Gina Davidson: Courts need to support cyclists

Gary McCourt. Picture: Lesley Martin
Gary McCourt. Picture: Lesley Martin
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ON Monday I met two brave women. Not that they’d refer to themselves in such a way, but as we drank coffee together and their tight smiles relaxed into proper grins while they reminisced about a young man they had both once known, their bravery began to show.

It takes a lot to speak to anyone about a personal tragedy.

Opening your heart – and your memory – to a stranger about a person you loved and lost is difficult. To do it almost 30 years after the loss, to reopen old wounds, and to do so because you want to ensure that no-one else has to suffer like you – to my mind that takes a brave spirit.

Spirited is also the description I’d use for 80-year-old Liz Dalgity and her daughter, Ann. They lost a son and a brother, George, when he was just 22 and newly-graduated in geography. A keen cyclist he was killed by a careless driver in the wee small hours of the morning of October 18, 1985.

Gary McCourt – who fled the scene – was later given a sentence of a year in jail and a ten-year driving ban for ­knocking George from his bike and leaving him with fatal injuries.

Now McCourt is yet again awaiting sentencing for the death of a cyclist – this time 75-year-old Audrey Fyfe, whom he knocked from her bike in 2011.

The Dalgitys’ pain started 27 years ago, but there they sat, willing to remember it all because they hope that if the courts make an example of McCourt this time around, then perhaps the streets can become safer for everyone.

The deaths of cyclists feel like they’re becoming almost commonplace in Edinburgh. But those who lose their lives are just the tragic apex of a mountain of bent frames, burst tyres, bruises and broken bones of the many others who attempt to get around the city on two wheels.

The council is attempting to make Edinburgh a more cycle-friendly place, and certainly the vocal cycling lobby is making headway, though it would say there is a long way to travel.

Holyrood is also on their agenda, and last year 3000 people turned out to Pedal on Parliament calling for safer cycling. They will be doing it again in May.

Whether you cycle or not, you should support them. For we are all pedestrians and therefore all vulnerable to bad drivers who speed, who don’t use their mirrors and who gamble every time they see an amber light. They’re not picky about who they hurt.

Before you start pointing out every infringement ever made by a cyclist – running red lights, cycling on pavements – it’s true they can give themselves a bad reputation by not sticking to the rules of the road. However, the odds of anyone being killed when hit by a cyclist are drastically smaller than if hit by a tonne of metal and glass going 30mph and above.

I’m not a cyclist. I tried once for a week, travelling from Corstorphine to Holyrood. I hated it – navigating Princes Street and the buses was terrifying. But cycling is part of the future of this city. If we want it to be the kind of place where you can breathe easily and wander pleasantly then our roads need to be made safer for all, including those who do want to pedal their way around one of the hilliest cities on Earth.

That’s as much in the hands of the courts as the politicians. McCourt’s sentence should send a very loud, very clear message.

It’s free food for thought

FAR be it for me to draw any conclusion between the handing out of free food and our First Minister Alex Salmond showing up at the door of the Rannoch Centre’s foodbank... but his visit was vital to highlight just how social security cuts are affecting the poorest in this city. It’s a scandal that foodbanks have to exist in 21st century Scotland, but they do. Please donate a bag of shopping if you can.

Good sports

WHAT a week for sporting heroes. From the sad retiral of Sir Chris Hoy’s mighty thighs to Tom Daley’s tanned abs at the Commie Pool, the city was blessed with Olympic physiques. More of the same please.

Building bridges just got tougher

THERE’S a very fine line between a planning official giving helpful advice to developers and sending e-mails which could suggest a friendship and therefore possible collusion.

The city council has been cleared of the latter over the Accies development in Stockbridge after concerns raised by objectors. But there will now be tougher protocols introduced to ensure that never again can an official say he has to “support the development” before it’s passed.

Like it or not, such words smack of a done deal and have no place in an impartial planning system.

Botanic Garden is full of manure

EIGHT thousand pounds is to be spent trying to make the wonderful Royal Botanic Garden more appealing the poor folk of Edinburgh, because it’s seen as too “middle class” and too “white”.

As part of this drive to get the deprived into the RBGE, it’s already offering classes in growing vegetables because, you know, the poor can’t pronounce words like rhododendron far less appreciate the plants. Then there’s the fact that they’re rich in fertile gardens and tenement window boxes where they can grow such miraculous things like carrots and potatoes.

How incredibly patronising. I’d love to see the research they based this scheme on. Sounds like all it was good for was the compost bin.