LETTER: Cyclists are safer on pavements

Some time ago, one noticeable difference between Yorkshire and Lancashire was that cycling along the Leeds and Liverpool canal towpath was banned in Yorkshire while the towpath was made a cycle track in Lancashire.

Despite the obvious health and safety risks involved in cycling along a canal towpath, I am pleased the cycle track won the day and one can now cycle the entire route from Liverpool to Leeds.

Once again, the question of cycling on pedestrian pathways has risen and a report has been prepared for Pendle Council’s Colne Committee about banning cycling in pedestrian areas of Colne.

While I can appreciate cyclists can be a nuisance to pedestrians, this is an area where some compromise and reasonable thinking is required in favour of cycling similar to that which enabled the “dangerous” canal towpath to become a cycle track.

The recent incident where a cyclist was killed by a speeding motorist in Salterforth illustrates that it really is not unreasonable for cyclists to use footpaths rather than the road especially at particularly dangerous places.

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The report to the Colne Committee makes this point but its thrust addresses councillors’ concern about cyclists on pavements and how to stop them while being seen to remain politically neutral.

The report says the police have suggested warning signs be erected in the town centre advising people they will be issued with a fixed penalty notice if they are found to be cycling on the footpaths.

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

At the time, Home Office Minister Paul Boateng issued a letter stating: “The introduction of the fixed penalty is not aimed at responsible cyclists who sometimes feel obliged to use the pavement out of fear of traffic and who show consideration to other pavement users when doing so.

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“Chief police officers, who are responsible for enforcement, acknowledge that many cyclists, particularly children and young people, are afraid to cycle on the road, so sensitivity and careful use of police discretion is required.”

Almost identical advice has since been issued by the Home Office with regards the use of fixed penalty notices by Community Support Officers and wardens.

As the report to the Colne Committee points out, under the Anti Social Behaviour Act 2003 there is also an offence for reckless cycling.

The DfT view, from discussions with Home Office, is that the law applies to all, but the police can show discretion to younger children cycling on the pavement for whom cycling on the road would not be a safe option. The age of criminal responsibility is 10 so, technically, only children below this age can recklessly cycle on pavements without fear of redress.

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One assumes that if a youngster is committing a criminal offence, then the cycle could well be stolen and it could be impounded until proof of ownership is produced by a responsible adult.

Another salient document in this debate is the Department of Transport draft Code of Conduct Notice for Cyclists 2005 at places where cycling is to be permitted on footpaths:

• If a feature segregating cyclists from pedestrians is present, keep to the cyclist’s side. This will be indicated on blue and white road signs and by cycle logos on the surface.

• Ride on the left hand side of the area available to you. If you need to overtake another cyclist, give a gentle ring on your bell or say “Excuse me”.

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• When coming up behind pedestrians, always pass them at a safe distance, and slowly enough so that you could avoid them if they made a sudden change in direction.

• Remember that some pedestrians may be hard of hearing or visually impaired and hence might not be aware of you. If in doubt, give a gentle ring on your bell or say “Excuse me”.

• Always respect pedestrians even if they stray onto the cycling side. They are entitled to do so. Always thank people who move out of your way.

• Ride at a sensible speed for the situation and ensure you can stop in time.

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As a general rule, if you want to cycle quickly, you should be riding on the road.

• Use lights at night.

• In pedestrianised areas, only ride your cycle if there aren’t too many pedestrians about. When visiting shops etc, park your cycle so that people will not trip over it. Use formal cycle parking if available.

I reckon this is rather long for a cyclist to read while riding past a sign, although it could form the basis for a by-law. If we need signage to warn cyclists to behave sensibly, something along the lines of the following would do: “Cyclists! Pedestrians have priority. Reckless cycling will be penalised under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003.”

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It could be argued this is stating the obvious and I am reminded of the episode of the comedy “Only Fools and Horses” where a friend of Del and Rodney is telling how he once banged his head on a “Mind Your Head” notice. When Del asks “didn’t you see the sign”, he gets the response: “I did see the sign, but back then I couldn’t read”.

DAVID FOAT

Varley Street, Colne