Tollgate Charge? (1877)

It is happily not necessary to decide the vexed section among tollkeepers as to whether bicycles are strictly horses or vehicles, in order to recognise its propriety and expediency of confining them to the roadway in our public thoroughfares. It is true that both chairs and perambulators, which are only tricycles propelled by hand, instead of with the feet, have, in spite of all opposition and police regulations, obtained a certain toleration on the sidepaths, nominally appropriated to foot passengers; but, in the case of these which, it is to be observed that however objectionable on the score of size, shape, or character, they are always under the control of pedestrians and usually travel at a foot pace. Bicycles, on the other hand, combine the stealthiness of the feline species, with the swiftness, and contains more than swiftness, of the racehorse and even when driven at a walking pace they can scarcely thread the mares of the passing throng without more or less injury to corns, clothes and shins. These essential distinctness’s between bicycles and other kinds of horseless carriages are so obvious that we should scarcely have thought it necessary to point them out but for the frequency with which they have less disregarded of late on our suburban roads. In the Hagley Road, more particularly, where the width of t6he thoroughfares and the comparative lightness of the vehicular traffic offer all the less courses for such irregularities, it has become quite the fashion lately, with a certain class of bicyclists, who neglect the roadway for the footpaths, utterly regardless of the annoyance and danger they are causing to the pedestrians. It is no uncommon thing to see machines of this class spinning along the path at the rate of from fifteen or twenty miles an hour, menacing at every yard some startled damsel or thoughtless child, and only preserved apparently from terrible collisions by a series of the most serious incidents and hairbreadth escapes. We are glad to observe, from certain proceedings in the Police Court, yesterday, that the police and the magistrates are at length determined to put down this dangerous and growing nuisance with a strong hand. Four young men who had been sought transgressing in this manner were brought up, charged, according to the legal formular with “causing an obstruction in the Hagley Road by riding on a bicycle on the public footpath,” and, after a severe lecture from the bench, they were fined in the mitigating penalty of one shilling each and costs. In these cases, or some of them, the danger had been not a little aggravated by the circumstance of the trespass taking place after dusk, when the sole slight protection of pedestrians against being run over by these swift and noiseless machines is wanting. Even in the roadway the running of bicycles by night, unless furnished with lighted lamps, must be attended with great risk, both to the riders and the occupants of other vehicles and it may be questioned if there use should be permitted without some such warning provision. On the footpath bicycling by night, with or without lamps, is simply murderous and must be stopped at any sacrifice. All the cases investigated yesterday were, we believe, the first of a kind which have been brought before the magistrates here, the offenders escaped with merely nominal penalties; but it must be understood that any adventurous bicyclist who may attempt to “run amuck” among pedestrians after this warning will have to pay much more heavily for their amusement.

Birmingham Daily Post, April 11, 1877


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