This feature originally appeared in the Scotsman on Friday 17 February
TWO years ago, former project manager Ian McNicoll made his regular commute home from work by bike, passing along Cowgate and up the Grassmarket in Edinburgh city centre. He couldn’t put his finger on why, but something felt wrong. “I didn’t have an incident, but I got scared one night in traffic,” he said. “It’s very narrow, there are cars coming down with railings on either side, and you’re just boxed in. That night I said to myself, ‘I’m not doing it again’.” He stopped cycling.
Mr McNicoll’s son, Andrew, never had such thoughts. A committed yet safety-conscious enthusiast, Andrew rode to work daily as an insurance officer at construction firm Balfour Beatty from his home in Balerno, to the west of the city, and at weekends with other members of the Edinburgh Road Club. He was ready to cycle the 47 miles of the Pedal for Scotland charity race in September, and wanted to accompany his stepmother, Lynne, as she attempted the challenge for the first time.
On 5 January, Andrew was killed while cycling to work on the Lanark Road. Police cannot confirm the full details, but it is thought an articulated lorry, of the sort that bend in the middle, forced Andrew off the road and into a parked car. He died of his injuries at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary hours later.
According to Lynne, founder of youth cancer charity It’s Good 2 Give, Andrew was “happy, outgoing, and he was a lot like his Dad in looks. They both have lovely smiles. Smiley, happy, and good fun.”
The McNicolls describe themselves as doers, not talkers, and their fortitude is remarkable. To lose a fit and healthy 43-year-old son to an accident that was entirely avoidable would have made most people furiously angry, but Ian and Lynne are calm in making a single commitment: to stop deaths like Andrew’s ever happening again. Recalling that January morning, Lynne remembers exactly where she was when Andrew’s life came to an end. “At 8 o’clock in the morning, or just after, the news came on the radio, on BBC Radio 2. And it said Lanark Road was closed because of an accident. And we said: ‘Oh, it must be serious to close the road’.
“We had laid out all our stuff because we were doing work on the ball [fundraising for It’s Good 2 Give], and then the phone rang and it was Andrew’s mum to say he had been in an accident. I didn’t say to her what I’d heard on the radio but I thought, ‘I hope it wasn’t that one’.
“I said we’d pick her up. We went in the car and Ian said: ‘Go down past Lanark Road’, because it’s less than five minutes down the road, and it’s on the way to Andrew’s mum. There were traffic wardens at the bottom of the road, and Ian said: ‘Can I go up, because it might be my son’?”
“We got part of the way up the road before we got to where the accident was and then the road was fully closed off.”
Police then advised Lynne and Ian to go straight to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. Lynne added: “We knew at this point this wasn’t good. We picked up Pat [Andrew’s mother] and took the bypass, and by now I was getting scared.
“To my horror, I found we couldn’t get parked in the [hospital] car park, even at that time of day. I had a bad feeling by this point, but I honestly thought he was just badly injured.”
Ian went ahead into Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, hoping to help his only son. He said: “The people at reception asked us to hold on a moment. There’s a door, and through that is where the patients are. We were held at that counter, and a lady came through and said: ‘Come this way’. Then she stopped us and said: ‘He didn’t make it.’
“I had to formally identify his body with his pal, because they like two people to do it. He looked fine, and that was the worry, we felt like he was just waking up, but he didn’t. He had very serious injuries, but they weren’t on his face.
“Nothing was too much trouble for the NHS staff. His friends wanted to come so they waited an extra two hours, and all his pals, five of them, came to see him. They were just a group of half a dozen lads together.”
Since Andrew’s death on 5 January, no-one has been arrested. Nothing in practical terms has changed on the roads of Edinburgh, but a sea change in opinion is laying down the roots for a better environment for all road users. Within 24 hours of Andrew’s death, Lynne had set up a bank account as a holding place for a future memorial fund. Within 48 hours, the AndrewCyclist.com website was up and ready to take donations to improve the lives of cyclists in Edinburgh.
A month on, Lynne and Ian have been instrumental in raising awareness and preparing the capital to better equip drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians to better understand one another. The 15 deaths of cyclists in Britain so far in 2012 are, they hope, some of the last.
Andrew McNicoll’s employers, Balfour Beatty, have pledged £5,000 to Andrew’s future charitable trust. Ian said: “Our legal team Lindsays, which are dealing with Andrew’s estate, have kindly agreed that they would take on all the legal work to register the charity with Oscr [the charity register] free of charge, which will save us several hundred pounds.” In the last few weeks, the city council has also been busy making changes to current transport policy at meetings attended by the McNicolls.
Edinburgh City Council has agreed on a 5 per cent allocation of the transport budget to cycling for 2012-13, a first for a Scottish council, and the Times newspaper in England has launched a cycle safety campaign after one of its own young reporters was left in a coma while cycling to work.
For some, the changes ahead are the fruit of years of campaigning. Dave du Feu, a spokesman for Spokes, a group of Lothian cycle campaigners, told The Scotsman: “The main solution to making cycling even safer is to continue the process of reducing danger on the roads – for example, reducing speed limits to 20mph in all built-up areas – this would save many more cyclist and pedestrian casualties than equipping everyone with loads of ‘safety aids’ and still allowing traffic to travel through at speed.
“Similarly, the council reduces road danger by identifying cyclist blackspots from the statistics then taking remedial measures, such as a very successful scheme which early figures suggest has made West Saville Terrace/ Mayfield road junction [in Edinburgh] much safer for cyclists. The council is also going to install special lenses on all its HGVs so that the drivers have fewer blind spots where they can’t see cyclists.”
Lynne said of Andrew’s death: “It felt like we’d pressed the pause button on our lives then, and it’s been hard to press the play button again”. To help her start again, Andrew’s friends will raise money for the Andrew Cyclist fund through a Dragon Boat Race, and she hopes to complete Pedal For Scotland, a stretch of more than 50 miles between Edinburgh and Glasgow that Andrew had raced before and had agreed to do with her. Lynne wanted to do a “Pedal for Paul”, cycling in honour of a young man she met through her cancer charity It’s Good 2 Give. She will still do so, because Andrew would be “really cross” if she let anyone down for his sake.
As the McNicolls continue to raise money for Andrew Cyclist and the council plans where to allocate the new funding, it should be remembered that Ian and Lynne lost a son for no reason at all. The least we can do for them is make our city streets fit for purpose.
Image copyright of the Scotsman