Media wages war on Lycra Louts (forget the squirrel, can you see the elephant?)

Tufty Club book cover (RoSPA)

[Cyclists] seem to think because they have a bike they deserve the same rights as motor vehicles…they don’t. When they start to pay road tax and obey the rules of the road (like stopping at red lights) I’ll re-evaluate my views but until then…
Comment from ‘Sam’ in Bristol, newspaper report on cyclists on footways

Roads tend to be wide. With no cars on them, even the most loutish of the mass media’s ‘Lycra Louts’ would use roads rather that footways. Some cyclists ride on footways (best not to write ‘pavements’) because the road environment has become too scary. But, from reports in today’s press, you’d think cyclists were the biggest menace to pedestrians. And, of course, whenever the media takes a potshot at cycling, there’s always a bunch of commenters who say “cyclists should pay road tax.”

Let’s examine which is the bigger menace to pedestrians, Lycra Louts or motorists. [And how about the mass media actually looks at what loutish cyclists wear; for the main it ain’t Lycra]. In Britain there are 40 pedestrians killed on footways or verges by motor vehicles, on average, every year. On average there is a pedestrian death caused by a cyclist once every three or four years.

So, what about pedestrians being buzzed by cyclists? This is a genuine menace and is inexcusable. When using shared space facilities with pedestrians, cyclists ought to slow right down. And, it has to be said, pedestrians ought to play their part, too. How about no more jaywalking into the path of cyclists on the road and how about paying attention on those stretches of shared-use ‘pavement’ where cyclists are channeled? Why the surprise at meeting a cyclist when there are white bike graphics on the ground?

But pedestrian ire against cyclists is missing the bigger picture. The famous elephant in the room is motorised traffic.

“An elephant in a room would be impossible to overlook; thus, people in the room who pretend the elephant is not there might be concerning themselves with relatively small and even irrelevant matters, compared to the looming big one.”

For instance, in today’s Bristol Evening Post, it’s reported that local MPs met with blind and partially sighted people at a meeting arranged with the Royal National Institute of Blind People.

Victoria Armitage, 24, of Bedminster, said she has nearly been hit many times.

“I used to live on Whiteladies Road and cyclists were whizzing past me on the pavement all the time and I had a number of near misses. Cyclists going on the pavement is really quite dangerous. There were also a couple of pedestrian crossings where cyclists just didn’t stop. That is very dangerous because you expect to be able to cross safely without watching out.”

There’s no excusing riding fast on footways but this is the same Whiteladies Road where HGVs crush cyclists and where motorists blow through pedestrian crossings, as filmed by a pedestrian wheeling a bike in this video:

Cycling on the footway is illegal and cyclists can be fined £30 on the spot (and often are).

But, just as motorists routinely break traffic laws (running red lights, driving in bus lanes, habitually speeding, driving while talking on mobile phones), some cyclists also break the law and cycle on footways.

Sometimes this is ignorance of the law. Other times it’s laziness. Often it’s due to confusing local authority cycle facilities: many ‘pavements’ have been designated as cycle paths and yet, just a little further on, the very same stretch of ‘cycle path’ reverts to being pedestrian only.

All the official advice from cycle organisations is for cyclists not to ride on footways. has a page all about ‘cycling and the law’, where cyclists’ rights and responsibilities are spelled out in no uncertain terms.

However, if streets were made safer for cycling, there would likely be less need for cyclists to ride on footways.

Illegal but it's a car so must be OK 7

Two wrongs don’t make a right, but where are the mass media complaints about speeding motorists? Or driving and parking on footways?

According to the DfT, ‘pavement parking’ is a hazard:

Parking on the pavement can cause inconvenience to pedestrians. It can create hazards for visually impaired, disabled and elderly people or those with prams or pushchairs. It may also cause damage to the kerb, the pavement, or the services underneath. Repairing such damage can be costly and local authorities may face claims for compensation for injuries received resulting from damaged or defective pavements.

And who pays for damaged footways? Is there a ‘pedestrian tax’? No, we all pay. Just as roads are paid for out of general and local taxation – road tax having been abolished in 1936 – footways are paid for in this way too.

It’s a similar situation across in the US. Philadelphia is currently having a heated debate about the rights and responsibilities of cyclists, and whether cyclists should be registered and pay a bike tax.

Alex Doty, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, makes a great point:

“Bicyclists should be held to a high standard when it comes to following traffic laws – but not a higher standard. As the city cracks down on scofflaw bicyclists, it should also enforce traffic laws with motorists and even pedestrians.”

Amen to that.