The contentious issue of cyclists

Cyclist ANL-140716-092515001
Cyclist ANL-140716-092515001
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On the Beat by Inspector Jim Tyner

I hate cyclists. At least that’s what half the correspondence I receive on the subject tells me. On the other hand, the other half of the correspondence tells me I’m too soft on cyclists and need to do more.

Recently, I put a comment on Twitter about a cyclist who had received a ticket for cycling the wrong way on a one-way street in Spalding. I said that it was annoying because he gave decent cyclists a bad name. I was lambasted for using ‘confirmation bias and treatment of cyclists as an outgroup’. Wow.

Of course, I don’t hate cyclists at all: as a beat-bobby in the nineties, I used to cycle around Spalding every day. I share MP John Hayes’ vision for South Holland to be a capital of cycling.

However, I cannot ignore that, after street drinking, the second most complained about community issue is cycling on the pavement and it is a complaint that is regularly raised at council meetings and community panels. The police can never solve these issues purely through enforcement. It’s my experience that most community problems can be resolved by addressing three key areas: environment, education and enforcement.

In the case of illegal or improper cycling, environment is about getting the cycle routes in the right place and clearly marked.

When it comes to educating cyclists, we have a long-standing commitment to promoting cycle safety in schools through ‘Bikeability’ which many of us will remember as the ‘Cycling Proficiency Test’. We distribute cycling safety leaflets in several languages. Although the leaflets are aimed at children, we have also held cycle safety information days at local factories and distributed the leaflets to factory workers from Central and Eastern Europe.

Enforcement is a contentious subject. There are times though, when all other avenues have failed, that enforcement is appropriate and proportionate. I have always maintained that there should be a focus on education as well as enforcement but when the message is not being heeded then issuing tickets is the appropriate response.

Last year we held a series of enforcement days under Operation Oatmeal. Operation Oatmeal targeted offences by all road users – motorised and pedal-powered.

On one morning of the operation, ten motorists were dealt with for speeding offences, one was issued a notice under the Vehicle Defect Rectification Scheme for a defective exhaust, and a Public Order warning was given to an angry motorist for swearing. On the same morning, 100 cyclists were stopped for cycling on the pavement. Of those stopped, officers used their discretion: some received warnings. However 59 received £50 fixed penalty notices, issued for cycling on the pavement.

When we dealt with those that were cycling without lights, we introduced an unofficial scheme. The cyclists were given until the weekend to purchase lights then present themselves at the police station with a receipt and lights fitted. If they failed to do this, they would be issued a ticket for the original offence. 100 per cent of those that were given this option complied with it.

So you see, even during the enforcement phase, officers still used their discretion to educate. I would much rather a cyclist spent £20 on some decent lights than £50 on a ticket, and still have no lights.

In August 1999, the legislation came into force which allows a fixed penalty notice to be served on anyone who is guilty of cycling on a footway. The Home Office issued guidance on how the new legislation should be applied, indicating that they should only be used where a cyclist is riding in a manner that may endanger others.

This is the parameter we work to and I reviewed each ticket personally to ensure it fell within the guidelines. The number of tickets issued indicates the size of the problem at that time.

I have no current plans for further enforcement days, not because it was contentious, but because I have to prioritise the tasks for my limited resources. If community policing panels raise cycling as an issue in the future, then I will have to consider all options.

I am also very conscious of the danger to cyclists from other road users. My message to motorists is simple: the road-user in front of you has right of way, whether they are a tractor, pedestrian, cyclist or horse and cart. This is regardless of road-tax or fuel duty.

So you see: I don’t hate cyclists. I have an equal loathing for all inconsiderate road-users.

Will we continue to deal with errant cyclists? Yes, but only in the same way that we deal with other road users. While I am not tasking my officers with specific road safety operations, I have an expectation that all officers who come across illegal cycling or driving deal with that issue as part of their routine police work.

Is our action proportionate? Well that debate will rumble on.