Helen Martin: We can’t sit back and wait for next fatality

A woman lays flowers near the spot on Princes Street where teh 24-year-old cyclist was killed. Picture: Jon Savage
A woman lays flowers near the spot on Princes Street where teh 24-year-old cyclist was killed. Picture: Jon Savage
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THE tragedy of a 24-year-old cyclist’s death in the Edinburgh rush hour following her tyres becoming stuck in a tram track has devastated many people in this city.

Some media outlets described her as a “woman”. She was a “girl” with friends and family and should have had a whole life ahead of her.

The easy availability of contraceptive pills in schools down south did not contribute to a fall in pregnancies. Picture: Getty

The easy availability of contraceptive pills in schools down south did not contribute to a fall in pregnancies. Picture: Getty

To cyclists, the circumstances of her death were shattering and terrifying. The driver of the minibus behind her, who had no time to take evasive action, will be distressed, distraught, and haunted by images that will never be forgotten. The incident will be ingrained in the memories of passengers, witnesses, police officers and medics.

And, I assume, Edinburgh City Council will also be suffering from a sense of corporate guilt. Already 250 people have been injured by tram tracks and more than 100 cyclists are attempting to sue the council. The city’s record of tram-bike accidents appears to be the worst in the UK.

Despite the length of time the tram system took to introduce, it seems the tracks were laid without prior research on the risks to cyclists and pedestrians, or the necessary safety adaptations built in. Cycling group Spokes is now urging the new council to get on with these changes.

While pushing ahead with the tram dream and turning it into reality, the council was simultaneously urging more and more people to take to two wheels on their city commutes, a potentially toxic combination.

There are many cyclists who refused to do so, because of the risks of cycling in a congested, compact city like ours even before the trams came along; and others who gave up once the trams and deadly tracks appeared. Yet commuter cycling is still growing in popularity.

In such a concentrated city centre, not every route can be lined with safe cycle lanes, especially at major, central junctions such as Princes Street and Lothian Road where the accident took place.

Surely it must be obvious in a small, tight, city centre such as Edinburgh, that with trams and their tracks, buses, delivery lorries, vans, taxis and cars nose-to-tail, and with thousands of tourists in cars or coaches, trying to find the correct route around one-way systems and filtered traffic lights, cyclists are vulnerable?

Increasing the numbers of cyclists is not going to help until major safety redesign is in place. And that’s not going to be easy.

Everything, bar the outskirts, revolves around Princes Street when it comes to crossing the city. Banning cars, buses, coaches, delivery vehicles and taxis will kill city centre business and retail. Even that wouldn’t make the centre safe for cyclists if there are still tram lines – and trams which take twice as long to make an emergency stop as buses!

There must be an emergency -and temporary – solution, pending a dramatic re-think. Create as many city centre cycle lanes as possible to which cyclists are confined. Where there are no cycle lanes in the centre, cyclists could be forced to dismount and use pedestrian crossings on foot, before joining the next dedicated lane. The only obvious and unacceptable, immediate alternative is to ban cyclists.

It’s surprising this was the first fatality, but we cannot simply sit back and wait for the next.

Mum’s the word on sex education

MILLIONS of pounds of public money were spent on controversial, increased and earlier sex education in schools from the late 90s in an attempt to limit teenage pregnancy.

Parents’ opposition to it was ignored to such an extent that in England, everything from morning after pills to school sexual health clinics were on offer. Scotland’s approach wasn’t quite as promiscuous.

But cut-backs after the recession ended these extensive programmes down south. And the result on last year’s statistics? Pregnancies have plummeted.

Funnily enough, when children aren’t educated in class about sexual relationships, taught how to do it and given access to contraception, they’re not so keen to give it a go. Or perhaps it’s that parental knowledge of their individual kids produces better results than that of teacher and government interference.

At least England hasn’t gone as far as the Scottish named-person/state guardian scheme, a plan that should definitely be aborted.

Online security just a net loss

THE NHS computer system still working on outdated XP was blamed on lack of government investment. Actually, it’s more complicated than that. Certain essential bits of kit, such as MRI scanners, work only on XP!

Sceptics about IT (like me) should read Cyberphobia, a book by cyber security and intelligence expert Edward Lucas who declares technology is not the way forward. He reveals some intelligence agencies have already gone back to hard copy files and believes that, following continuing breaches and disasters which will make what we’ve seen so far trivial and insignificant, we will be forced into a “post-digital” age where we abandon the net and return to face-to-face dealings and contact.

In essence, because of human nature and naivety, computer security is an impossibility for governments, banks, airlines, the NHS, or anyone else. In other words, it was all a terrible mistake. Now that’s so terrifying, even I hope he’s wrong!

Pippa’s bling a political gift

LABOUR and the SNP must be cheering bling-addicted Pippa (Middleton) Matthews following coverage of her £11,000 a night honeymoon suite. Nothing and no-one could better illustrate the need for fairer distribution of wealth.