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Police in Cambridgeshire make u-turn on close pass operation

"It must be Christmas" says Cycling UK as force requests mat to educate drivers on safe passing distances...

Cambridgeshire Constabulary, which said in October that Cambridge’s streets were to narrow for it to carry out an operation targeting drivers who overtake cyclists while leaving them insufficient room, is planning to carry out a close pass operation in the New Year, has learnt.

In October, local campaign group Camcycle said it was “beyond disappointed” at news that that the force had decided not to run such an initiative.

The operation sees plain clothes officers on bikes radio ahead to uniformed colleagues, who then pull over motorists who have made a close pass or committed an offence such as using a mobile phone at the wheel.

Drivers are educated about the space that should give cyclists with the help of a ‘close pass mat’ and Cycling UK has told that it has sent one to Cambridgeshire Constabulary.

The force runs its roads policing unit in partnership with officers from neighbouring Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, which will also receive mats.

Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s Head of Advocacy and Campaigns told “It must be Christmas, as last week Cycling UK heard from Cambridgeshire police that they were looking into the feasibility of running operations which address close passing of people cycling in the tri-force area, including Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire.

“They’re still considering the exact nature of their operation, but we’re encouraged that they’ve reached out to us and are taking the matter seriously, as we’re sure cyclists in their area will be as well.”

In March this year, the charity launched a hugely successful crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to buy a close pass mat for each police force in the UK.

The target of £12,000 was hit within 48 hours, with the mats – similar to the one devised by West Midlands Police for its award-winning Operation Close Pass, launched in late 2016 – sent to forces across the country.

> Police forces across country embrace Cycling UK's close pass mats

West Midlands Police have said there has been a 20 per cent reduction in the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured on the region’s roads since it was adopted in 2016.

“Cambridgeshire has asked for mats for each force, so hopefully we’ve made the last post with a mat for them and we will look to send out the others in the New Year,” Dollimore continued:

“Since we launched our #TooCloseForComfort campaign in March, we’ve been overwhelmed by both the support of the wider cycling community and the interest from the police.

“So far 41 out of the 45 police forces operating in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are either running close pass operations or planning to in the New Year.

“Cycling UK has already set our New Year’s resolution to improve that figure!”

 According to the charity, just one police force – Derbyshire – has told it that it does not believe there is a problem with close passes in its area.

Cycling UK is still trying to contact three more police forces – Humberside, Northumbria and Staffordshire.

Despite enjoying by far the highest levels of regular cycling in the UK – around twice those of the next placed city, Oxford – police said in October that it was not practical to introduce a close pass operation in Cambridge.

> Cambridge police say close pass operation ‘not practical’ due to lack of road space

Cambridgeshire Constabulary’s casualty reduction officer, Jon Morris, said at the time that while the force had spoken to colleagues in the West Midlands about the initiative, it did not believe it was appropriate for Cambridge because due to the recommended space, “it would mean drivers are moving into the opposite lane to overtake.”

But that is exactly what is depicted in a photo accompanying Rule 163 of the Highway Code, which tells motorists that “you should give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car” – a point highlighted  by Camcycle.

Mr Morris continued: "For Cambridge city where roads are narrower and often very congested we would be potentially forcing motorists to drive at the speed of cyclists when there isn’t the recommended space to overtake.”

He added: "Cyclists are vulnerable road users and it’s important that we are doing all we can to make the roads safer for everyone but at this time we don’t believe Operation Close Pass in its current format is practical in Cambridge."

In response, Camcycle said: “We are angry that they are apparently advising drivers that it is OK to pass closely because maintaining the speed and flow of motor traffic is more important than the safety of vulnerable road users.”

“The fact that Cambridge's roads are narrow is precisely the reason why close-passes are a problem here and action should be taken against them.” 

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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