Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Pedestrian Heart: letters about bikes

There have been another couple of responses to my letter published in The Northern Echo the other week.

* My blog post about the original letter and my reply.
* The first reply to my letter, from K Devin.
* Today's reply from Mrs Paddy Dinsdale.

There are several points raised in these letters and the campaign is working on a reply. I thought it would be worthwhile posting some points and responses here, as the Echo limits letters to 200 words.

It is possible for bikes to give way to pedestrians without dismounting and pushing the bike. As there have been no recorded instances of any accidents between cyclists and pedestrians (other than one which took place on the roadway), I see no reason why cyclists should have to dismount. There have been many accidents involving cars and pedestrians, so why are there not more letters to the Echo demanding slower speed limits across the town?

Cyclists in Europe are allowed to cycle in pedestrianised areas. Two members of the Cycle Campaign are visiting one such area in Germany soon, and will post here about it.

My point relating to the new design making it much safer for cyclists to use the area was not relating to the safety of cyclists, but to the safety of all users. Cyclists used the town centre roads before the pedestrianisation work began without coming into conflict with pedestrians, and the new design makes the area even safer for pedestrians.

As has been said many times, banning cyclists from the town centre would force us onto the surrounding ring road. The percieved danger caused having cyclists ride in the pedestrianised must be measured against the very real danger of forcing cyclists onto the ring road.

I am very sorry that some people feel unsafe using the town centre, but to ban one group of users because of the irrational fear of another group would be madness.

The campaign has sent a letter detailing some of these points to the Darlington and Stockton Times. It will hopefully be published soon, but here is an exclusive preview:

Spectator (June 8) asks "Why should cyclists be allowed in the Heart?". He omits the crucial adjective. Does he wish to prevent responsible cyclists, simply because one of the many manifestations of youth anti-social behaviour is irresponsible cycling? If so, he should ask himself why the irresponsible behaviour that he saw was permitted, and how it would be prevented if all cyclists were banned.

The decision to permit cyclists was taken at a meeting of the cabinet in November 2004, when the following facts were presented:

1. Prior to development of the Pedestrian Heart, cyclists used roads through the town centre to access areas such as the station (via the ring road crossing).

2. There had been 45 accidents to cyclists, including a fatality, on the ring road since 1988, 13 in the five years before the report.

3. There had been no collisions between cyclists and pedestrians on pavements over a four-year period. The only such collision occurred on a road. In that time, there had been 14 accidents involving a private car and pedestrian, 3 accidents involving a taxi and pedestrian, 5 accidents involving a public service vehicle and a pedestrian, one accident involving a police car and a pedestrian, and 2 accidents involving a car and a cycle.

During this period there were no recorded accidents involving a cyclist and pedestrian.

More recently, in July 2004, a cycle/pedestrian accident had taken place on Northgate - thiswas on the highway.

4. Advice of the Department of Transport is: “For any new pedestrianisation scheme, there should be a presumption that cycling will be allowed unless an assessment of the overall risks dictates otherwise. In conducting this assessment, the risk to cyclists using alternative on-road routes should be taken into account. This is particularly important if the alternative routes are not safe or direct and cannot be made so”

The full report is available for all to study on the Council website.

Darlington Cycling Campaign are not aware of any local reasons why Darlington should be an exception to this guidance. Some towns e.g. Cambridge, are currently opening to cyclists previously pedestrian-only areas, others such as Cardiff are considering it. We fully share the resentment of irresponsible cycling. We particularly resent being associated with such behaviour. Furthermore, we do understand the perception that even responsible cycling is dangerous. However, the facts clearly demonstrate that the risk is in truth very low indeed. It is our perception that the behaviour of pedestrians is already changing, and there is a much more relaxed acceptance of responsible cyclists. Spectator may also be heartened to learn that there will soon be cycling policemen in the Pedestrian Heart, as there are in York.

Spectator is in error in suggesting that cyclists in York are banned from the pedestrian areas. They are banned only during the times when the areas are exclusively for pedestrian use. These are the same hours that used to prevail in Darlington before the Pedestrian Heart was developed – but cycling was not banned in Darlington during those hours.

If cycling in the Pedestrian Heart were to be banned, those who had campaigned for it would have to examine their conscience the next time a cyclist is injured or killed on the ring road.

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