On the evening of 12 February 2017 Harry Sievey died whilst riding his bike on Mauldeth St. West in Withington, Manchester. He was 24. The incident received quite a lot of coverage due to his being the son of Chris Sievey, the man behind Frank Sidebottom.
A week and a day after Harry’s death, a vigil was organised by Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign, Stop Killing Cyclists and Vision Zero Manchester. The purpose of the vigil was to remember Harry’s life and install a ghost bike in his memory. The vigil was publicised in the local press in advance, and on the evening well over 100 people turned out to pay their respects.
Around a third of these were Manchester cyclists, the rest friends and acquaintances of Harry. Despite there being a photographer present at the vigil, the story did not run in the press. I am trying to establish why this was as vigils and ghost bike inaugurations are incredibly powerful visual and emotional events that ought to be given appropriate prominence in our media.
The vigil started off with a moving tribute from Tom Stewart, a close friend of Harry’s, who painted a picture of a vibrant, caring, creative and popular young man who will be greatly missed by him and many others.
We then heard from Chris Paul, Manchester’s cycling champion,who read out a tribute from Jon Ronson, former keyboardist in Frank Sidebottom’s band and friend of the Sievey family, before acknowledging how bad conditions are for cycling in Manchester. This sentiment was reflected by Lord Mayor Carl Autin-Behan, who said he was attending above all as someone who cycles and is all too aware of the poor conditions on Manchester’s roads and how far we still have to go before Manchester is truly safe for cycling.
As press officer for Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign I then gave a speech, which is reproduced below.
The ceremony ended with a blessing of the ghost bike.
START OF SPEECH
Welcome to everyone who has turned out – whether you cycle yourself and feel empathy with one of our own who has fallen; whether you knew Harry and have come to celebrate his life and pay tribute to him; or whether you are just moved by this tragic incident, it’s great to see so many people here tonight.
The purpose of this evening’s event is twofold: first we are here to remember Harry, and we have already heard from others about what an exceptional young man he was. And second we’re here to inaugurate a ghost bike in Harry’s memory.
For those of you who are not familiar with the concept of a ghost bike, it’s a bike that is painted white and installed at the spot where a cyclist was killed or fatally injured. Ghost bikes have two main purposes. Most obviously they serve as a permanent memorial to the person who killed or injured: every time we come along this road and see the ghost bike, we will remember Harry Sievey. And the second purpose of a ghost bike is to remind all road users, but especially those who pose the most harm – drivers – that people have a right to cycle in safety.
They act as a reminder of how quickly and easily one mistake can cause the death or serious injury of you or someone else.
Some countries take road safety a lot more seriously than we do here. For example the Scandinavian countries have pioneered a “Vision Zero” approach to road safety, which has the ultimate goal of there being no casualties on the roads whatsoever.
In the UK we are a lot more complacent. We shrug off death and injury on the roads as just one of those things, as a society we accept it as the price worth paying for the convenience of individual motorised transport.
As a society we may accept it, but as a person I don’t accept it, and I hope you feel the same, and as we are gathered here tonight to remember Harry Sievey you agree with me that….
- it is unacceptable that our councils and town planners spend millions of pounds of our tax money on road schemes that only benefit one class of road user – drivers – to the detriment of the safety of those of us who choose less harmful ways of getting around;
- it is unacceptable that until only very recently the police in Greater Manchester have been reluctant to enforce the laws to protect the safety of people on bikes that have been on the statute books for years – and by very recently I mean the last few weeks, with the result that too many drivers have a sense of entitlement to break laws with impunity;
- it is unacceptable that our justice system all too frequently fails to do what it says on the tin when it comes to properly punishing those who kill and maim with motor vehicles;
- it is unacceptable that there are sections of the media so desperate for clicks and controversy that they foment profound hatred of people who cycle, which can translate into intolerance, aggression and violence on the roads.
For those of you who cycle, you will recognise these as being factors that make cycling in Manchester at lot less pleasant than it really should be. And those of you who don’t cycle may well recognise them as the reasons that deter you from doing so. And as long as most people are deterred from cycling or walking, then we will never be able to resolve the issues of congestion, pollution and traffic danger that blight our city.
So when we see someone on a bike, whether they are pootling around with their shopping in a basket on the front or hunched over a skinny road bike in tight lycra, let’s never forget that that is a person – like you, like me, like the person standing next you you, like Harry Sievey – who is simply trying to get safely to wherever they are going.
No one should have to take their life in their hands to get from A to B.
And no one should ever have to end their journey in a body bag, as Harry Sievey did on 12 February 2017.
So let’s keep doing whatever we can to create a safer, cleaner, more pleasant city for everyone in Manchester. And let’s hope this is the last ghost bike we have to install.
Rest in peace Harry Sievey. This should never have happened.
END OF SPEECH