Scenes From My Commute

Lancing Boat Club

I was cycling my merry way home this evening as I usually do along the seafront from Brighton to Worthing. The Sturmey Archer 3 speed was ticking away like a pacemaker made for Bez from Happy Mondays and the sea breeze was slowly caressing my slowly dwindling hair. Just outside Worthing on the edge of Lancing Beach, I normally encounter this…….

It’s obviously a skip, but it was placed right in the middle of the cycle path to prevent access to the neighbouring greensward by Gypsies and Travelling folk who are despised in Britain slightly more than cyclists, although it’s a very close call. The Daily Mail rule of thumb is that cyclists don’t pay Road Tax (which hasn’t existed since 1937) but Travellers don’t pay any tax (allegedly). We ignore the fact that Vodafone and other large corporations get away with not paying their fair share to the tune of billions because in modern Britain its just easier to pick on minorities. Anyway, imagine my surprise when I came across this…..

The structure on the left already had the seating stripped out to remove the homeless people who would sleep there occasionally and had been given a shiny new coat of red, white and blue, I assume due to the forthcoming Jubilee celebrations. In the patch of brown where the skip was there is now a shiny new blue sculptural bollard  announcing that you are now entering or leaving Lancing Beach.

Unlike the other black columnar art installations you can see, there is nothing reflective at all on it. The picture above shows a bit more context – like the fact that cyclists following the path from Worthing have to do a 90 degree right turn (there is a high white wall just set back to the right) so as they accelerate away, provided they haven’t hit any oncoming cyclists or pedestrians, they can collide with the art installation. The words ‘Lancing Beach’ can be the last thing they remember as they gracefully slip into unconsciousness, with the gentle crashing of waves to keep them company. It’s all part of the rich kaleidoscope that is riding a bicycle in Britain.

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Etape du Crap

My last post plundered some of the wonderful images sent in to the Warrington Cycle Campaign for their ‘Facility of the Month’ pages (and to reiterate, buy the book and send it to your local Highways Authority. Proceeds to CTC’s Cyclists Defence Fund).

In September 2001, this wonderful Turning Circle/Bicycle Layby/No, I actually have no idea what they were thinking either, was Facility of the Month. It is in the Campaign’s home turf of Warrington.

Yesterday, it surfaced again in the Daily Mail (and thanks to Lazy Bicycle Blog for the heads up). I was quite glad to see that ‘Silly Season’ has returned a little bit in the face of a potential humanitarian crisis in Libya.

It is the latest example in a long line of questionable planning decisions by councils – a cycle lane measuring just 15ft long.

Cyclists using the roads of Warrington, Cheshire, are apparently supposed to use the semi-circular track to help them get ahead of drivers.

Alternatively, this road to nowhere could have been designed by local pen-pushers to help cyclists execute a U-turn on a leafy avenue which runs between the Stockton Heath and Appleton areas of the town.

The spare-lane has been cut into the verge, covered in tarmac before a white cycle symbol was painted onto it – presumably to make sure there was no doubt as to who this strange example of highway planning was for.

The highway blunder was spotted by DSA Licensed driving instructor, Dave Horgan of Horgis School of Motoring.

‘The council need to think twice before putting up confusing signs and this sort of thing is an example,’ he said.

‘This is one of the reasons it costs so much to learn to drive nowadays.’

I’m a little stumped as what Mr Horgan’s comments mean as this nugget of infrastructure doesn’t appear to have been signed, has been sitting there for 10 years as forlorn as a Verve album and is probably ignored by motorists driving past as though their cars will detonate if they drop below 50mph. I also feel that there may be other real and pressing factors as to why the cost of a driving test has risen so much such as Middle East instability or the fact that insurance is seen as peripheral to many motorists yet operating a mobile phone is essential.

Anyway, Tuesdays post along with the above mentioned article got me thinking further about interesting ways to highlight the drivel that Councils have been getting away with for years in the name of ‘sustainability’. The sort of stuff that allows them to produce brochures and plans that gloss over their jeopardising cyclist and pedestrian safety and not understanding the bicycle as a simple and effective mode of transport.

I would like to suggest organising a bicycle race using a particular British town or city’s cycle infrastructure ONLY. I originally wanted road cyclists to be involved but that would probably be suicidal for them and their bikes in particular so maybe just mountain bikes instead – after all, many ‘Town Centre Links’ or ‘Greenways’ are not too dissimilar to ‘North Shore’. If held on the weekend, it may have to be abandoned due to parked cars. I believe however, if it took off, that it should be called ‘Etape du Crap’ or even ‘Crap Etape!’ (said in exactly the same way children would say ‘Crackerjack!’) although feel free to chip in with your own suggestions. In fact, if you commute and you get to an awful bit of cycle infrastructure, just yell ‘Crap Etape!’ before riding it. Passers by may wonder what the Hell you’re doing but at least you might feel better.

'...and the peloton steams over the tactile paving toward the...oh, bugger'

Just a thought.

In the meantime, here’s another post from Mark Wagenbuur via David Hembrow’s ‘View from the Cycle Path’. Please note that even when a full-blown construction project is on, the temporary cycle lanes are better than most British cycle infrastructure. Even when just a diversion, I would like some of what they’re having.

Smokescreen

Road.cc reports this week on ‘crackdowns on so-called anti-social cycling, with initiatives targeting bike riders who commit transgressions such as ignoring red traffic lights and cycling on the pavement under way in cities such as Chester and Bath, while councillors in Middlesbrough are calling for police there to tackle the problem’.

As a cycle campaigner I certainly support such moves to a point. I passed my cycling proficiency in 1979 and have always carried the mentality that the safest place to be on the road is moving with the flow of traffic obeying all signs and signals. As soon as you break lights or hop on the pavement then in my opinion not only are you being selfish but you’re just creating more problems for yourself where you can be prosecuted (if caught by the law) or sued for damages. The Highway Code isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly a passport to relatively stress free cycling.

However, I wrote ‘to a point’. Many councils paint bicycle symbols on pavements, calling them ‘Cycle Infrastructure’. This conveniently gets cyclists off the roads and leaves those that persist with the roads open to abuse. The roads become more dangerous with fewer cyclists about and then everyone scratches their heads as to why novice cyclists would use pavements that don’t have cycle symbols on them too. I would class this as an irritant as opposed to something requiring such heavy handed levels of policing. My point is that if this level of policing is part of a wider clampdown in the name of road safety, then what is being done about the far greater problem of motorists breaking the law?

Not much, it would appear. In the same week, RoSPA (the organisation that originally set up Cycling Proficiency), along with CTC have issued a joint communiqué to councils that are considering turning off their speed cameras to reconsider.

We also read that Cycling England, a Government quango set up by Department for Transport with responsibility for Cycling Proficiency (or ‘Bikeability’ as it’s now known) may be abolished. The worst case scenario would see an end to cycle training in our schools with no-one able to administer it and a Government no longer wanting to support it.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State for Transport Philip Hammond is said to be “far from convinced that it would be a good thing” to reduce the UK’s legal drink-driving limit and is set to reject an expert review that recommended that the country fall into line with the lower levels found in several other major countries in western Europe.

I can’t help but feel a that there is a little bit of a smokescreen going on here covering the fact that no-one is prepared to tackle the really big issues that kill and seriously injure every day. Making an example of cyclists that break red lights and ride on pavements is all very well. But speeding, drink-driving or mobile phone use whilst driving creates far more havoc for our society and its emergency services. Yet it’s ‘Demon Cyclists’ or ‘Lycra Louts’ or, even worse, ‘Middle Aged Lycra Louts’ that hit the headlines. Or Jon Snow being trailed by that tabloid Ku Klux Klan, the Daily Mail. Road safety, particularly for its more vulnerable users, is clearly no match for the motoring and drinks lobbies! 

Another recent example of victimising groups and creating a smokescreen is the surge of interest in ‘dole cheats’. These fraudsters are fleecing the innocent taxpayer of billions! That’s all very well, and £5 billion a year is certainly a problem. But what about the high level tax avoidance of the rich that’s costing the nation (it has been estimated) £50-60 billion a year? Again, the bigger issue disappears behind a smokescreen because it’s too difficult to face and the lobbying too powerful.

Think what could be done if that £50-60 billion went directly to cycling! A fully segregated cycle network could be created across the country linking villages with towns, children with schools, adults with shops and places of work. I have a dream, Brothers and Sisters. You’d have a lot of change out of that money too.

There’ll be a smokescreen though. With all the money snaffled by ‘consultancy fees‘ and used to plug other holes in Government & Council spending, so we’ll end up with this, this and this everywhere. Again

I draw two conclusions; firstly, this country simply doesn’t know how to deal with something like cycling because we have been so primed for ever bigger roads and car use that we cannot get our heads around catering for something so blissfully simple as riding a bicycle. As a result, it will always be treated like a stubborn stain that won’t go away unless there is a culture shift. Secondly, and pardon the language, but self confessed motor loving Philip Hammond MP seems to be about as much use as tits on a bull. I hope the lobbying perks are worth it.

The Highway Code (Rules for Cyclists) – The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club Version

Please find below the ‘Rules for Cyclists’ as outlined in The Highway Code adapted by me to give more accuracy (in my humble opinion).

59 Clothing.

You should wear

• a cycle helmet which conforms to current regulations, is the correct size and securely fastened. It won’t necessarily help, but will make motorists think they can drive like lunatics around you because you are ‘protected’ and make cycling look much more dangerous than it actually is, putting everybody else off cycling. Which is exactly the desire of motor companies (like Volvo and Fiat), that funnily enough actively promote helmet use.

• appropriate clothes for cycling. Avoid clothes which may get tangled in the chain, or in a wheel or may obscure your lights. Do NOT wear lycra as that is very, very bad and our obese society will judge you for some reason.

• light-coloured or fluorescent clothing which helps other road users to see you in daylight and poor light because normally they can’t be bothered to look for you unless you’re lit up like a Mardi Gras carnival float

• reflective clothing and/or accessories (belt, arm or ankle bands) in the dark for that extra nerdy/librarian look

60 At night your cycle MUST have white front and red rear lights lit. It MUST also be fitted with a red rear reflector. White front reflectors and spoke reflectors will also help you to be seen. Flashing lights are permitted but it is recommended that cyclists who are riding in areas without street lighting use a steady front lamp. HOWEVER if your bike has been stolen or cost £20 at a car boot sale and you merely wish to get to the bookies/public house (Wetherspoons ONLY)/next crime scene then why are you even attempting to read this? [Law RVLR regs 13, 18 & 24)]

61 Cycle Routes and Other Facilities.

Use cycle routes, advanced stop lines, cycle boxes and toucan crossings unless at the time it is unsafe to do so. Use of these facilities is not compulsory and will depend on your experience and skills which you will need lots of because the facilities are normally designed by someone having an epileptic fit. But they can make your journey safer IF you are the last person on Earth and even then they are a waste of time and space.

62 Cycle Tracks.

These are normally located away from the road, but may normally be found on footpaths or pavements. Cyclists and pedestrians may be segregated or they may share the same space (unsegregated). When using segregated tracks you MUST keep to the side intended for cyclists (until another cyclist approaches when you both suddenly realise it’s too narrow) as the pedestrian side remains a pavement or footpath. Take care when passing pedestrians, especially children, older or disabled people. Everyone will drift into the cycle lane for no reason, usually plugged into a phone. Always be prepared to slow down and stop if necessary as they wander about aimlessly. Take care near road junctions as you will have difficulty seeing other road users, who will not notice you. You might as well be using the road instead of this poorly designed, dangerous drivel. Otherwise it’s like given the choice of watching either Love Island or Big Brother. At gunpoint.  [Law HA 1835 sect 72]

63 Cycle Lanes.

These are marked by a white line (which will be entered by ALL other road traffic) along the carriageway. Keep within the lane when practicable through all the sunken drain covers and broken glass. When leaving a cycle lane check before pulling out that it is safe to do so and signal your intention clearly to other road users which will be ignored. Use of cycle lanes is not compulsory and will depend on your experience and skills, but they can make your journey safer if you are in Copenhagen or Amsterdam or Groningen or Germany or anywhere else EXCEPT the UK.

64 You MUST NOT cycle on a pavement UNLESS the Council has painted a white bicycle on it. There is a difference APPARENTLY. [Laws HA 1835 sect 72 & R(S)A 1984, sect 129]

65 Bus Lanes.

Most bus lanes may be used by cyclists as indicated on signs. Watch out for people getting on or off a bus. Be very careful when overtaking a bus or leaving a bus lane as you will be entering a busier traffic flow and the bus driver thinks he/she is at Le Mans. Do not pass between the kerb and a bus when it is at a stop UNLESS you’re unbelievably thin.

66 You should

• keep both hands on the handlebars except when signalling or changing gear or sticking the finger up at yet another example of incompetent driving

• keep both feet on the pedals UNLESS you are trying to do a really cool trick to impress your friends to justify owning a BMX whilst in your 20’s.

• never ride more than two abreast, and ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends. You’ll get abuse from motorists that confuse ‘a country drive’ with ‘Paris – Dakar Rally’ anyway.

• not ride close behind another vehicle UNLESS it’s slowed down just after overtaking you for a sudden turn or speed camera or police patrol car.

• not carry anything which will affect your balance or may get tangled up with your wheels or chain such as barbed wire, which MAY be the only thing that stops motorists passing so closely.

• be considerate of other road users, particularly blind and partially sighted pedestrians. Let them know you are there when necessary, for example, by ringing your bell if you have one. Try using common courtesy, which is an ancient craft that died out years ago.

67 You should

• look all around before moving away from the kerb, turning or manoeuvring, to make sure it is safe to do so. Give a clear signal to show other road users what you intend to do. This will be ignored.

• look well ahead for obstructions in the road, such as drains, pot-holes and parked vehicles so that you do not have to swerve suddenly to avoid them. Leave plenty of room when passing parked vehicles and watch out for doors being opened or pedestrians stepping into your path, particularly heavy users of mobile phones, the lemmings that they are.

• be aware of traffic coming up behind you. They know not what they are doing.

• take extra care near road humps, narrowings and other traffic calming features . They are supposed to improve road safety. In reality, they turn something as simple and easy as riding a bicycle into some form of gladiatorial combat and were designed by the person that devised the course for ‘Extreme Wipeout’.

• take care when overtaking. Wave to stationary traffic and smile to indicate you are passing them safely. This should cheer them up no end.

68 You MUST NOT

• carry a passenger unless your cycle has been built or adapted to carry one. Those carefree days are over, apparently.

• hold onto a moving vehicle or trailer UNLESS you are going for £250 on ‘You’ve been Framed’ or you live in Hill Valley.

• ride in a dangerous, careless or inconsiderate manner. The Daily Mail thinks you will anyway but ‘dangerous, careless or inconsiderate’ also describes their take on journalism.

• ride when under the influence of drink or drugs, including medicine UNLESS it’s quite nice. [Law RTA 1988 sects 24, 26, 28, 29 & 30 as amended by RTA 1991]

69 You MUST obey all traffic signs and traffic light signals. That means NOT breaking red lights. The wearing of a replica professional team kit does NOT make you immune from all traffic laws. You know you are doing wrong because of the self-righteous yet furtive look you always have when you’re doing it. FAILURE to comply means ALL OTHER ROAD USERS INCLUDING LAW ABIDING CYCLISTS and SOME OTHER PEOPLE I’VE JUST THOUGHT OF have the right to abuse you. [Laws RTA 1988 sect 36 & TSRGD reg 10(1)]

70 When parking your cycle

• find a conspicuous location where you think it can be seen and passers-by can ignore.

• use cycle stands or other cycle parking facilities wherever possible and do NOT let the vandalised bicycle already there with the kicked in wheels put you off in any way.

• do not leave it where it would cause an obstruction or hazard to other road users although they will find some reason to moan whatever you do.

• secure it well so that it will not fall over and become an obstruction or hazard UNLESS outside the Daily Mail offices (Northcliffe House, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT)

71 You MUST NOT cross the stop line when the traffic lights are red. Some junctions have an advanced stop line to enable you to wait and position yourself ahead of other traffic. They will generally have motor vehicles waiting in it. [Laws RTA 1988 sect 36 & TSRGD regs 10 & 36(1)]

Road junctions

72 On the left. When approaching a junction on the left, vehicles will turn in front of you, out of or into the side road. Just before you turn, check for undertaking cyclists or motorcyclists. Do not ride on the inside of vehicles signalling or slowing down to turn left despite the fact they just overtook you at speed.

73 Pay particular attention to long vehicles which need a lot of room to manoeuvre at corners. Be aware that drivers may not see you. They may have to move over to the right before turning left. Wait until they have completed the manoeuvre because the rear wheels come very close to the kerb while turning. Do not be tempted to ride in the space between them and the kerb. In fact, if you see a lorry indicating or making a turn just STOP for goodness sake. The World is a brighter place with you still in it.

74 On the right. If you are turning right, check the traffic to ensure it is safe, then signal and move to the centre of the road. Allow for BMW drivers that will still overtake you even in the middle of your manoeuvre. Wait until there is a safe gap in the oncoming traffic and give a final look before completing the turn. It may be safer to wait on the left until there is a safe gap or to dismount and push your cycle across the road. No-one is going to stop as motorists are always in a terrible hurry for some reason.

75 Dual carriageways. Remember that traffic on most dual carriageways moves quicker than the speed limit but it’s acceptable because they are all experts [in their own opinions] and when an accident occurs, it is clearly a problem with the road. When crossing wait for a safe gap and cross each carriageway in turn, like Mark Cavendish on MDMA and Lucozade. Take extra care when crossing slip roads. Bear in mind the Highways Agency don’t actually want you there at all, yet can’t put a proper segregated route in because that involves thinking and doing stuff.

76 Roundabouts can be hazardous ONLY if motorists are about and should be approached with care.

Roundabouts

77 You may feel safer walking your cycle round on the pavement or verge. If you decide to ride round keeping to the left-hand lane you should

• be aware that drivers may not easily see you as they will be tuning into a different station from Radio 2 as we’re all supposed to hate Chris Evans now.

• take extra care when cycling across exits. You may need to signal right to show you are not leaving the roundabout and that you exist

• watch out for vehicles crossing your path to leave or join the roundabout or do whatever they bloody well like

78 Give plenty of room to long vehicles on the roundabout as they need more space to manoeuvre. Do not ride in the space they need to get round the roundabout. It may be safer to stop and go to a nearby pub to wait until they have cleared the roundabout. And then a couple of other lorries after that.

Crossing the road

79 Do not ride across equestrian crossings, as they are for horse riders only. Do not ride across a pelican, puffin or zebra crossing. Dismount and wheel your cycle across EVEN if you are wearing a hooded top with the hood up smoking a B&H on a ‘Mountain Bike’ where only the wheels are working.

80 Toucan crossings. These are light-controlled crossings which allow cyclists and pedestrians to share crossing space and cross at the same time. They are push-button operated. Pedestrians and cyclists will see the green signal together. Cyclists are permitted to ride across and will inevitably get in the way of a pedestrian who will write to the local paper because they are a bloody stupid idea.

81 Cycle-only crossings. Very rare. Cycle tracks on opposite sides of the road may be linked by signalled crossings. You may ride across but you MUST NOT cross until the green cycle symbol is showing. Try to ignore the hatred simmering from the motorists you’ve stopped as you’ve added about 10 seconds on to their journey time. Do NOT forget to press the ‘Wait’ button again on the other side as courtesy to other cyclists who may be approaching. Somewhere. [Law TSRGD regs 33(2) & 36(1)]

82 Level crossings/Tramways. Take extra care when crossing the tracks (see Rule 306). You should dismount at level crossings where a ‘cyclist dismount’ sign is displayed. Then feel a little foolish when you see the replacement bus service pulling out from the station car park.

The next exciting installment is here

Middle Age Men In Lycra – So What?

 

Freddie Mercury. A Man who knew how to rock in bib tights. Sort of.

 

In July, the Government published its National Travel Survey data. It confirmed that cycle use has increased to the highest level in decades. What was greeted with surprise was that the key area for growth was the highest income bracket. What I personally found surprising was that people found this surprising. The highest income bracket has always produced keen cyclists, some of whom have represented cycling interests in the Houses of Parliament. Intelligent, well paid people have long known that the velocipede is a civilized, no nonsense form of conveyance and that the simplest ideas are always the best.

At about the same time, Mintel, a market research firm published its own report (Bicycles in the UK 2010). It points out what cyclists and other handsome, intelligent people have known for years; that most adult cyclists are motorists too. This creates a problem for mainstream media and marketing companies. It makes it more difficult to compartmentalise ‘Cyclists’ & ‘Motorists’ as they are essentially one and the same.

However they were instantly thrown a lifeline; the report produced a new type of cyclist and even gave them an acronym. Step forward the ‘MAMIL’ or ‘Middle Aged Man In Lycra’. This is a cyclist in the 35-45 age bracket that may own…wait for it…. two cars!! They are more likely to read broadsheet papers, shop at Waitrose and have a household income of £50,000 per annum. They’re twice as likely to be male as female (which was a surprise to me as I had no idea that a woman could be a ‘Middle Aged Man In Lycra’ but there you go).

As if by magic the two agencies of cyclist hatred (BBC News and The Daily Mail) leapt onto this, in particular the suggestion that this upsurge in higher end bike sales is a “noughties version of a mid life crisis” and is the modern equivalent of buying a flashy sports car. Only they could put negative spin on a person buying a bicycle. Focussing on this group conveniently sidesteps the bigger story which is that more people are cycling generally.

In reality there are many factors at play; the explosion in the amount of charity bike rides and organised events such as ‘Sportive’ rides has probably helped fuel this surge along with better coverage of events such as the Tour de France and the Halfords City Centre race series, both shown on ITV4. The success of Team GB and the escapades of Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish cannot have gone unnoticed. Women now have incredible role models in Victoria Pendleton, Nicole Cooke and Shanaze Reade on the BMX track.

If middle aged affluent men want to spend thousands of pounds on a new bike for sporting pursuits then good for them and even better for the local bike shop they buy it from. I’d rather they did that then get a new set of golf clubs or donate the money to UKIP. Welcome to the family. Other cyclists may sneer but if it means more people out and about enjoying themselves on bicycles (even if just on a Sunday) then that means less badly driven sports cars on our roads and increased road awareness.

The report adds that consumers like cycling because it gives them ‘health and wellbeing, a sense of community and environment’. I would add ‘a chance to reflect that The Daily Mail is just a middle class tabloid equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan’.

It also states that cycling “lacks some of the less acknowledged selling points favoured by car drivers: personal safety, comfort, style, convenience and speed”. The bicycle provides all that if used safely and correctly. A Stannah Stair Lift  also provides all that if used safely and correctly but we’ll cover old age at a later date.

The War on the Motorist

Consider the plight of the poor beleaguered motorist.

For years they have had to put up with ever bigger roads; dual carriageways, road widening, ring roads, inner relief roads, orbital roads & bypasses. Some motorists have interests such as gardening or archaeology yet found themselves having to drive ever increasing distances to see nice pretty landscapes and places of interest because lots of other people also liked driving and needed to be accommodated on ever bigger roads destroying more and more pretty landscapes and places of interest. How dreadful.

Some motorists occasionally enjoyed nice walks or cycle rides for short journeys to the post office or school but the bigger roads sliced through the bridleway and footpath network so they didn’t link communities anymore. So more people had to drive on the bigger roads and get in each others way. Apparently, people who might have considered a walk or a cycle ride also started driving as they considered the new bigger roads to be more hostile, adding to all that congestion. Well, really!

Many had to drive all the way out to the outskirts of towns to get their shopping (as walking around lots of shops is tiresome when you can’t park outside each and every one of them), ripping up more of that lovely countryside and archaeology beneath. No wonder Time Team only ever had three days!

All have had to endure the fact that motoring in real terms is as inexpensive as its ever been. Apparently, only they pay for the roads and should have exclusive rights to them. Many have had entire seconds added to their journey times due to the intrepid few that venture out on bicycles or on foot, the fools! How dare these peasants get in the way when motorists have spent thousands of pounds on their mode of transport?

They have had to endure speed cameras with their bright yellow paint and repeated warning signs. They have had money ruthlessly taken from them when all they did was break the law. How petty is that?! Why aren’t they catching the real criminals?

We needn’t worry though. Philip Hammond, the new Transport Secretary has recently ended this onslaught on the motorist. Thank God! He’s axed the funding to the speed cameras meaning that local authorities fall like a house of cards in the rush to switch them off despite objections from those little people that don’t know what they’re talking about like local residents, road safety groups and police chiefs. Anyone would have thought that right wing motoring groups lobbied hard and portrayed motorists as the poor victims in all this. Surely not! After all, they only kill and seriously injure a few thousand every year!

It now transpires that some motorists in Oxfordshire are speeding again now the cameras have been switched off. Gee!! What are the odds??!! It’s probably all these ‘expert’ motorists driving at speeds that they consider appropriate as opposed those nasty speed limits imposed to reduce the chance of death and serious injury. It’ll be alright though because those that walked or cycled in these spots will be put off due to the increased danger so there will be even less distraction.

If the ‘War on the Motorist’ has ended, then this must surely mean that they can now stop killing innocent civilians?Hurrah! The war is over! If a War had actually been declared on the motorist than I can only describe the state declared on pedestrians and cyclists as ‘genocide’ or ‘a holocaust’ as they impede the march of progress and are cleared off the streets. Well, if we’re going to wildly exaggerate, we might as well try and take it to a logical conclusion. Wars are things that happen in far away lands. Yet motoring has the higher death and casualty rate. Shouldn’t it be the ‘War from the Motorist’?

Cycling to School

School days are the happiest days of your life apparently.

I remember being at First School when we were given cycling proficiency training. Some fire hose was laid out on the playground to recreate a T Junction and we learned how to cycle on the road. I did so well I received a copy of the Highway Code as a prize. That was in 1979.

In 1988 I decided to cycle to my Secondary School. Taking the school bus on its long circuitous route to get to the village where I lived was a soul destroying experience.  Above all I wanted the freedom to be with friends after school. The bicycle gave me that freedom. As I hadn’t cycled any distance for a while the weight had piled on a bit but I saved hard bought a Muddy Fox Courier and started to cycle the 7 miles to school. The weight fell off me and as I grew upwards and inwards my confidence and self belief grew which I badly needed as an adolescent. In 1989 I participated in the Grundig Mountain Bike World Challenge achieving a World ranking at the age of 16.  That year, I also cycled 100 miles in a day with two friends raising funds for Great Ormond Street Hospital. It was fun, but it hurt!

Let’s fast forward now to 2010. A London couple who let their children cycle to school by themselves have been warned they could be reported to social services unless they supervise the journey.

According to Road.cc, ‘today’s Daily Mail highlights the case of Oliver and Gillian Schonrock, who let their five year-old son and eight year-old daughter cycle the one-mile trip to school unaccompanied. They say it helps to teach the kids independence, self-confidence and responsibility.

But other parents and teachers at Alleyn’s Junior School in Dulwich are said to think the practice is irresponsible and dangerous. Head teacher Mark O’Donnell has told the Schonrocks that the school is obliged to consider the children’s safety and has a legal responsibility to refer the case to Southwark Council’s Children’s Services department if they fear the kids are being put at risk.

The children cycle on the pavement from their home in west Dulwich to the school. Their route takes them alongside roads that become busy with traffic during the school run. At the halfway point they cross a road where there is a lollipop lady on duty.

Mark O’Donnell said: “If a school feels a child in their care is at risk, they have a legal responsibility to notify the local authority. Is an eight year old responsible enough to come to school with a five year old and take responsibility when it comes to crossing busy roads? Or what would happen if the five year old has a tantrum?”

The Schonrocks say rules on child protection are to blame for the predicament they find themselves in. Mrs Schonrock, who as a girl took the bus to school from the age of four with her six year-old sister, said: “The question is do the government have the right to put an obligation on schools to not allow any level of risk whatsoever?”

London Mayor Boris Johnson today said the Schonrock’s should be applauded for showing faith in their children. In a column in the Daily Telegraph he said: “They have taken the sword of common sense to the great bloated encephalopathic sacred cow of elf and safety, and for this effrontery they are, of course, being persecuted by the authorities (who are now probably consulting a dictionary to see what encephalopathic means).

“If Mr and Mrs Schonrock have carefully assessed the route and considered the advantages and disadvantages, then they should overwhelmingly be given the benefit of the doubt and the freedom to make up their own minds.”

Although schools are not responsible for children on their journey to school, guidance from the Department for Children, Schools and Families says if a school “believes or suspects that a child may be suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm” then it must refer the case to social services.

Catherine McDonald, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services at Southwark Council, told the Mail: “As this is an independent school, it is for them to decide how they arrange transport to school with the parents of their pupils.

“However, if an independent school does contact us, we’d give them the same advice as we do to our own schools, that they should develop a school travel plan with parents and children so they can get to school safely and in a way that promotes healthy living and is good for the environment. This would include both cycling and walking.”

Cherry Allan, CTC Campaigns Information Co-ordinator told road.cc: “CTC is very disappointed to hear that Oliver and Gillian Schonrock’s decision to let their children cycle to school on their own has been described as “irresponsible”. All children should have the right to cycle to school: it allows them to travel quickly and independently through their local areas, providing not just autonomy, but a daily sense of achievement. To describe the Schronrock’s decision as irresponsible sends out a message that roads are for adults only, and undermines the health benefits of cycling to children – such as greater cardiovascular fitness and reduced levels of obesity – which far outweigh the risks.’

So there you have it. For what it’s worth I believe it is our duty to create safer streets for children to cycle in whether it’s through 20mph limits, segregated (and well designed for a change) cycle paths or redesigned streetscapes that are pleasant for the residents, as opposed to the rat runners. If all else fails, I’d simply stop all motor traffic between 8- 9am and 3-4pm so children can cycle or walk between school and home unhindered (and adults could improve their lives too). Then just watch the obesity levels plummet and the happiness levels soar.

Basically, adults need to bloody well grow up. At least the children are having a go.

I also think that encephalopathic means a disease of the brain. I love Boris Johnson!