CLOSING IN Police close-pass initiatives are vital for encouraging new cyclists, says Rob Ainsley
JFK airport; a hostel in Rosario, Argentina; the B6164 into Knaresborough... I’ve had near-death experiences at all of them. JFK involved a lightning strike on our plane and horrendous landing in a violent storm. I still hate flying. The hostel was the target of an armed raid – I was hauled out of bed and held hostage at gunpoint. I still don’t like Argentina. And the B6164? Oh, you know, just another close pass where I cheated death again by diving into nettles. The sort of thing we all put up with several times a year. At least I still like cycling.
The thing is, we shouldn’t put up with it. Every month, since the West Midlands started the ball rolling last year, it seems another police force comes on board with a campaign to target close-passing motorists – over a dozen now, and growing. Indeed, much of the enthusiasm for the scheme is coming from cyclist officers themselves.
In Southwark, London, for example, after consulting local cyclists about the worst areas, plain clothes coppers rode around Peckham Rye for an hour. Police vans were conspicuously placed, to selfselect the worst drivers, and perhaps rebut allegations of ‘war-againstmotorists’ entrapment.
Of the many drivers who passed dangerously and were stopped and warned, six were done for additional serious offences – no insurance, failing eye tests, illiterate Facebook postings about cyclists ‘not paying road tax’ and so on. (Okay, the last one is wishful thinking.) The police didn’t stop offending buses, out of consideration for the passengers, but followed things up with the bus companies.
It’s not cyclists versus drivers. It’s bad road users versus good ones. In fact, cyclists are more likely to be drivers than the general population (83 per cent to 82 per
It’s not cyclists versus drivers. It’s bad road users versus good ones
cent, according to the National Travel Survey). Just as cyclists are more likely to be well-informed, more law-abiding and better looking than the general population, twice as likely, according to figures I’ve just made up.
There are many good reasons for closepass initiatives. One is protecting order. We don’t tolerate hate speech, racial abuse, threats or violence in public spaces; roads – contrary to the opinion of some, who think they own them – are public spaces. In London, 80 per cent of public space is road. Another is targeting potential future offenders. Bad drivers get warned, perhaps sent on a course, and the PR around it helps shape general behaviour.
The main reason is to tackle the biggest obstacle to getting greater numbers of people cycling. We all have friends and relatives who refuse to get on two wheels because ‘the roads aren’t safe’. Of course, we know cycling extends your life on balance, that health benefits outweigh any fractional risk of serious injury or death. But when an HGV or taxi almost knocks you off, if doesn’t feel that way.
Typical stats indicate one minor injury every decade for regular commuters, which seems about right from my experience. I commuted for 20 years and came off twice, getting a scar on each shin, luckily matching. Cyclist fatalities meanwhile run at one per 24 billion kilometres. So even Amanda Coker – who recently broke the year distance record by doing 140,000km, all in laps around a Florida park – would have to do 170,000 years at that pace, by which time she’d have died anyway, from boredom.
For many would-be cyclists Britain’s roads are too scary, and that’s why we need a culture change. We all adapted to the smoking ban in pubs without fuss, and pretty much everyone – smokers included – agree that they’re better, safer, more welcoming places now. Close-pass initiatives will help encourage more cyclists, and that will similarly benefit public space and safety.
If your police force hasn’t got one, email them. You may be surprised to find a copper replying who’s a keen cyclist and is on your side. We have a long way to go, but it’s not 24 billion kilometres. Meanwhile, avoid flying in hurricanes and staying in dodgy Argentinian hostels. And enter Knaresborough by the Beryl Burton cycleway.