On Thursday the 27th of September 2012 councillors in North Cambridge set “anti-social cycling” as one of their three top policing priorities for the area. Councillors set the priority to apply throughout North Cambridge, but expressed concern about two particular matters:
- Gilbert Road, where they want enforcement against cycling on the pavement following the installation of new on road cycle lanes.
- Milton Road, specifically cycling on the pavement through the junction with Gilbert Road.
It is notable that this priority was set specifically to single out cyclists, and not tackle dangerous or inconsiderate behaviour by other road users. Cycling was targeted despite an increase in violent crime in the area being reported to councillors, and no priority being set related to that.
The North Area Sergeant, Jason Wragg, also told councillors that the signage indicating where cycling was, and was not, allowed in the area was very confusing, even to him. He admitted, as he had done previously to the committee, he had accidentally stopped people from cycling on the pavement on stretches where cycling was in fact permitted. Sgt Wragg also told councillors that a number of those stopped by him and his officers for so called anti-social cycling had complained about the police action, warning them that their decision would result in further complaints from the public.
Councillors were told that the police had been issuing Fixed Penalty Notices for anti-social cycling in the area, and councillors were being asked if they wished to see this priority continue.
All councillors present unanimously voted to set “anti-social cycling” as a priority. Those councillors were:
- Councillor Mike Todd-Jones
- Councillor Kevin Price
- Councillor Tim Ward
- Councillor Margery Abbott
- Councillor Max Boyce
- Councillor Gerri Bird
- Councillor Simon Brierley
- Councillor Susannah Kerr
- Councillor Carina O’Reilly
- Councillor Mike Pitt
- Councillor Damien Tunnacliffe
- Councillor Ian Manning
- Councillor Andy Pellew
- Councillor Kevin Wilkins
Cllrs Gawthrope and Sales were absent.
I am highly concerned by this police priority, it may well bring me, and many other generally responsible cyclists in the area into contact with the police and the wider criminal justice system.
Like many clampdowns on so-called anti-social behaviour I worry that this will result in lots of young people, particularly those who cycle to school, being criminalised and either having to pay fixed penalty notices or appear in court.
The move may deter cycling in the area, parents may be less likely to allow their children to cycle to school if they know they are running the risk of being stopped by the police.
The reputation of the police may also be threatened as those causing no harm to anyone are targeted, whereas burglary and violent crime in the area remains at unacceptably high levels, and there is very little policing of dangerous driving of motor vehicles.
The policing item at the North Area Committee was rushed, and chair, Cllr Todd-Jones did not take any contributions from the public on the subject of the priorities to be set (the public were allowed to raise questions on the report).
The priority came about as a result of a couple of elderly people attending a previous meeting complaining about cycling on the pavements. Often in Cambridge it is very unclear where cycling is and is not permitted, often the signage is not even sufficient for professionals such as Sgt Wragg, or bus and taxi drivers to rapidly determine where cycling is and is not allowed.
In the specific areas mentioned the signage is unclear, and in the case of south-bound cyclists on Milton Road mounting the pavement at the junction with Gilbert Road, this appears to me to be something cyclists do to stay alive as the road design is poor and cyclists often find the amount of road space reduced by traffic turning right, and if they were to stay on the road they would run the risk of being trapped between the traffic, often buses, and the railings at the roadside.
I would have rather seen priorities set to tackle, and further understand the impact in terms of injuries and costs, of violent crime and burglary, but had councillors decided to tackle road safety, I would have liked to see a broader priority not singling out cyclists as a particular group of road users, and also one which sought to address the deficiencies in the road designs and signage in the area.
I do not think the councillors properly balanced the degree of harm caused by small amounts of cycling on pavements (which I would assess as negligible), verses the potential harm from dangerous driving, violent crime and burglary (which I would assess as more serious). I would like injury and costs data provided to the committee to enable councillors to make judgements made on the basis of more comprehensive information. The question raised for me is that of is it more anti-social to occasionally mount the pavement as a cyclist, or to cycle somewhere where the risk of being killed or injured is greater. In my view seeking to avoid injury is not anti-social.
I note that on Maid’s Causeway the police are refusing to enforce against drivers breaching the 20mph limit on the grounds the signage is insufficient, but on Milton Road, despite there being signage they admit is confusing they are happy to issue tickets to cyclists breaching the rules.
Poor Cycle Signage and Road Environments
Milton Road is one of the areas where councillors have asked the police to target cycling on the pavement. Cycling is permitted on many stretches of pavement on the road but the road markings have almost worn off and signs have decayed so it is not easy to determine where cycling is allowed.
The above image shows the start of a shared use cycle and pedestrian path. The cycle painted on the pavement has almost worn off, as has the cycle symbol on the blue sign. There are no clear repeater cycle symbols further up the pavement, and despite regularly using the area I’m not sure if, and if so exactly where, cycling is permitted further up this path when it reaches the forecourt of the co-op supermarket and the junction. This wouldn’t have previously mattered too much, but now following the councillors’ decision and the police action, it has become critical to trying to avoid being subject to police action, and potentially a police and criminal record, not to mention a fine or other sentence a court might hand down should a fixed penalty notice be challenged or the specific offence not being one which can be dealt with by such a notice.
In this instance, at the junction of Milton Road and Oak Tree Avenue, the cycle signage is so decayed, all that is left is two patches of paint, which I think are supposed to separate the cycle route from the walk way. There is no cycle symbol either on a sign or painted on the pavement. In fact the strongest evidence on the ground this is in fact a shared use pavement is the fact there is a cycle route “end” sign on the pavement near Union Lane.
At the roundabout on Milton Road at the junction with Highworth Avenue there is what appears to me to probably be a cycle path marked on the road crossing the exit from the roundabout, this appears to match up with a dropped curb on the pavement on the other side of the road, which might indicate that cycling is permitted on that pavement, perhaps as far as the junction with Arbury road – there is no accompanying signage though so who knows what’s allowed and what’s not there.
Those cycling on the pavement having mounted it at the Highworth Avenue junction and then proceeding North are faced on the exit of the roundabout with the above shown markings indicating the emergence of an on-road cycle lane, but there are no signs suggesting that those on the pavement should get off the pavement and use it. The shared use pavement heading north may end at this point, but there are no “end” signs.
The cut through between Milton Road and Chesterton Hall Crescent is poorly signed. There is one side for cyclists, and one for pedestrians, however the clearest sign on the pedestrian side is a blue circle with a cycle symbol in it, suggesting that is the cycle route, you need to look especially carefully to see that this is not the case and below the cycle symbol there is a very faded word “end” and in fact the cycle route is the unmarked other side. For those approaching from the other direction the opposite side of the bollard pictured presents an even more confusing message, as there is another blue cycle symbol, this indicates, not as one might again assume, that cycling is permitted on the path up to the bollard, but instead that there is a short stretch of pavement on Milton Road adjacent to the cut through which is shared use for cyclists and pedestrians.
The above photo shows one of the areas where councillors specifically asked the police to take enforcement action. Vehicles waiting to turn right result in a narrow gap between them and the railings through which many cyclists are not prepared to cycle – given the risk of a vehicle, such as a bus, hurtling through and hitting them in while they are in the pinch point. Many cyclists take to the pavement in an apparent effort to stay alive.
On the other side of this junction many cyclists, even when the lights are red, mount the pavement to join the north-bound shared use cycle and pedestrian cycleway. I have no idea if this is legal or not, it may be legal if you bounce up the curb before the lights, but not if you pass just the other side of the light so as to make use of the dropped curb? Again this is something which either needs to be corrected, or preferably we need to see more sensible police priorities so this is not considered a problem.
There is no signage at the start of the pavement on the west side of Milton Road, southbound, at Arbury Road indicating the pavement is shared use for cyclists and pedestrians, however at the end of the stretch at Highworth Avenue, there is an “end” sign. This route is particularly popular, like many of the shared use pavements in the area, with pupils cycling to school, as well as many others.
The problem is that if you routinely mount the pavement to legally cycle on a shared use path where there is no signage; it isn’t clear at all that in some other parts of the same road, the lack of signage really does mean that cycling on the pavement is not permitted.
Cycling on the pavements of Gilbert Road is another of the specific things councillors asked the police to tackle. Again, this is something which is very popular, and to those not very familiar with cycle signage, the sign pictured above might suggest it is in fact permitted; the sign doesn’t as is usual, show the cycle lane. I suspect it is a sign which pre-dates the cycle lane and is merely suggesting the use of the road as a cycle route? Given its location in the pavement, and the lack of reference to the cycle lane, one could have some sympathy with someone interpreting it as permitting cycling on the pavement.
The idea of a cycle by-pass to allowing cyclists to pass to one side of a pair of no-entry signs and then proceed up a road was one I had no idea existed for the first five or more years I lived in Cambridge, it was only by starting to follow the work of the cycling campaign that I was introduced to the concept and had my attention drawn to the cycle by-pass at the Market Street – Sidney Street junction. The above pictured junction with Victoria Road and Garden Walk shows an arguably even less clear example (especially for cyclists approaching from the South East, and seeking to turn right into Garden Walk), the lack of a cycle symbol on the pavement means it is not obvious the coloured path is for bikes, particularly as the symbol on the sign has almost worn off
The above are just a small handful of the poor and confusing cycle related signs in the area. I have not even comprehensively covered all the issues on Milton Road; one question I have is how is one, traveling towards the city, supposed to legally get onto the cycle cut-through straight across the one way system at Mitchem’s Corner?
Traffic Regulation Orders
In addition to poor signage, there is no assurance that the signage actually reflects the traffic regulation orders in-force. Cambridgeshire County Council don’t make it easy at all to find out about the traffic regulations in-force, but one local resident, Ben Harris, has been using Freedom of Information law to try and compile a list. There is one famous area, the Green Dragon Bridge, where the County Council have put up a sign saying no-cycling, on “their” end of the bridge at the junction with the highway, but at the other end, on a common owned by the historically more pro-cycling Cambridge City Council, there is no such sign and a cyclist friendly cattle grid.