The article, which I responded to here, actually bears a great deal of resemblance to the recent editorial penned by Richard Nye of the Richmond Magazine, in that it uses general goodwill towards (sporting) cyclists during the Olympics as a base camp en route to the summit of latent prejudice.
Where Richard Nye wrote about finding himself with ‘strange feelings of attachment’ to British Olympic cyclists, so Philip Circus wrote of the ‘joy’ of seeing those cyclists perform well. Both then quickly use these feelings as a counterpoint to their more general dislike of cyclists. Nye was happy to find himself swearing and cursing at them, ‘back to normal’ after the Olympics. Likewise Circus quickly swerves into talking about how cycling being placed on a ‘national pedestal’ could further exacerbate the sense of ‘superiority and self-righteousness’ that cyclists exhibit, and contribute to yet more ‘selfish’ cycling.
It is quite obvious to me that both of these men misjudged their audience. Maybe a decade ago it would have been safe to write articles with lines about the only good cyclist being a dead one, or that choose to drag up all the hoary old clichés about how badly behaved they are. That’s not safe any more. While prejudice against cycling as a mode of transport is undoubtedly still widespread, the greater public exposure to cycling as a simple means of getting about means that men like Nye and Circus can’t get away with it so easily.
Don’t get me wrong; cycling is still very much a minority pursuit, and stupid opinions about cycling, and people using bicycles, persist. But I think we’ve reached a bit of a tipping point. There’s now sufficient public weight – albeit small – behind cycling to push back against ill-informed diatribes.
Mr. Circus has written his last column for the West Sussex County Times (this was nothing to do with his ‘cycling’ column – he has just come to the end of his run). In it, he wrote about being ‘misunderstood’, just like Richard Nye. Indeed the ‘misunderstood’ angle is set out in his email to Mike Stead, published here. He wrote
I am disappointed that some people, not necessarily yourself, have misunderstood the point that I was making. I was not saying that cycling is bad or that all cyclists are irresponsible, or that there isn’t a case for more emphasis on dedicated cycle routes. The point of my article was to point out that a minority of cyclists behave in a very selfish and unacceptable fashion without any regard to the normal laws and rules of the highway and with no regard for the interests of other road users. Everybody knows and accepts that there are motorists who behave irresponsibly and the law can penalise those people quite harshly. In fairness, it also needs to be recognised that some cyclists behave irresponsibly as well. So often, it tends to be assumed that cyclists are always on the side of the angels and it is always motorists who are in the wrong. Well, it isn’t true and the point of my article is to provoke interest and discussion on this point.
On the contrary, I don’t think anyone ‘misunderstood’ Mr. Circus. Nobody who responded to him was disputing that some cyclists behave in a poor manner, or was arguing that he had pretended all cyclists are irresponsible. Indeed, I think Mr. Circus is being disingenuous.
Nor can it legitimately be claimed that there is somehow a widespread public perception of cyclists being ‘always on the side of the angels’, and that motorists are always in the wrong, and that this perception needs to be ‘challenged’ by the likes of Mr. Circus. Local newspapers like the West Sussex County Times regularly feature articles about ‘selfish’ cycling, cycling on pavements, inconsiderate cycling, and so on. It is hard to escape them, in fact. Articles about dangerous motoring are, by contrast, few and far between.
This brings us to the core of all the objections to his article; namely that for an article purporting to be about the safety of pedestrians being put first, his focus was entirely misplaced. The real danger posed to pedestrians (and indeed to cyclists) comes from motorists, not from bicycles, however much columnists like Mr. Circus chooses to fulminate against their misbehaviour. The statistics do not lie.
Nor, indeed, do the general public share Mr. Circus’ views about the most pressing dangers facing pedestrians. They are most concerned about speeding motorists and reckless driving. They are, in reality, not at all concerned – despite the weight of material that appears in local newspapers – with people cycling on pavements or trundling through red lights.
To repeat, Mr. Circus has misjudged his audience, and his voters. Here is an article from this week’s County Times, featuring Horsham residents concerned about the serious dangers on their streets. It is not about bicycles.
“A child is going to be killed”
A crash which wrote off two cars parked where children were playing just hours before has prompted residents to band together and campaign to reduce the speed limit in Orchard Road, Horsham.
Scot Grant, a resident and former special constable for Sussex Police in Horsham, says a ‘child could have been killed’ in the latest collision, which forms part of a catalogue of incidents his family have endured since they moved to the area in September 2007.
“We very quickly became aware of cars driving well in excess of the speed limit along the road,” Scot told the County Times. ”And only a few months after moving we awoke one morning to discover a car had gone through the fence at the front of our property.“
Due to Scot’s role at Sussex Police, his wife became the neighbourhood watch co-ordinator for Eversfield Road and Bennetts Road, which join Orchard Road. During 2009 and 2010 she received countless complaints about how people would drive up and down Orchard Road, and concern drastically mounted when a child walking to school was in a collision with a car in the road. As a result, anti-social behaviour signs were erected in the area.
Scot continued: “We have many friends that live in the various roads off Orchard Road and have young children that play and use the road to walk to the local Kingslea Primary School, or Millais and Forest, and on numerous occasions in the playground the talk has been ‘did you see that idiot this morning’, or ‘how he missed us I don’t know’.
“We have learned to live and not let our children cross the road.”
Now residents have joined forces in a bid to get traffic calming measures implemented in Orchard Road. Scot, who is spearheading the petition online, says he wants to see West Sussex County Council ‘lower the speed limit in the estate.’
The former special constable aims to knock the limit down to 20 mph – a proposal which has been welcomed by numerous residents keen to see change. He added: “I believe that if something is not done now, a child is going to be killed.”
The article – not available online – has a picture of the crashed BMW.
More detail on the same story from the Resident newspaper -
Residents who fear someone will soon be killed by a speeding driver have started a petition to council chiefs.
Sarah Leadbetter, Scot Grant and Jo Grant are calling on West Sussex County Council to introduce traffic-calming measures or a 20 mph speed limit in part of Horsham, including Orchard Road, Bennetts Road and Depot Road.
Mrs Leadbetter, 53, of Orchard Road, told The Resident: “For years, this area has been used as a race track on a Thursday evening, Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday. Cars have been destroyed, fences have been destroyed and bins have been knocked into the road. One resident actually downsized her car because a mirror got knocked off her last car. Another lady had someone drive through her fence into her garden because the driver was speeding.
“We now have a very young generation of children living in this area and it would only be a fate of God if no one got killed or injured. We also have a lot of the older generation in Orchard Road. I have talked to a lot of the residents and they all say the same – that on a weekend they lay in bed waiting for the screech of brakes.
“Residents around this area have said the situation has got worse, with a lot of residents putting in driveways to protect their cars. Of course, not everyone can do this.”
Mrs Leadbetter and Mrs Grant, who are going door-to-door with the petition, collected about 200 signatures in the first three days. Petition forms are available from One Stop in Station Road and the campaigners have also started a petition online.
A spokesman for West Sussex County Council told The Resident: “According to our records, between August 1, 2009, and July 31, 2012, there were two reported injury collisions on the roads you mention. Both were serious. One happened on Depot Road and the other on Orchard Road, at the junction with Oakhill Road.”
These are serious, legitimate concerns about the safety of pedestrians; children walking to school, or playing out in front of their houses. It is absurd, even insane, to pretend that bicycles present the most pressing safety issue in our towns and cities when you read stories like this, about parents not letting their children cross the road, and waking up to find cars in their garden, or smashed up cars where their children were just playing, or trading stories about their latest narrow escape walking to school.
The streets in question are not main routes; they are all residential streets which should not have a 30 mph limit, nor should they be being used as a rat run. They are highlighted on the map below.
As the article states, children have are being seriously injured on these streets, which is unacceptable. Cars should not be racing through them; they should be made safe for children to walk and cycle along.
This is what Mr. Circus should have been devoting his attention to; reducing the actual dangers faced by the residents of Horsham. All the residential streets in Horsham should have 20 mph limits at the very minimum. Indeed, this is something that has already been mooted by a Lib Dem councillor last year, but I can’t find any reference by Mr. Circus (who let’s remember is concerned about pedestrians) writing in support of such a proposal. We need further measures to reduce the rat-running seen on Bennetts Road, and Orchard Road – filtered permeability, which is a cheap and easy way of cutting out through-traffic.
Men like Richard Nye and Philip Circus need to wake up and appreciate – just like the majority of people in the areas where they live are starting to appreciate – that people riding bicycles are just like them; people simply wishing to get from A to B, without any assumptions being made about their mode of transport. In reality, people on bicycles pose an absolutely tiny risk to themselves or to other people, compared with the risks posed by motor traffic. We should be encouraging and facilitating people to use bicycles, not making mean-spirited assumptions and generalisations about them when they do. I hope this trend is dying out.