Ban on bicycles divides city: Sun is about to set on two-wheeled right of way in row that has split local authorities

BICYCLES, as much a part of Cambridge as its colleges, are to be banned permanently from the main thoroughfare in a controversy that has turned town against gown, set city council against county council, and split the local Labour party, writes Christian Wolmar.

Cambridge is one of few cities in Britain where the bike is a dominant mode of transport. Cycling there is genteel, with basket-on-the-front models preferred to mountain bikes. But the reaction of the cycling lobby to the planned ban in car-free Sydney Street, is anything but.

Elizabeth Arndt, transport campaigner for the local branch of Friends of the Earth, said: 'They are making cyclists take ways round the city which are more dangerous. Accidents are bound to happen.' The Labour-controlled city council is opposed to the ban but it is the support of the Labour group on the hung county council that will enable the Tories, who instituted a temporary ban, to confirm it tomorrow.

The chairman of the county council, Chris Bradford, is a Liberal Democrat. Like all his colleagues, he is fervently opposed. The street is in his ward and he says that he was the only councillor to attend a public inquiry into the ban: 'They showed a video in which, although people say they are scared of getting hit by a cyclist in pedestrian areas, they don't behave so. For example, they will not hold on to little children as they would on a road.'

The ban, in force since summer 1991, will be made permanent at a county council meeting tomorrow unless there is a change of heart by the 21 Labour councillors.

The advocates of the ban depict cyclists as speeding hooligans. Dave Kelleway, Labour's transport spokesman on the county council and an occasional cyclist, said: 'Cyclists weave in and out, dodging pedestrians and can reach speeds of 30 miles an hour. Pedestrians and cyclists do not mix. There are lots of other towns where cycles are banned, such as Peterborough. I don't see why there is such a fuss.'

(Photograph omitted)