Welcome to Bennett's World: a collection of articles and references covering a wide variety of topics in which I am involved. I am a very political person but I have no allegiance to any political party. Follow me on twitter @colinhove

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Letter to Brighton & Hove Argus

Below is the original version of my letter, published today in the local Argus newspaper. Their headline for the published (edited) version was Cyclists should behave or be tamed. Peddling My Thoughts The question of bicycles looms large in our City. I think most of us would agree that a reduction in private motor car use would improve our lives. One way of achieving this is to promote walking, cycling and the greater use of public transport. I commend Brighton and Hove City Council for promoting these objectives. Below are some suggestions for helping the cause of cycling. One August night I was walking to Pool Valley from my home - a journey which takes me half an hour in daylight. It was 3.30 am when I went sprawling at the SW corner of North Street and East Street, Brighton. I had fallen over a bicycle horizontal on the pavement. I am a visually impaired person and had no chance of seeing it. My white cane caught in the spokes and was bent at right angles (comical but unhelpful to me). Surprisingly bearing in mind the suddenness of the fall and the fact that I was carrying a rucksack I was not hurt but merely badly shaken. My body had just missed the upturned pedal. You might wonder why I was not safely locked up at home at that ungodly hour. The reason is that I wanted to catch the very useful National Express coach that leaves Pool Valley at 4.15 am for Gatwick. I discovered on that walk that there were many other things that should also have been locked up at home at that time. These were the bicycles that festoon posts and railings. I constantly bumped into their handle bars and pedals. I suppose most of them had been abandoned or stolen and then dumped there. Later I made enquieries about how the City dealt with these bicycles. It seems that if they are clearly abandoned they are removed. Otherwise a label is attached giving the owner seven days to remove the bicycle before the Council takes it away. Bicycles reported as being a nuisance are removed quickly but otherwise the streets are only patrolled for this purpose two or three times a week - not enough! The problem is that there are too few staff to remove bicycles promptly. I think this problem could be solved by transferring other Council staff to this useful job. Some weeks ago I attended a long Council meeting in which I learned that an incredible 220 people were "employed" by the City in Human Resources (Personell to you and me). The managementspeak I heard then and the pointless presentations were worthy of a Turner Prize. If 10% of those staff were transferred to tidying up the City no one would notice and there would be 22 people making a useful contribution to Society. I wonder what happens to the removed bicycles? Perhaps they are taken to a pound and for a fee people can remove a spare part of whatever they like. If not, I propose that. I believe that the Council does not yet encourage proper provision for the storage of bicycles when considering planning applications for residential and commercial developments. With so many houses now divided into flats there is as problem about where the residents and visitors can but their bicycles. Fire regulations frown upon leaving bicycles in communal hall ways. Cyclists lean their bicycles against lamp posts and other up-rights. I am not against this as I sympathies with the cyclists. However some changes in their practices and the designs of bicycles would make it easier for pedestrians, especially those with sight problems. Every attempt should be made to keep the bicycle upright and in one plane. Bikes should be chained at two places to keep them verticle and the front wheels should be kept aligned with the frame. If possible the handle bars should be twisted through 90 degrees. I would welcome as standard practice pedals that could be twisted upwards so that they do not jut out. With imagination, bicycles could be better designed for the realities of urban life. The cycle racks provided by the Council (I think they are called Sheffield type) are not well designed. Essentially they are an up-turned U which means bicycles can slip and cause obstructions. To deter this, and also vandalism and theft, a horizontal bar should be added lower down so that the rack looks like the letter A. The object is to keep the bicycles verticle and in one plane. I think we could learn a lot from cities in Scandinavia and the Low Countries. I am not going to moan here about the behavior of some cyclists. I used to be a very keen cyclist myself. In those halcyon days, most cyclists were gentle creatures, usually wearing sandals when not in the saddle, read the New Statesman and were veggies. We would often stop at pedestrian crossings to help old ladies cross and rescue trapped kittens from trees. Ok, perhaps I exaggerate. I fear that if responsible cyclists do not crack down on their terrorist brethren then registration and licenses will ensue. I do not want this but I do want the law to crack down heavily on cyclists that do not have good quality functioning front and rear lights plus reflectors on their bikes. I learned recently that the bi-laws in Hove prohibit all cycling on the Promenade. These should be relaxed so that children can learn to ride there. I believe most blind people are in favor of responsible cycling by children on the Promenade. What better place to learn? What we don't like are fast silent adults weaving through groups of people doing what was intended on the Promenade: promenading.


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