The well-documented rift between cyclists and motorists reopened again last week as police carried out a crackdown on people riding illegally in Brighton’s streets.

Cyclists who ride the wrong way down St James’s Street in Kemp Town were stopped and handed a questionnaire.

Some motorists say they should be prosecuted, but cyclists maintain it’s simply a safe route away from cars.

Reporter Naomi Loomes asks why can’t they all get along?

The Motorists

Inspector Bill Whitehead of East Brighton Neighbourhood Policing Team has made illegal cycling his business for many years.

He says the law has turned against cyclists after a series of incidents where pedestrians were seriously hurt.

He says: “I understand cyclists go the wrong way down St James’s Street because they may find Marine Parade or Edward Street busy and intimidating.

But really they need to approach their councillors and try to get safety mechanisms in place rather than put pedestrians at risk on St James’s Street.

“Cycle contraflows do exist in some parts of the city, such as in North Road, Preston Street and Trafalgar Street, but they are rare, as they require extensive road redesigns.

“St James’s Street is exceptional because it is very narrow, especially with the buses.

Pedestrians pack the pavement, making the likelihood of a cyclist hitting someone much higher.

“A couple of years ago an elderly lady was hit by a bike that shouldn’t have been there and had her hip shattered.

People don’t realise the long-term devastating effects on people.

“What we’ve found is this is a case of repeat offenders – the same people are taking their chances again and again.

“Although we use awareness days to hand out questionnaires and advice, the rest of the year the cyclist will be fined a fixed penalty notice of £30 for cycling the wrong way down a one-way street, riding on the pavement or going through a red light.

“This morning I was in my car and saw a girl on a bike with no helmet on simply sail through.

A moment sooner or a moment later and it could have ended in tragedy.

“What the cyclists often don’t think about is the devastating effect it has on motorists.

“If they knock someone off their bike and kill them, when it’s not their fault, they are left emotionally scarred for life.

“Cyclists have to wake up and take this seriously – it is an issue raised again and again by local action teams.

It really needs to be made a priority in the city.”

The Cyclists

Insp Whitehead’s comments echo those of Insp Phil Clarke who earlier this year said cyclists were to blame for a third of accidents they are involved in.

He said that cyclists need to “exercise more care and be responsible”.

But Clive Andrews, 34, from Hanover, thinks the police and the council need to understand why so many cyclists feel the need to use St James’s Street – they are treating the symptoms, not the cause.

He said: “We are all in agreement that riding the wrong way down a street, mounting pavements and colliding with pedestrians is wrong.

“But as with any behaviour we must understand why it is happening.

“At the moment the two main alternatives for cyclists in that area are Edward Street and Marine Parade.

“They are busy multi-lane roads with many cars jumping the red lights at the junction near the Royal Pavilion.

“Both roads have very nasty junctions at their western ends, which for inexperienced cyclists can be very dangerous.

“St James’s Street seems to offer a safer alternative, which is why it is used.

“It is also important to keep things in perspective. About 300 pedestrians are killed or seriously injured each year by cars, whereas it is something like one every couple of years who is killed by a bike. [Ed's note: after we originally misquoted Clive and double checked, we have double checked and the correct figure for 2007 is 44 killed and 522 seriously injured. Click here for the relevant statistics from the DFT.]

“Fast, inattentive, dangerous driving should remain the priority for police.”

And fellow cyclist Harry Callaghan said: “As a sensible cyclist that abides by the law of the road.

I get really annoyed with the cyclists that don’t.

“I wear a helmet, high visibility clothing and have my lights on, yet still some motorists don’t see me (or pretend not to).

“It’s all about tolerance – a bit of give and take on both sides.

“For example, in certain circumstances cyclists are allowed to ride on the pavement.

However, they must do so in a considerate manner.

“Also, how many motorists know that cyclists can ride two abreast? Not many, judging by the number of hoots I get when riding with my wife – once even by a police officer.

“The officers were extremely embarrassed when I told them the law and they checked it with their chief inspector only to find I was right.

“Cyclists should abide by the rules and show responsibility but also people must show more tolerance towards them.

“It is only in this country that we are seen as national hate figures.

Every other country I’ve been to makes much better provisions for cyclists.”