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Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Blame the cyclist

In response to the news about the tragic death of Jamie Murray in Warrior Square in the early hours of New Year’s Day, HOT’s John Knowles reflects about the safety of cyclists on our roads.

In 2013, 109 cyclists were killed on the UK’s roads in a collision with a vehicle, whilst between 2008 and 2012 (a three-year period), nine pedestrians were killed by cyclists, an average of three per year against 109. No death is acceptable if it can be avoided, and yet we all accept that our freedom to travel comes at a cost, we blithely accept that today five people will die on Britain’s roads. I accept that as a cyclist I am taking a bigger risk than a car driver, I accept that it’s my choice.

I’ve cycled pretty much all of my adult life and much of it in London ( I used to commute 22 miles a day across London, Hackney to Acton). I’ve lived to tell the tale. Cycling for me is a mix of transport and transportation, cycling gets me from A to Z via a spiritual journey and the rhythm of rubber on road, of perfect cadence achieved is the nearest I come to meditation. I love cycling and I smiled a smile miles wide when both of my children finally cycled under their own steam, no guiding hand, no training wheels. Do I worry? Of course – I’m a parent – it comes with the DNA. I’ve trained them to always wear a helmet, to carry lights and to remember that motorists can’t see you, even when they can. As a cyclist you are both invisible and yet a visible nuisance. If you take up your rightful space on the road (one metre out from parked vehicle or the curb) then be prepared to be abused. In fact just be prepared to be abused anyway. I’ve come to expect it from car drivers.

Drivers are sold a lie, every TV ad shows them driving through empty streets, long winding roads, everywhere the car is free, free, free to travel at speed, unhindered. And yet the reality is what it is. As a London cyclist I could beat you hands down from Hackney to Acton, I timed it using car and bike. And being in a car makes you invulnerable, a god, often a cruel god (remember five people will die today because of our freedom to drive) and certainly a selfish god.

I accept the drivers’ rage, their pent-up frustrations, their dreams squashed by realities. But I can’t quite come to accept the rage of my fellow pedestrians.

We are in a war and you should be our allies, instead you take the side of the car. You slavishly call for more restrictions on cyclists, you don’t want us on the pavements, even when they are cycle paths, you don’t want us in the parks, even though this is the safest place for children to learn. You blame us all for the stupid few and take no responsibility for the stupid few amongst your own. Where I ask would you like us to go? Along the pot-holed, carelessly parked, car-lined streets of Hastings and St Leonards?

On 1 January at 4am, a cyclist lost his life, mown down by the driver of a stolen car, who left him for dead, who drove on half a mile before abandoning the vehicle. Callous and only concerned for their own future, the occupants ran off into the night. A young man, just 23, lay dead. The Hastings Observer rightly had this as the front page of their paper, whilst inside, on the letters page, they then had one of their almost monthly ‘I hate cyclists letters’, this one from John Hywel Williams, who doesn’t want us in Alexandra Park.

The Observer regularly prints anti-cyclist letters with the same balance that the Daily Mail reports on immigration issues. It’s almost as if the editor has a personal bone to pick with cyclists. So I challenge the Observer editor and Mr John Hywel Williams to cycle from Hastings to Bexhill, one way on the cycle lanes and Sustrans route and one way on the roads.

In the meantime I will continue to cycle and will light up the night on Pier to Eternity rides and light up my life with each and every turn of the cog. RIP.

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Posted 16:54 Saturday, Jan 3, 2015 In: Home Ground

8 Comments

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  1. EDDY ODEL

    The trouble is you can never educate ignorant people. People die under the name of an accident. Usually it’s through arrogance and impatience or drunken driving, or drugs or a stolen car, or by multi-tasking. I think we have to take new drivers to the A&E department before they start driving. Take them to see families struck down by a death through someone who thought he could smoke, drive with one hand and who thought he was on the race track. Teach people to understand that that extra five seconds being patient could save so many lives. Once people pass their test they forget everything. They back out into main roads, because they can and they overtake on bends because they can. What happens then is classic. They have nowhere to go when they realise that the car from the opposite direction is going to hit them, Death to a cyclist or a motorcyclist travelling to their left is the outcome. We are driving a death machine and no one cares until it’s them that are affected in some way.

    Comment by EDDY ODEL — Thursday, Jan 15, 2015 @ 08:49

  2. The Bike Czar

    Well said sir.

    Comment by The Bike Czar — Thursday, Jan 8, 2015 @ 20:04

  3. Barry Wright

    I’m not a cyclist, but Barbara Rogers response is typical of people who are quick to criticize, but slow on solutions.

    Hastings is one of the most densely populated towns in the country. If cyclists are unable to use the park like they can in most other parks in the UK, where do you suggest they put these routes? Knock down some houses? Close roads? Underground tunnels? Overhead causeways? How much more tax are you prepared to pay to fund these?

    The park is big enough to accommodate both walkers and cyclists. People just need to be considerate (and not irritable)

    Comment by Barry Wright — Thursday, Jan 8, 2015 @ 18:55

  4. Gordon Russell

    I, like thousands of others, am a walker, cyclist, car driver and, in a previous life, a motorcyclist. There are so many cross-overs by many people it is wrong to simply say “walker”, “cyclist”, “pram pusher” etc.
    What is lacking is respect for other users of our highways, irrespective of what ones own preferred method of travel is.

    What Hastings desperately needs is the implementation of the excellent Greenway Project – a Borough-wide network of walking and cycling, amenity and leisure routes. This has been partially developed from St. Pauls school, through Summerfields Woods to Cambridge Gardens.

    There is a group working on this, mainly, off-road facility who could do with all your support – see; http://hastingsgreenway.org for more information.

    Alexandra Park is capable of being used as a ‘shared route’, not ideal, I would prefer dedicated routes where possible. However, this works well along the sea front and is certainly used in towns both in the UK and Europe.

    I have taught sundry youngsters to cycle in the park, I see many other parents doing the same, should they be excluded from doing so? It is at this early learning level that proper cycling should be implemented by responsible parents – of course there will always be the rogue who spoils things for others! I would also be very annoyed by a cyclist tearing along at an unacceptable speed, likely to cause an accident……

    It would do critics of cyclists to get on a bike and ride around Hastings, especially during the ‘loony’ hours in the morning and evening. It can be a frightening experience and I have often been told that fear of being injured by a motorist is the biggest reason why more people don’t cycle.

    What we ALL need is a proper forum to talk things through!

    Comment by Gordon Russell — Thursday, Jan 8, 2015 @ 18:52

  5. Alex Chapman

    I have on brief comment to make because nobody seems to have mentioned this. If the cycle paths were used by cyclists as they were meant to be then the tragic death of this young man would not have occurred. I live on the seafront at West Marina with a clear view of the cycle path along there and I KNOW how little this cycle path is used, yet I often see cyclists using the pavements along there.

    Comment by Alex Chapman — Thursday, Jan 8, 2015 @ 15:58

  6. Barbara Rogers

    I agree with Patrick, we all need to take as much care as possible. Many of us have triple identities as walkers, cyclists, car drivers.

    One thing I don’t like is the criticism of John Hywel’s letter. He has every right to express his concerns about a cycle route using pedestrian paths in Alexandra Park. Cyclists should have more provision but NOT at the expense of walkers.

    Part of the problem is that walkers don’t organise as cyclists do – there is nobody to speak for us as walkers. The pro-cycling lobby is quite influential, and it should be matched by a walkers’ organisation. The Pedestrians Association some time ago gave up on this to become Living Streets. Anyone want to join me in the PBI (Pedestrians Becoming Irritable)?

    Comment by Barbara Rogers — Thursday, Jan 8, 2015 @ 13:17

  7. ade

    As a cyclist, pedestrian and a car driver i support all efforts to make our roads safer for all users. I see too many cyclists and pedestrians who do not take their safety seriously, do not assume the car driver can see you or is paying attention. I have seen recently cyclist without lights and in dark non reflective clothing, why not wear something bright?

    Comment by ade — Thursday, Jan 8, 2015 @ 08:09

  8. Patrick Burton

    I am a cyclist, car and camper van driver and pedestrian. I agree with almost all John’s positive sentiments about cycling. I too cycled and continue to cycle across London, which has the virtue of being flat in the centre and having increasing numbers of cyclists, so getting safer as car users become more aware of our existence and rights to be on ‘their’ road.

    I’m really sad that a young man was mowed down by other young men in a stolen car and sad for all sets of parents. Tragic for all involved.

    Just as there sre terrible drivers, so there are terrible cyclists. No lights and wearing dark clothing, bombing along cycle ways on the Hastings Front forgeting that they do not have exclusive right of way, riding along pavements without regard to the fact that they shouldn’t be on there, or causing traffic problems by their lack of understanding of the rules of the road.

    There are also appalling pedestrians, such as the proud parents who blithely steer push chairs and prams into oncoming traffic or wander across streets in the Old Town as if they were pedestran only precincts.

    We all break the rules, cyclists, car drivers and pedestrians. Crossing roads on green lights, parking illegally or cycling where we know we shouldn’t do so. We should just learn to be considerate of other road, and pavement users. Above all, those of us driving bits of metal at some speed should realise th e damage we can do.

    Then maybe less pedestrans, cylists and car users would be injured or sadly killed every day.

    Comment by Patrick Burton — Wednesday, Jan 7, 2015 @ 17:57

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