Thursday, October 05, 2006

Column, September 12, 2006

NEWSPAPERS, mused George Bernard Shaw, are unable, seemingly, to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilisation.
I have to admit a vague sense of shame whenever I see that quote, having, in my time reported of a fair few minor disagreements that, under my skilled hand, became furious rows that had, inevitably, erupted, with the various participants storming, raging or fuming depending on which side of the thesaurus I'd got up that day.
It seems though, that while the press may be unable to distinguish between one minor event and the end of the world as we know it, we do not mistake one for the other.
Conwy County Borough councillors have trumped the gutter press it would seem they believe a bicycle accident would be the collapse of civilisation.
This can surely be the only explanation for their, frankly bizarre, decision to refuse permission for a cycle route along that most famous of seafronts Llandudno Prom.
Here was a chance to put the ailing Victorian resort firmly on the map of must-see places for the many cyclists beating a path, or should that be cycleway, to Wales since Sustrans has done so much to make it a cycling heaven.
The Sustrans routes across our country have brought in countless tourists, and their wallets, who have rediscovered the beauty of Wales, be it the breathtaking, literally if youre cycling, mountains of the North, or the industrial heritage of the valleys of the South.
But cycling, it would seem, is a no-no in Llandudno.
And the excuse for this piece of local misgovernment is, wait for it, health and safety.
Yes, the reason they chopped down conker trees in one area, banned sixpences from Christmas puddings and in one school even banned oranges for fear of a child choking on a pip health and safety.
Now, if there were a multitude of people hobbling into ever A&E department in the land, having been mown down by lunatic cyclists on beach-front promenades I would perhaps concede that the burghers of Conwy had a point.
But lets face it, if this was a common occurrence it would have been a plotline in Casualty by now you know the scene, elderly couple amble along seafront unwittingly heading for their doom at the other end of the prom a little lad wobbles along on his bike with stabilisers, mum and dad look proudly on, not knowing that in two minutes their son will slam into grandma and granddad and so will unfold another typical day in Holby General.
In fact, so infrequent are cyclist pedestrian accidents that I had real trouble tracking down any reasonable statistics for this hazard that Conwy councillors fear will blight their promenade.
In a House of Commons answer in 2003 it was revealed that, for that year, 77 pedestrians had been injured by cyclists on the pavement. A shocking figure, but not, perhaps, as shocking as the 3,453 who were hit on the pavement by cars that year.
The councillors of Conwy might also have been cut a little slack if there had been plans to run the peloton of the Tour de France down the promenade as soon as they had allowed a cyclepath there.
Now, much as I would like to see the Tour use the North Wales coast as a stage, Im thinking the Prom would not provide the ideal environment for cycle racing.
In truth, the people most likely to have used this would be children on a day out and tourists gently progressing along the coast. Not Lance Armstrong, head down, hurtling along on a time trial.
The sad thing is that the Llandudno had been suggested as one of the first towns in Wales that could be truly cycle-friendly. And by that it was meant to be along the model of Dutch towns where the cyclist is truly safe and the car is virtually eliminated.
And if the councillors of Conwy had really doubted the ability of cyclists to mingle safely with pedestrians I would have forgiven every last one of them a junket to any Dutch town where they would have seen myriads of cyclists and pedestrians going about their business without significant injury to either.
Fat chance of that vision of Llandudno now though eh? And by fat, I mean artery-clogging, early-death-inducing fat. The sort of fat the government, to its credit, is trying to get off our waistlines by encouraging more of us to get off our backsides and onto bike saddles.
That will only work if there is a perception that cycling is safe. You dont foster that perception by banning cycles from nice, safe promenades and make them take their chances with town-centre traffic.
If the councillors of Conwy were really concerned about health and safety they should not be bothering themselves over a few cyclists, they should be putting 20mph zones in every residential area of their borough. That would really have an effect on public safety.
Im willing to bet that more people have been injured by cars in Llandudno than have by cyclists and yet what is the borough council doing to curb that dreadful dangers in the public midst. Putting more cyclists in the path of cars, thats what.

ONE of the many ways of wasting rather more of your time than you intended on the Internet is to view the Darwin Awards site
The awards are dedicated to those who improve the quality of the human gene pool by removing themselves from it.
Highlights of the 2005 awards for me included the man who decided to weld himself a chimney-cleaning device, using a hand grenade as a weight. Why he wanted to use the grenade is unclear, but the grenade did what grenades are meant to do when he started welding.
Then there was the man whose curiosity got the better of him and he decided to peer down the tube of an rather large rocket firework to see how it worked, and you can probably guess the rest.
So those idiots throwing themselves off a bridge over the Dee in Llangollen and filming themselves in the act can perhaps look forward to a place in the next Darwin awards, or rather, their nearest and dearest can, them not being around to enjoy their fame

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