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.
…the minor injury sustained by the cyclist banging his head on the road was preventable if he had been wearing a helmet. (2/2)
— WestYorks Police RPU (@WYP_RPU) June 19, 2014
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:
— CTC (@CTC_Cyclists) June 21, 2014
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.
Not sure cyclist v motorist is ever “a great debate” @WYP_RPU – and for info, many of us are both.
— Rob Greenland (@TheSocBiz) June 11, 2014
And it appears that I wasn’t the only person to be blocked that evening….
According to Twitter, @WYP_RPU have blocked me. Engagement with certain parts of the public proving too challenging?
— Bez (@beztweets) June 21, 2014
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:
Incredibly disappointing to see PCSOs from @WestYorksPolice admonishing helmet-less riders on the Leeds Liverpool canal towpath yesterday
— DanM (@MrDanMor) June 19, 2014
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:
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:
— Rob Greenland (@TheSocBiz) June 22, 2014
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.