At about 16:10 on Monday the 9th of October I stood on the front step of our pod. In front of me a vast sea of beautiful young lives mingled from lecture theatre to bar to date to infinite and endless future possibilities. Young and wonderful lives gifted beyond their understanding, hungry for all that lies ahead, excited to be relentlessly shifting those poorly constructed boundaries between what is possible and what is only just imaginable. I am grateful for the infectious energy of these young and wonderful lives it makes my day a brighter place to be.
Amongst the buzz of vibrant, hope filled conversation I hear the not unfamiliar sound of ambulance sirens hurtling down a nearby road. Not far from this life filled place some one, some where is fighting for the mere possibility of their existence.
Two hours and seven puncture repairs later I begin my journey home. I immediately find myself weaving through mile after mile of grid locked traffic, brake light after brake light I glide through air crammed with the all too familiar stench of intoxicating diesel. This is however no ordinary Birmingham congestion. Something, somewhere is very, very wrong. As my journey nears it’s end my eye catches sight of blue and white Police tape fluttering in the evening breeze. One of Birmingham’s busiest intersections is closed and I am unable to proceed as expected. Small yellow cones surround a stationary lorry. Local friends call me over and one after another they recount observing traffic officers extracting a mangled bike from the under side of the adjacent lorry.
This is no ordinary intersection. It’s a place i know well. I ride this piece of road every day but I know it even better than that. Five years ago I stood in a plush conference centre, pretentious over sized wine glass in one hand, local authority strategic plan in the other. Sprawled across and over sized table there’s a large and detailed plan of the intersection at which I now stand. It’s no ordinary plan. This scaled drawing carefully outlines how central government funding will be used to create protected cycling infrastructure in exactly the spot upon which a mangled bike frame lies. This plan outlined the dreams of many cyclists in a place now indelibly marked by the tragic loss of a young and beautiful life.
I do not know exactly what led to Monday evening’s tragedy, at this moment in time it is unclear if anyone does. But that is not my point. My point is that we are reminded, now more than ever, that our local authority have failed in the promises they explicitly and clearly outlined five years ago. And, more to the point, no one cares.
When one cyclist recklessly took the life of a vulnerable pedestrian there was outrage across all media platforms, Chris Boardman was invited to defend the very presence of cyclists within the urban jungle while back bench MP’s muttered the need for new cycling legislation. Every spin savvy media hungry soul got their two pence worth of opinionated ill informed tripe regurgitated by re tweet after re tweet. Yet 24 hours on from this tragedy we have a silent mayor and not a word from the city’s cycling revolution.
Five years on from orange juice and canapes there is little sight of where exactly £24m has been spent on improving infrastructure. Before you dare mutter the word ‘canal’ may I remind you that other than a deranged duck no one has ever died from a serious traffic collision on any canal. And if you are of the mind that we cyclists, should however, all be on the canal I will forgo the long argument and ask only that you pass me a copy of the petition and I will happily sign for these industrial waters to be filled in and put to better use. However I fear I am digressing!!
Of course there will be a well rehearsed media savvy response to what I acknowledge is now my out right anger. But as I observe a senior traffic officer carefully chalking out a major incident scene my soul cries ‘BRING ON THE FIGHT!!‘ For too long those who travel in the healthiest most sustainable manner possible have been battered between vilification and an unfathomable willingness to completely ignore our contribution to the good of society. For too long we have been poorly represented by those too easily pacified by glib political rhetoric. For too long elected officials have assumed no one would really make cycling a political issue. For too long they have been right.
As I write these words a family with plans for Christmas and Birthday’s and arguments and dreams are instead bound, for now, by the pain of their grief; hundreds of cyclists are riding home expected once more to entertain the unnecessary risks of a local authority incapable of building upon their promises; and I; in my own pathetic way am sat typing words because for now words are all I have. I do not know how but I know more than ever, that I am determined to blur the lines of possibility and imagination in the small conviction that my grand children might cycle in a city I could only dream of. If that is unreasonable remember what is reasonable has done us no favours. What is reasonable left one of the most dangerous junctions in our city to be the tragic scene of yet another loss of life. What is reasonable means that for politicians and media this is barely even a story. It is time to get angry, constructively angry but angry still. Surely that is at least one way we can honour the memory of a young and beautiful life.