Open Forum and Police Items at West Central Area Committee Dominated by Traffic and Cycling Matters


Monday, August 24th, 2009. 1:50am


Bike Theft Remains at High Levels in Cambridge City Centre

Cycle Theft Remains at High Levels in Cambridge City Centre.

During the open forum and policing agenda item at Cambridge City Council’s West/Central Area Committee on the 20th of August 2009 much of the discussion focused on traffic and cycling in the city centre.

At the last meeting councillors had prioritised gaining the ability to enforce the 20mph speed limits in the City Centre. At this meeting the police reported on the problems enforcing the speed limits in the city centre. They reported that speed gun readings have to be taken from at least 200m after the point the speed limit came into force for a reasonable chance of conviction, and said the physical features and layout of the city centre’s roads made this difficult in many areas eg. Magdalene Street.

Cllr Dixon gave a long list of places where the 20 mph speed limits in the city centre were incorrectly signed. It wasn’t clear who, if anyone, he expected to act on his comments. The police started to respond with their own list of where there were signs, Cllr Dixon had to make clear he was listing places where he felt there ought be signs but there weren’t. The police also said that, for enforcement to be successful, there ought be regular repeater signs within the 20 mph zones, implying there were in-fact a huge number of missing signs.

A member of the public asked what was being done to ensure new students arriving later in the year cycled safely, someone else suggested that students aren’t aware of the maps which indicate where cycling is and is not allowed. Personally I think it is an appalling indictment of the clarity of signage in the city that special maps are required to let people know where they can and cannot cycle. Even professional drivers and police officers are regularly found to be unaware of the rules, for example in St.Andrews Street and Sidney Street.

When the police responded, they started by telling the committee that a recent independent survey, carried out by an insurance company, had shown that eighty percent of cyclists in Cambridge had lights; a fraction twice that found in Oxford. The police reported that the Cambridge University Students Union (CUSU) works with student to help them refresh their cycle skills. The police reported that “Bikeability” courses were offered to students. (I can’t imagine those going down too well with Cambridge University Students). I am surprised that people get to university without having gained cycling skills on their own, and am dismayed by the current trend across society to consider “training” necessary for things which could easily, and perhaps preferably, be self-taught.

A further member of the public used their opportunity to contribute to the open forum to complain about cyclists riding on areas where cycling was not permitted, such as around the Grafton Centre, and on Christ’s Pieces. She asked for enforcement on the grounds that: “pedestrians are being mown down”.

The police reported that the details of if and how they would tackle the priority of “Anti-social behaviour by vehicles in City Centre” would be decided at the “Neighbourhood Action Group” to be held during the week following the meeting. (The Neighbourhood Action Group is a secretive group of police and council staff). It is clear that dealing with cyclists is included in this priority as when reporting on their progress towards it in the last period the police stated:

27 tickets [were] issued for cyclists contravening traffic signals within the city centre and 17 tickets [were] issued for cycling on the pavement. … Further cycling enforcement evenings planned for the late autumn and winter months … October sees new students arrive into the city and the clocks moving back, so a focus on raising awareness of, and tackling, anti-social cycling is required.

Councillors asked for the police to take particular care to ensure that problems such as parking in bike lanes was dealt with during the Local Authority Parking Enforcement (LAPE) team crossover. The police responded by asking for details of specific locations where enforcement was required to be passed to them in advance of their Neighbourhood Action Group meeting, councillors immediately mentioned outside Downing College, St. Andrews Street, and the City Centre generally.

With respect to bikes the police’s written report stated:

“Cycle theft has seen a large rise particularly in Market Ward” … “Cycle theft offences have increased from 144 offences in the previous period to 189 in this period. Common locations for cycle thefts were the Grafton Centre, Parkside, Regent Street, Sidney Street and Trumpington Street.”

“228 derelict cycles were dealt with between April and June, compared with 277 during the previous three months. St Andrew’s Street (13) and Downing Street, Jesus Green and Little St Mary’s Lane (each with 11) were the hotspots during this period. ”

The police report also confirmed that City Council Rangers are still stopping cyclists in the city centre:

Approximately 883 incidents of anti-social cycling occurred between April and June, compared with 689 during the previous three months. Most of these occurred in Sidney Street (205), Bridge Street (190), Trinity Street (178) and Market Street (104). (These figures are provided by the City Rangers based on contact with cyclists in the city centre)

I questioned this use of City Rangers to stop cyclists, at the North Area Committee in October 2008. At the December 2008 North Area Committee I obtained a response from the leader of the council, Ian Nimmo-Smith stating:

1. Stopping errant cyclists:
City Rangers routinely attempt to stop cyclist who are using pathways and roads incorrectly, and log these interventions In doing so they act as responsible, assertive citizens. (I know Councillors and other who also regularly advise cyclists of traffic offences e.g. cycling the wrong way down a one-way street.) Although they do not have enforcement powers they do inform everyone they stop about where they can and cannot cycle. It is unfortunate that relevant road signs are few and far between. The Rangers’ presence in the city centre is widely recognised as a reliable source of information in tackling anti- social cycling and pointing out the penalties such cyclists are likely to face if stopped by a police officer; this they have found to be a good deterrent. Due to the sheer volume of cyclist within the City Centre this is an ongoing duty which contribute to the safety of pedestrians, wheelchair users, the elderly etc. This role is integral to the Rangers’ remit of helping to keep Cambridge safe and is of particular importance in the City Centre pedestrian areas, hence the number of approaches made by the City Centre Rangers.

2. Cycling without lights:
The role of the Rangers in this initiative was solely to offer to fix lights to the bicycles of people who had been stopped by the police and given an on-the-spot fine for cycling without lights. The sets of lights were worth £22 but had been bought at a discounted price of £10. At no stage did the Rangers do any of the stopping.

3. No additional powers:
The Rangers have not received and do not seek any powers of the type that have been delegated to PCSOs.

I do not think that the City Rangers ought be used to stop cyclists.

Changing the subject to busses, new Liberal Democrat councillor for Market Ward, Sarah Whitebread, spoke during the open forum to suggest the committee seek to ask Stagecoach what they are doing to improve the quality of their service. She also requested a report [from city council officers?] on the congestion in the city centre. Councillors appeared to agree with her rather vague request without clarifying it at all, so it will be interesting to see what is recorded in the minutes on that point, and what it achieves.

Councillors complained that their report had not mentioned what the city wide police priorities were, or reported on what the police were doing in relation to them. They approved the priorities the police had recommended for them, of:

  • Anti-social behaviour by vehicles in City Centre
  • Bag and purse thefts in City Centre

3 comments/updates on “Open Forum and Police Items at West Central Area Committee Dominated by Traffic and Cycling Matters

  1. Richard Article author

    The Cambridge News has published an article following the meeting. I suspect it results from a report of the meeting supplied to them by the police. They referred to the West Central Area committee as a “neighbourhood panel meeting” which is language the police insist on using despite there being no such meetings in Cambridge. If the fact these decisions were made at city council area committees was better publicised then more people would be able to contribute, either in person or via their elected representatives. There was also no mention of the fact that councillors approved the priorities set.

    Finally if the article states that dealing with anti-social cyclists was prioritised, whereas in fact dealing with all anti-social (I’d prefer if they said “illegal”) vehicle use, including speeding and obstructive parking and loading was prioritised.

    I feel the police want to go through the motions with respect to these meetings but are not interested in making them truly effective. Few Liberal Democrat councillors are interested in using their ability to influence the police either.

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