‘A sinister turn’

This article was published in 1998, in Newsletter 20.

Readers of the Cambridge Evening News may have noticed that we received some poor publicity recently.

Tensions between cyclists and motorists have taken a sinister turn after a woman driver returned to her parked vehicle to find a notice containing veiled threats – which police now say could be deemed as intimidating behaviour.

The article continued:

The notice quotes the contact number for the Cambridge Cycling Campaign – but the organisation has since denied any association with the document, and expressed surprise that someone was using its name as a contact.

Newspaper headline: Cyclist threatens drive with note

In fact, the motorist first wrote to us, asking us about our policy on vandalism. We answered that we don’t condone vandalism, and we asked for information about the circumstances of the incident.

The next thing we knew, a News reporter was asking for a quote.

Only after the article was eventually published did we actually see the text of the note, and we can see why someone would be worried about it.

Your vehicle is parked inconsiderately in this lane. You may not have thought about how mothers with prams will be able to get through the minute gap you have left, or how elderly people can pass through this space. It may be that you do not care and feel you have a right to park where ever you wish.

You may be more concerned about your vehicle. The lane is legitimately used by numerous cyclists, avoiding the roads which many motorists are attempting to drive them from in the first place. Aggrieved by the space left by yet another car in which to wheel a child seat on a bike through they will simply make the space by breaking back your wing mirrors and body trim, probably severely scratching your paint work with sharp metal pedals and brake levers in the process.

Due to my close association within local government I am unable to leave you my details as policy in the City on topics such as these is not surprisingly contentious, however I suggest you contact the local traffic police or traffic wardens and ask their opinion of your parking. The majority of law enforcement does not have much time for cyclists’ rights to the highway, so for another perspective contact the Cambridge Cycling Campaign on (01223) 690718 or email camcycle@pobox.co.uk. I am sure their 500+ members will be keen to help re-educate you.

We discussed the note at our September meeting. The overwhelming feeling was that most people would feel threatened if they received such a note. The majority also felt that it wasn’t unreasonable for someone reading the note to think the Cycling Campaign might be responsible for it.

Having traced the note’s author, who is a member of the Campaign, we asked this person not to use the Campaign’s name in any threatening context in future, nor write anything which might imply they represent the Campaign.

This is an appropriate moment to state the Campaign’s policy on letter-writing, which was adopted at one of the very first monthly meetings. This is that letters on behalf of the Campaign must be on headed paper and signed by a committee member. Since earlier this year all letters and reports have a unique reference number too. We’re trying to avoid surprises, and to have a consistent, co-ordinated and collective approach to what is said on behalf of the Campaign.

Car parking in bike lanes

Image of a note: You are Parken in a Bike Lane

We’ll make car-parking in general, and in bike lanes in particular, the subject of a future article, as it is not as straightforward as we might like it to be. For example, cars are unfortunately allowed to park on the bike lanes in Gilbert Road as the lanes are marked with dashed lines, and so are only ‘advisory’ for cars.

In the meantime, if you want to complain about a parked car, phone the traffic wardens at Parkside police station, on 358966.

Some years ago Cambridge Friends of the Earth (FoE) produced a leaflet for members to place on car windscreens.

We have occasionally talked about whether it would be worth producing our own, with equally carefully chosen words. We’d like to hear members’ views on the FoE leaflet, on whether we should produce our own, and indeed whether you find parked cars to be a problem as you cycle around the City.

Clare Macrae