastime. The great thing about cycling is that it doesn’t rely on expensive facilities, but it does need money spent on measures like cycle training and promotion. A sobering fact is that this report cost £5.5 million, which is more than the Government will spend this year on cycling for adults. Or put another way, it would have paid for 137,500 children to receive cycle training that would have equipped them for a lifetime of cycling.

Wearing a helmet may increase risk on the road
Based on an article in CCN News

Cyclists who wear helmets are more likely to be struck by passing vehicles, new research suggests. Drivers pass closer when overtaking cyclists wearing helmets than when overtaking bareheaded cyclists, increasing the risk of collision, research has found.

Dr Ian Walker from the University of Bath used a bicycle fitted with a computer and and ultrasonic distance sensor to record data from over 2500 overtaking motorists in Salisbury and Bristol. He spent half the time wearing a cycle helmet and half the time bareheaded.

It was found that drivers were as much as twice as likely to get close to the bicycle when he was wearing the helmet. Across the board, drivers passed an average of 8.5cm closer with the helmet than without.

To test another theory, Dr. Walker donned a long wig to see whether there was any difference in passing distance when drivers thought they were overtaking female cyclists. Whilst wearing a wig drivers gave him an average of 14cm more space when passing.

Dr. Walker contends that motorists believe that helmeted cyclists are more predictable. But this doesn't explain the greater distance given to female cyclists (unless female cyclists are perceived as less predictable). It would seem plausible that motorists worry about harming a cyclist they are overtaking, and are more protective of females and bareheaded cyclists.

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