Monday, November 29, 2010

Clapham Common - Saturation Policing

Over the past month or two, there've been a few visits of law enforcement officials to Clapham Common. It seems there have been a few complaints about cycling on the Common.

First of all, cycling on Clapham Common is legal, provided of course that you observe the usual rules of the road, give way if necessary where indicated and so on.

This morning, I thought I'd wandered into a student fees protest. There must have been a dozen officers on the Common. It was a rather comical sight, with all the commuters cycling ridiculously slowly. One of the officers stopped me - I had committed no offence by the way - and advised me of the fact that I needed to give way at the 'give way' line a few yards ahead. Fortunately, I have a reasonable acquaintance with the Highway Code, so I was already aware of this fact. The officer gave me a leaflet.

Further on, an officer was advising a dog walker whose dog had wandered on to the cycle path that 'if your dog was hit by a cyclist, it wouldn't be the cyclist's fault'. He didn't advise him that this could cause a serious accident (not in my hearing anyway).

At the other end or the path, an officer was helping a female cyclist fix a puncture. Nice touch.

I have no problem with the law being upheld. In fact, I support it, but it has to be done without fear or favour, in an even-handed and proportionate way. I don't see police in the 20MPH zones where speeding is endemic (ostensibly because they don't have the resources to enforce the speed limit). I don't see police advising motorists that they need to give way at a 'give way' line (try walking across a road junction in Merton and see if you don't get run down). I don't see police advising motorists in the Trafalgar Square Advanced Stop Line of its true purpose. I don't see police stopping motorists busting the red light at the toucan crossing in Plough Lane, or speeding along the Morden Road, or overtaking where there's traffic calming. I could go on, but I think you get the picture. So why do I see the highest concentration of police in a place where there's little lawbreaking of any consequence? I'm not aware of any serious incidents on the Common.

It is rather hard for cyclists not to detect any suggestion of bias in law enforcement if complaints from a small number of dog walkers and local busybodies attract more police than a Masonic Convention, whereas the daily intimidation, lawbreaking, serious injury and occasionally death that is meted out to cyclists attracts less response than a Greek Government bond issue.

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