My comments related primarily to the consistent failure of Coventry City Council to even acknowledge the existence of the need to provide for cyclists with disabilities.
I object to the whole PSPO, on the following grounds:
A city centre hostile to people with disabilities
Firstly and foremost, as a cyclist with a very serious disability, I despair at the council’s recent complete dismissal of my complaint that it is failing to protect my rights as a person with protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010.
Background – a city that doesn’t even care
A detailed submission was made in June 2016 (attached), explaining how the council fails to protect people who need to cycle, but who have protected characteristics including age (both young and old), gender and disabilities, including hidden as well as visible ones.
Having waited a full 6 months for any kind of reply, I was finally brushed off with an extremely blunt and dismissive email from Cllr Jayne Innes, in which I was rather bizarrely told that the Equality Act does not apply to modes of transport. This rather perverse logic would also imply that the council has no duty to provide disabled car parking spaces, because these are for the exclusive use by people with disabilities who are either driving or being driven.
Furthermore, tomorrow (Monday 16th January), the council starts on its completely reckless and ill founded removal of bus lanes, a procedure which has also been instigated with scant research, and without any kind of equality assessment.
A legally incompetent council
I simply do not believe that the council has the legal authority or ability to implement so-called public space protection orders in a way which doesn’t heavily discriminate against people who simply wish to go about their peaceful and legitimate daily activity of cycling around the city centre, whether they have a protected characteristic or not.
I note in particular that it’s very rare to see older people cycling in Coventry city centre, whilst there are also very few younger cyclists, and it’s abundantly clear that the vast majority of cyclists in Coventry are male – yet none of these discriminatory factors exist in a city like Cambridge.
In natural justice, there exist various defences of lawful excuse, usually based around the argument that committing one particular offence is necessary because it prevents a greater harm elsewhere.
I firmly believe that defences of this nature will be used to challenge PSPO tickets given for cycling in the proposed zones, and that such challenges will be upheld, because the council has consistently failed to provide safe segregated cycle paths in the city centre.
This proposal is particularly egregious, given that the council has now completed its round of highly dangerous and experimental shared space, whilst failing to add a single extra metre of safe and properly demarcated cycle path anywhere in the city centre at all.
Swimming against the tide
It’s completely outrageous that in a city which has such a strong cycling heritage, the council is continuing to indulge in measures to prevent and punish cycling, when in so many other places in the UK, including relatively nearby cities such as Birmingham and Leicester, cycling is being actively encouraged and allowed to flourish, through the effective provision of segregated cycle paths.
To the best of my knowledge, in 2016, Coventry City Council installed just 30m of new cycle path, this being paid for by the new Aldi store at Cannon Park.
Coventry City Council is utterly negligent in its duty to provide this safe cycling space in the city centre, because it has pursued a thoroughly narcissistic and vanity driven agenda to impose shared spaces on vulnerable users,.
The city centre, despite looking nice, is ultimately set up for failure, and the PSPOs are an unwelcome diversion from the core issue, which is the failure to provide adequate traffic filters. In this hostile environment, there can be no confidence that Civil Enforcement Officers (CEO’s) will exercise discretion between people who are cycling in one area to avoid a dangerous road, and those who are being genuinely dangerous, an offence which can already be prosecuted by the police.
In fact, under the offence of “dangerous cycling”, a cyclist would need to be shown to be acting in a way which is below what would reasonably be expected of a competent cyclist. Such a description would not apply to cycling across a traffic free bridge to avoid a shared space junction, because that would be a demonstration of competence. Thus, the PSPOs have a very real risk of becoming legal non sequiturs, because such a demonstration of competence would result in a fine, whereas cycling through a dangerous junction would not. Whereas self representation on a point of principle should be looked on favourably by a magistrate, the council will have to incur thousands of pounds in legal fees to pursue criminal cases for which there is no need and no purpose.
Moreover, at a national level, police have been advised to take a completely hands off approach towards cycling on the pavement. This is understandably not an ideal situation – cyclists should really be on a safe protected cycle path, or where such a path isn’t necessary, they should be on the road.
In a few rare incidences where cyclists have been prosecuted for riding on the pavement and they have then resisted such tickets, these cases have then been dropped by the courts because they have not been deemed in the public interest.
Yet a £100 fine for cycling in the city centre with the potential for it to rise to £1000 if taken to the courts, as is already the case in Mansfield, is completely disproportionate, when drivers are killing and maiming, sometimes even through drink or the negligence of mobile phone use, and being given fines which are smaller than this.
Moreover, even at £100, the fine is double the £50 fine for non-serious parking offences and still nearly 50% more than the £70 fine for serious parking offences, including parking in bus stops and parking on pedestrian crossings and outside schools. Yet even at this level, these fines are processed as civil offences, not criminal ones.
This PSPO will undoubtedly be met with civil resistance, and the opportunity to go to court will attract attention and it will highlight the complete and utter incompetence which has been displayed by Coventry City Council in recent months when it comes to looking after the basic needs of some of the city’s most vulnerable road users.
Meanwhile, attempts to impose the same fine structure for begging also show the callous nature of how the council is currently thinking. Moreover, the council has completely failed to understand the difference between a societal annoyance and behaviour which actually puts people in danger, namely careless and dangerous driving, and the development of a road network which does little to prevent it.
In respect of skateboarding, another “out group” activity, whilst I can understand that this upsets some people, there is just no evidence whatsoever that it poses a significant accident risk. The last case I can find of a skateboarder actually killing a pedestrian goes back to 2011, and this was in California on an open road, not in a public square with no slopes.
Pedestrians in the city centre are of course entitled to feel safe, but it has been suggested that cycling should be banned because “senior citizens are using bus stops during the daytime hours”. The solution to this problem is not to pit one vulnerable road user against another, but instead to provide a safe environment for all, including bypasses around the bus stops where needed. In the meantime, it is not acceptable to fine people for cycling in these areas as a means of covering up the council’s own choice not to invest in safe road layouts.
As long as I walk around Coventry City centre and see cars parked on pavements, cars parked in bus stops, drivers whizzing through so-called shared space with phones in hand, and perhaps worst of all, cars repeatedly blocking the emergency exits of the SkyDome complex in Spon St, then antisocial cycling, pales into insignificance compared to these very serious issues.
This whole process should be rejected in its entirety.
The fact that this is being done in the name of a Labour controlled council should leave party members utterly ashamed of themselves.