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London cargo bike mum who was victim of social media pile-on for cycling on pavement explains why she does it

“Harassment of me and my family is not about cycling on pavements or danger to pedestrians; it is about revenge” says Sylvia Gauthereau

A London cargo bike user and cycling campaigner who was this week subjected to a social media pile-on after pictures of her riding on the pavement, with her daughter in the cargo box, were shared to a local Facebook group and other platforms, has given a detailed explanation of why she avoids riding on the road at the location in question.

In an opinion piece for Sylvia Gauthereau, who is a trustee of London Cycling Campaign and co-chairs its policy forum, outlines why she uses “that pavement and that crossing at that location consciously, deliberately, and regularly, for my own and my children’s safety,” and highlights that “The real issue here is the complete lack of safe cycling provision on the A5 and the lack of connectivity to the side streets.”

It’s a post that clearly expresses why inadequate provision of safe routes in many parts of the capital, and other cities in the UK, leads many cyclists to adapt their riding to cope with the hazards found at a particular location, and also explores some of the specific issues women face while cycling and on social media.

So, over to Sylvia …

I am THAT cargo bike mum and cycling campaigner, and this is why I cycle briefly on that pavement.

I am a busy working mum who cycles everywhere. I already had a lot on this week and could have done without being in the middle of a nasty social media pile on. At least it was good to know people do see me on my cycle.

Cycling on the pavement or using a pedestrian crossing would never be my first choice, but I do it out of necessity at that specific location where I have been photographed, in an attempt to be ‘shamed’. It is not a lapse in judgement. I use that pavement and that crossing at that location consciously, deliberately, and regularly, for my own and my children’s safety. I do so with due consideration to others and within the spirit of relevant regulation. Given the weight and size of my cargo bike, I ride across because it is more manoeuvrable that way, I need to keep momentum to aim at the uphill dropped kerb between four bollards on the other side.

The alternative would be to continue straight ahead, move from the left to the right (on a major road) and wait for a gap in traffic further along between a lane of moving traffic including buses and trucks on my left, and on the right, one lane of moving traffic and a bus lane. It is barely possible for even the most skilled and experienced solo cyclist, and I often have my kids on board.

The A-road running through my neighbourhood is utterly hostile to cyclists and pedestrians, and no one is taking responsibility for it. Whenever I use this turn on rare occasions, my entire body is lit up with alarm bells, signalling to my brain: get out of here! And I also have to time it right with pedestrians potentially crossing the side street, so I don’t risk ending up yielding to them in the way of an incoming bus or vehicle. At that precise moment, I am the only person in the entire world who can evaluate the levels within which I feel safe, the threshold of tolerance I can manage from the anxiety of danger around me. No one else can.

I also found myself on several occasions prevented from positioning myself on the right, to wait for that gap in traffic. Despite putting my hand up well in advance, some drivers just go ahead regardless. When I do it too early, I get beeped. This caused me to miss that turn and I had to cycle to the next side street, turn left to do a u-turn, wait some more to have drivers letting me across, back on the A road. It’s just insane.

The real issue here is the complete lack of safe cycling provision on the A5 and the lack of connectivity to the side streets. Cycling provision in outer London boroughs is appalling and very neglected. Actual cycling infrastructure is patchy to non-existent, below design standards, scary, uninviting, and exclusive, despite a huge and well evidenced appetite for cycling, healthier lives, and better air quality. So, what do we do then to stay safe? Well, we do what we can and when you add a child into the mix, even more so. So, it means going on the pavement at some point.

I started cycling out of necessity – to embed the school run in my work commute, to free up two hours per day in my life. Women cycling have interestingly different patterns from many men who ride; we do more quick short trips, from school to playground, to dentist/optician appointments, after-school club, errands, and other caring related work (we can have the debate about sharing the caring load another day).

I am a practical person. When I see a problem, I try to find a solution. Am I a traffic engineer? No. Am I a local elected politician with the powers to solve this? No. So campaigning was the solution to this specific problem, and I became a cycling campaigner because I started cycling. For me, for you, for my friends and for my two children, neither of whom has been able to cycle to school regularly so far. When they do cycle with me, it is mentally exhausting, there is far too much risk. You have to constantly calculate all the different scenarios that could unfold and think of the matching manoeuvres to prevent any potentially dangerous situation turning into an horrific one.

Covid has sharpened feelings about quality of life, about caring for our neighbours, and about our future. After what we have all been through, why are we now wavering over Low Traffic Neighbourhoods for example, which are one of the best ways of giving people the chance to cut back on sedentary lifestyles, get out and about walking or cycling for short local journeys, with a great knock on effect for physical activity levels and mental health? The choices made over transport affect our quality of life and have implications for everyone from the youngest to the oldest. It is unforgivable to keep avoiding this conversation.

This recent harassment of me and my family is not about cycling on pavements or danger to pedestrians; it is about revenge. Revenge for me standing up and publicly voicing an opinion, with an added special layer reserved for women where the basic decency seems to be even more acceptable to forgo. Cycling as a woman in London has exposed me to comments on the way I look, what I wear or not wear, a free for all to comment on my parenting and mansplaining on what type of cycle I use. Sharing an identifiable photograph of my child to hurt me says far more about the author of this social media post than it does about me.

I became a campaigner because of my lived experiences, and I can tell you that London is changing. I can see it and smell it. I can see the change in driving behaviour too, I can see more drivers giving me more space when overtaking, I can see more eye contact and basic courtesy, I can see all the other parents cycling with a child seat on the rear carrier, I can see the wider variety of cycles and all the different types of people cycling, including more children cycling to school. I see you and I applaud you. 

So, if you too want to stand up to those who want to bully us off the road, join your local cycling group, email your councillors and demand better now.

This content has been added by a member of the staff

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