A reply to Celia Walden: You owe Tom Barrett a profound apology

I’ve never heard of Celia Walden* before, but my Google Alert on “cyclist” and “killed” has just drawn my attention to her. She’s the author of just another rant against cyclists which has been published in the “Daily Telegraph”.

Celia is describing a close call with a female cyclist who

swerved into the middle of my lane without signalling. There was no helmet, of course, and no high-visibility gear – which would have marred the whole sunny tableau. The worst accident she could think of was that her skirt might flutter up to reveal a charming pair of white cotton knickers.

In the next paragraph Celia confesses:

basically I loathe all London cyclists. (…) these people live in a fantasy world. (…) Traffic signals don’t apply to London cyclists, up there as they are on the moral high ground with their officially endorsed sense of righteousness. Sociologically, polls have shown that they tend to be a preening, upper-middle class bunch.

The most shocking sentence comes in the third paragraph:

At least she, after a near-death experience with a London bus or the onset of a little light drizzle, will permanently withdraw from the roads.

Apparantly, this Celia Walden thinks that near-death experiences for cyclists are a good thing which teach them a lesson. I wonder what she would tell the father of Jayne Helliwell, 25, who had a more-than-near-death experience with a bus last year (the bus driver was charged with dangerous driving after the crash).

Reading Celias article in a week where another London cyclist has been killed by a lorry is not just unsettling. It’s utterly disgusting. Until today, according to my statistics at least seven cyclists have been killed on London roads in 2011.

Maybe I’m expecting too much from a Telegraph journalist but some research before writing an article might be a nice idea. Well, I’m here to help:

Celia, do you seriously think that Barrett (he commanded a squadron in Iraq and Afghanistan and was awarded an Order of the British Empire), Mason ( he was “notable for his iron chin, stout heart and thunderous punching power”, according to the Telegraph) and Hawkes ( “one of Britain’s leading child protection experts”, listen to him on Radio 4 ) “have lived in a “fantasy world”?

Do you think they deseve to be loathed?

Do I deserve to be loathed?

One thing is for sure: Tom, Gary and Colin have permanently been withdrawn from the roads, if I may use your words.

Celia, I’m really shocked by your degree of callousness. I don’t understand how the editors of the “Daily Telegraph” dare to print such highly cynical stuff.

In the name of Tom Barrett, Gary Mason and Colin Hawkes (as well as all those other cyclists who have been innocently killed and injured by dodgy drivers in London) I expect a profound apology. Otherwise I would conclude that you just think they just got what they deserved.

* That’s why I’ve misspelled her first name as “Celina” in an earlier version of this article.

My spreadsheet with detailed information on fatal cycling accidents in London since 2006: http://bit.ly/cycling-london

My map showing the locations for fatal cycling accidents in London since 2006: http://bit.ly/cycle-crash-map-london

19 thoughts on “A reply to Celia Walden: You owe Tom Barrett a profound apology

  1. I wonder if this infringes the editors’ code, making a complaint to the PCC a viable option.

    Whenever I read these sorts of articles I mentally substitute “cyclist” for any one of a variety of minority groups, and see if it would still sound appropriate to a mainstream audience. Articles like this are bigotry, plain and simple. I expect better, even from right-wing rags like the Torygraph.

    1. Downfader

      It may not violate a PCC code due to the fact its an “opinion” peice. Papers like the Mail and Times have for years loved opinion articles due to the fact they can bend the truth a little (look at Clarkson’s Times/Sun article, or Matthew Paris in The Times, or Jan Moir ranting about gay people in The Mail)

      I would complain anyway, it gives the PCC something to chew on and may make them adjust their guidelines. Also write to the Editor and the letters pages with your critique, the more who send an email or letter the more chance of a publication

  2. Arrogant attitude at best, dangerous influence at worst.

    Celia Warden is what I would call a picture-perfect motorist. Thanks for reminding me of that species.

    File under keywords “dinosaur”, “doesn’t get it”, “victim blaming”, “bully” but mostly “sad” and “ignorant”.

  3. Thanks for alerting us to this article. This kind of gutter journalism deserves to be outed wherever and whenever it appears. It’s not just amazing that someone ‘intelligent’ enough to get a job at the Telegraph can hold such outragous views – but that we live in a society where it is considered acceptable to publish them.

    Thirty years after I started cycling in London because it was simply the fastest and cheapest way to get around it still feels like we are fighting a losing battle against attitudes like this.

    Reminds me why I don’t read the Telegraph!!

    1. Last year (I had been living for 6 months in this country) I wanted to buy mineral water at a WHS. The bottle of Buxtons was 1.80 pounds. However, WHS was doing a promotion for the “Telegraph”. A copy of the paper plus the same bottle of water was only 1 pounds. This was the first time I was really reading the Telegraph. Afterwardy, I was always happy to pay 0.80 pounds extra for NOT having to read the paper….

    2. Downfader

      The Telegraph is still a good paper.OK it has a political bias but the reporting is generally very good.

      I think it needs its readership to write in and show the paper how unwarranted the article is. If they think they’re damaging their potential to sell papers, or expose people to advertising they’ll have to adopt a change in attitude.

  4. Rufus

    I honestly fail to see how a cyclist can come to be injured by an HGV turning left, unless he has tried to pass it on its left-hand side, as it slowed to negotiate the turn.

    In that case, it’s quite clear how ‘undertaking’ acquired its nick-name.

    1. Pete Cruze

      Rufus, drop the bad taste humour, just close your eyes and imagine any of these…

      1 Cyclist properly makes way to the front of stationary queue of traffic to reach advanced forward space at a junction, driver doesn’t look and just cuts left

      2 Cyclist is riding along the road normally, vehicle comes from behind and just turns left. Then shouts at the cyclist lying on the road.

      3 Cyclist is well ahead of vehicle on the advanced forward space at a junction; the driver nevertheless accelerates and tries to overtake the bike around the outside while turning left

      I have seen 1 and 2 and have been number 3. The funny thing is that after flat hand thumping the outside of the large white van in an attempt to persuade the driver not to be so silly, you tend to get a lesson in unimaginative expletives followed by a road-rage race around the neighbourhood (but don’t worry, the bike always gets away!)

      1. Rufus

        Peter, it’s not bad taste humour: the police call passing on the left (on motorways) ‘undertaking’, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s in The Highway Code, too.

        I hoped to save lives with my comment, not have a laugh, but you still seem to mis-understand.

        In scenarios 2 and 3 the motorist is clearly at fault and I wouldn’t defend his actions.

        But in case 1, you’ve almost admitted that impatient cyclists are guilty of the very folly which I described. If a vehicle is in the left-hand lane, at or near a left-hand turn junction, clearly signalling intention to turn left, then NOBODY SHOULD EVER PASS IT ON ITS LEFT, not a push bike nor a Centurion tank!

        Bikers doing that may “reach advanced forward space”, but at the Pearly Gates, unless God is with them.

        No matter if you detest me: should only ONE cyclist see what I mean, and cease putting himself in that risky position, because of my advice, I’d be happier.

        In 40 years of driving (when not cycling) on the roads, I’ve saved quite a few bikers by guessing what they’re going to do, (suddenly, without warning), and avoiding them.

        Now, what has any cyclist ever done for me?

  5. @Rufus:

    On all roads, undertaking is permitted if the vehicles in the lane to the right are queueing and slow moving. The cycle lane feeding into the ASL still constitutes a lane.

    It is an interesting idea that your driving has “saved” many cyclists over they years, since people in motor vehicles are the source of danger to cyclists and pedestrians and are thus responsible for making sure your choice to operate a fast, heavy and wide motor vehicle on the public highway does not cause harm to anyone else. By not killing/maiming anyone you are merely driving as all drivers should in order to be permitted to use a motor vehicle in a public place. Similarly, I’ve saved loads of people in my years of going out in public by not stabbing anyone, as is expected of me.

    1. Rufus

      No it’s NOT! Passing on the left of a vehicle which is clearly about to turn left, and has indicated that intention, is not permitted, it”s damn foolhardy, just as overtaking a right-turning vehicle on its right would be.

      Cyclists seem to have invented that non-existent traffic regulation because it suits them, or so they think, to squeeze through tiny gaps wshere they are, next to the kerb, to gain ground. But when an HGV driver fails to see that they’ve done that, just as he began to turn, they angrily condemn him for any accident.

      Yeah, I try to drive correctly, obeying all laws that apply to my car: I haven’t a problem with cyclists who ride correctly, too. But many don’t, and a couple I’ve encountered might have been dead if I hadn’t read their bee-in-a bonnet minds.

      Your tone proves my original comment that too many cyclists carry a chip on their shoulder.

      1. Downfader

        Technically Colostomy is right. If there is a lane denoted by solid or dashed lines, or vehicles are queing to turn right you are allowed to filter on the left.

        There are sadly incidents where motorists have failed to indicate, or cyclists have ended up or put themselves in blindspots.

        Its not a chip on the shoulder, its the way you phrased the comments above. This is a sensitive issue that requires tact.

  6. Rufus

    When somebody stubbornly sticks to a point that they’ve already contradicted by their own words, I’d call that a chip on the shoulder, or a bee in the bonnet.

    Some cyclists insist on believing that they have the right to pass standing traffic in any lane, on any side of the vehicles in those lanes, just to ‘gain advantage’, as one has written here.

    I don’t object to that, but as with ‘caveat emptor’ in commerce, the party at most risk must take the most care. The cyclist squeezing through a narrow gap must ensure for himself that the gap won’t disappear when traffic moves off again.

    If a cyclist rides along to the left of a 10 metre bus or HGV in a queue, after it has stopped, when it’s clearly about to turn left, he must realise he’s in a fraught situation; if he doesn’t make the left turn immediately, before the vehicle sets off, he could be jammed against the nearside kerb. Worse still, if he cycles STRAIGHT AHEAD, then he will risk a collision in which he suffers injury.

    How can any cyclist fail to see the danger there? How can any young, male, city cyclist with a chip on his shoulder insist that he should be able to behave so with impunity?

    Perhaps it’s a metropolitan thing? As a Northerner, I always find London people to be impatient, rude and self-obsessed, but maybe that’s a chip on MY shoulder.

  7. Viv

    I’d just say that I completely agree with Rufus – and I don’t think he’s having a go at cyclists – far from it. I have seen cyclists acting irresponsibly – ‘jumping’ red lights, creeping up on the left of lorries etc and this really is indefensible – it’s like my crazy SIL, who I have seen walking the WRONG way up a cycle-lane where there’s no pavement – reading her newspaper as she goes. That is also completely irresponsible. Honestly – I cycle myself, and am very pro-cyclist, but some cyclists do seem to think that the rules of the road are not for them. By the way, the original point still obviously holds – what a dreadful way to write about someone possibly getting injured :(

  8. Marie A

    I am not against all cyclists but what i am against is the disregard for the rest of the public that is the offence of quite a few cyclists out there. I think the main problem is that there are many cyclists who don’t abide by the highway code and seem to think that they don’t have to stop at a red light, don’t have to signal and think nothing of riding on the pavement to avoid getting caught at traffic lights.

    Now I know there are many cyclists out there who do abide by the rules of the road, that are considerate of other road users and pedestrians but and maybe its just my bad luck but in the space of 1 week in my local area I and other parents doing the school run have suffered the following.

    Cyclists jumping red lights and swerving round young children (my son included who is 4) at speed, ignoring people already crossing a road on a pedestrian crossing and almost clipping them, and in the worst case I have seen a cyclist cutting up a car causing them to swerve then hurling abuse at them when the driver tooted his horn.

    I have had several arguements with cyclists who have almost hit me or my son when we are crossing a particular road. This road is a junction and all the traffic lights go red and the green man shows so that people can cross. The green man is on for a limited time and these numbers are not an exageration out of 30 cyclists observed by myself and another mum from my sons school only 5 of them stopped at red lights, signaled to other road users if they intended to turn and had the appropriate equipment on.

    I have also seen a cyclist hit a young child on the pavement when the childs mother bent down to pick up something she had dropped.

    The local police do nothing to make sure cyclists abide by the rules. The local authority says its for the police to deal with. So what will be the outcome?
    Who makes it safe for those who choose to walk their children to school.

    There is no compulsory training (like you have for cars and moterbikes), they dont need a licence. In fact any idiot with enough money can go into a bike shop buy a bike and ride out on the road and cause an accident and as they aren’t insured to ride them people cant claim on their insurance or in the case of a pedestrian cant claim compensation.

    I am not saying cyclists should be banned what I am suggesting is that the government steps in and makes training compulsory so that cyclists do not harm or endanger themselves or other road users. I am also suggesting that bikes must have some way to identify them like a licence on a car or moterbike so that those who are not responsible can then be caught and fined and forced to take training.

    Its not an unreasonable request and I am sure that any of you who are parents who cycle must agree that children must be protected from these idiots who think that they can do what they want when they want and damn anyone who gets in their way even if it is a child

    1. Marie A

      i ment to say the worst thing was seeing the child get hit by the cyclist i am just angry as i had to dive out of the way dropping my shopping and breaking my eggs from a cyclist going the wrong way down a one way street and yet again my point made

    2. Talk to any proper cyclist, scan any of the internet forums, read any of the press releases from cyclist clubs or campaigns (CTC, British Cycling etc) – all promote legal and responsible riding. The issue here really is that there are problem areas and problem times, and the lack of Police involvement.

      Though this is not exclusive to cycling – motoring too is vastly under-policed.

      Compulsory training will not happen (it would cost too much to change the law, many will simply give up cycling as a result – why cycle when you can drive).We have compulsory training with motoring and it hasnt quelled the many, many offences committed daily

      …over £200 million is spent by authorities trying to tackle pavement and other illegal parking.
      …the cost to the UK taxpayer is £32 billion a year (according to ROSPA) to police and mop up after the death and injuries – 200,000+ injured, 2500+ killed a year involving motoring.
      …and we havent even mentioned speeding, mobile phone use or seat belt issues which are proven to be on the increase.

      Why bring in compulsory training when its easier, cheaper and more effective to simply get the Police to tackle the issues?

      We also have to remember that the idiots who do ride antisocially wont be reached by the CTC or British Cycling, they wont read the internet forums or blogs on legal cycling, they wont be involved with club rides… they need to be tackled direct by the Police.

  9. Katja Leyendecker

    I’d like to urge Marie A to see the bigger picture. Yes, some of us are annoying, even dangerous. And that goes for the whole of society. As someone whose main modes of getting around are walking and cycling, I’d rather be mowed down by an inconsiderate cyclist and live, than an inconsiderate motorist and die.

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