The Social Business

The ups and downs of cycling in Leeds

If you told me that I might one day see the Tour de France pass within half a mile of my house, I’d never have believed you.

But that’s what’s happening in 10 days time.  And given my love of all things bike, it’d be fair to say I’m pretty excited about it all.

It’s great to see so much focus on cycling in Leeds.  Yet it’s got me thinking again (although to be honest I think about this stuff all the time) about my daily experience of cycling in Leeds.

And it’s been an eventful few days.  It all started on Twitter, with me responding to a tweet from West Yorkshire Police’s Roads Policing Unit.


I responded by re-tweeting the message (and the previous one which included a photo of the incident) and I also passed the tweet on to a cycling organisation, a website and a journalist – referring to what I saw as “victim-blaming”.

I’ll give you a bit of context – if you’re not, understandably, fully up to speed with the ins and outs of keeping safe as a cyclist on our roads.  I thought it was inappropriate to focus, in this situation, on whether the cyclist was wearing a helmet.  The issue at hand was a collision between a car and a bicycle – and as CTC subsequently pointed out, things aren’t quite as clear-cut as they might seem when it comes to helmets and safety:


There’s a wider point here too.  Whilst I think as a cyclist you need to do all you can to keep yourself safe, the thing that makes you most vulnerable is the behaviour of other road users.  I do all I can to anticipate danger when I’m cycling – but there’s only so much I can do.  Focusing too much on how cyclists can (apparently) “keep themselves safe” can take the focus away from the responsibility of all road users to act in ways that minimise risk to others.  Hence the call from me and others – and it’s a call you’ll hear time again – to lay off the “victim blaming”.

But it doesn’t stop here.  Later that evening I went to check my Twitter feed – and noticed that I’d been blocked by the RPU.  In Twitter terms, this means that you’re no longer able to follow what that user is saying.  It’s usually used when a Twitter user is being abusive.

Whilst I’m sure the RPU weren’t that happy with what I’d said (and I’d challenged them on other things previously) such as the tweet below, I think it’s an over-the-top reaction to block me.


And it appears that I wasn’t the only person to be blocked that evening….


We all make mistakes – so I’m open to the RPU acknowledging that this was an over-reaction.  However, it does raise questions about underlying attitudes at West Yorkshire Police in relation to road safety and cycling – questions which get louder when you see stuff like this, from last week:


I’ve written to the Police and Crime Commissioner about it all, and I’ll let you know when I get a response.

But amidst it all, cycling still brings great joy to my life.  And what better than seeing my son learn to ride his bike this weekend.  Here he is, practising hard:


My son learning to ride his bike

My son learning to ride his bike

I was there with him for over an hour, on a short cycle path next to Gledhow Valley Road, half a mile from our house.  Gledhow Valley Road is on my route to work – or at least it was.

I got fed up of being overtaken by speeding motorists – and decided to change my route to avoid it, whenever I could.  And, stood there for an hour, what I saw confirmed I’d made a good choice:

The joy I felt seeing my son ride his bike was immense – and at the same time I knew full well I’d never let him out on the roads near where we live.  That’s no good is it?

The day after we went out again, this time to Chapel Allerton Park.  And we popped in to Edinburgh Bicycle Co-op to get him a yellow jersey as a reward.  All ready for the Tour.

As we walked our bikes home I realised that the traffic was stopped – and a cyclist was lying in the middle of the road, clearly in pain.  It’s unclear what had happened – and who, if anyone, was at fault, but the incident took place at exactly the same place where I’d been stood the day before.

And, two hours previously, when I was cycling home, I’d had to pull into the gutter at exactly the same junction as a car overtook a left-turning vehicle – crossing dangerously to my side of the road.

I went back an hour later – the fact that all was back to normal – and I’ve seen nothing in local media – suggests to me that the cyclist wasn’t too badly hurt.  I certainly hope that’s the case.

But again, the joy I felt at seeing my son ride his bike had immediately been punctured by the reality of cycling in Leeds.  Our roads aren’t fit for cycling on.

What do you do?  Other people know more about this than I do – but certainly the #space4cycling campaign is starting from the right place.  The Council is also talking about Tour de France legacy today – here’s their discussion document.  Personally, I’m not wholly convinced that the Council is ready to take the tough decisions that need to be taken to make our roads safer for all – witness their current position on 20mph limits.  But it’s good that this stuff is being talked about.

So I’ll keep cycling, and you can bet that my son will too – he wants to do nothing else now. But I’ll keep banging on about how things aren’t good enough in Leeds – and elsewhere – too.

Categories: Green issues, Uncategorized

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  1. Nice work a Rob. As you know I gave had my own run in with a car and the police, leading to a complaint. I now have a helmet cam and the amount if evidence I have collected in a week is phenomenal. Mainly motorists. Some bus and coach drivers and the odd pedestrian. What to do with it? Send it to the police?

  2. I would love to use a bike as my primary transport in Leeds but have never considered it even a remotely bike-friendly city.

    The childish, pathetic and somewhat worrying behaviour from @WYP_RPU in blocking critical opinion clearly illustrates their lack of respect and understanding for Leeds cyclist’s (and the general public’s) role in improving their city.

    I sensed a heavy fog of irony descend when Leeds got the TDF (being such an incredibly bike-friendly city). I’m hoping the legacy left by the tour will amount to more than a few new bike racks in the city centre.

    Well said Rob, and do keep ‘banging on’.

  3. Hi Rob,

    I was cycling home with Joe (8) on the tandem the last two nights and Jane was following, after we’d been to Bike Story and Bicyclism. On Wednesday we were overtaken aggressively by a black car which went on to overtake other cars recklessly down Wellington Street. I memorised the registration and rang it through to 101 when I got home. Apparently you have to attend a police station to make a formal complaint but they said they may pass on the information for officers that evening. The following evening we were cut up by another car, less recklessly in the same space.

    THere are a load of issues that we all could discuss, but there is one possibility that I do want to discuss with the police. Given that it is about 20% drivers that are involved in 80% of crashes and the police want to use a targeted approach, what place do the public have in crowd sourcind this information? My experience is it depends who you report it to, and to some extent how.

    I think that PCSOs and community speedwatch can log registrations of cars travelling too fast, and on other occasions when I have rung police up, they have said that they will ring the dirver up when I complained. Somewhere there must be a mine of data and if the public were able to report dangerous driving then when a registration crops up a few times they could take some action. There is a minor issue that people could start vendettas etc, but this is but a tiny speck in what could be a crowd sourced way of assisting the police in making streets safer.

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