Considerate Cycling 50: A Tale of a Cycling Excursion and a Police Officer

Bristol's Cycle Sunday  Cycle Sunday

On the morning of Sunday 19th April a section of Circular Road on the Bristol Downs was opened for people and bicycles. For a few hours hundreds and hundreds of people of all ages had a whale of a time on bikes – learning, practicing, coaching, watching, being serious, having fun and having more fun. It was a very sociable and good natured event with plenty of professional support. When I asked a medic for the casualty count as I left she said, with a big smile, that it stood at “none”.  I went home and put loads of photographs into a Flickr set. (click it to see it!)

This afternoon I was out and about again enjoying the good weather. This time I was in the City noticing lots of people out on their bikes. As I looked across College Green a familiar cycling figure turned up, bowling along one of Bristol’s more decorative cycle tracks. We both agreed what a fine event the first Cycle Sunday had been and hoped there would be plenty more to follow it up. However, he did tell me another story that didn’t have the same positive feel to it. He and some fellow cyclists had met on the Downs that morning to see how things were going before setting off on a longer journey of their own.

The story jolted me a bit. I asked if he would write it down so I could share it. Like the story of the damaged knee it is likely to raise all sorts of reactions. My purpose in this blog in general is to consider, to be considerate and to encourage consideration (in the very widest sense of that useful word). So please feel free to offer a response that considers the issues considerately. My own memory of the day is best summed up in this photograph – a small step to a whole future of adventures, self-confidence and good health, perhaps for thousands of people in Bristol.

First_Step A First Step

The Tale Itself

The “Cycling on the Downs” event was tremendous. The road was full of adults and children cycling, all over the place, in all directions. With so much more space than on a typical cycle path. Exhilarating. A large part of Circular Road was closed to motorists. From 8am to 11am. Ladies Mile was not closed to motorists. Nor was Stoke Road, the fast road across the Downs.

A group of a dozen of us cycled to Portishead from The Downs. We cycled down Ladies Mile, surprisingly not closed to motorists, two-abreast. Legally (there is room to overtake to the right of the centre line), safely (is in a 20mph zone) and considerately (we were cycling at 13mph in a 20 mph zone). After less than a minute (the road is only about half a mile or a couple of minutes long) a couple of motorists behind sounded their horns. A car overtook, shouting abuse through the open passenger window. Further down I saw him cut in aggressively on one of my companions.

Then a police car pulled alongside and asked me not to ride two-abreast. I declined, pointing out that it was the correct thing to do. Instead of following after the abusive motorist ahead, he dropped back, and then pulled past me too closely. It would be misleading to say that the police car was forcing me into the kerb. A companion later described it as “shepherding” – the police car appeared to try to shepherd me towards the gutter. I caught up the police car and asked the driver to pull over so that I could have a word. And he asked me to pull over so that he could have a word.

I complained that he had passed me unreasonably closely. He told me that I should not be riding two-abreast, and was causing an obstruction. I objected that the highway code endorses riding two-abreast, as do national cycling bodies such as British Cycling, and that I was riding at a reasonable speed in a 20mph zone with space to overtake. The police officer responded that “obviously” some motorists will want to go faster than 20mph. He said that the police receive complaints from motorists that cyclists cause obstructions and that they have to respond to complaints from the public.

Congratulations to the organisers, and thanks to the Downs Committee for permitting this event on part of one road on part of one Sunday morning.

9 thoughts on “Considerate Cycling 50: A Tale of a Cycling Excursion and a Police Officer

  1. Wow – so after all the frothing at the mouths of the Bristol Evening Post commenters, they didn’t even close Ladies Mile for that event??? So, you could ride “motor vehicle free” along one side of the Downs and then, what, turn around and ride back again? Hmm.

    Did your friend make a complaint to the police, or to the PCC, about the behaviour of that police car? It seems to me that a policeman was endorsing speeding within the city, which I’m sure is a misunderstanding because I can’t believe that a policeman would endorse a criminal activity, surely?

    1. That “there-and back-again” ride was really good for the children and novices and many of their parents and friends cycled along with them. The large numbers made it quite exciting and I noticed that there were a lot doing more than one lap. All good and confidence building and no out-and-out racing round the circuit. But maybe the success will allow something more ambitious next time and a gradual extension of cycling (espciallly for children, people with disabilities and shy beginners) with some support and supervision.

      The Policing question did go a little further within Twitter, with more positive responses from a Police Officer who had been helping with the event at a “Mobile Police Station”. It’s an on-going story and (I hope) events like this will help to shift the very car-centric culture of modern police forces. Did you see my “Them and Us” blog?

      Thanks for the response!

  2. The Highway Code paragraph that lurks in the background of this tale, under the heading “Rules For Cyclists” is number 66. It says: “never ride more than two abreast, and ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends”

    Ladies Mile is wide enough for car parking to be allowed, is never busy on Sunday morning and has no bends.

  3. As if I had never wanted to bike faster than the traffic jam that was impeding my progress. Why are those people gratuitously blocking the road with stopped cars, when they could be rolling at a steady pace on bicycles?

    1. dr2chase I’m a bit puzzled by your comment. I don’t understand the “stopped cars” part. Are you saying that cars are obstructing the road by parking? I think they are, to some extent, but it was moving traffic that sounded their horns and a moving police car that brought the officer to intervene.

      1. Traffic jams are just a bunch of stopped cars, right? If those drivers were on bikes instead, they could go faster, because they wouldn’t take up so much space on the road.

  4. As a rather rabidly antimotorist cyclist myself, I should point out that though the Highway Code may *allow* cycling two abreast it may be stretching things to say it *endorses* it. (I have a suspicion the allowance to ride two abreast may only there because otherwise it would be impossible to overtake another cyclist, but I may be wrong about that.)

    1. I appreciate your contribution Jim. Thanks. The point about making two the maxiimum could be construed as either endorsing or allowing I suppose, but I think the distinction pales a bit in relation to the context and what else was reported. My assumption (untested) was that the two abreast limit was respecting the norm for group rides that still prevails. As a cyclist I wouldn’t concede any expectation that cyclists (as in this case) on a road given over to recreation and leisure (this is how the Bristol Downs are described in an Act of Parliament) should be chivvied out of the way of motorists whose main business on that road would be either to park prior to their own recreation or else to be doing a rat run to avoid the busier main road.

  5. Words fail me! It’ seems that the Police need to be educated about the Law and the Highway Code.

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