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PSNI Facebook post sparks cyclists' anger over single file riding advice

Published 13/11/2015

Ambitious plans to improve Belfast's cycle network are due to go on display this week
Ambitious plans to improve Belfast's cycle network are due to go on display this week

A PSNI post on Facebook advising cyclists to travel in single file has sparked anger among the pedal-powered community.

In a post, published on a number of the PSNI's Facebook pages, the force advised how it was against the law to cycle at night without a white front light, a red backlight and a red reflector.

However, the post went on to say groups of cyclists should travel in single file, "not two or three abreast".

This sparked anger among cyclists as it appeared to contradict the advice in the Highway Code, which states cyclists should travel no more than two abreast.

The Highway Code goes on to say cyclists "should ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends".

However, the PSNI's post did not mention this.

Cyclists took to social media to criticise the police saying it added to the the anger they faced from motorists.

Speaking on the BBC's Stephen Nolan Show, Inspector Rosie Leech said police were not forcing cyclists to travel in single file and that the posts were designed to encourage safe road use in the darker winter nights.

She also said the advice around the matter was "woolly", but that cyclists who were founded to be riding carelessly, inconsiderate or dangerously could face a penalty notice, or prosecution.

She said this not about "demonising cyclists" and that in the past two years there were five people prosecuted for careless cycling.

"It is subjective," she added: "You have to look at all the factors involved."

Cyclist Gerard Farrell said those on the road on a bicycle should allow vehicles to overtake.

He added: "The thing about this post is that it looks to have got the motorists angry as it led them to believe that cyclists should not ride two abreast at any time."

A police spokeswoman added: "The purpose of the Facebook post was to encourage cyclists to be aware of, and think about their personal safety when cycling on public roads, particularly at night and as we enter the darker winter months.

"The post did not state that for cyclists to travel two or three abreast was illegal, just that for safety they should travel in single file.

"This is stated in the Highway Code for narrow or busy roads, as many roads in the areas where the post was issued are.

"The relevant part of the Highway code can be found here."

A police spokeswoman said, as far as she was aware, the message appeared on their Mid Ulster, Fermanagh, Omagh, Lisburn and Castlereagh, and North Down & Ards.

And that the posts were populated by a range of individuals across the PSNI, both police officers and civilians.

Jonathan Hobbs cycles every day in Belfast and writes the Northern Ireland Greenways blog.

He said: "This has only added to the confusion many already have about the law and guidance on cycling on public roads.

"It begs the question, what oversight do the PSNI have of their own social media accounts? Was this message, posted across multiple PSNI Facebook pages, created or vetted by a serving PSNI Officer?

"With a social media following of over 450,000 the PSNI need to be very careful in what they say to the public in these posts.

"As a PSNI representative said on the Nolan Show, this is a grey area with the Highway Code providing "woolly" advice on how those cycling and driving should interact on the road.

"By making on-air comments about a lack of hi-viz clothing being a possible cause for prosecution for inconsiderate cycling, or riding two abreast and creating a build-up of traffic - which was suggested could be just a single vehicle - the police are making the roads less safe for cycling.

"By putting out misleading advice on social media it gave a green light to many comments from people angry about having to share the road with people using bicycles.

"It boils down to the PSNI creating a dangerous situation where people driving motor vehicles begin to see themselves as having more rights to the road than those who are cycling.

"It also feeds into a sense of entitlement that you somehow have a right not to be slowed down while driving your car, be it by a someone riding a bicycle or driving a slow tractor."

He added: "People are held up every day by congested traffic in Belfast - by their own logic the PSNI should be out prosecuting people sitting in stationary cars for being as inconsiderate as to hold up the person behind them.

"Instead of solving what was a minor problem with their Facebook posts, the PSNI kept digging. Many people now feel less certain about the safest way to use the roads, and have less confidence in the PSNI's expertise and understanding of issues around cycling."

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