Signs of hope

You may remember that in August, Philip Circus, a Horsham District Councillor, wrote a piece for the West Sussex County Times entitled Why British cyclists are not always heroes.

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.

Courtesy of Google

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.

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This entry was posted in 20 mph limits, Cycling renaissance, Dangerous driving, Horsham, Horsham District Council, Road safety, Street closures. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Signs of hope

  1. Several years ago I was in correspondence with WSCC re 20 MPH limits in Burgess Hill. The response was essentially that as there were no fatalities, they didn’t think it was appropriate. When I suggested that it was rather ghoulish to want someone to die before they did anything, the person I was writing to got quite upset! I suspect that the reason there were no fatalities was because nobody walks or cycles in B/Hill cause the roads are too dangerous.

  2. Paul M says:

    You talk of “Signs of hope”. Did you write that before Petronella Wyatt published her rant in the Mail on Sunday yesterday? If you follow Twitter you will by now have seen numerous comments about the curious resonance between this article and one she wrote in February 2010. Certainly her mother does seem to have extraordinarily bad luck – the total numbers of people injured in collisions with cyclists is vanishingly small and yet her mum gets injured at least once in 2010 and apparently twice in 2012. Well, you know what they say – things happen in threes.

    There are numerous characteristics of the two articles, not least of which are the very evident fact that in her anguish or high dudgeon she has managed to express herself in almost identical terms in both, with some curious stuff about “friends” who gurgle and almost choke (with laughter? Is Ms Wyatt senior such an unsympathetic character?) on being told the news, but the principal offence is that insinuation that a minority of inconsiderate cyclists is somehow indicative of all cyclists (although of course the same would never be true of motorists, would it?). There is even a reference to being a victim of a handbag snatch by thieves on bicycles where she manages to imply that she was robbed by a cyclist, rather than that a criminal happened to use a bicycle as it was presumably the most practical and (for him) most accessible means of escaping the scene of crime.

    To compound the offence, the Evening Standard, once of course a member of the same stable as the Mail newspapers, and until recently hosted by the same on-line engine, in a piece of shoddy, bone-idle “journalism” regurgitated the story without apparent scepticism or any attempt to verify it or examine the curiosity of the two identical stories.

    I attempted to post a comment on the Mail Online yesterday, highlighting the discrepancies and the curious similarity with the earlier article. To my no great surprise, their moderators killed it, while allowing through many dozens of the usual hate-filled drivel from the neo-neanderthals who “read” that “newspaper”. Evidently I was not the only one who attempted, and failed, to comment in similar terms, although hopefully some lazy and careless editor is now scratching his head and asking himself how he let that one get through the editorial process.

    What is heart-warming is to see how the great majority of comments posted under the article in the Evening Standard are hostile to Ms Wyatt and to the story – unfortunately not necessarily with due moderation about her mother, whose injuries have not yet been definitively disproved as far as I know.

    On the subject of Orchard Road, from your screen capture of the map it looks like it would be feasible to end the rat-running by bollarding off somewhere along its length. I know that a regular tweeter, Jon Irwin, has acquired residents’ support in his area of South London for an experimental scheme of filtered permeability to address rat-running there. Have the ocal residents considered that? Or have they come up against NIMBY opposition of the sort described here – http://mccraw.co.uk/ncn1nimby/ ?

  3. Too true, CBW. We should include right to a peaceful life and right to live without fear in consideration for changes to speed limits, not just collision stats.

  4. I reckon you could do it with at the most 16 filtering points, but it probably costs £10,000+ to get permission to do just one.

    fp-horsham

  5. Once again I commend you on exposing how disingenuous someone is (although the adjective is too kind).

    I would suggest that when comparing the “minorty of motorists” with “minority of cyclists” theme you point out that: motorists – as revealed by their third party insurance sums compared to the 3rd party insurances of CTC, BC members are inherently far more dangerous to others, and that this is also in effect recognised by highway “safety” engineering designed to accomodate rule and law breaking motoring. (And in car “safety” features as well.) And that they are NOT punsihed by teh courts for their rule and law-breaking.

    Also, I’m afraid the bigotry against cyclists is going to be here for some while yet. Ultimately defeating it means coming up against car culture, which is deeply embedded in our brains – so much so that we don’t weven realise it is there. As far as concern about speeding motorists is concenred – yes, there are concerns – but my experience is that – call me an old cynic – it is OTHER drivers who are at fault, and just a bit of speed calming outside where you live that is what people are concerned about

  6. pm says:

    Its hard not to damage one’s teeth with the grinding induced by the sort of article quoted above.

    A good portion of cyclists are knobheads. I wouldn’t disagree with that at all. In fact, on a bad day I’d go way further than other posters here and put the proportion at about 50% of my fellow two-wheeled folk. E.g. the idiot kid who I encountered, while cycling myself, coming at me head on at speed going the WRONG WAY round a very busy roundabout (who then told me to ‘shut up’ when I shouted in surprise at having to swerve to avoid him)…or the lycra-lout who sailed over a zebra-crossing (that I was patiently stopped at), all the while swearing loudly at the crossing pedestrians for daring to get in his way.

    However, the absolute numbers of cyclists are small in comparison to the number of motorists, and, speaking as both cyclist and pedestrian, I’d say the proportion of motorists behaving arrogantly, dangerously and inconsiderately comes very close to 100%. Its just that their total contempt for speed limits, failure to give way when required to do so, and unbelievably arrogant and illegal parking behaviour (apparently you can do _anything at all_ as long as you turn your hazard lights on while you do it, they magically make any kind of dangerous or lawless behaviour OK) is so widespread that its not even noticed any more.

    If you ever want an argument against the political philosophy of anarchism, just look at behaviour on the roads, where the only rule seems to be might-is-right.

    • I had chat with a colleague about cycling in London, and (unsurprisingly) one of his first reaction was that he had almost been hit by inconsiderate cyclists while trying to cross the road. My response: “well they are idiots and would probably do the same in cars, so you’re probably better off with them on bikes.”

  7. Andrew says:

    A minority of cyclists are selfish, compared to a majority of drivers…

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