In Bolton last week, Greater Manchester Police were out and about having a bit of a jolly old crackdown on cycling.
Well, ok. Maybe it’s fine. But let’s see how it fits into the bigger picture.
The whole business of a “crackdown” on cycling (usually pavement cycling) feels a little uncomfortable, because it can often have a knock-on effect.
For example, in late June in Spalding, police staged a crackdown on pavement cyclists in Spalding and just two working days after the start of the operation, two cyclists were injured in separate collisions. The police responded to this side-effect by stating, somewhat stubbornly, that “Operation Oatmeal will continue so we can improve road safety in Spalding for all road users.”
Perhaps more disturbing was the death of Alan Neve in Holborn in July, at a cycle-unfriendly junction which many riders avoided by illegally using a bus lane, as Andy Waterman carefully points out. Neve’s death occurred, again, just days after a police crackdown on cyclists using that lane.
British infrastructure, sadly, often makes legality and safety mutually exclusive choices.
So whilst on one hand it’s pretty hard to complain about being nicked for riding illegally, when you look at the bigger picture it’s quite wrong to assume that these crackdowns are beneficial to safety.
Anyway. We’ll come back to that.
The fine for cycling across Victoria Square in Bolton was £50. If you were a bit stupid and you got nicked both on the way to work and the way home you’d be £100 lighter.
Which sort of seems a bit stiff when you compare it to the fine awarded to Ronald Finney, who—also in Bolton—drove his car with eyesight so impaired that he was medically unfit to drive. He hit a cyclist, breaking his back in four places, fracturing his skull, breaking 30 other bones, causing a brain injury and placing him on a life support machine.
Now, you tell me if that equates—in terms of safety—to two trips across a pedestrianised square on a bicycle.
In Bolton, getting in your car with medically defective eyesight, mowing someone down and all but killing them costs you the same as a couple of hundred yards on a bike across some paving slabs.
Who says motorists are the cash cows of British justice? They’re getting great deals on their traffic violations! Wilfully ignore your medical conditions and bring a fellow man to the brink of death and you’re paying not far off the same as someone dodging cars on their way to work.
Obviously, people getting a bollocking for breaking the law isn’t generally something that can be easily argued against. But if the aim of law enforcement is people’s net safety and wellbeing then there is a problem with pushing people away from routes that are safe—even though they are a cause of irritation to others—into the paths of drivers such as Finney, and onto woefully unfit infrastructure that sees some of them end up under the rear axle of a tipper truck. And, therefore, there is a problem with dressing this process up as a safety matter. And it’s barely comprehensible that it’s ticketed up with a price that puts it on a par with actually causing injury and death, which—and here’s the point—is precisely the thing that these people are trying to avoid.
For the police to nick people, fine, that’s their job. But be sure of one thing: a crackdown on pavement cycling is not about improving safety. It is detrimental to safety.
And if the police say otherwise, it’s time to question their evidence.