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Birmingham "vigilante" cyclist tells his story

Protest followed years of police indifference to injured cyclists at notorious junction

One of the riders involved in last week’s confrontation between cyclists and a taxi driver in Birmingham has told the campaigners’ side of the story and denied ever blocking the legal route through the junction.

Campaigners blocked the junction of Belgrave Middleway and Horton Square in Birmingham so that only buses and cyclists could use the lanes designated for them. A taxi driver, Abid Hussain, attempted to drive down the bus-only lane and was blocked by campaigners. After the stand-off that developed, Mr Hussain claimed: “They [the cyclists] were a law unto themselves. I couldn’t move anywhere because of the sheer numbers.

“These people on two wheels, who don’t even pay road tax, were acting like vigilantes.”

Legal route left clear

Not so, says protest participant Stephen Perrin. In a guest blog on the Levenes Cycle Injury site he writes: “[Mr Hussain] claimed, according to Birmingham Mail, that the cyclists surrounded his cab and blocked his way. If that was true then the dozens of law-abiding motorists squeezing through to take the legal route would have been unable to do so. It was he who chose to obstruct the highway.

“The way was clear for him to turn left at any time and was free to leave if he felt in danger as claimed. That he didn't shows an abandonment of his duty of care to his passenger.”

Mr Perrin also explains the background to the protest included the refusal of Birmingham police to take seriously the complaints of cyclists who have been victims of illegal driving at this junction.

A friend of his had been the victim of a hit-and-run collision at the junction, but had refused to complain to the police because a friend more seriously injured in a collision at the junction had been “met with disbelief by West Midlands Police and effectively told off.

“This mirrored an incident I reported to police involving a dangerous overtake by a HGV on the A435. The officer refused to take a report and told me: ‘Roads in Birmingham are dangerous, we know that. Complain to the Council.’

“I've had tangles with taxis and minicabs, private cars, large commercial vans and HGVs, also witnessing another cyclist's near miss with a bus. I've reported a number of these incidents only to be told police would take no action. The police say responsibility lies with Council who in turn blame Plod... lawless!”

Police side with taxi driver

As documented by both the Birmingham Mail and Mr Perrin’s account, police eventually turned up. The official police account says only that the taxi was “moving away” at the time of the evening’s final incident, in which the taxi’s wing mirror was removed.

Stephen Perrin gives a more detailed account of the police’s action at the incident.

“A Community Support Officer showed up and attempted to resolve the matter.

“After some negotiation with the driver she chose to appease the motorist and, after assuring the demonstrators she would instruct the taxi to drive up to Haden Circus, waved it through the bus gate, confirmed by a bystander.

“The cabbie drove his vehicle on the wrong side of the road through a junction towards a group of people. A pedestrian demonstrator came into contact with the taxi resulting in damage to a wing mirror.”

“Police negligence placed a number of people at risk of injury. I understand a complaint of misconduct will be made against the PCSO.”

Notorious junction - Birmingham’s ‘Bow roundabout’

Both Mr Perrin and Birmingham cycle campaign group Push Bikes say this junction is a notorious problem area for cyclists.

In a statement after the protest (incorrectly attributed to Nazan Fennell by the Birmingham Mail), Push Bikes said: “This crossing is a vital link across the ring road for cyclists, with hundreds of cyclists using it every day, but those cyclists' lives are put at risk by other vehicles abusing this lane, and there is a history of serious accidents at this spot.

“Cyclists' lives are put at risk by a minority of drivers who have the attitude that they are the most important people on the road, and no-one else matters, an attitude exemplified by this taxi driver.

“Push Bikes is very disappointed that the first police officer to speak to this taxi driver was uncertain about the meaning of the clear signs at this crossing, and did not persuade the taxi driver to take the legal route out of the bus lane.

“The message from Monday night is clear - our streets are made dangerous by a minority of bad drivers, and it is vitally important for the police and local authorities to punish drivers who think they are above the rules of the road.”

Stephen Perrin points out that there are three schools, a large mosque and a shopping area close to the junction, and hundreds of cyclists pass through it every day on their way between the south of the city and the centre.

He writes: “In an area with such a high concentration of vulnerable road users, routine abuse by motorists of both the bus gate and parking restrictions is met with indifference by police and the local authority; it's only a matter of time before there is another serious incident or even death.”

Push Bikes chair Chris Lowe pointed out that the protest was not organised or sanctioned by the organisation, though it had publicised the flash ride that it developed from, as it does many other Birmingham events . He said: “Push Bikes is in no position to sanction or otherwise the actions of people who were on that demonstration, as it was not our demonstration.

“I will say that Push Bikes does not support damage to private property, and we do hope that the damage to the taxi was accidental rather than deliberate.”

Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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