A curious paradox

A district councillor in Horsham, Philip Circus, has a ‘provocative’ column in the local newspaper, the West Sussex County Times. Judging by the typical character of his output, it is usually safe to take ‘provocative’ to mean ‘ill-informed’ (a staple is climate change denial) and the current column, entitled Why British cyclists are not always heroes, is no exception.

The success of British sporting cyclists at the Olympics and the Tour de France has, it seems, presented Mr Circus with a golden opportunity to unburden himself of his latent prejudices about cycling as a mode of transport. Stating that ‘transport policy has to start with the safety of people on two feet’ (admittedly, a very promising start) he then proceeds to write at great length about the dangers posed to pedestrians by… cyclists, curiously saying absolutely nothing about the much larger danger – both objectively and statistically – posed to them by motor vehicles.

He writes

Between 2005 and 2009, ten pedestrians were killed by cyclists and 262 seriously injured. And many readers of the County Times will not be remotely surprised by the figures.

Quite why readers of the County Times would ‘not be remotely surprised’ by these figures is not at all clear, especially when we examine the pedestrian casualties in Horsham, where there have been two pedestrian deaths, and twenty serious pedestrian injuries, in Horsham and the immediate vicinity, between 2005-11 (data from crashmap.co.uk).

As a numerate and informed reader of the County Times might already have guessed, on the balance of probabilities, none of these pedestrian deaths or serious injuries involved a cyclist; all twenty-two involved one (or more) motor vehicles.

This is, of course, entirely in line with the figures Mr Circus quotes, because ten pedestrian deaths, and 262 serious injuries, involving cyclists over a period of four years amounts to just 2.5 deaths, and 65.5 serious injuries per year. Or – approximately one serious injury involving a cyclist, per million people, per year. Horsham has a population of around 50,000, so by rough extrapolation we should only expect a serious pedestrian injury involving a cyclist in Horsham every twenty years.

Of course, these figures are not quite as damning as a bold statement that ‘262 pedestrians were seriously injured by cyclists’, and it is natural to suspect that only someone with an axe to grind would choose to present the figures in such a context-free manner. This is even before we start to address the issue of responsibility, which Mr Circus has decided to unilaterally attribute to cyclists, stating without evidence that they ‘killed’ pedestrians, when of course many of those cyclists may have been completely blameless.

In any case Mr Circus – who let’s not forget has started and finished his column with a plea to focus on the safety of those on two feet – has absolutely nothing to say about the effects on the safety of pedestrians resulting from other modes of transport.

To put his figures into some kind of perspective, in 2010 alone, 19,658 pedestrians were hit by cars in the UK (just cars – not all motor vehicles), of which 237 were killed, and 3,924 were seriously injured. In the same year, 3,855 pedestrians were hit by other types of motor vehicles (motorcycles, buses, LGVs and HGVs), of which 96 were killed, and 760 were seriously injured. To repeat, this is just for one year, not four.

Given these figures, are bicycles really the most pressing safety issue for pedestrians?

But having apparently established where the problem of danger for pedestrians correctly lies – with cyclists – Mr Circus then moves on to fulminate against the

sense of superiority and self-righteousness which often contributes to selfish cycling

a sense of superiority which,

with cycling being put on a national pedestal… is likely to increase further and with it the dangers to pedestrians.

Has Mr Circus really considered whether a cyclist using the pavement or going through a red light actually believes him or herself to be ‘superior’? Has he thought about their motives? If he did, even for a moment, he would divest himself of the bizarre opinion that  the success of Chris Hoy or Laura Trott in a velodrome many miles away is going to have any bearing on their behaviour whatsoever.

The extent of Mr Circus’ disconnect with reality becomes fully apparent in this paragraph-

Anyone who walks around Horsham has seen it. Despite dedicated cycle lanes being provided for cyclists, you will see cyclists weaving in and out of pedestrians on the pavement.

This presents a curious paradox. ‘Dedicated cycle lanes’ have been provided, and yet cyclists are choosing to weave in and out of pedestrians on the pavement! Why on earth would this be? Perhaps these cyclists prefer, for some reason, to lengthen the time and distance of their journey by cycling around pedestrians? Or, they are masochists, who like to make their journeys more arduous? Or perhaps they delight in annoying pedestrians, so much so that the bike lanes – however fantastic – are ignored?

Of course none of these theories is a rational or sensible explanation. The only reason cyclists are using pavements is because the ‘dedicated cycle lanes’ in Horsham Mr Circus refers to are actually non-existent, or desperately poor, and the roads they might usefully be on are intimidating to negotiate on a bicycle.

And here’s the proof – the main arterial roads in Horsham. (All pictures were taken at around 6pm last Sunday, when traffic levels were considerably lower than during a weekday.)

Worthing Road, the main entry road from the south. A fast and busy road. No cycle lanes here.

The Bishopric, the main road into the centre from the west. No cycle lanes.

Springfield Road. No cycle lane northbound. Only a ‘door zone’

Springfield Road, southbound. A desperately narrow cycle lane, that is usually blocked, just like in this picture.

North Parade. Cycle lanes here, but dangerously narrow and bumpy, and they disappear at pinch points, leaving you to ‘negotiate’ with passing vehicles. With a 30 mph limit, cycling on the wide pavement here is understandable

Hurst Road. No cycle lanes. But plenty of parked cars to negotiate your way around. Which is fun. The pavement would feel much safer.

North Street, the railway bridge. No cycle lanes. One of the most unpleasant stretches of roads to cycle on in Horsham

Kings Road. Only a cycle lane in the southbound direction, itself of extremely dubious quality, and intermittent at that. Again, a fast, straight and busy road, where pavement cycling is rife, and understandably so.

Harwood Road. A road with a 40 mph limit, and no cycle lanes. Again, cycling on the pavement here is a perfectly rational response

North Street. This is as good as it gets for cycle lanes in Horsham.

Although that same cycle lane on North Street soon disappears.

The junction of North Street and Albion Way. No cycle lanes here, only a 3-lane-wide intersection. Note also the turning conflicts implicit in the middle lane. Cycling right? You’d better hope a driver going straight on is paying attention

Albion Way. No cycle lanes. Like the picture above, not a place for an inexperienced cyclist.

Park Way. No cycle lanes here either, and again, multiple lanes to negotiate at junctions. 4 queuing lanes nortbound (just out of sight). Right turns not advised for the nervous.

And finally, Brighton Road, the main road into Horsham from the east. No cycle lanes.

On all the main routes in and out of Horsham, then, cycle lanes are almost entirely non-existent, and in the few places they do exist, they are frankly of such a dangerous quality it would probably be better if they were removed. That means anyone who chooses to cycle lawfully around Horsham will have to cycle next to and amongst rapidly-moving vehicles, ‘taking the lane’ at pinch points and at junctions, and will have to have the nerve to cycle well away from parked cars and also to negotiate out into the second or even third lane of fast flowing traffic.

The idea that people cycling on pavements in Horsham are wilfully choosing to ignore wonderful infrastructure that has been laid on for them is therefore manifestly absurd. That infrastructure does not exist. Cycling on the main roads in and out of Horsham feels dangerous, and is stressful and unpleasant. That is why pavements are being used; not because of an innate sense of ‘superiority’ or ‘self-righteousness’ on the part of cyclists, but because of simple self-preservation.

The three nice ladies in their fifties who attended a Bikeability class with me last year in Horsham came from their homes, and returned to them, almost entirely on pavements. They wanted to use their bicycles to make short trips in town, but were terrified of the roads, and hoped some instruction and training would help them. They were not hooligans, or anti-social; they just wanted their journeys by bike to feel safe and pleasant. The pavements were – and still are – their best option. That state of affairs is almost entirely the responsibility of Horsham District Council.

I hope the District Councillor bears that in mind the next time he decides to write about road danger and the behaviour of people on bicycles, and that instead of imagining into existence infrastructure that doesn’t exist and dreaming up strange motives for cyclists’ behaviour, he reflects on the actual sources of threat posed to pedestrians, and the concomitant problems faced by those who might want to use bicycles for everyday trips.

This entry was posted in Cycling policy, Horsham, Horsham District Council, Infrastructure, Road safety, Subjective safety. Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to A curious paradox

  1. Greg Collins says:

    Hope you’ve written this in letter form to the WSCT..

  2. Mark says:

    I presume the police car in the Springfield Road southbound photo isn’t there to do anything about the illegally parked vehicles on the other side of the road.

  3. By his reasoning, the successes of Lewis Hamilton in Formula 1 “encourage the sense of superiority and self-righteousness which often contributes to selfish cycling” motoring. Didn’t think this through did he?

  4. Phil Knapp says:

    I regularly cycle through Horsham, it should be an enjoyable experience, but it isn’t. If I ride legally on the road, I seem to be resented by car drivers and I have been hooted and shouted at. If I ride on the pavement, I am resented by pedestrians. Proper cycle lanes would resolve my feelings of anxiety and make cycling a pleasant and safe experience again.

  5. VC says:

    You can always email Mr Circus here: Philip.Circus@horsham.gov.uk although I’m sure he is of a type that will not have it any other way. I doubt he is interested in the lack of facilities in Horsham for cyclists, “they wouldn’t use them anyway”. And as for the statistics on pedestrian KSI’s (overwhelmingly involve collisions with motor vehicles), well that’s probably just unavoidable.

    What strikes me is that he picks on the one high profile case (Rhiannon Bennett) over the last ten years or more. The reason it was high profile was that it is so rare. In addition, there are conflicting reports on whether the collision took place on the pavement or not (Does not excuse the cyclist his reluctance to try and avoid the collision).

    His ignorance to assume that all pedestrian – cyclists collisions are the cyclists fault is shocking. But then again, isn’t that what we cyclists are asking for with strict liability?

    • Tim says:

      Regarding strict liability, speak for yourself. Despite popular opinion it doesn’t even exist in the Netherlands as the good Mr Hembrow tells us ( http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2012/01/campaign-for-sustainable-safety-not.html ). Some harsher sentences for irresponsible driving might well be appropriate and would make me feel better, but they wouldn’t have much effect on the habits of most drivers (who don’t go out intending to crash) and it therefore wouldn’t make the roads feel any safer. We need the infrastructure recommended on this blog for that.

      Another excellent article. The hypocrisy of a Councillor criticising people for not using council facilities, without even asking why beggars belief.

  6. Paul Smith says:

    I’ve had two near misses with a pedestrian in the last year that I can recall. Both times I have been on the road, cycling in a sensible fashion and below the speed limit. In both cases the pedestrian didn’t look before crossing the road.

    Chap on a mobility scooter crosses the road at the bottom of Worthing Road – doesn’t look until he’s in the middle of the road – then gets a sudden look of panic in his face. I slam on to avoid him (but have to slow from about 25 mph).

    Another was another chap crossing the road – again without looking. A quick shout of head’s up slowed him enough to miss.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if many of these collisions were the result of pedestrians stepping out in front of cyclists in the gutter/”cycle lanes” (who have less room for maneuverer).

    We should put Philip Circus on a bike and see how long it takes for him to retreat to the pavement. Might also be interesting to see how many pavements he’s seen cyclists on are actually shared use.

    • Yes, I daresay that a good number of the cyclists that Mr. Circus may have seen ‘cycling on the pavement’ were, quite possibly, doing so entirely legally. I doubt he took any time to investigate, although that may be ungenerous.

  7. disgruntled says:

    Time to take Mr Circus on a bike ride?

    • Suffolk_Cyclist says:

      It would need to be a unicycle. This chap runs Coco the Clown a close second and, unfortunately he seems to have a lot of relatives in County and District Councils elsewhere in the UK.

  8. Nice demolition job Mark. What does ‘self righteous’ even mean in this context? Does he mean, cyclists are aware of the cause and effect of the way they choose to travel?

  9. Nick Gribble says:

    Nicely put. The cycle lanes which do exist in Horsham are appalling and are where the detritus from the road gets swept, making them unusable on a road bike with high tyre pressure.

  10. PaulM says:

    While it is undoubtedly a rant, fully worthy of the Sir Tufton Bufton school of local politician, there is a kernel of truth in what he says.

    I also do not regard Bradley Wiggins, Lizzie Armitstead, etc as “heroes”. That is not to say I don’t admire their skill, stamina and dedication, or that I decry their Olympic success, but they are professionals. They do this for a living, and are likely to make a pretty comfortable living out of it too (comfortable that is when they are not actually training or competing).

    More to the point, they do not paint an accurate picture of what cycling is like now, or could one day be, in this country. For one thing, at that giddy level they always compete on closed roads, and I’ll bet they train in environments which are pretty close to closed roads, with a motorised escort/support team/coaches so they do not have to contend with the conditions which we daily endure. I also don’t think they do anything at all good for the benefit of amateur cyclists, especially those who are merely trying to get from A to B.

    They might perhaps prompt a relatively small number of youngish, fit men (OK, a smattering of youngish, fit women too) to part with serious money for a snazzy racer to join the swelling ranks of commuter cyclists who labour under the misapprehension that their daily commute is a stage in the Tour de France. For our road system only really works for cyclists who adopt a survival strategy known as vehicular cycling – if you have the explosive acceleration of a motor vehicle, and can maintain motor vehicle speeds in an urban context, and if you have the nerve to “take the lane” which is of course less stressful if you are not holding up the impatient motorist behind you, then the unpleasant sensations, and perhaps also the objective danger, which arise from gross variations in traffic speed will not trouble you.

    But that does nothing for the rest of us, because it allows Boris Johnson and his ilk to say “so, what’s your problem? I have presided over an increase in cycling and infrastructure wasn’t necessary to do so, as long as you have your wits about you”. In fact, it makes things worse, because this “tribe” of cyclists are also likely to be the ones who impatiently go through red lights, weave around stationary traffic, or bypass queues by riding on the pavement, so irritating the general populace whose support, passive at least, we will need if we are to change things.

    I am sure that most vehicular cyclists are not consciously selfish in this way, although I really don’t think the same can be said for their principal proponents, especially John Forrester, whose pearls of wisdom have been adorning a discussion forum recently, and who has been known to actively oppose segregated cycle lanes.

    • Mark – Great post, as usual!

      Paul – I’m afraid I take exception to your suggestion that the VC “tribe” are more likely to be rule breakers. I actually find it’s a broad selection of riders who will run red lights and bump up on the pavement. “Weaving around stationary traffic” is filtering – perfectly legal and one of the reasons I enjoy cycle commuting so much – I rarely get stuck in traffic jams 😉 The rule breakers can be any rider from those who you’d have thought would know better on their carbon road bikes and in club kit down to older men and women who seem to just move along at 10mph regardless….

  11. Luv 2 Cycle says:

    I took up cycling 4 years ago on retiring. I mostly ride a trike but am also now learning to be confident on a two wheeler. On any and all main roads I cycle on the pavement. I do this for sheer self preservation. I know that the way I cycle on pavements that a pedestrian wouldn’t even come close to being startled by me, let alone in danger of me. However if I am riding on a fast main road, I have no idea if any motorist coming up behind me or over taking me, is drunk, on the mobile, playing with his radio or just plain dangerous and stupid.

    I choose cycling for my personal mode of transport but I am not prepared to put my life in danger by sharing the same space with motorised vehicles traveling at anything up to and more of 60mph. There are far more motors on the roads now traveling at far faster speeds than there were years ago. The no pavement cycling law is now out dated and dangerous. The home office acknowledges this and hence the instructions to the police not to ticket anyone riding safely and sensibly on pavements.

    I am thrilled to see more and more people taking up cycling in my area. I notice these new cyclists because, guess what? They are gently and politely pavement cycling along the side of fast main roads. The ordinary Joe Blog that wants to cycle safely with their children or elderly parents are going to use pavements, they would be insane not to.

    Until we have real safe segregated cycling infrastructure there is going to be more and more pavement cycling as time goes on. Councils can’t pick and choose pavements for shared use just so they can say they have put in x amount of safe cycling, and then expect people to not use pavements elsewhere.

  12. I have been dealing with this kind of bigotry for some 30 years.

    What I like about your rebuttal is that it is sane, rational and argued on the basis of evidence. (In other words, the opposite of his “argument”).

    I don’t want to appear too flattering – if for no other reason, I disagree about a lot of the Segregationist agenda – and flattery can go to your head! But actually, when you engage with these characters in a courteous, civilised, evidence-based , sane and rational way, you ARE superior to him.

    What I would questionis the wisdom of offering a bike ride to him. A lot of people want to do this for anti-cyclists, just to show them how unpleasant cycling can be, or that they are normal ordinary people, or whatever. The brutal fact is that most of the people like this guy are just not interested . They are there to pick on a group which they can demonise as an out group, and to present motorists as a suffering group of oppressed victims.

  13. toomey says:

    It’s all rather squalid, Mr Circus’s version of Rhiannon’s tragic death is a long way from what actually happened, so I’m afraid to say Mr Circus is lying about the death of a young woman, and he’s doing so in order to demonise people. I don’t know what I would do if my road was blocked by youths who had been drinking beer in a park, I may call to mind the very nasty bike muggings near where I used to live where gangs of youths attacked cyclists and stole their bikes. I may decide to get away from the gang and ride for a gap. The cyclist stayed with Rhiannon and put her in the recovery position, it was the cyclist who called for help. The cyclist was fined around ten times what many drivers have been fined for killing a cyclist in much clearer examples of reckless driving. It’s rather tawdry that a politician would misrepresent the actuality in order to whip up hatred.

  14. Mike Stead says:

    I emailed him:

    Dear Cllr Circus

    On behalf of concerned residents of Horsham, I would like to invite you to come for a cycle ride on the “dedicated cycle lanes” you mention in your article.

    I would also like to point out that based on national statistics, in Horsham a cyclist is likely to collide with a pedestrian causing serious injury once every twenty years. This collision is more likely to be the fault of the pedestrian stepping into the path of a cyclist on the road without looking. the issue Horsham should be grappling with is cars, not near-mythical cyclist-on-pedestrian injuries.

    Would you care to join? As a councillor I believe it behoves you to be informed about such matters, and the woeful state of facilities for residents choosing to cycle is a scandal I’m sure you would be keen to address on behalf of your constituents. Many thousands would like to choose cycling, as they do on the continent, where cycle use transcends all ages, sexes, incomes and political affiliations. They are prevented from doing so now because of fear of the car-centric environment provided for them by council.


    His reply:

    Dear Mike,

    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.

    Thank you for writing. It was nice of you to invite me for a cycle ride but if you saw the standard of my cycling, you would consider me a danger to other cyclists, let alone pedestrians.

    Cllr. Philip Circus

    • “The point of my article was to point out that a minority of cyclists behave…. ” So the point of the article was to address an issue that he acknowledges is not much of an issue, being as it is confined to a minority group of the 2% of journeys undertaken by bicycle.

      “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. ” Lolwut? Poor motorists, always being victimised, never ever do articles demonising cyclists appear in the popular press.

  15. Mike Stead says:

    Looks like the good Cllr and I have come to a sticky end. Oh well….

    Dear Mike,
    Last week, somebody told me that when they were working in London they regularly had to cope with cyclists on pavements and an inability to cross at zebra crossings even if they had started to cross because cyclists would not stop to let them cross.     You will rarely find a motorist doing that because when the pedestrian has started to cross, a motorist will invariably stop.  That was his experience and that is my experience.    I have experienced many times the position where pedestrians have had to wait for cyclists to pass before crossing even though they had the right of way and had already started crossing.
    I accept that there are bad drivers.  We know there are bad drivers and we know, for example, that some drivers will jump lights.  But overwhelmingly those doing it know they are doing something wrong and will do it when they hope no one is looking.  Irresponsible cyclists, though, will jump lights quite brazenly.  I remember on one occasion driving round a roundabout and, despite there being red lights against the other carriageway, a whole troop of cyclists rode straight out and into our path.
    I have seen plenty of articles making the case for cyclists against bad motorists.   Indeed, there was the suggestion of further legislation to protect cyclists from motorists.   But hardly ever does one see an article drawing attention to selfish and inconsiderate cyclists.  That’s why I devoted one of my columns to the issue.  My belief is that all road users, be they cyclists, motorists or pedestrians, should demonstrate mutual respect for each other and respect for the law.    I can’t imagine you would disagree with that, so perhaps we could agree on that point and draw this correspondence to an end.
    Yours sincerely,
    Cllr. Philip Circus

    • Did someone just say ‘anecdote’?

    • I think it’s time to change the thinking. One thing that I noticed on the other side of the Channel is that cyclists adjust their speed so that pedestrians and other cyclists can cross before or after them as appropriate based on various factors. I’ve seen this working well on the Belgian sea front with waiters with their arms full of plates successfully crossing a stream of cyclists in both directions.

      I don’t see why people here need to be obsessed with this idea that cyclists need to stop all of the time, when slowing down to allow them to pass could equally work. Yes people are going to need to get used to the more efficient, and slightly more risky way of doing things. Until legally things change, you will have to abide by the current rules, however I hope that common sense will eventually prevail.

      A way to replicate this (I’ve seen it done at a kids bike club), is to get a group of about a dozen or more cyclists together and get them cycling in a figure of at. It sounds like it wouldn’t work, but works surprisingly well.

      I will do whatever I can to avoid crossing someone’s path in front of them, and slow down to go behind them. If needed I will slow down to walking pace and then stop if appropriate. It pretty much always gets a very positive response from pedestrians, who will then often notice me and then tell me to head past after they’ve got out the way, as they are so happy to meet a cyclist who hasn’t just barged past them.

      Why should motorists be allowed to go through red lights supposedly knowing that they’ve done wrong, and be far more likely to cause injury, than a cyclist. Maybe if traffic lights changed to green for cyclists and pedestrians, rather than just sitting on red for them for ages, or forever in some cases, cyclists would be happier to stop at them. Are there any articles about pedestrians brazenly crossing the road on a red man?

  16. Perhaps Cllr Circus could take up some cycle training, which no doubt the council is supporting, so that he could join Mike on a ride around Horsham, without being a danger to other pedestrians or cyclists.

  17. Dave says:

    I do not understand why my fellow cyclists cannot understand that you don’t go through red lights, or on the pavement, or the wrong way down a one way street. Its antisocial and against the law. Good for you Cllr.Circus.

    • I cannot understand why my fellow motorists cannot understand that you don’t drive when drunk, or without insurance, or while on the phone, or drive too fast. It’s antisocial and against the law, and causes over 200,000 casualties every year. Cllr. Circus can kiss my ass.

    • Mike Stead says:

      Dave, you seem to miss the whole point of CircusGate – no-one’s applauding people behaving stupidly on bikes on pavements. What we *are* doing is pointing out the elephant in the room of implying that
      a) this is an issue
      b) this is an issue on a similar scale to motorist misbehaviour
      c) this is an issue on a similar scale to motorist misbehaviour with similarly fatal consequences.

  18. Pingback: Signs of hope | As Easy As Riding A Bike

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