UPDATED - Local cycling campaigners query "survey" methodology...

Conservatives in Cambridge claim that as the nights draw in, over half the city’s cyclists are riding without lights, following a survey conducted recently at pub chucking-out time on a Sunday and Monday evening.

Party campaigner Andrew Bower and Councillor Chris Howell claim that more than 50% of 100 cyclists spotted on Mill Road Bridge between 11pm and midnight failed to display a rear light. Speaking to the Cambridge News, Bower said “it is clear we need more police enforcement of bicycle lighting so people know it is simply not acceptable to cycle in the dark without lights.”

According to Bower, many of those whose bikes had a front light had not equipped it with a rear one, adding “that is so frightening for any driver who suddenly realises there is a cyclist right in front of them”.

Quite why a driver should only “suddenly” become aware of a cyclist with or without a rear light on a well-lit city-centre street isn’t explained – unless they’re flouting the law themselves by texting, perhaps, or otherwise not driving with due care and attention.

The Conservatives also claim that a proposed £400,000 scheme to improve traffic safety in Mill Road should only be given the go-ahead once police have taken steps to enforce laws against cyclists riding without lights.

That does seem to ignore the fact that a safer road infrastructure would reduce the risk of an accident happening in the first place, lights or no lights. It also seems rather draconian to delay implementation of a scheme designed to improve safety for all road users because of the perceived transgressions of one group.

However, it does seem to reflect a tendency on the Tories’ part to favour the motorist, as evidenced earlier this month at the party’s annual conference where shadow transport minister Theresa Villiers said that if elected, a Conservative government would not fund any more speed cameras in urban areas, a decision that attracted criticism from the London Cycling Campaign.

With the Tories having just one seat on the Liberal Democrat-controlled city council, there appears little chance of the Mill Road scheme being postponed, although as previously reported on road.cc, there has been a crackdown on antisocial cycling in the city in recent months.

And with the clocks going back this weekend, Cambridgeshire Police are set to launch their annual campaign against those riding without lights, with fixed penalty notices issued to transgressors. And campaigns like that in university cities in particular, where a large influx of freshers each autumn sees many young people take to a bike for the first time since childhood, can be beneficial in getting cyclists, and particularly new ones, think more about road safety.

Those initiatives on the part of the local council and the police of course demonstrate that they are well aware that a problem exists with some cyclists, and already have a plan in place to counter that, which makes one wonder what the point of the Conservative “survey” was in the first place, other than an attempt to score some points in the debate over the Mill Road scheme and try to garner a few votes from local motorists.

Local cyclists group Cambridge Cycling Campaign questioned the timing of the survey, with a spokesperson saying, "closing time of pubs would be a good time to find low levels of 'compliance' with the law by many groups, including motorists, and not just cyclists.

The spokesperson pointed out that iIn the peak commuting hours, when it is dark, much larger numbers of cyclists have lights, especially on busy main roads in and around Cambridge. It is on those roads that cyclists without lights are particularly vulnerable, rather than city centre shopping streets, where most police action has in the past been targeted."

They added, "a similar straw poll on such a main commuting road would find a high count of motorist with failed headlights or illegally lit foglights, far exceeding the number of cyclists with no lights."

The Cambridge Cycling Campaign concluded by saying that the group "believes that all cyclists riding in the dark should have lights, and that police enforcement should indeed be stepped up, but that action also needs to be taken against motorists whose illegal lights endanger all road users, but especially vulnerable users, such as
pedestrian and cyclists."

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.