Nazan Fennell, Me, You, and Everyone’s Future

Most readers of this blog are probably already aware of the tragic case of Birmingham teenager Hope Fennell. She was killed by lorry driver Darren Foster after he had been distracted by text messaging while operating dangerous machinery.

Her death has caused discontent and desire for change in Kings Heath, the area of Birmingham where she lived. People have taken to the streets in memorial, and also in protest at poor road planning (mainly aimed at too many large lorries being on their streets), the widespread practice and acceptance of using mobile phones while driving, and the lenient sentence handed down to the killer lorry driver.

But something extra special happened on Saturday.

During a protest and memorial bike ride, Hope Fennell’s mother sat down in the road.

A simple gesture, but a powerful one. It wasn’t planned, it just happened. She was joined on the ground by others and there they stayed for 30 minutes.

When police asked her to move because her sitting down had caused long tailbacks of motor traffic, Nazan Fennell is reported to have said “So what? My life has been destroyed.”

We are all Nazan Fennell

Nazan Fennell’s spontaneous sit-down protest was fuelled by personal grief at the loss of her daughter. But isn’t her grief ours too?

Surely as a society we all feel the hurt of not only Hope’s death, but of the thousands of other people who are killed and seriously injured on our roads each year. Surely we should all be angry with a system which prioritises the most greedy, wasteful and deadly mode of transport, which not only kills and maims in huge numbers but which also locks millions in to dependency on it, harming their freedom and health?

Or have we become numb to the flowers by the roadside?

Nazan Fennell deserves our congratulations and support. It is because of actions like hers that things start to change.

Meanwhile, in London…

Each time I walk down St George’s Road in London, dark clouds gather in my mind as I am reminded of Hichame Bouadimi, the 5 year-old killed by a lorry driver while crossing the road almost one year ago.

What changes have TfL and/or Lambeth Council made in response to that tragedy? As far as I can tell, none at all. St George’s Road remains an unnecessarily wide racetrack. And unless those of us who want to live in a city free of motor-terrorism make our voices heard, it will remain so.

Where’s our sit-down protest? Why wasn’t Elephant & Castle blocked by angry residents? Why won’t we ‘Stop the Child Murder‘?

In Amsterdam in the 1970s, protesters sat down on Museumplein and blocked it. Back then, it was a wide road. Today it’s a park.

A black-and-white photo of hundreds of people and their bikes laying on a wide road in Amsterdam

Safer streets campaigners stage a die-in outside Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum.
Taken from Mark Wagenbuur’s video “How The Dutch Got Their Cycle Paths“, which I insist you watch now. (I don’t know where the original photo is from.)

Now it’s our turn

Without this type of civil disobedience, it seems the authorities will continue with business as usual.

It’s a shame that more protests don’t go this way. The feeling I’m often left with after the LCC protest rides is, “is that it? They got thousands of us here and now they want us all to go home after such a short ride?” I know I’m not alone in feeling that way.

I expect that the LCC would be reluctant to officially endorse such an action. I can see why they’d feel that way, having made links with TfL and being a proper charity with wages to pay and all that.

But you know what? The next protest ride could stop.

Imagine if just a few riders suddenly broke free at the front then stopped across the front of the ride. The whole thing would grind to a halt.

If these theoretical people then made it clear that they were turning a nice short ride into an actual disruptive protest – you know, the sort that upsets the authorities – surely the vast majority of those riding would agree and join them?

Perhaps the ride would even be stopped long enough for all the names of all those killed on our roads this year to be read out.

I wonder if that will ever happen?

If it does, then perhaps 40 years from now someone will be looking back at the time when Britain turned a corner, and you can proudly say: “I was there.”


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26 responses to “Nazan Fennell, Me, You, and Everyone’s Future

  1. Jim Moore

    I agree that civil disobedience should be part of the campaign but beware that it doesn’t turn into just an excuse for troublemakers to indulge themselves, as most Critical Mass rides seem to have become.

    The Civil Rights Movement in the USA, obviously more important than today’s cycling movement but that’s not to downplay the necessity of the latter especially in terms of childhood freedom, societal health and a sustainable human future, is worth looking at for its successful (and non-successful) tactics. For instance, Rosa Parks refusing to move to the back of the bus was an orchestrated act within the movement, and not the random act of a tired woman as if often portrayed. Perhaps Nazan Fennell’s protest should be a similar watershed moment for the cycling movement in the UK.

    • Michael J

      Linking up with pedestrian groups, living streets, child health, safer streets, etc, is possibly a way forward? A protest such as blocking a road to motor vehicles would make more of an impact (and reduce the potential for anger and complaints) if it was coordinated with a large group of children playing in the space created, or even some stalls from local shopkeepers.

    • @angus_fx

      I don’t accept that’s true of Critical Mass London. Perhaps there is an element of that, but let’s look at the numbers. 400-1200 on a typical ride. 182 arrested at the Olympics, detained and released on bail. Of those only a small minority (16?) were investigated further, nine faced charges in court, and five were found guilty of public order offences and were sentenced (9 month conditional discharge & £300 court costs in most cases). So while there are some troublemakers – or perhaps people who will make trouble under provocation – 99% of participants are mostly there for positive reasons.

    • > I agree that civil disobedience should be part of the campaign but beware that it doesn’t turn into just an excuse for troublemakers to indulge themselves, as most Critical Mass rides seem to have become.

      I bet you’ve never been. You want civil disobedience but you don’t want it, or you do but you want only “your sort” of cyclist to be involved. Tomorrow’s the last Friday of the month, perhaps you can attend your nearest Critical Mass and realise what a bigot you are.

  2. Gar Hywell

    The severe injury, if not death, of a woman in a West Dorset town two weeks ago, is laid squarely at the doors of the county council who have persisted in doing absolutely nothing to their huigh street in 30 years. there was and is every invitation to cross thew road at one particular point , it can scarcely be done otherwise, and the traffic lights are arranged so that cars coming in opposite directions will suddenly bear down on the person crossing it. Such was the case two weeks ago. Will the county council take the blame for two tib and fib injuries, and possibly instant death from what I saw of the accident.
    She may have been a guest worker. Nobody might know even, that she has died, in her own country in Asia, or what has become of her.

  3. Jitensha Oni

    I see an MP is trying to deflect all blame onto the driver.

    Most of the (justified) outrage and protest seems to be focused on the sentencing, i.e. retribution after something horrific has occurred, and this is what usually happens in cases where the driver is clearly at fault. All well and good, but by comparison, the call for preventative road safety interventions for active travel is quite weak. For example – an 8 year old died while cycling last year, the death took place maybe a couple of miles from where I live. There appear to have been no unlawful activiites by the driver involved so it was accepted as “just one of those things” and no-one called for infrastructure improvements. The council, who provide inadequate infrastructure for 8 year olds to cycle on, yet allow them on the roads, must have been very relieved. And of course, this is one reason so many schools discourage cycling. For comparison, look at the Sheppey crossing pile up. People were falling over themselves to blame the infrastructure.

    Until there is a more widespread understanding and willingness to criticise that it is folly to have objects with widely disparate momenta sharing the space (yes shared space and vehicular cycling advocates, I’m looking at you), and that preventative road safety measures for 8-80 year olds is the key then the politicians/highway authorites are going to get away with it, and people of all ages are going to get killed and seriously injured at a rate that could be lowered by an order of magnitude.

    But to do that you have to redirect the anger away from the symptoms and onto the disease. I’ve no idea how that could be achieved. But then you could start blocking the roads etc, with some hope of political traction. Michael J’s ideas are spot on in that respect.

    • dc

      Lets look at the facts of the case
      1) Darren Foster is a driver of an HGV therefore he would have had a higher level of training than a car driver
      2) Darren Foster was texting his girlfriend for a minimum of 20 minutes before the collision
      3) After he hit Hope, who was crossing at a pedestrian crossing rather than helping he deleted at least 11 text messages on his phone
      4) If you are in a HGV there is no way of seeing anyone crossing in front of you if you don’t have a mirror fitted or where not checking the crossing as you wait.

      It appears from what has been said that at the light Darren Foster was not concerned with “keeping an eye out” at the light but texting so when the lights went green off he went

      There have now been at least two fatal f accidents at the same spot. In 2008 a 78 year old was killed. It seems that if you are young or old you don’t have enough time to cross the road before the lights change

      • You miss a few further points.
        i) Foster continued to drive away with Hope dragged under his truck oblivious to the impact and noise before forced to stop by those on the street.
        ii) At the inquest the Police officer in charge of the investigation (?) was unaware of what a Class 6 mirror was, and the fact that pictures of the truck indicated that it was not fitted (as required by EC directive from 2007) A class 6 mirror shows the driver what is directly in front of the truck.
        iii) Informal reports through those whose work brought them into contact with Foster as a driver, tachograph records, and a conviction for speeding after the crash, indicate that this man was unsuitable for employment driving a large truck, with his then attitudes to driving and safety. He is not the only killer driver to have clearly shown signs of their potential well before actually killing someone. We need a far better system to regulate vocational licence holders, with the option for immediate revocation where appropriate

  4. inge

    The protests in the Netherlands in 1970’s were organised as well, at first with a few cyclists, some with pushbikes and causing a traffic jam. But the meaning of it all was very soon picked up by other people and the result is well known. It always starts with one brave or angry soul and the message will be received by others, frustrated because of their own fear, inaction or incapacity and certainly that of the authorities. I must say that I have been amazed by the obedient way your protest rides have been organized so far. More like a DAY OUT IN THE PARK event.The police keeps the motorists at bay and the thousands of cyclists are allowed to ride a few hours in the wild.
    Michael J, your proposal seems like a good plan to me!
    BTW, I wonder if, in the Public Transport system due to unsafe circumstances , the same amount of serious and lethal accidents happened, who would be held responsible for those fatalities? The Government or the local authorities or the DFT? Or the people using the subway or buses without a helmet or hiviz?
    I just want other countries ,other people to have what we Dutchies have, freedom to ride!

  5. Paul M

    Like you I would like to see an element of civil disobedience in cycle campaigning – Gandhi-style sit-down protests rather than some of the peripheral stuff you sometimes see at Critical Mass and for which reason I have long since given up on it.

    However I think it would not be a good idea to involve LCC in this. I am a supporter of LCC and in a small way am involved in its administration, and I think in its own way it does a great job (compared with CTC anyway) but I have to admit it has its limitations, many of which are associated with its charitable status and its relationships with TfL and local government and NGOs. In those areas it does good work which could be fatally compromised if tarred with the brush of bolshiness.

    Whatever happened to flashmobs? If there could be a similar system which generated a spontaneous event at very short notice and for a very short period of time, as long as someone took pics and fed a report to the local press, could that be effective?

    • I praise the LCC for what it has achieved so far. but when you are winning you need to be bold and press the advantage and that includes levereging the willingness of thousands of people to join protest rides by making more powerful statements.

    • @angus_fx

      You don’t think Critical Mass could be managed in to staging a mass sit-down at Aldgate which has now claimed two lives this year..? Only way to find out would be to try, but I suspect it would be quite easy. Of course, TfL have already promised to spend £££££££ completely re-engineering those junctions, so any such protest would be a sitting duck for their PR people, I fear. “We’ve already promised to spend the money to make this safe, in a time of cuts and austerity. You’re just the awkward squad”. Even if that’s not 100% true (certainly the last Aldgate proposal I saw, some months ago, was a long way from being acceptably safe), the damage is still done.

      So you pull together a flashmob. The Blackfriars ones had a clear, stated objective. First of all, retention of the 20mph limit that had been brought in during the engineering works. Secondly a redesign of the deadly junction on the north side. Was everyone there because of just those issues? Surely not. Yet if you’d had a list of the big, city-wide interventions, would everyone present have agreed to it? Of that I’m less certain.

  6. Maybe there won’t be a Stop the Child Murder moment because children are effectively removed from the streets and not cycling and walking independently in London. What strikes me is the number of young women killed on the streets such as Katherine Giles, Chiara Giacomini and Maria Karsa. If this many women were taken by murder there would surely be a reaction but somehow the anger is dissipated because these are ‘accidents’. I agree with Michael J that the campaign should be broadened and feminist groups and Trades Unions asked to join a campaign to demand women (all people) can get to work and get about safely. I think the LCC is planning a campaign to get cycling on the agenda in the council elections next year. Maybe this could be a focus for linking with other groups?

  7. Bez

    I managed to make it to the ride on 2 September. And, like you, whilst I thought it was a wonderful and positive thing, I passed the Houses of Parliament thinking, “is that it?” No noise, neither cheering nor booing. Imagine 5,000 people simply cheering – it would have been audible inside the House. We rode, we went home.

    I couldn’t agree with this post more. Chapeau.

    • Michael J

      Not much bell ringing either. I’m not the type to get a chant going or anything, but was ringing my bell for as much of the ride as I could to try and make some noise (and especially outside the HoP), but most people were just riding in silence, and some seemed to be regarding the bell ringing from the few of us who were doing it as an irritation.

  8. @angus_fx

    You’re largely right, but you may be looking to the wrong organisation. Critical Mass (which can’t really be called an organisation), Bikes Alive, Bike Swarm etc. spring to mind. LCC works primarily from the inside and get tons of positive & mostly pretty uncritical (considering the low esteem in which some parts of society hold cycling) press for their rides, but it’s tricky to be both a confrontational, direct-action organisation & work from the inside at the same time. I’ve no doubt there is anger there, but how much of an audience would the likes of Leon Daniels and Peter Hendy grant LCC’s people if those self-same campaigners are threatening to gridlock their precious road and bus network? LCC are a charity, and if their rides become confrontational it may put at risk their ability to run peaceful PR stunts which, let’s face it, look great on the evening news.

    I’m as certain as it’s possible to be when talking of CM that you could get the participants to protest in the way you describe – but what would it achieve? The mainstream media appears to have a policy of completely ignoring CM unless it does something “””bad””” (getting a load of people arrested for breaching a Section 12 at the Olympics, say). Say you got them to block the Aldgate this Friday. How would that be reported? How would it go down? Could you rely on those who ought to give it positive spin (LCC and Living Streets, amongst others) to actually do so? Like it or not (I don’t either…), that type of protest is pretty clearly on the wrong side of the law nowadays. Getting charities or any politician who cares about their future career to speak up in support of a criminal act? I wish any of them had the huevos.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m probably every bit as angry as you, angry enough that, if getting arrested and hauled up in court were actually going to achieve something, I’d take that risk. It’s a far, far smaller price than poor Nazan or Hichame paid, after all. But if it achieves nothing, it’s just a waste of campaigning effort which could be better spent elsewhere. What did the CM 182 achieve apart from getting called a bunch of names by tabloid journalists? The battle is fought and won in the media, and when a big chunk of society is so deeply & terminally car-addicted and has been since the 1970s, that has to be done with care.

    • Angus,
      You are letting the Daily Mail dictate the agenda. That is what is wrong with this country.
      “Doing things with care” is an oxymoron: it means doing things badly.
      The LCC needs to be bold, otherwise the wolves will just give us scraps.

      Please don’t make me laugh by saying “how much of an audience would the likes of Leon Daniels and Peter Hendy grant LCC’s people “. Fuckers like Daniels and Hendy will respect you only if you show how strong you are.

      • @angus_fx

        The agenda is dicated by those with professional PR firms and spin doctors at their disposal. Wrong? Yes. But will choosing to ignore that fact change anything? Doubtful.

        I’ve been out cycle campaigning on the streets, flyering for Londoners On Bikes and more recently LCC… even a significant % of existing cyclists, people commuting by bike at the moment, don’t much care for any protest agenda. Now I don’t claim to be the world’s best salesman, but surely you’d expect those people to jump at the chance of making their voices heard? If we can’t even get 50% of the 5 or 10% who cycle now to engage with the agenda, what gives? There are probably half a million semi-regular cyclists in London, yet LCC has only 10,000-20,000 members according to their press; Critical Mass is much smaller still, most of the time. As you probably know, there have been recent cases where the families of road victims have even specifically asked for people *not* to hold vigils or protests (I think both the man killed by an Olympics media bus, and the woman killed by a tipper truck at Victoria earlier this year).

        So doing things with care really means keeping people on-side, or bringing people on-side who aren’t, but should be.

        People don’t like being told to change what they’re doing. And in the case of many in London (most, outside of Zone 1&2), they drive quite a bit – and will, or think they will, be inconvenienced by space-reallocation or filtered permeability.

        I think the LCC in recent years have been bold, at least in terms of vision (Go Dutch, and now Space For Cycling), and have indeed seen bold, if sometimes a bit wacky, proposals from the Mayor in response (Westway? Let the cars keep that concrete monster & give Bayswater Road over to bikes, buses and pedestrians). Yes, it’s all taking a bit longer than we might like & too many will lose their lives in the mean time. But say you hold a thousand-strong protest, lock down Aldgate for a couple of hours and spend a night in the cells for your trouble. What next? Even if Daniels & Hendy were prepared to listen to your demands (instead of, say, hiring a PR firm to do a hatchet job), what are those demands, and would the majority of Londoners support them in the face of adverse PR?

        Again, like you, I’m angry, I want to see change *now*, but I’m going to take some convincing to believe that direct action followed by a night in the cells is really the most effective way forward.

        • Angus, don’t be such a sheep. You should read Thoreau;

          “Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavour to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt? Why does it not encourage its citizens to be on the alert to point out its faults, and do better than it would have them? Why does it always crucify Christ, and excommunicate Copernicus and Luther, and pronounce Washington and Franklin rebels?

          Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.

  9. Brendan

    “… long enough for all the names of all those killed on our roads this year to be read out.”

    This would be appropriate, powerful, and just.

    Theme sign – “Stop Murdering Our Children”

    (all the victims are our children)

    You need it to last long enough to be a serious problem for the government, but short enough that people are willing to participate – and then to repeat it every day, or week, to allow awareness to build and the protest to grow.

    1,754 killed in 2012. Of those 118 bicycle and 420 pedestrian. 61 children. Seriously injured 23,039. Of those 2,211 children. What percentage of child casualties were pedestrian or bicycle? How many child pedestrian deaths?

    Each name could be read, a bell rung or a candle lit, and a moment of silence. Large pictures of the victims, especially children, showing names, birth death dates, ages, would be appropriate and powerful. Candles, flowers, ghost bikes.

    Read the previous years names the next day (week?), or maybe just repeat the same names. You could plan or threaten to read the 2,272 names of children killed in all traffic accidents in one year. Or read names going back 40 years to highlight how far behind the Dutch we are. Read names of the tens of thousands seriously injured.

    Where/how do you get the lists of names?
    Consider addressing diabetes or other (often fatal) illness made worse by bad or no pedestrian or cycle facilities ?

    Demands – ambitious, clearly thought out, clearly expressed, specific and achievable demands. So what should they be?

    — a specific percentage? or specific number of billions of pounds?, or how much per person – to be spent on highest quality Dutch standard infrastructure
    – a demand that networks/grids of separated cycle tracks be installed in x cities with no more than x meters between from tracks
    — make sure the vehicular cycling idiots don’t get involved to confuse everyone
    — demand to meet with the Prime minister, Transport Minister, head transpo bureaucrat, etc. and highlight their names as responsible

    — ??

  10. Terry

    It’s still too easy to ignore bike riders. The authorities are afraid to stand up to the car lobby and the mischief-making parts of the press.

    Riders need to become more of a nuisance. For example, cycling commuters could ride in small groups instead of independently in single file. Who could sensibly object to that? It wouldn’t even increase journey times. If bikes generally block the lane, complaints from drivers might make the provision of space for cycling more politically viable.

  11. Theodore Roosevelt cited a key to successful negotiations achieving a goal “Speak softly, but carry a big stick” In the recent past we have been aware of some fine quiet speaking from various cycling organisations, and most tellingly a turn out of over 2500 cyclists with just 24 hours notice to mark the death of a cyclist on High Holborn.

    On 2nd September the effect was notable. MP’s and those observing the debate could hear the estimated 8000 milling around Parliament Square, and the numbers could easily have been bigger, with those crossing out over Westminster Bridge looking upstream to see the head of the ride upstream crossing Lambeth Bridge. Even if they do not sit down ion the street en masse, that big stick of thousands turning out together and quietly and peacefully moving as a block, which could at a trigger signal do something unpredictable.

    Perhaps I can pinch or paraphrase Gandhi to close with what may have reached the second phase given the vitriol of some commentary on cycling and cyclists. First they laughed at the cyclists, Then they hated the cyclists, Then the cyclists won.

  12. Pingback: Another death at Bow roundabout. Are we angry yet? | The Alternative Department for Transport

  13. Reblogged this on nazanfennell and commented:
    good article..

  14. following this protest I took the movement to London.

    Mass Die-in at TFL.
    followed by BBC London 6 pm news.

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