A staggering level of ignorance from a councillor.

Before I start, I will preface this with “not all councillors”.

However, I have noticed over the years that many (though not all) councillors are often seen pontificating on subjects that they have never studied, and pretending that they are experts based on their ill-informed beliefs and built-in prejudices. It’s not the first time I have written about this issue; a previous example may be found in this post from five and a half years ago.

The current post is about another example of this, in the form of an exchange on Twitter:

I have blacked out the identity of the councillor in question as it would serve no purpose here to identify them. Anyone familiar with the exchange will know who it is anyway. The original tweet that I quoted was about a very close pass that I was subjected to, in which a car was driven past probably about 30cm away from me at 38 miles-per-hour. The response to it shows the level of ignorance that I’ve unfortunately come to expect from some councillors (but not all).

Many people replied to the councillor’s tweet providing clear evidence and rational arguments demonstrating why the response was wrong and inappropriate. The response of the councillor to that was to block each of those users immediately. The councillor then blocked me the following day. I have a granddaughter who currently has a habit, when she doesn’t want to interact with someone, of turning her head to face away from them, as if she is thinking: “if I can’t see them, they are not there”. This is quite cute from an 18 month old child; it’s not nearly so from a supposedly grown-up, elected representative of a borough council.

Let’s look at each of the statements made in the councillor’s response.

“Why is how someone’s is [sic] driving the councils [sic] fault?”

Apart from the fact that I never said it was “the council’s fault”, this reveals a staggering level of ignorance from a councillor about the responsibilities of councils. I actually asked what the council is doing to protect people walking and cycling on the roads they are responsible for. The duty on councils in this area is set out in several pieces of legislation, including Section 39 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and the Traffic Management Act 2004. In particular, however, the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 states, in Section 122:

(1) It shall be the duty of every strategic highways company and local authority upon whom functions are conferred by or under this Act, so to exercise the functions conferred on them by this Act as (so far as practicable having regard to the matters specified in subsection (2) below) to secure the expeditious, convenient and safe movement of vehicular and other traffic (including pedestrians).

The Road Traffic Act provides more detail and states that the Authority’s duty in this respect includes:

…the construction, improvement, maintenance or repair of roads for the maintenance of which they are responsible…

Furthermore, the guidance given by the government on Cycle Infrastructure Design (LTN1/20) states, in paragraph 1.4.6:

Cyclists and pedestrians are considered to be ‘traffic’, within the meaning of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 and the Traffic Management Act 2004, and therefore duties to manage the road network to secure ‘expeditious and safe movement for all traffic’ apply to them as well as motorised modes.

It could be argued that a councillor can’t be expected to know all of this stuff, but if that is the case, then they should take the trouble to check their facts before making public statements in a Twitter account where they claim in their profile to be writing as a councillor and a cabinet member.

“It [sic] like saying when a cyclist goes through a red light it’s the council’s fault?”

This is just an unbelievably stupid attempt at “whataboutery”. The issue here is not whether something was or was not illegal; it is about whether the council is discharging its duty to protect people from the dangers brought about by motor vehicles. In any case, someone on a cycle passing through a red light, with no suggestion that it put anyone in danger, is in no way “like” the driver of a couple of tonnes of motor vehicle putting people’s lives and safety in danger. Coming from a councillor, this is an insult to the intelligence of everyone in the borough.

“It’s 40mph on Chorley New Road by the way.”

The councillor appears to be referring to the speed limit on the road on which the incident took place. This councillor clearly believes that an incident involving a driver passing extremely close to an unprotected road user at 38 miles-per-hour is merely about the enforcement of speed limits.

Quite apart from the lack of rational thought betrayed by this belief, the comment raises an important aspect of the council’s failure here. Why, on a road where the council fails to provide safe space for unprotected road users, has the council set a 40mph speed limit? Does the councillor (and the council) really believe that constitutes ensuring “expeditious and safe movement for all traffic” including people walking and cycling?

“People need to take personal responsibility for their actions.”

It’s not absolutely clear whether the councillor has in mind the person cycling, or the driver of the car in this incident, so let’s consider both possibilities.

If it is the driver, then it is a fatuous remark. Of course drivers should take personal responsibility for their actions, but the fact is that they don’t! That is why we have laws, enforcement (though not enough of it), and a clear duty of care on highways authorities to ensure the safety of unprotected road users.

If it is the person cycling, then it is even more ridiculous. Is this councillor really saying that it is my responsibility to ensure that drivers don’t kill me with their vehicles? Perhaps he is trying to imply that I should not ride a bicycle on the streets of Bolton because that is failing to “take responsibility for my own actions”.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the leaders of Bolton Council would prefer it if people would not indulge in the riding of cycles in the borough, because it interferes with their aspiration to become the most motor vehicle-choked town in the UK. At least they pay lip service to walking, but cycling really is a highly undesirable activity as far as our council leaders are concerned.

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