As 80-year-old Margaret Ellis ventured out shopping yesterday she was on high alert. She was on the look-out for cyclists, terrified of being hit by one tearing along the pavement. Meanwhile, cyclist Jude Carroll was trying to dodge unwary tourists stepping out in front of her.
In Oxford, Britain's premier cycling city, and all over the country, a battle is being waged between pedestrians and cyclists.
According to the latest official figures, the cyclists are winning. The number of prosecutions of cyclists for riding on pavements has plummeted, prompting one Labour MP to call for the law that bans them from doing so be scrapped. It would be a popular move with cyclists, who insist they go on pavements because the roads are often too dangerous for them.
Martin Salter, MP for Reading West, told The Independent on Sunday: "I can hardly blame the police for not prosecuting the cyclists. In London and the South-East, the cyclists risk life and limb on overcrowded roads. This law is so discredited, it should be reviewed and dropped. We have an epidemic of crack cocaine and the police have better things to do than arrest cyclists."
He knows his views will not be welcomed by at least one of his constituents, who is blind, and who complained about the hazards of walking around Reading while dodging pavement cyclists.
Margaret Ellis, walking with the aid of a stick in Oxford's Queen Street, does not agree with the MP. "I am rather elderly and I can stagger sideways and there can be a cyclist coming up silently behind me. They shouldn't be on the pavements."
Ms Carroll, 53, said the problem was not the cyclists but the tourists. "Oxford people are fine, but yesterday I had to speak to a Japanese lady sternly because she was looking the wrong way. If I had not stopped I would have hit her.
"When I am the pedestrian I do not have any problems, although we should adopt what the Dutch do and have bells.
"As a cyclist I try to avoid the pavement. But if I have got to go on the pavement I have got a right to be there."
Fellow cyclists also claimed riding on pavements was acceptable. Ervin Fodor said: "When I see it is full of people I get off."
Nick Hamilton said: "The problem in Oxford is that you have got some cycle routes that just stop, and you are faced with a mass of traffic and often you have to go on to the pavement. I have had quite a few close shaves but no accidents."
Hardy cyclist Chelsea Mount, aged 23 years, whizzed down a pavement along Cornmarket Street, on her way to the bank. Adjusting her wrap-around sunglasses she said: "I'm not too bad and I trust myself. I move pretty quickly. I try to move in an out of the slow."
Home Office figures show that prosecutions of cyclists for riding on the pavement over the past five years were very patchy. In Essex in 1998, for example, there were 241 prosecutions and in Hampshire, there appears to have been a sudden purge on the pavement bikers with 496 prosecutions, compared to only five in the whole of Avon and Somerset and 54 for the entire London Metropolitan police area.
Since then, the number of prosecutions in the most anti-cyclist police areas has plummeted. Hampshire remains the top of the national league for prosecutions of cyclists but the number of cases has dropped to only 29 in the year 2000. The Met brought only 10 cases.
There were no prosecutions in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, the City of London, Staffordshire, Surrey, Sussex and Cambridgeshire.
John Major, the former Prime Minister who lives near Cambridge, once rhapsodised about an England where maidens rode their cycles across the village greens. These days they can ride across the pavements with hardly any risk of being apprehended. When figures for 2001 are published in the autumn, they are likely to show a further fall in prosecutions.
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