Monday 23 September 2013

Cambridge Police Commissioner still hates cyclists.

There's a bizarre regularity to it.

The new academic year is starting so Cambridgeshire Constabulary decide to have a crackdown on cyclists. More or less an annual event, although last year we had an extra one because we had the new Police Commissioner who especially despises us. He (like councillors and the Police) doesn't need or have any data to back up his assertion that we're deserving of special measures. So we sometimes get EXTRA enforcement measures against us, especially when brazenly anti-cyclist measures are employed by the City and County Councils with the intention of using the Police to force cyclists into life threatening situations on the flimsy pretext that we must use cycle lanes so hazardous many people fear to do so.

But it is, more or less, an annual event. Really. Every year. 

Usually plod set out stall on one of the well lit, slow paced city centre roads, often just after dark, waiting to nab newbie student cyclists who are racing home before it gets dark, just after the clocks have changed, on routes where the visibility is entirely constrained by the street design rather than the ample street lighting. They don't much patrol the darker suburban roads because of course you don't get so many newbie students to ticket there - to hell with the fact that these are actually the places its more hazardous to ride on without lights.

Once in a while they'll pick a route on which you can only know you're breaking the law if you've got incredible in-depth knowledge of traffic control orders - where there is no sign telling you that the cycle route has ended flanked by signs telling you it IS a cycle route and upon which only a complete idiot would think you can't ride.

Naturally these crackdowns aren't about reducing harm. If they were, they'd be basing this on real stats which show us that very few cyclists in Cambridge are injured after dark, that they're not causing lots of injuries on pavements, etc. They'd be looking at dealing with whats actually harming both cyclists and pedestrians, namely, motorists. For in-depth analysis of such stats, go no further than Cottenham Cyclist.

So this years new blitz, cheered on by chief trollumnist for drumming up cyclist hate at the local rag Ramond 'Britney' Brown, shouldn't come as a shock. Its not meant to change cyclist behaviour, and its not meant to make us safer - it can't be or it would be a crackdown on those things that demonstrably, measurably and repeatedly kill cyclists. This is meant to remind the motorists that Cambridge Police and their Commissioner love them, not us.

And the result? Nothing changes. You can crack down on students all you like, you'll stop some riding, some will buy lights or not ride on the pavements, but any changes are as transitory as the student population itself. But you can do it every year, get a good number of 'hits' every year, and claim a decent headline every year. It is however a waste of time and resources, both of which could be spent on policing the things that maim and kill cyclists. Or, in other words, because resources are spent on the wrong thing, people may die. And their blood will be on our Police Commissioners cake hands.

So obviously the local campaign group Cambridge Cycling Campaign are up in arms about this and threatening demonstrations, refusal to cooperate with a blatantly and openly anti-cyclist police commissioner and... errr... well, no, lets wait to see what they'll come out with. This needs a robust, direct and vocal response. It is a disproportionate policy that only alienates the Police force from cyclists in this city, and while we should not and must not countenance any idea that rejecting this crap is in any way an endorsement of anti-social cycling, we should insist that policing of cycling matters must be evidence based, with a strong ethos of protecting cyclists from that which causes them harm every bit as much as enforcing the law upon cyclists. And anything short of that should be treated as what it is - ant-cyclist bias worthy of complete boycott. None of this 'well we should police ALL road users' crap. Police based on capacity to cause harm and the recorded probability of causing harm - which means police cycling LESS and police motoring MORE.

The police will once again prioritise cyclists on the pavement while openly ignoring motorists breaking exactly the same law. Apparently stopping motorists from using the pavement is not in the public interest but stopping cyclists is. Its pretty clear that Cambridgeshire Constabulary only really want to look after the motoring public, isn't it?


  1. So much for evidence-based policy eh? I wonder what metric they use for policing nowadays? This can be done by PCSOs and is a safe policing activity, 'cos dealing with cyclists is actually so much safer than dealing dangerous motor vehicles. So it must achieve one of the lowest police costs per ticket issued (or ticket equivalent).

    Even better, for an elected representative you can simply justify it with a few anecdotes telling the press that people have "raised the issue with me many times". So although you can't cherry-pick the law, it would seem you can cherry-pick the laws you wish to uphold as a PCC.

    We need evidence-based accountability!

  2. Ah, yes, the regular "crackdowns" and "spot fines" for cyclists in Cambridge. I remember them well. They also featured in the ITV programme that I appeared in a few years back, seemingly to provide background about how "cyclists" behave.

  3. Where is the disproportion? It's two crackdowns a year, plus some ongoing anti-social cycling projects. The county road safety team is 60 officers. Everything else they do is motor vehicles, some of which is automated such as speed cameras.
    The crackdowns happened before Bright, they'll happen after Bright. Yes, the man is an A-grade wanker. He's picking on a group that didn't vote for him, won't be around to vote for him when (if?) he's up for re-election in 2016, and probably wouldn't vote for him if they are, since Cambridge placed him third. But it'll play well in the voluntarily car-dependent Tory bases around the county, and Bright knows it.

    Cycle crackdowns are a public-lead policy. Again and again people turn up to police priority setting meetings and complain about the minor annoyance that is anti-social cycling. Yes, they are ill-informed. But complaining about enforcement isn't the way to change these people's minds - it reinforces their prejudices that all cyclists are law-breakers.

    I just don't see what is to be gained by a campaign seeming to side with law-breakers. The fact that the Cambridge Cycling Campaign has a policy against breaking the law on a bike won't get a look-in: it will look like cyclists complaining about the very small amount of enforcement against their law-breaking. Bright might be a lost cause for the campaign, but lots of other people who like the idea of cycling, or are cyclists themselves, aren't.

    Push for more motor traffic enforcement. Make FOIs on cycle accident blackspots. Ask what police are doing at these blackspots. But the case for enforcing the law against motorists is weakened when cyclists want their law-breaking overlooked.

    1. It is disproportionate because the enforcement effort is not justified by harm done.

      Suppose the Police were to remove some of the average speed cameras from the A14 to free up resources to stop people speeding at half past three on Sunday mornings on the M11. Yes, of course people should refrain from speeding on the M11, we'd all agree that - but what would the AA or the RAC say if questioned? Would they lead with 'we agree with making people obey the law' or would it be 'this isn't a proportionate response to a trivial problem'? I think you know it would be the latter.

      This is basically the same thing - yet year after year we see Cambridge Cycling Campaign fail to take any kind of stand against this waste of resources.

      I'd argue it is really worse than that - it becomes an opportunity for yet more cyclist hating headlines, it is used to reinforce the negative stereotype that certain journalists love to play on. And what do we gain? Nothing. No one is made safer, no one is encouraged to ride. The Police are prioritising something that isn't causing many accidents at all, with a transient population. Its almost the perfect storm of stupidity.

      Siding with lawbreakers? How about 'We believe this is a poor use of resources because, while illegal, few accidents are caused by lack of cycle lights or riding on the pavement. While we do not condone such acts, we unreservedly condemn the use of Police time in such enforcement for as long as the recorded causes of cyclist injury are so blatantly and openly ignored by Cambridgeshire Constabulary'.

      The rather lilly-livered support from the Campaign for prioritising this as the police ignore, say, close overtakes of cyclists (completely un-policed) is confusing. No motoring lobby group would do so, no pedestrian lobby group would do so.

      And because the Campaign don't stand up against this kind of crap crackdown, because they're seen to support it, its much harder to be taken seriously when you DO talk to councillors. The campaign is making that job harder - but I would say that individuals have achieved more by making the argument that this is a poor use of police time to councillors and police officers than the campaign itself has.

      We don't need more FOI - we know that this isn't based on accident data because we have that data. We know that Bright isn't basing this on any such data because we already have the FOI showing that he HAS no such data. We know that accident blackspots are NOT being dealt with, as evidenced by the Catholic Church junction. More of the same? No.

      By all means enforce laws on cyclists - proportional to the harm being caused. The case for enforcing CERTAIN traffic laws on cyclists isn't just weakened while we ignore massively more hazardous things done by motorists, it is completely invalidated.

  4. You write: "Its(sic) not meant to change cyclist behaviour, and its not meant to make us safer". That is not the case because of the LIT scheme (Lights Instead of Tickets). All you have to do is get lights, which will change cyclist behaviour and make us safer, and there will be no other consequence.

    I also agree with everything Hester wrote. Especially that we should be pushing for more motor traffic enforcement; not less cycle enforcement.

    1. Firstly, I don't write this as an exercise in good grammar - its flat out unimportant to me. That ain't the point - if you take joy in correcting such things then go elsewhere.

      Secondly, this isn't an attempt to reduce harm because cycling without lights is demonstrably causing little harm. To cyclists or anyone else - measured accident stats show this quite clearly, see:

      So we're targeting a transient population (mainly its students), counting them, enforcing a bit, safe in the knowledge that we can do the same again next year because its different students. We're targeting them for something they're doing which is not demonstrably not a major factor in causing accidents. And while doing so we're ignoring the things that actually DO cause accidents?

      This isn't changing behaviour, and its not making anyone safer - there is no way to construct such an argument unless you completely ignore the accident data.

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