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Antony Antoniou – Reform UK Northampton North
Prospective Parliamentary Candidate
(PPC) 2024 General Election

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Reckless Cyclists Turning UK Roads into Danger Zones

Reckless Cyclists Turning UK Roads into Danger Zones

Adrenaline-Fuelled Users of Fitness Apps Chasing Personal Records at the Expense of Public Safety

Chelsea Embankment, 7am on a summer morning, ought to be one of London’s more serene spots for commuters. The houseboats bobbing gently, dog walkers strolling along the wide riverside pavements beneath the dappled shade of the London planes. The 20mph speed limit encourages even taxis to maintain a relaxed pace.

If only it weren’t for the two-wheeled boy racers hurtling around the bend at the yacht club, transforming this stretch into one of the capital’s most hotly contested – and illegal – time trials.

A staggering 52mph is the record logged on Strava for a 0.63km segment of this 20mph zone hugging the Thames. The “King of the Mountain” for the “Tite St to Chelsea Bridge” segment completed it in just 27 seconds one Tuesday morning last July. Newly crowned, he no doubt sped on, flushed with victory, towards Millbank and over Vauxhall Bridge. One can only imagine the sense of accomplishment as he checked his phone to find his mates could now admire his morning exploits.

To date, over 122,000 people have attempted this particular covert race route, one of hundreds that have emerged across London and other UK cities, digitally mapped as invisible courses for cyclists chasing kudos and bragging rights.

There are no start and finish gantries, no race marshals – just a cyclist’s phone zipped into a pocket or mounted on their handlebars, measuring every metric as they charge along in pursuit of a personal best or an opportunity to eclipse a rival’s time.

For these underground athletes, GPS fitness apps have become an obsession, allowing them to map routes or choose from a growing library of user-generated segments in their quest to outshine their peers. In 2023, over 120 million people worldwide used Strava, the most popular of these apps – up from 95 million the previous year and just 20 million in 2016. For many, they are simply a useful fitness tool. But for others, critics warn, they are turning Britain’s roads into death traps.

The apps came under fire this week from the Royal Parks, who wrote to Strava and competitors demanding the outer circle of Regent’s Park be removed from their platforms. In June 2022, 81-year-old Hilda Griffiths was struck by a cyclist in the park and later died from her injuries. Brian Fitzgerald, a director at Credit Suisse, was involved in the collision. He was part of a “fast group” of cyclists reaching up to 29mph in a 20mph zone when Mrs Griffiths was hit. Fitzgerald had been using a Garmin device to time laps.

An inquest heard that while police concluded Fitzgerald could not be prosecuted as speed limits don’t legally apply to pedal cyclists, they said the “culture of cycling” in the park, with people “racing” to log faster times, had contributed to the tragedy. Mrs Griffiths’ son, Gerard, said over 35 cycling clubs use the green space as an informal “velodrome”.

Just last month, The Telegraph revealed another dog walker was seriously injured by a cyclist at the same Regent’s Park spot. Paolo Dos Santos is still waiting to hear if the Metropolitan Police will charge the rider who allegedly strayed onto the wrong side of the road while “overtaking a car”.

A Strava spokesperson offered condolences to Mrs Griffiths’ family, saying: “The behaviours related to this incident violate Strava’s community standards.” They noted it is possible to flag hazardous cycling routes within the app, disabling leaderboards and achievement badges. “Anyone can report a segment that they deem hazardous…Any Strava user will receive a warning about the hazards on that route.”

However, while apps like Strava leave it largely to users to identify risks, concern is growing over the impact of this new breed of competitive amateur cycling on Britain’s streets.

Official UK statistics show 462 people were injured by cyclists in 2022, up from 437 the previous year when one person died, and 308 in 2020 with four fatalities. This week, the government agreed to create new offences of causing death or serious injury through dangerous or careless cycling, closing a loophole that had capped sentences at just two years’ imprisonment under a 19th-century law designed for horse-drawn carriages. Offenders could now face life terms.

Ask pedestrians about the menace posed by speeding cyclists and the sentiment is unanimous. On Reddit, people despair at new housing developments suddenly gaining Strava “segments” as attracting “cycle enthusiasts” who “race down it with little care about who else is using it”.

“I have been on the path when an irresponsible cyclist has zoomed past me,” writes one woman walking her dogs on a new shared path. “We all use it for dog walks, kids playing and family cycles, so having bikes whizz by with no warning is so dangerous.”

Strava’s leaderboards for these hotspot segments often have catchy names like the “Whitehall Tourist Dodge” – a half-mile stretch where over 92,000 cyclists have tried to beat the 42mph record. While some top times are set by professionals on closed roads, most are logged by amateur enthusiasts.

In Manchester, one of the most popular is “Gun it to the lights” on Oxford Road, a 0.26-mile section with a 20mph limit but a top speed of 47mph. In Birmingham’s Lee Bank Underpass (30mph limit), no one has topped 46mph since May 2019, while over 40,000 attempts have been made on Calthorpe Road at up to 38mph.

Even scenic Richmond Park isn’t immune, despite its 10mph trails and 20mph roads. “A cyclist screamed at us ‘I’m doing a time trial!'”, one woman recalls, “acting like we should feel bad for holding him up when he was going way above the limit.”

Another describes how “bikes regularly whizz up behind us on shared paths with no warning – you can’t tell which side they’re coming from. It’s so dangerous.”

According to Strava data, the current King of the Mountain for the park’s most popular 0.8-mile segment up Sawyers Hill completed it in 1 minute 36 seconds – over 30mph.

Some Strava fans argue the dangerous cyclists are a small minority, claiming “The idea there are cyclists all over London obsessed with setting PBs on flat, pedestrian-heavy roads is fanciful.” Though they admit Richmond and Regent’s are “exceptions” due to their popularity with cycling clubs: “large groups cycling anti-socially on roads not designed for packs travelling at very high speed.”

For most, they say, publicly logging times simply provides “accountability” during training. But others admit the apps actively “encourage” them to “cycle faster” even on casual rides: “Because you’re still on the clock and want to meet or beat a time.”

The problem, critics argue, is that these impromptu time trials are unfolding on urban roads whose primary purpose should be allowing all road users – drivers, sensible cyclists and pedestrians – to travel safely from A to B, not hosting an unofficial daily Tour de France.

Perhaps apps like Strava could be repurposed to help pedestrians avoid these racetrack segments? Or the lycra-clad masses could take their need for speed to the nearest velodrome, and leave Britain’s streets free for their intended purpose.

Comment

It’s only a matter of weeks since Auriol Grey was released from prison, where she has spent over a year, because she waved her arms at a cyclist who was riding on the path and the cyclist wobbled on to the road into the path of a car and died.

Entitled and aggressive cyclists have become a threat to pedestrians in towns and cities across the UK, yet they seem to get away with murder. In fact, just last week, a cyclist who knocked down an elderly lady at 29mpg in a 20mph zone, walked free because there is not speed limit for cyclists.

This is becoming a serious problem and one that is in urgent need of addressing.

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