Life on bikes

Proportionate policing please

Back in November, one of our number messaged in the Kidical Mass WhatsApp group (where all the cool kids hang out) to say that they had been surprised to find a strong police presence outside Caversham library that morning. Five officers had been present. It’s great to see officers out in the community, and he asked them if they were there for a particular reason. They said they had been sent there because of complaints about cyclists riding on the pavement and ignoring red lights.

Now, I will be clear that I do think everyone including cyclists should follow the rules of the road. And, as a pedestrian, I understand the frustrations around having cyclists whizz past you on pavements that aren’t shared paths (though, as a mother, I’m not going to judge another family who decide that their small children are safer riding on the pavement than on the road).

However, do you know what else happened in Caversham in that same spot in December? A crash involving six cars and a van, in which five people were injured. The consequences when people in control of fast, hard, heavy chunks of metal are reckless on the roads are far, far worse than they are for cyclists. Despite the fact that cyclists and pedestrians are often forced to share the same spaces, between 2012 and 2021 98% of pedestrians who were killed or seriously injured in a collision were injured by a motor vehicle rather than a bicycle.

I do think it’s antisocial when riders of illegally overpowered e-bikes (often working for delivery companies) whizz through pedestrian spaces at inhuman speeds. I know that many of these riders are in very precarious situations, and that the delivery companies make it very difficult to make a decent hourly rate. To get paid, riders take more risks in order to take on more jobs.

It’s like that age old ethical conundrum: riding what’s effectively a small motorbike antisocially is wrong, but if you have a choice between that and watching your family starve, which is the greater evil? For me the blame here lies squarely with the delivery companies who are happy to incentivise these behaviours and then hide their head in the sand about the consequences whilst raking in the profits. And, mostly, I think those riders endanger themselves rather than others.

Do you know what else makes pavements and bike paths difficult to navigate? When cars are parked on/in them. This forces pedestrians and cyclists (often young ones) out into traffic they shouldn’t be having to navigate. It can block routes entirely for wheelchair users and make life very difficult for families with pushchairs. Those cars often aren’t just there momentarily when passing through, they can be an almost permanent hazard (e.g. on the shared use path alongside Henley Road).

I’ve tried reporting pavement parking in Reading. The council has a website where you can submit photos but when I’ve tried it for the Henley Road bike lane I’ve got a (very quick) form response letting me know that the council have no power to enforce anything there, and the police have no resources. However, it seems the police have managed to find resources to conduct an operation to seize a few souped-up e-bikes in the town centre.

I know there are some really good people in policing – I love seeing some of them out on their bikes and we were delighted with the pair who joined our ride from the cycle festival in September. They aren’t the ones making the decisions about where their time is spent.

In a world where policing resources are so limited, can we not focus traffic enforcement on vehicles that do the most harm? We have an election coming up for the local Police and Crime Commissioner, who has the power to set the priorities for road safety enforcement. If you’d like to see a change, make sure you let the candidates know that what’s important to you and use your vote on 2nd May.