Pillars of the community

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Here is a cri de coeur from Matt Polaine:

Thanks to the feeble government attempts to encourage an increase in cycling, road layouts, both old and new, continue to be peppered with lethal designs for cyclists, the police continue to be indifferent to reports of road rage or just plain terrible driving towards cyclists and one often has to really push for a prosecution. Even if a prosecution does find its way to the courts, the judges take ‘Sorry Mate I Didn’t See You’ as a water-tight excuse for ploughing into a cycling group, on a straight road, in daylight. […] This hate of cyclists extends to whole UK towns now.

I don’t necessarily endorse everything in Polaine’s rant, but that’s not really the point—it’s the feeling of being a member of a minority under siege that he’s expressing, and it’s one that I share from time to time. On a sunny weekend, cycling is so enjoyable that it would be easy to forget about all the unpleasantness if you weren’t reminded of it every day in the news.

The story of the sabotage of the 2009 Étape Caledonia is really quite extraordinary. The Étape Caledonia was the first British cyclosportive to be held on roads closed to traffic. The Independent reported:

An audacious act of sabotage threw one of Britain’s biggest cycle races into chaos yesterday when a protester, presumably angered by road closures for the annual 3,500-cyclist Etape Caledonia, scattered the road with grey carpet tacks, puncturing hundreds of tyres. […] The sabotage throws into doubt the ability of the UK cycling organisations to host the type of closed-road events common on the continent.

The same day that the Étape Caledonia was sabotaged, several roads in the centre of Manchester were closed for the Great Manchester Run. As far as I know no-one attempted to injure Haile Gebrselassie or any of the other runners.

So what kind of antisocial thug would take out his frustrations at the road closure by cold-bloodedly attempting to injure the 3,500 particpants in the cyclosportive? Here’s the Daily Record:

Alex Grosset, 62, was arrested at his home in the early hours of yesterday morning. He is expected to appear before Perth Sheriff Court today to face reckless conduct charges relating to thedisruption of the Etape Caledonia event through Perthshire on Sunday. Grosset is the chairman of the Rannoch and Tummel Community Council and a member of the local Rotary club.

(But see the update below.)

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In other news, Boris Johnson (Mayor of London), Andrew Adonis (a Minister of State in the Department for Transport), and some others, were nearly killed by a reckless lorry driver. Now I disagree with Mr Johnson on nearly every political issue, but I still wouldn’t like to see him hurt by a heavy goods vehicle. The incident was captured on a private security camera monitoring the Dunbar Wharf development:

Nic Price (aka “Beatnic”) was an eye-witness:

The mayor and an entourage—about 10 cyclists or so—were looking at options for a new cycle route - as a curious fellow cyclist I tagged along as I was on my way in to work in Canary Wharf following the same route. The back doors of the lorry flew open as it overtook us and the bolt on the right-hand door picked up a parked car through its front windscreen and swung it round at head-height, brushing past a few of the cyclists and then landing it back on all four wheels a little further down the road.

I think every cyclist will recognize something here: there’s a kind of psychological compulsion to overtake cyclists that affects a (luckily very small) minority of drivers. This compulsion leads drivers to make extraordinary efforts to get ahead of cyclists even when it can’t possibly do them any good, such as racing to overtake when coming up to a queue of stationary vehicles, or to a traffic light that’s red. Combined with narrow streets this compulsion can be deadly, as these drivers make desperate attempts to overtake cyclists when approaching a gap that’s too narrow for both of them.

What can we do? We could identify these drivers and ban them—but I think that as a society we’re clearly not willing to do this. Something we could try instead would be to redesign roads so that drivers of motor vehicles no longer feel compelled to make these dangerous manoeuvres. That means taking out width restrictions, central reservations, and the kind of on-road parking that you can see in the video, and using the space so gained to put in wide cycle lanes or separated cycle paths. It’s the kind of project that’s esily within the powers of an advanced industrial society like ours. If the Dutch can do it, then so can we.

But we’d have to have politicians who valued the lives of cyclists more than their own driving convenience. And I don’t see how to get there from here.


Update . All charges were dropped against Mr Grosset.