140 years of campaigning – the future from the past

Lady Harburton
Lady Harberton
We started fighting for cyclists’ rights 140 years ago, and we haven’t stopped since. What’s changed in fourteen decades? And what’s to come? Cycling UK’s Head of Campaigns, Duncan Dollimore, picks up just a few of the many threads in our campaigning history, and draws them all together in honour of our birthday.

Whilst doing some research for this blog, I read about a high profile case concerning a man on a bicycle riding furiously along a road in London who knocked down a pedestrian. But no, it wasn’t the Charlie Alliston case concerning the tragic death of Kim Briggs in 2016, whom Alliston rode into on his fixed wheel bike with no front brake. It was the case of Taylor v Goodwin from 1878, the year that Stanley Cotterell founded the Bicycle Touring Club.

Mr Taylor was prosecuted for “riding furiously” under the 1835 Highway Act, but Taylor’s defence argued that as a bicycle wasn’t defined as a carriage in the 1835 Act, there was no case to answer. The court were having none of it, and on appeal ruled that bicycles were in fact to be considered carriages.

A brilliant victory

That decision was the catalyst for 140 years of campaigning and political lobbying, initially by the Bicycle Touring Club, and then from 1883 onwards by the Cyclists’ Touring Club (CTC), and latterly by Cycling UK.

Whilst Taylor v Goodwin provided some legal status to bicycles, it was feared that this would be watered down if the Local Government Act of 1888 gave county councils the power to create separate by-laws which could then be used to prohibit bicycles from the roads. CTC fought to prevent this, with one of its members Sir John Donnington MP successfully lodging an amendment to the Bill.

Section 85 of the 1888 Act, which enshrined in statute that bicycles were carriages with the legal right to use the roads, represented what was described as “a brilliant victory for the Club” in James Lightwood’s 1928 history of CTC.

Incredibly however, Cycling UK is still having to fight the same battles to maintain these hard won rights.

Banning cyclists

This was true earlier this year when Highways England (HE) decided to try and ban cyclists from the A63 in Humberside.

One hundred and forty years after the 1888 Act, HE were looking to exclude one type of carriage from a public road, but nearly 10,000 of our supporters responded to our call to action opposing the proposed order.

We’re still waiting to hear the outcome of HE’s consultation, but are cautiously optimistic that HE will reconsider, and if they don’t, Cycling UK will once again have to consider the possibility of legal action.

We have of course pursued the legal route many times, and we’ve not always won, or at least we’ve not always won the court case. I put it that way, because sometimes you lose the battle but win the war. When you’re standing up for causes, the fact that you lose a court case doesn’t necessarily mean you were wrong to bring it.

Michael Mason

I reflected on this last year following the conclusion of the Michael Mason case.

On 25 February 2014, Michael Mason, known as Mick, was cycling along London’s Regent Street when he was hit from behind by a car driven by Gail Purcell.

Mick suffered fatal injuries and passed away 19 days later, but the police declined to refer the case to the Crown Prosecution Service or ask them for advice, so Cycling UK’s Cyclists’ Defence Fund (CDF) commenced a private prosecution of Ms Purcell for causing Mick’s death by careless driving.

CDF was set up in 2001 to fight for cyclists’ rights in the courts, and has been funded by donations from members and supporters ever since, with £80,000 being raised through a crowdfunding campaign to cover the costs of the private prosecution of Ms Purcell.

Although the trial judge decided that there was a case for Ms Purcell to answer, the jury acquitted her. This led me to briefly question our decision to bring the case.

In reality however, campaigning sometimes involves noisy defeats and quiet victories, and if we ask ourselves whether the Mason case helped highlight failings in the justice system around careless and dangerous driving cases, and whether Mick's family thought that bringing the case achieved some form of justice for Mick, the answer to both those questions is a resounding yes.

So we may have lost the case, but it was not necessarily a defeat.

Rational dress

And the same could be said of another bold court case brought by CTC back in 1899, after Lady Harberton, wearing 'rational' cycling dress, was refused service at the Hautboy Hotel in Ockham, Surrey.

Some arguments just don't seem to go away!

Duncan Dollimore, Head of Campaigns

Back then, many people were keen to tell women what they should or shouldn't wear while cycling, and CTC were right to challenge this, just as we continue to challenge those who argue that cyclists should be forced to wear helmets or hi-viz clothing. Some arguments just don't seem to go away!

Bridleways and paths

Cycling UK's campaigning has not been limited to on-road riding, however.

Back in 1968, thanks to campaigning by CTC, cyclists won the right to cycle on bridleways when the Countryside Act was passed.

But progress towards increasing off-road access for cyclists has been slow since then, with the Welsh Government failing to grasp the opportunity a few months ago to open up more paths for use by cyclists and horse riders, despite the huge support Cycling UK's Trails for Wales campaign stirred up for their initial proposals. 

We intend, as always, to move on from this set back without any loss of enthusiasm, and have asked to meet with the relevant minister later this month. 

The future from the past

Having skipped briefly through 140 years of campaigning, you may ask what we're likely to be campaigning on in the future?

Well, I started this blog with reference to the Charlie Alliston case, which led the Government to announce a review of cycling offences. We're expecting that review to commence shortly, a move that will undoubtedly lead to calls for cyclists to pay road tax, be licensed and registered, amidst a misleading narrative that somehow cyclists present the biggest danger on the roads.

Cycling UK will be campaigning to focus attention on the real sources of harm on our roads, calling once again for the full review of road traffic offences and penalties that was promised four years ago.  

On another theme, we'll also be pressing for more funding for cycling. In 2015, our campaigning helped lead to the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy being included in the Infrastructure Act but, while applauding the aim of the strategy when it was published, there's never been enough investment.

That's what we'll be campaigning to change in the coming months, so watch this space!