Thursday, 24 October 2013

The 'Vigilante Cycle Gang' - What REALLY happened at the Battle of Belgrave

Guest article by Stephen Perrin AKA "Black Country Ste"

The junction in question
I wanted to write about the so-called 'Vigilante Cycle Gang' as reported with such revolting bias in a local rag. As regular viewers of my videos may know I often have problems with the bus gate crossing Belgrave Middleway in Birmingham, which is of dangerous design, where traffic restrictions are unenforced and is effectively lawless.

The signs clearly show the crossing to be for buses and cycles only but this doesn't stop a significant minority of motorists from passing illegally, using it as a rat run to the Moseley and Pershore Roads. Right turns are banned from all arms of the junction yet frequently ignored by drivers, putting pedestrians and cyclists at extra risk.

Recently a friend was the victim of a hit-and-run collision while cycling across the junction. The driver hit the cyclist's handlebar with his wing mirror and knocked him off. Luckily he suffered only bruising. I asked him to report it to police but he refused on account of a friend of his who was also hit there. He was more seriously injured and did report it, to be met with disbelief by West Midlands Police and was effectively told off. This mirrored an incident I reported to police involving a dangerous overtake by a HGV on the A435. The officer refused to take a report and told me: "Roads in Birmingham are dangerous, we know that. Complain to the Council."

In 1994 a prominent cycling campaigner was severely injured at the crossing and was lucky to survive. In 2010 BBC broadcast a report about cycling in Birmingham, featuring a time-lapse video shot at the crossing, showing 53 violations in a thirty-minute period. I've had tangles with taxis and minicabs, private cars, large commercial vans and HGVs, also witnessing another cyclist's near miss with a bus. I've reported a number of these incidents only to be told police would take no action. The police say responsibility lies with Council who in turn blame Plod... lawless!

It was decided by some in the pub after October Critical Mass to have a group ride in the area, back and forth between two mini-roundabouts. The most boring ride ever. It didn't turn out that way, becoming a static demo where vehicles, other than buses and emergency vehicles, were prevented from crossing the junction, allowed only to take the legal route to Haden Circus or Belgrave Interchange. Then came the taxi.

After speaking to the driver it was clear that after 22 years of driving a cab he still doesn't understand road signs. Bus lanes open to taxis are marked as such. This one isn't, confirmed by Birmingham City Council and bus drivers I spoke to but he feels entitled to use it regardless of the signs prohibiting the act. Despite the demonstrators leaving the way clear for him to take the legal route at the junction he stubbornly chose to waste the time and money of his fare.

He claimed, according to Birmingham Mail, that the cyclists surrounded his cab and blocked his way. If that was true then the dozens of law-abiding motorists squeezing through to take the legal route would have been unable to do so. It was he who chose to obstruct the highway. The way was clear for him to turn left at any time and was free to leave if he felt in danger as claimed. That he didn't shows an abandonment of his duty of care to his passenger.

A Community Support Officer showed up and attempted to resolve the matter. It quickly became apparent that, despite having driven a car to attend, she had little knowledge of the Highway Code, something most would consider essential for a police officer in possession of a driving licence. She didn't understand the signs exempting buses and cycles from a blue circle instruction to turn left.

After some negotiation with the driver she chose to appease the motorist and, after assuring the demonstrators she would instruct the taxi to drive up to Haden Circus, waved it through the bus gate, confirmed by a bystander. The cabbie drove his vehicle on the wrong side of the road through a junction towards a group of people. A pedestrian demonstrator came into contact with the taxi resulting in damage to a wing mirror, souring a largely positive event which had the support of locals and passing motorists, including an ambulance driver.

"These people on two wheels, who don’t even pay road tax", he claimed, "were acting like vigilantes." He's right. Cyclists don't pay road tax. Nobody does. It was abolished in 1937. Payment of a tax existing only in history books is not an entitlement to break the law. Neither is a protest vigilantism. If those present somehow enforced a punishment on the driver then the claim of vigilantism would have been justified. An act of criminal damage was alleged, which cannot be condoned but was the result of police mismanagement of an incident that would have been easily resolved by the officer instructing the cab driver to obey the law.

Birmingham Mail needs to consider its priorities. It is disappointing that as the city begins its 'Cycle Revolution' that minor damage to property can be the focus of reporting when casual law-breaking by motorists claims lives every day. In this instance police negligence placed a number of people at risk of injury. I understand a complaint of misconduct will be made against the PCSO.

Sited at or near this junction are three schools, a large mosque and a shopping area. It is on the main route for cyclists travelling between the south of Birmingham and the city centre, used by hundreds every day. In an area with such a high concentration of vulnerable road users, routine abuse by motorists of both the bus gate and parking restrictions is met with indifference by police and the local authority; it's only a matter of time before there is another serious incident or even death. It is a failing of and lack of faith in the authorities, an injustice that the everyday commuter cyclist feels they have resort to a public action.

If anybody connected with these local amenities - if the parents of pupils at the schools - took direct action rather than cyclists, the report in Thursday's Birmingham Mail would have been a lot different.

Guest article by Stephen Perrin AKA "Black Country Ste"

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