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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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