CLOS­ING IN Po­lice close-pass ini­tia­tives are vi­tal for en­cour­ag­ing new cy­clists, says Rob Ains­ley

Cycling Plus - - THE HUB -

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.

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