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Narkiness between Cambridge police and cycling advocates goes up a notch

Things have got a bit narky between cyclists and our police here in Cambridge lately, thanks to the force launching an ill-considered social media campaign to fight the scourge of the #badlyparkedbike. I found out last night just how sensitive some officers have become when I was threatened with arrest under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for trying to take a photo of a police car parked in a bike lane.

My girlfriend was driving me and her kids to choir practice when we spotted a police car parked in the cycle lane on Cambridge's East Road.

Courtesy of Google Streetview, here's what the spot in question looks like:

Cambridge police has had a wave of criticism lately, first over the idea that it mattered if a bike was parked 'badly', but crap car parking was just 'daft' and then over the handling of that criticism.

I couldn't resist getting out to take a photo of the police car. If a car parked in a bike lane, forcing cyclists out into the traffic on a busy road isn't parked badly, what is?

As it happens I didn't get the shot because I'm a total numpty with a phone camera. Yeah, I know, as a street activist I'm more John Thomas than Mark Thomas.

As I walked away, the PCSO who had been in the car caught up with me and asked what I was doing. I told him I was taking a photo of the car because it was parked in a bike lane, for #badlyparkedbike and #daftparking.

He asked for my name and address, which I refused to give. There are very few situations in which a PCSO has the power to require your details, and this wasn't one of them.

He said that I had taken a photograph of a government vehicle as if this was supposed to mean something. It doesn't, of course. The Association of Chief Police Officers' Guidance for Photographers says:

Officers and staff … should not prevent anyone from taking photographs in public. This applies equally to members of the media and public seeking to record images, who do not need a permit to photograph or film in public places.

• There are no powers prohibiting the taking of photographs, film or digital images in a public place.

• We must acknowledge that citizen journalism is a feature of modern life and police officers are now photographed and filmed more than ever.

I continued to refuse to give him my details and carried on walking. The PCSO put his hands on me to try and stop me. I pointed out, probably quite loudly, that this was assault and he really needed to take his hands off me.

He then asked me if I'd like him to call a PC who would arrest me under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for taking a photo of a government vehicle.

Yep, that's right. Taking a photo of a police car parked badly in a public place is equivalent to planning to blow up a plane.

I'd had enough by this point. I just wanted to rejoin the family, grab a quick coffee and do some singing. I resisted the temptation to call his bluff or do something surreal like start undressing and see if he stuck around till I was down to my undies or beyond.

Instead I just asked him to leave me alone. We went through the dance of him trying to block me and me telling him to get his hands off again and a few seconds later he turned around, perhaps remembering that he'd left his car parked in a bike lane.

Later that evening I lodged a formal complaint. I wasn't particularly rattled by the experience. I can do without being handled, but if I can't face down an ill-informed PCSO when I'm old enough to be his dad, then it's time to hand in my Stroppy Northern Git card.

But Cambridge police needs to take a hard look at the attitude of some officers to cyclists. The dismissive attitude of the social media operative behind #badlyparkedbike is also the subject of a complaint, and the PCSO I encountered was clearly not happy that his vehicle might be negatively featured on Twitter.

Cambridge police has just begun its annual crackdown on cyclists without lights, but is reliably claimed to ignore reports of cars blocking pavements and so forcing pedestrians into the carriageway.

Cambridge has the highest rate of bike use in the UK, yet even here some police officers think people on bikes don't matter, or are a problem, rather than being regular citizens just getting around.

At one point in our conversation, the PCSO told me he had parked there because he was responding to a call. But he could have easily stopped in the car lane, left the bike lane clear and made drivers go round his car. I'm sure that possibility never even occurred to him, and there lies the problem.

What do I hope will happen as  result of my complaint? First, that Cambridge police will make sure its officers understand the law on photography and don't make up nonexistent offences in order to harass people. Secondly, that the police will remember that this is a cycling city — Cambridge Cycling Campaign has a larger membership than any of the local branches of political parties — and people who ride bikes have the same right to have their concerns taken seriously as everyone else.

UPDATE: I've now spoken to the PCSO's sergeant who confirmed that I should not have been threatened with arrest under prevention of terrorism, and that it is not illegal to take photographs of anything in a public place in the UK.

Lead image: A police box in Cambridge (CC BY 2.0 James Bowe|Flickr)

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

13 comments

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bikebot [2117 posts] 2 years ago
4 likes

Aside from the Policeman PCSO, what sort of a numpty of a town planner puts in a double yelllow line, but doesn't give the cycle lane a solid mandatory line.

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danthomascyclist [350 posts] 2 years ago
14 likes

Disgusting. Anyone found to be misusing the terrorism act should be fired.

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brooksby [3387 posts] 2 years ago
4 likes
bikebot wrote:

Aside from the Policeman PCSO, what sort of a numpty of a town planner puts in a double yelllow line, but doesn't give the cycle lane a solid mandatory line.

Are you allowed to park a TARDIS on a double yellow line, do you know?

Seriously, though, it seems that "fear of terrorism " and the laws connected with that are being used more and more as just some sort of trump card.

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Chris [168 posts] 2 years ago
7 likes

Would love to see the details of the call that the PCSO was responding too, just to confirm it wasn't simply him getting his dinner from that shop in the picture

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armb [143 posts] 2 years ago
1 like
bikebot wrote:

Aside from the Policeman PCSO, what sort of a numpty of a town planner puts in a double yelllow line, but doesn't give the cycle lane a solid mandatory line.

One not-numpty case is where the lane outside the cycle lane isn't big enough for a bus or truck, so they have to intrude on the cycle lane (taking due care of any cyclists in it). Obviously that would be a stupid place to park except in an emergency.
One numpty case is when the planner wants to ban parking in the lane, but thinks waiting/loading/unloading is acceptable.
Another case is where the road originally had an advisory cycle lane, parking in it was causing a problem and is now banned, upgrading it to mandatory without adding double yellows won't stop the parking because too many drivers are numpties, and adding double yellows without making the lane mandatory is cheaper and/or quicker.

I don't know which if any apply here, though I think you can just about have a bus in each direction without them intruding into the cycle lane, and there are yellow ticks on the kerb which limits the "waiting/loading/unloading is acceptable" possibilities.

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giff77 [1313 posts] 2 years ago
3 likes

And yet again we have a PCSO demonstrate how little he knows of law. The Prevention of Terrorism Act is subject to control orders issued by the Home Secretary amongst other things. To the best of my knowledge Ms May has not issued an order on the taking photographs of government vehicles and buildings. There are aspects of the order that can be implemented and are in place all the time Northern Ireland notably being one region of the U.K. Where it is actively followed. Mainly with searches of vehicles and property and persons known as section 44. Something that for me and others became part of daily life for many years. Section 44 can only be established by a control order on this side of the shuck. 

 

John if you had the time I would have called his bluff and the desk sergeant hwould have given him an earful and the attending officer could have booked him for illegally parking. 

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Zermattjohn [284 posts] 2 years ago
6 likes

"But he could have easily stopped in the car lane, left the bike lane clear and made drivers go round his car. I'm sure that possibility never even occurred to him, and there lies the problem."

 

Well put - the inherent belief that people in cars are undertaking more important journeys that we must not obstruct, but that pedestrians, cyclists and others not in a car may be is the number 1 misconception that has guided road rules and behaviour for the last 50 years. And it will take at least as long for it to be removed.

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HKCambridge [224 posts] 2 years ago
1 like
bikebot wrote:

Aside from the Policeman PCSO, what sort of a numpty of a town planner puts in a double yelllow line, but doesn't give the cycle lane a solid mandatory line.

 

As mentioned upthread, there are legal minimums for  lane width if they are on a bus route. If there's isn't enough space for bus and cycle lane, options are: ridiculously thin mandatory cycle lane, encouraging close passes, plus full bus lane, or more generous advisory cycle lane within full lane, so at least small vehicle drivers are encouraged to leave more space.

Other reason: mandatory cycle lanes require a TRO, advisory ones don't. Cycle lanes were put on East Rd as an extra when they were resurfaced. This could be done on-the-ground without too much red tape while workers were there redoing the markings. Mandatory lanes probably wouldn't have happened at all, as it would have had to go through paperwork months before the re-surfacing, and been advertised and discussed and go through objections process.

 

In any case, it is my experience most drivers have no idea of the difference between mandatory and advisory cycle lanes anyway.

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HKCambridge [224 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

"At one point in our conversation, the PCSO told me he had parked there because he was responding to a call."

 

Just as I am sure the police car I saw blocking the cycle contra-flow on the corner of Mawson Rd and Mill Rd was reponding to a call. And not, say, using the take-away it was parked outside.

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giff77 [1313 posts] 2 years ago
3 likes

In my experience the police be they regulars or specials is that they think that they are exempt from the law. I regularly see illegally parked vehicles. I also see police vehicles drive through a pedestrian precinct against the flow of delivery vehicles and outwith the operating hours for said delivery vehicles. I can understand if they were on a call but even then my understanding is that they are still bound by the Highways Act and should follow the designated flow of traffic. 

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armb [143 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
HKCambridge wrote:

If there's isn't enough space for bus and cycle lane, options are: ridiculously thin mandatory cycle lane, encouraging close passes, plus full bus lane, or more generous advisory cycle lane within full lane, so at least small vehicle drivers are encouraged to leave more space.

Sadly, some Cambridge councillors have been very much in favour of the "ridiculously thin cycle lane, encouraging close passes" option.
Compare http://www.camcycle.org.uk/resources/cyclelanewidths/
 https://groups.google.com/d/msg/cam.transport/N5aB2X0FPn4/Igeu6mOBrEsJ

(There are newer cycle lanes which may actually be of the recommended width.)
 

 

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whobiggs [146 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

If he was on a call shouldn't he have the blue lights on? Anyway since when did the part timers get cars? Oh and has anyone noticed Colonel Sanders face is pixellated? I guess he has a right to privacy too!  1

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CygnusX1 [871 posts] 2 years ago
1 like
whobiggs wrote:

Oh and has anyone noticed Colonel Sanders face is pixellated? I guess he has a right to privacy too!  1

Which you have just violated by outing him. Call the police!