The police and the law

This article was published in 2009, in Newsletter 85.


Some police officers don’t understand the city centre cycling rules, shown on our City Centre Cycling Map (Base map from OpenStreetMap licensed CC by SA) and ignore vehicles which block the mandatory cycle lane outside the University Arms hotel (right).
Image as described adjacent
Cycling is allowed in Sidney Street between Market Street and St Andrews Street despite what some police seem to think.
Image as described adjacent

Yet again we have received a report in the last month of a police officer stopping a cyclist in Sidney Street near Lloyds Bank for ‘cycling the wrong way in a one-way street’. Despite distributing our city centre map to the police it still seems that some officers don’t understand the rules they are responsible for enforcing. On this occasion, we are told, the officer refused to believe the street is two-way for cyclists even when the signs were pointed out to them. (Strictly speaking, it is two-way for all traffic, though it would be a perverse driver who got themselves in a position where they were going the ‘wrong’ way as they aren’t allowed to pass the No Entry signs at Market Hill.)

Bus drivers and taxi drivers unsurprisingly pick up on the police lead and also berate cyclists for cycling the ‘wrong’ way in St Andrew’s Street. This is despite the cycle lanes leading into and out of the street southbound, and a sign warning of oncoming cyclists near the Grand Arcade entrance.

The police were too busy catching shoplifters to do anything about cycle lane infringements

This is not the only occasion recently when the police have seemed not to understand their responsibilities. I had occasion to report three vehicles blocking the short length of mandatory cycle lane outside the University Arms hotel to the police. Both the desk officer at Parkside and the officer who called me later that evening to say they were too busy catching shoplifters to do anything about my complaint insisted that this was not, in any case, their responsibility. Parking, they said, is enforced by the Council. So it is – but not, alas, in mandatory cycle lanes, because the rules to allow civil enforcement of cycle lanes have not been enacted.

At the time of writing, a month on, I am still waiting for a substantive reply from the police after I complained about this. It is no wonder that so many drivers, especially taxi drivers who know that the local authority attendants won’t touch them in cycle lanes, use them for parking.

White van parking lane on Bateman Street.
Image as described adjacent

That bête noire of cycle lanes, the contraflow lane – or builders’ parking lane we should perhaps call it – in Bateman Street is another exasperating case. Here, even when police have been on the street they usually refuse point blank to enforce the lane (which, if blocked, forces cyclists themselves to commit an offence to pass the constant obstructions). Members have been told, on more than one occasion, that contractors’ vehicles are allowed to park in the lane.

It is time consuming and often fruitless reporting infringements, but it adds to the sense that ‘nobody cares’ when the police don’t know the rules and won’t accept they are wrong, and even target law-abiding cyclists. Just what are cyclists supposed to do to get the rules enforced?

David Earl