Het aantal fietsgewonden in Nederland blijft toenemen. Daarom moeten alle gemeenten voor eind 2013 een 'Lokale aanpak veilig fietsen' vaststellen. Als steuntje in de rug heeft het ministerie van IenM het rapport 'Fietsveiligheid Stand van zaken & best practices Nederlandse gemeenten in 2012' uitgebracht met voorbeelden van al uitgevoerde maatregelen.
De smartphone App Positive Drive die in Breda wordt ingezet om fietser te belonen, blijkt vooral veel interessante fietsdata op te leveren. Een eerste analyse van de ritgegevens laat bijvoorbeeld zien dat het fietsnetwerk er in de praktijk behoorlijk anders uitziet dan deskundigen dachten.
Belgium will soon have a new traffic sign that will be referred to as the “living end road” sign. It signals that the road is a blind alley for motorised traffic but not for cyclists and pedestrians.
I was prompted to write this piece based on a post by Carlton Reid on his Quickrelease blog, in which the a comparison is attempted between building infrastructure for bicycles as a means of increasing their use and building baseball stadiums as a means of increasing the popularity of baseball in the UK. As an analogy, it doesn’t really work (and I know I’ve strained a few myself on this blog in the past) but it is at least an interesting revisiting of a straw man with whom Carlton has been arguing with on and off for a few years now.
The straw man I refer to is as follows; that of the cycle campaigners advocating replication of The Netherlands’ approach to cycle infrastructure here in the UK, a significant proportion believe that implementing a botched half-measures as seen in Milton Keynes or Stevenage is enough to produce cycling rates in the UK which are comparable to those in The Netherlands. No-one is saying that quality cycle infrastructure is the entire solution to the unpopularity of cycling as a mode of transport in the UK, it is just most of the solution, difficult, an entirely essential component of the solution and the most obviously visible part of the changes required. It makes sense that people are talking-up infrastructure; it is a very visible part of the changes we need, it is easy to communicate and it is the very foundation of making cycling a viable mode of transport for normal people. Talking down infrastructure, however, helps none of us, and is a particularly odd thing to do if you have previously made the case for the need for cyclists to present a united front to decision makers.
Carlton beats his straw man over the head with examples such as Milton Keynes or Stevenage, neither of which come close to representing what cycle campaigners advocating replication of The Netherlands’ approach to cycle infrastructure here in the UK are proposing. Whilst the treatment of main roads in these places may superficially resemble approaches used in The Netherlands, without the corresponding changes to other classes of road, such as residential streets, and the requisite inconveniencing of short-hop car trips arising from this infrastructure, attempting to use these places to argue that The Netherlands approach to cycle infrastructure would not work in the UK due to unspecified cultural difficulties is dishonest.
Instead, the importance of the built environment on the modes of travel people choose is downplayed, with unspecified cultural reasons suggested to be the real issue. As most of you will know, using the bicycle as a means of transport in most parts of the UK is not a normal thing to do. Using a means of transport which differs from the dominant means of transport; the car, on infrastructure designed entirely around the car, and amongst car users who have little understanding of cycling or cyclists can often make the act of cycling for transport into something of an ordeal. When facing this situation day in, day out, it can be very, very tempting to see the decision of others to drive rather than cycle as a personal failure, or a result of culture, rather than as a result of the environment. “If I can cycle in this, so can they,” you think to yourself, after a close overtake or a multi-lane roundabout, “if only they weren’t so lazy, or stupid, or addicted to their cars.” I find myself thinking along these lines sometimes, after a particularly gruelling ride to work. But really they’re just ordinary people, people who haven’t given much thought to why they chose the mode of transport they have. The cultural argument for why cycling has failed in the UK is so alluring because it allows us to feel morally superior to those who drive. Accepting that those who currently drive in the UK are the same as those who currently cycle in The Netherlands is hard because it means committing to changing the road environment here to more closely resemble that over there, which is a big job. It also means losing the thing which makes us special; being a cyclist, despite the environment, in a place where cycling is marginalised.
Carlton, it’s time to put this old straw man out to pasture.
There was an interesting comment nestling in a report of an inquest into a cyclist’s death, from road.cc yesterday -
Police Constable Ian Clark said it was “likely” the cyclist had been wearing earphones at the time of the collision – the implication being he may not have heard the vehicle behind him – adding: “I think a significant majority of motorists would have done as Mr Coggon [the driver] did,” he said.
It seems the cyclist was moving out to turn right, and was hit by a car that happened to be overtaking him. Obviously a tragic incident. Given that there are sparse details about what actually happened, it’s hard to say whether the verdict of accidental death is a reasonable one.
My concern here, however, is specifically the highlighted statement from Constable Clark. You can see that Mr Coggon is being defended in terms of how ‘the majority of motorists’ would behave. Put simply, Constable Clark is suggesting that Mr Coggon wasn’t doing anything wrong – couldn’t have been doing anything wrong – because he was driving like everyone else. The standards of driving set not by what is objectively safe, or proper, but by how ‘the majority of motorists’ would behave.
Is that appropriate?
In my experience, ‘the majority of motorists’ do not pass me with anything like the recommended passing distance covered in the Highway Code – Rule 163. ‘The majority of motorists’ do not overtake me in a way that gives me the maximum amount of safety while I am cycling.
Equally, the ‘majority of motorists’ seem quite happy to overtake me around junctions, in plain contravention of Rule 167 -
DO NOT overtake where you might come into conflict with other road users. For example… approaching or at a road junction on either side of the road
This happens to me each and every day, and I’m sure (anecdotally, of course) that any person who rides a bike can report that it happens to them too, with remarkable frequency.
Now of course we don’t know the extent to which Mr Coggon flouted these rules of the Highway Code. He may well have been driving perfectly, and the cyclist was entirely to blame, swerving out randomly into the middle of the road.
The issue here, rather, is a police constable appearing to believe that the way ‘the majority of motorists’ behave is a reasonable and sound guide to what constitutes good driving, when in reality a ‘significant majority of motorists’ will quite happily overtake a cyclist, at close proximity, through junctions. The way the majority behaves is obviously not a sound guide to good driving.
The unspoken assumption behind a statement like this is that everyone behind the wheel is intrinsically well-behaved and reasonable; an assumption quite naturally shared by the general public, who make most day-to-day trips in their motor vehicles. If an individual crashes their car, news reports will describe how a ‘car crashed’ (even, bizarrely, that a ‘car lost control’), as if something unspecified went wrong with it, rather than a human being making an error. Likewise, if we get caught breaking a law, then it is the law that is wrong, and sneaky, and not our behaviour, which is obviously reasonable, because everyone else is behaving the same way. See how speed cameras are described as ‘traps’ that unfairly catch out ‘otherwise law-abiding’ motorists, snaring them in a moment of weakness. ‘Ordinary’ drivers are good; circumstances, or the government, conspire to make them momentarily ‘bad’.
This logic is reflected in this remarkable statement from Ken Clarke, the former Justice Secretary, made in the House of Commons -
In the case of ordinary dangerous driving without any serious consequences, although I deplore all dangerous driving we cannot start imposing heavy prison sentences on everybody who might otherwise be a blameless citizen and then behaves in an absolutely reprehensible way when driving his car.
In the first place, we have the description of dangerous driving as ‘ordinary’ merely because the person behind the wheel had the good fortune – or blind luck – not to maim or seriously injure someone. A ‘blameless citizen’ who blasts through a zebra crossing at speed, while someone is on it, would only be engaging in ‘ordinary’ dangerous driving, not the kind with ‘serious consequences’.
In the second place, we can see that behaving ‘in an absolutely reprehensible way’ in a car is a completely different kind of reprehensible behaviour than the kind which might pose an identical – or even lesser – amount of danger, but doesn’t involve a car. It’s almost as if we expect people to behave badly in cars, that there’s something about a car that can turn ‘blameless citizens’ into ‘reprehensible drivers’, and we should make an accommodation for that kind of behaviour. Indeed, there appear to be so many of these ‘blameless citizens’ behaving reprehensibly in cars that we couldn’t possibly lock them all up!
I suppose it is natural that in a motorised society ‘reasonable behaviour’ is defined by how the majority behaves, even if the consequences of that majority behaviour could turn out to be appalling for who happen to be travelling by minority modes of transport. A jury apparently considered that a lorry driver who failed to spot Mary Bowers, clearly visible in front of him while stationary for at least ten seconds, could not possibly have been behaving dangerously, despite a catalogue of other offences. These kinds of extraordinary lapses are presumably not quite so extraordinary for these juries. A strange form of moral majority, that I hope will begin to dissolve, and soon.
Ondanks de bezuinigingsperikelen worden nog steeds aanzienlijke bedragen geïnvesteerd in nieuwe snelfietsroutes. Zo werd deze maand onder andere geld vrij gemaakt voor de snelfietsroutes Cuijk - Nijmegen, Houten-Nieuwegein en Nijverdal-Gronau .
The Times’ excellent correspondent, Kaya Burgess, is currently in the Netherlands on a fact-finding mission, along with London’s Cycling Commisioner Andrew Gilligan, Scotland’s Minister for Transport Keith Brown, and others. I hope they like what they are seeing (it’s impossible not to). However, I think it is important that they fully understand the context and application of the interventions for cycling they are looking at.
Just one example – on Monday Kaya tweeted this picture of the ‘Fietsstraat’ sign -
Writing that it ‘gives cycles priority’ on Dutch residential streets.
Well, yes and no. Literally, the sign suggests that cars are ‘guests’ on this particular street. But it was immediately misunderstood by several people who responded to Kaya’s tweet – one wrote that
Every cyclist [should] make one and put it in their street
THIS is what we need to back up the 20′s plenty campaign
On every road cyclist are protected by law, and cars take second place. If there is a acident its by law the cardrivers fault.
Every single aspect of that last tweet being completely wrong.
Here’s what the Dutch CROW manual has to say about one particular version of the Fietsstraat -
I have highlighted that this particular Fietsstraat treatment (combined profile, i.e. motor vehicles and cyclists travel on the same ‘red’ cycle surface) should only be applied on access roads, where, as you can see, motor vehicles should not number more than 500 per day, or just 20 per hour (likely to be rather higher at peak times, of course, but probably only amounting to around just one or two vehicles every minute).
The same is true for other versions of the Fietsstraat. They are intended for use only in these very low motor traffic environments; places where motor vehicles are only using the Fietsstraat to access a deliberately small number of properties. The cars are ‘guests’ only because they are using the cycle street to access their own houses; they’re not being told to be ‘guests’ in a ‘please play nicely’ kind of way, which is likely to be completely ineffective.
Here’s a different version of the Fietsstraat – one with cycle tracks to the side, and central divider.
Simply plonking up ‘cyclists have priority’ signs on a typical UK residential street, which will have much higher levels of motor vehicle usage, will almost certainly achieve nothing, and may even be a recipe for conflict (I have pointed this out before).
The key ingredient of the Fietsstraat is the removal of motor traffic; the signs are merely the icing on the cake.
Wie in Vlaams-Brabant in aanmerking wil komen voor subsidie kan maar beter kiezen voor asfalt.
Risk compensation – the proposition that a person’s perception of risk influences their risk-taking behaviour – has now become conventional wisdom. No one now disputes that rock climbers with ropes will attempt manoeuvres that they would not attempt without them, or that trapeze artists will attempt manoeuvres with nets that they would not attempt without. The insurance industry calls it “moral hazard” and accepts that people with insurance take more risks than those without. Financial regulators now acknowledge that banks that believe themselves, and their trading partners, to be too big to fail will take risks that others would not – confident of their government safety net.
Risk compensation has become conventional wisdom with a peculiar blind spot – seat belt laws. Seat belts have become the popular metaphor for just about anything that offers protection against just about anything. Googling “fasten your seat belts” yields half a million hits – almost none of which has anything to do with road safety: the top hit at the time of writing this is “Fasten your seat belts – a balance of payments crisis looms”.
Repetition has created a constantly self-reinforcing myth that has rendered belief in the efficacy of seat belt laws impervious to attack. A new book entitled Against Autonomy: justifying coercive paternalism has just been called to my attention. Its cover announces seat belts as its iconic exemplar of effective “coercive paternalism”. Conly deploys the “success” of seatbelt laws as a justification for further applications of coercive paternalism such as banning smoking:
“… we see widespread acceptance of seat belt laws, even for adults who are sober, rational, competent, and so on, because they so clearly prevent great harms in circumstances where there is no other way to stave off the damage that will otherwise ensue. “ (p5)
No need to cite evidence. Their prevention of great harm is so clear and obvious.
Such routinely reiterated publicity for the life-saving effect of seat belt laws helps to explain why they don’t save lives. The risk compensation effect works through perception. If you perceive that something will make you safer you will modify your behavior. Both the belt itself, and the incessant publicity for hugely exaggerated claims for its effectiveness, help to account for the fact, now acknowledged even by supporters of the law amongst the leadership of Britain’s Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, (see “Seat belt laws: why we should keep them”), that Britain’s seat belt law led to an increase in the numbers of pedestrians and cyclists killed.
The law didn’t work precisely because coercive paternalism was overridden by autonomous drivers. Pater could compel them to belt up, but could not compel them to want to be safer than they chose to be.
A thoughtful review of Against Autonomy by the person who brought it to my attention can be found here – http://grumpyarthistorian.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/sarah-conlys-against-autonomy-reviewed.html .
Readers new to this argument can catch up here – http://www.john-adams.co.uk/category/seat-belts/