Monday, 11 February 2013

The Failure of Cambridgeshire Police.

I was on the receiving end of a road rage incident today where a driver drove their car at me. There was no collision, I did nothing to antagonise the driver, I was simply riding my bicycle legally and happened to be in their way. I was shaken up. I called through to the Police on 101.

What follows is (so others tell me) is a typical response from Cambridge Police when you phone through an incident as a cyclist. The summary of which is:

  • No independent witnesses? Do nothing.
  • Make the victim jump through as many hoops to avoid recording anything. 
  • Above all, make sure this incident is not recorded as a crime for the statistics.
  • Advertise record 'low' crime rates.
Cambridgeshire Police has a reputation for being institutionally anti-cyclist. I personally think you'd get the same treatment as a pedestrian, and for many other types of crime.  The worst part for me is having no way for the Police to record and categorise car-cycle incidents. We often hear the phrase, "if you don't report crime, we can't do anything about it". I have tried several times to report serious incidents over the last decade with similar results and get no action.

This is my recollection of the conversation. The Police's paraphrased words are in blue.

I phone 101 on my mobile from the street.

Your location is not recognised, putting you through to an operator ... Which Police station? Cambridge .... If you know the extension number of the person you require press 1 if you [repeating the registration number over and over in my head] .... or hold for an operator ... Cambridgeshire Police how can I help? I've been forced off the road ... I'll put you through. [seriously frustrated now]

What happened? [I describe the incident]. You poor thing, let me take some details. Phone number? [tappity tap] address? postcode? [the driver will be long gone now] registration of the vehicle? description? Here's your incident number ....

Hang on! This was a serious incident I am shaken up, I am standing at the side of the road. I want somebody to speak with the driver.

OK, [tappity-tap] We have interview slots at Parkside at 10am and 5pm. 
What about Histon Police station? I am 5 mins away. It opens at 4pm. [I indecisively grumble]
Let me speak with my supervisor. I'll call you back. [three minutes later]
He says as you were forced off the road this is being treated as a road traffic collision. 
[Fab! now we are getting somewhere] Report your incident within 24 hours at any police station.

[An hour later at Parkside]

I was told to come in to report an incident in person.
What happened? I explain briefly. Any independent witnesses? Nobody stopped at the roadside. Won't do anything.  There were following cars. CPS won't do anything without them. [the lady officer really was that harsh, sharp and battle hardened].
What? I was told to come in, I reported this on the phone.
Incident number?  I don't have one, I was in the street shaken up when I made the call to 101.
Can you search by phone number, my name, my address? No, can't do that. Really?

Look, I realise that no prosecution will happen. I just want somebody to speak with the driver so if they see me tomorrow, they won't threaten me again, that's all.  I am quite shaken up.

Can't do that. Why not? Their word against yours. We can't accuse them of something. You won't be doing that, you'll just be talking to them and investigating. Sorry, its policy.
What? I am standing here shaken up after being threatened and you won't do anything? No, not without independent witnesses. What if I was threatened with a knife? That's a different matter.
Err, ok [a bit dazed], turns around to leave. Oh, can I have the incident number. [At this point there is a lot of tapping]. What time did it happen? ... where?  .... Your phone number. 077...
[I realise the officer is hunting harder for a record of my phone call after I was told they couldn't search for it].

[Taps away for a couple of minutes, followed by another few minutes recording my contact details. Obviously my visit to Parkside would not have resulted in an incident record - again!]

Can I have a printout of this incident record? You'll have to put it in writing and pay £10. [I recognise this the data protection act being used here]. Can I just see the computer screen? No, its the Police National Computer, no member of the public can see it. Did you record my dissatisfaction with the whole process. Yes. My supervisor will read it. 

So while this driver gets away with endangering my life, without even getting a talking to. Operation Pedalo continues with 'huge' amounts of officer time spent cracking down on cyclists being foolish to not have lights, and on pavement cycling, most of those who are there because they fear traffic.

[As a side note: I was the independent witness in a separate incident where that cyclist was clipped by a wing mirror by an aggressive driver. The end result was the driver got a talking to. No fixed penalty notice, no CPS. How hard can Cambridgeshire Police make it to reduce bad driver behaviour]

Cambridgeshire Police think Operation Pedalo is successful in reducing cyclist casualty numbers. How untrue that is. This is how Cambridgeshire Police are failing the vulnerable.

This is why faith in Cambridgeshire Police is low. Individual officers do a great and difficult job, but the institution is a failure for vulnerable cyclist and pedestrian road users . It needs fixing and just admitting there is a problem would be a massive leap forward. This is in the city with the highest proportion of people cycling to work in the entire country.

Cambridgeshire Police need to lead the country on cyclist road safety policing not brush the problem under the carpet.

Update 5 Mar 2013

A few days after I decided to phone Cambridgeshire Police back and go up the management chain. After calling 101, I received a call back from a real officer who reviewed calls. It took 15 minutes of discussing my issue for him to realise just how serious my incident was. The information recorded by Parkside Police Station reception staff did not convey my message. If I had been able to see what was recorded at Parkside about my incident there would have been a chance a real officer could have spotted my incident.

After speaking with the real officer, he worked hard, attempting to call the driver of the accused vehicle. They tried several times, and even passed the task to another officer when not available and kept me informed of their attempts. In the final attempt they managed to speak with the accused. He did not admit to anything untoward (expected) but this was enough for me, the warning message had made it, and I learned that this person was not a regular on my commute and I did not have to worry. I also learned that this was yet another case of a driver thinking the footway next to the road was a cyclepath.

If there is a lesson to be learned from this sorry tale, it's don't be brushed off by 101 if you think you have a serious case and should be helped. But, be realistic, something like close passing without malicious intent will go nowhere.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Observing the Crackdown

As I motorcycled home I spotted two officers on Milton Road obviously on Operation Pedalo (or is that the North Area Police priority, or both?). Targets of the operation are: cycling without lights; pavement cycling; and reducing cycle crime [theft?].

Setting the Scene

7pm Thursday 7th. Feb, two officers were outside Wilco exactly where the cyclist is on Google StreetView waiting for cyclists travelling North (left to right). I was observing from outside the pharmacy, where the police cones are. It was dark but well lit with streetlamps.

Some will be familiar with the location. The signage is unclear and it is quite easy to continue cycling from a shared use (just ~30 yards from the officers) and continue straight into the trap, but now on a footway.

I was not quite close enough to see if they were officers or PCSOs. They were not aware that I was observing.

Just before I arrived they were talking to a person with a bicycle but by the time I had parked up they had gone so I don't know if they had been ticketed or were asking for directions.

Five minutes of observation.

The first thing that happened was a car was pulled over for using fog lamps when not foggy. The car  left without a ticket being issued.

Many cyclists went past on the road on both directions all with lights. Far more cars went past too, I estimate about 10 times as many.

A cyclist came northbound into the trap. Before they arrived I could see they were riding courteously and passed a family with two children. In no way did the family look worried. This looked like a typical scene on any shared use path.

The cyclist, a male maybe 30-40yrs, had no lights and was stopped and given a ticket. This took the full duration of the time I was there so more than 4 minutes. There was a moment when the cyclist was looking down at his bike, confused. Perhaps looking for the frame number.

During the time the officers were giving the cyclist a FPN, and thus unobserved and ignored, these events took place:

One car with a failed headlamp parked near them. One car went past with fog lamps lit. A panther taxi was hooted as it attempted pull out onto the main road from the shop area. A cyclist with no rear light safely negotiated their way past a dog and walker, then round the officers and continued. My motorcycle came within 6 inches of being hit as an unobservant driver swung into my parking space - I was obscured by the car next to me.

At this point I left. (See StreetView image) I negotiated my way left to right through the bollards retracing my steps to leave via the drop kerb at the white line. A car had parked here blocking the way out.

No cyclists were on the footway with lights during the time I was there so we do not know if that is being ticketed here.


So that's 2 bicycle light offences; 2 bicycles on the footway; 3 car lighting offences; 2 cases of poor driving; 1 case of anti-social car parking.

I use Wilco a few times a year and I believe the pedestrians are at most risk from cars rushing in and out of the parking areas from a busy main road. Anecdotal observations should not be relied upon, but my road safety stats (see on footway or verge) add weight to that theory.

I left via Arbury Road and knowing the Police were elsewhere, pulled a superbly long power wheelie. joke.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Mill Road: a cycle casualty black spot.

I had an errand to run tonight, taking me away from my normal commute, and this time from the centre of Cambridge to the end of Mill Road and back. This journey, epitomised everything about the current state of Policing in this city.

My journey

First up, out of town on St Andrew's Street. I pass two Police Officers (maybe PCSOs) who are enforcing the Lights Instead of Tickets (LIT) scheme. I wholeheartedly approve of this scheme, but I do object to the amount of time spent on this. Let me say why.

Diagonally across Parker's Piece. I wanted to see the demonstration lights, but they have been vandalised. It's really dark across here and pedestrians walk in black invisibility cloaks but I respect that as a faster vehicle, its my responsibility to look out for them. Interestingly society has arrived at the opposite conclusion on the road - to allow us to travel faster.

Then I start my journey outbound on Mill Road. This is approximately 7pm on a Wednesday night. A few weeks ago I heard my village Officer tell us that either side of the rush hour is the most likely time to catch speeders as gaps start to appear in traffic flows.

Mill Road has a very poor collision record and as such has a 20mph zone.  You can see the collisions mapped on CycleStreets and Cambridge CC's websites. Allmost all of those dots are car-bicycle accidents.

Panther pounces

Twenty is how fast I cycle, but I find a taxi very close behind with an aggressive sounding engine threatening to pass. I am cycling in the left wheel track - trained cyclists will recognise as one of two advised road positions - and it is holding the taxi back whilst there is oncoming traffic. The taxi passes with hard acceleration a little too close for my liking and easily exceeding the 20mph speed limit. Other young adults are cycling nearer the gutter and I watch as taxi squeezes between them and the white line with oncoming traffic. This YouTube video demonstrates how close cars come when squeezing through and the risks taken. 

Of course, I caught the taxi up again. Plenty of risk to others, but nothing gained.

I am not one to rely on anecdotal examples, but this happens a second, and a third time, with all three driving aggressively and in a bullying way. 

I didn't notice any pavement cyclists, but I did see cyclists without lights on the road. It is very well lit by streetlights and everybody is easy to see if you look properly. There are plenty of unlit pedestrians crossing this busy road and you have to look out for them anyway. Cyclists are not any harder to spot under these streetlights.

After my errand I return inbound. I am overtaken by a car which accelerates aggressively up to, I estimate, 35mph. Then braked very sharply. A car was sitting stationary in the middle of the road, looking like it had pulled out from a side road. A female cyclist 40yrs old (with lights and helmet) was looking at her back wheel like the car had collided with it. I don't know who was at fault, but did hear the cyclist asking if the driver was ok. They must have been in shock.

Continuing along Mill Road, a van pulled out of a side road in front of me and I had to emergency stop. They had seen me - I know, they were looking into my eyes - this was a SMIDGAF, (Sorry Mate I Don't Give a Fuck). It's a variation on the SMIDSY (I Didn't See You). Again a taxi. All of the taxis were Panther Taxis.


This was a scary ride for me. I am a very experienced cyclist, motorcyclist and driver. I would not ride this route regularly at this time, it is too risky.

It is plainly obvious when cycling down Mill Road what the causes of accidents are - aggressive driving and failing to look properly. The story could be said to be anecdotal and unrepresentative, but my statistical analysis (summary) agrees and shows the extent of this problem. 

The council and councillors are aware of the problem. It's on their map, and a 20mph zone has been implemented. Now it's time for Cambridgeshire Police to step up and play their part. While they are sending 30 officers to target low level anti-social cycling, Mill Road traffic goes unpoliced and the casualty numbers continue to rise.

Ignoring this problem has gone on for too long. Cambridge has 32% of people cycling to work the highest rate in the country and needs new ideas and leadership from the highest levels in Cambs Police. Doing nothing is shameful.