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Cycle viaduct “De Snelbinder” in Naaldwijk

BicycleDutch - 30 March, 2015 - 23:01
An enormous cycle bridge was built in Naaldwijk, and what was the reason? Flowers! Or to be more precise; flower transports. You have probably never heard of Naaldwijk, but it … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

What are the urban and geographical preconditions of a high cycling mode-share?

Cycling Embassy of Denmark - 30 March, 2015 - 12:05

According to a study commissioned by the Danish Nature Agency, a combination of smooth terrain, high local accessibility/density, and the city’s size in the region affects the cycling mode-share. By Thomas Alexander Sick Nielsen, Technical University of Denmark and Hans Skov-Petersen, University of Copenhagen Characteristics of ‘The Good Cycling City’ The survey supplements previous studies by focusing […]

The post What are the urban and geographical preconditions of a high cycling mode-share? appeared first on Cycling Embassy of Denmark.

Categories: News

TNO demonstreert kruispunt van de toekomst

Fietsberaad - 30 March, 2015 - 01:00

TNO heeft in een bijna real-life demonstratie laten zien hoe automobilisten worden gewaarschuwd voor een plotseling overstekende fietser dankzij speciale sensoren.

Categories: News

West Sussex and LSTF money – the Northgate gyratory

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 25 March, 2015 - 23:38

Last week I wrote a long post about how West Sussex County Council are proposing to use millions of pounds of ‘sustainable’ transport funding (distributed by the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership) on schemes that have negligible (or even non-existent) sustainable transport benefit.

Even those parts of the schemes that, by West Sussex’s own admission, have no sustainable transport benefit whatsoever, could obviously be designed to accommodate walking and cycling routes. But West Sussex have chosen not to do this. They want to build very large roundabouts on the edge of a major town that have absolutely no walking and cycling provision.

In that post I described how this is symptomatic of a wider problem with cycling outside of cities in Britain – West Sussex in particular is just one many local authorities that have no consistent stream of funding for genuinely sustainable transport, no real enthusiasm for engaging seriously with cycling as a mode of transport, and little or no expertise on how to design properly for it.

What cash that is available for cycling from central government – either through these LEP channels, or through the Local Sustainable Transport Fund – appears to dribble away, used on schemes and projects of negligible benefit.

This post is the first in a series that will examine what West Sussex has done with the £2.46 million of cash the county was awarded by the DfT for sustainable travel projects, to be spent between 2012 and 2015.

West Sussex’s initial bid was for £5m, for four towns and cities – Crawley, Worthing, Chichester and Horsham. The DfT rejected that bid, and only chose to fund the schemes for Chichester and Horsham – about half the total bid (hence £2.46m). So these posts will cover where those millions of pounds have gone, in Chichester and Horsham. It should also be borne in mind that the total spend will be significantly higher, with matched funding from the local authority in many cases.

A case in point is the subject here. £140,000 of that DfT cash is being spent on the Northgate Gyratory in Chichester (with a further £70,000 coming from West Sussex’s own road safety budget). This is a very busy road system – dubbed ‘The Fire Station Roundabout’ (because it has a Fire Station in the middle of it) - just to the north of Chichester city centre. It is where the city’s inner ring road meets roads heading off to the north, out of Chichester.

What is that £210,000 buying?

  • A repainting of the existing cycle lane markings.
  • Some solar-powered flashing signs telling drivers to ‘Think Bike’.
  • A video.
  • That’s it.

It should be borne in mind that the Northgate Gyratory is a significant barrier to cycling in Chichester – to get in and out of the city centre from the north, this roundabout has to be used. And it also has a safety problem – despite its innate hostility obviously suppressing cycling, there have been six serious cycling injuries in the last nine years.

So, really, this is a bit of a shambles. The money has, frankly, been wasted.

Here’s the video West Sussex have produced to publicise the repainting of the cycle lanes, and the new flashing signs.

The basic problem here is that the existing design for cycling is dire, and it isn’t being changed. The crap cycle lanes are being repainted, and the flashing signs smack of desperation, an attempt to mitigate for inherent flaws in the road layout. As a Chichester local told me –

By definition if you need to have such signs, surely this means you haven’t designed your roads properly for cyclists.

And it’s hard to disagree.

It should be noted that there are already signs at Northgate gyratory – signs that aren’t electronic.

 

 

 

I doubt flashing signs will do much to address the risks for people cycling at this gyratory, any more than the existing metal ones do anything.

The problems are the result of poor design, on both entry and exit to the roundabout.

On entry, drivers will not be looking in the direction cyclists are coming from, which is almost from their side. Their attention will be focused instead on the roundabout, and gaps in motor traffic.

The problems are compounded by ‘masking’ – even if they are looking in two different directions, drivers in the nearside lane will often have their visibility of the cycle lane obscured by motor vehicles in the outer lane.

This design is not being changed. Just repainted.

Likewise on exit, collisions occur because drivers are unsure about where people cycling will be going (or make assumptions about their direction), while similarly people cycling will be unsure about whether drivers will be entering or existing the roundabout. For example.

 

The blue arrows represent a driver and a cyclist. At the positions pictured, neither has a clue what the other is going to do – stay on the roundabout, or exit it. That uncertainty is a recipe for collisions.

Safely navigating this cycle lane involves looking back over your shoulder, through  180°, in an attempt to observe what motor traffic behind you is doing.

Conveniently this is even demonstrated in West Sussex’s video.

It’s dreadful design, a recipe for collisions.

These are the kinds of problems that need to be resolved. People cycling are not in visible positions, and when they are, there’s uncertainty about who is going in which direction.

Another local, Paul Wreyford, has this to say in the road.cc article on the gyratory plans

The cycle lane design remains very similar to the existing layout. There still remains the danger and conflict that I and many of my neighbours have experienced on this system.

This is; the high speed of exiting traffic at each junction, the lack of visibility for the kerbside driver when two vehicles are at a two lane entry, the failure of drivers to signal when exiting, and the lack of lane discipline/lane markings on the gyratory system.

I’d also add that even relying on drivers signalling their intentions to exit (or stay on) the roundabout, is simply not good enough, because if someone doesn’t signal, or signals in error, and their intentions are (mistakenly) assumed, the consequences would be catastrophic.

The black car isn’t signalling an intention to exit. Staying on the roundabout?

So there are a series of clear, identifiable safety problems, that are a direct consequence of the existing design, which is merely being repainted. The issue is not a general lack of ‘awareness’ of cyclists – awareness that needs to be ‘raised’ by a number of flashing signs -as the video implies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a video I’ve taken showing one of the exit points of the gyratory, in the south-west corner.

The video essentially speaks for itself, but a few things can be observed.

  • Traffic on the gyratory is pretty much continuous, even at this relatively quiet time of the day (the middle of the afternoon). Without knowing with certainly where drivers are going, you will almost always have to come to a complete stop to cross the exits if you are using the cycle lane.
  • Notice that many drivers do not signal their intention to exit – 0:28, 0:32 0:50, in just this short clip. Indication plainly cannot be relieve upon, despite the implications of the West Sussex video. Assuming drivers are staying on the roundabout because they’re not indicating would be a very bad idea.
  • Notice how the man cycling has to look directly behind him (1:03), even when not crossing the exit.
  • The pedestrian environment is also terrible; notice the struggles/uncertainty about how and where to cross at 0:35.

An extra insult is how the poor existing road markings – needless ‘Give Ways’ for people simply leaving the roundabout by bike, like these –

Are just being repainted, without any apparent thought about whether they are even necessary.

A good use of £210,000

Sensible advice would be to avoid these cycle lanes entirely, if you feel confident enough to do so, and to cycle in the traffic flow on the roundabout, to minimise the problems of intervisibility described here. That’s a pretty dire state of affairs.

But it could have been even worse. The initial plans from West Sussex for this gyratory proposed giving cycling priority on both entry and exit.

This was really a dreadful idea, given all the aforementioned problems of uncertainty.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with giving cycling priority over motor traffic, but not with this kind of geometry, and with these kinds of speeds on exit. The flashing warning ‘Think Bike!’ signs were included as part of this scheme, again presumably in an attempt to make it slightly less lethal.

 

 

 

That design appears to have been abandoned following a road safety audit, leaving us with the status quo. Plus the signs.

So £210,000 is going to be spent doing essentially nothing.

Unfortunately that simply wasn’t enough money in the first place to come up with a serious, design-led solution to the issues with this roundabout, drawing on best international practice in designing cycling infrastructure that is safe and attractive to use.

There’s plenty of space at Northgate for a major redesign, accommodating cycling infrastructure of the type seen in David Hembrow’s video above, and described in his blog post here. But the aimless result we’ve ended up with has probably flowed from that initial problem of insufficient cash. Northgate needs a major physical redesign, and £210,000 was never going to be enough.

Maybe West Sussex weren’t ever that interested in examining serious alternative designs, or in devoting a large chunk of the money they won from the DfT on implementing one scheme, preferring instead to spread it thinly on a large number of schemes that look good, presented as a nice long list, but are ineffective in practice.

Meanwhile the old paint is being scraped off, ready for new paint.

Next week I’ll be looking at another way in which West Sussex have used six figure sums of LSTF cash. Stay tuned.

 


Categories: Views

Transport for London drops its cycling mode share target: what does this mean?

Road Danger Reduction Forum - 25 March, 2015 - 14:01

There’s been some concern that Transport for London (TfL) has dropped its target for cycling to have a 5% mode share in London by 2026. We have posted on the target question before,  but it’s time for an update.

This was the graph shown in 2012 by TfL. Was it “on track” then, and is it “on track” now?

(Click on graph to enlarge)

While some think we spend too much time on TfL and cycling in London, we’re unapologetic. Cycling has such a small modal share in the UK now, and is so crucial for a sustainable transport future, that it needs attention. And TfL is the one Highway Authority trying to invest significant resources in changing things.

So what should people make of the headline in LTT  that “TfL axes 5% cycle trips target”?  While studying this I suggest you look at  Transport for London Board’s meeting on: 5 February 2014 , Item 6: Cycling Vision Portfolio:  in particular Figure 5: Forecast growth in cycling trips in London to 2026 [Source: TfL Group Planning, Strategic Analysis] which is the same as the graph above before my additions to it.

 

TfL’s targets for growth in cycling modal share – setting the scene
  1. The 400% question.

The idea of having a 400% increase in cycling’s modal share was first raised under the first Mayor of London, and was regularly quoted as the target under Mayor’s Transport Strategies and other documents. For anybody with the most basic knowledge of statistics, 400% is a five times increase – although it seems to have been thought of as four times greater.

So in the TfL Board presentation on 5 February 2014 we have Item 6: Cycling Vision portfolio

4.17 In his 2010 Transport Strategy, the Mayor set an ambitious target to increase levels of cycling in London by 400 per cent by 2026 (from 2001) and to achieve a five per cent mode share of all journeys in the capital.”

Multiplying by 5 instead of 4 would mean:

A. The 2026 target – of 5 x 320k (daily) cycle journeys – would be 1.6 million cycle journeys, not 1.5 million. That is some 100,000 journeys more. In context, the well-known Cycle Hire programme aims for 40,000 journeys daily.

B. The modal share would be 5 x 1.2% (the share in 2001), which would come to 6%, not 5%.

2. The axing of the target

On  26 March 2015 Item 10: Cycling Vision Annual Update was presented by Lilli Matson, Head of Strategy and Outcome Planning, Better Routes and Places, TfL Surface Planning directorate.   She is reported as saying: “Mode share is not appropriate to be used as a target, as it is changeable due to population flux.”

What’s the justification for this? Presumably she’s saying that the increase in London’s population (known about for some years) means that modal share targets for cycling journeys go down, but go up for all other modes. Why? Transport planners are used to employing modal share as an indicator, even with population changes.

The only rationale I can think of is that while TfL are keeping the 1.5 million journey stages by bike by 2026 target – this “remains a relevant challenge” – they can’t really cope with the idea of having to get beyond it.

 

To explore this further, let’s look at TfL’s conceptualisation of cycling trips by studying the graph (whether as shown above or directly from Figure 5: Forecast growth in cycling trips in London to 2026 in Transport for London Board’s meeting on: 5 February 2014 , Item 6: Cycling Vision Portfolio).

 

 

TfL’s targets for growth in cycling modal share – what’s the trend?

The main issue is the two lines on the graph as supplied by TfL: these are ACTUAL in light blue font and TARGET in red font. I have no quarrel with the blue line, although TfL could have done a lot more to get good figures on the numbers and types of cycling trips. My problem is with the red line.

Or, to be more precise, the red curve. I have added a straight BLACK line on to the graph, which runs straight from the 2001 baseline point to the target point.

The characteristic of the red curve as it has been drawn by TfL is that it allows a lower number of trips to be presented as “on target” in the early years.

To be specific: If we used my straight black line, the “on track” number for 2013 – the last year for which we have figures – would be something like 900,000, not the much lower 585,000 for cycle journey stages on an average day announced by Lilli Matson. (Even on the red curve the number should be c. 620,000, but 585,000 is not very much lower.)

Of course, it is quite legitimate to give a curve such as the red one as the indicator of likely growth, rather than a straight line, because it represents a constant percentage increase each year. But this projection has to be based on evidence. In this case it would mean that the rate of growth increases very significantly from about 2016 – 2017. It should also be made clear that this assumption is being made.

Now, there are good reasons for making the assumption. It could be said that TfL has done very little since its inception to generate an increase in cycling. We are now due to have the much publicised measures of changes in highway layout coming in shortly, and these could result in a significant increase in take up of cycling from about 2016/2017 when the changes become apparent – and this would justify the sudden increase in rate of increase in cycling journeys.

 

 

So is TfL’s forecasting right?

TfL certainly has plenty of transport planning tools: The Cycling Policy Evaluation Tool (CYPET) which “provides a reasonable estimate of the impact of different infrastructure programmes in different locations”, development of modelling capacity through the Cycle Network Model London (CYNEMON) and the Cycle Demand Evaluation Response working group (CYDER) .

My experience is that TfL’s evaluation of cycling potential comes up with some interesting data. For example through the MOSAIC (a marketing tool used by transport planners) assessment, it is possible to see where he groups least likely to give up car usage live. It all helps TfL to work out where the “low-hanging fruit” – the easiest areas to invest in to get visible return – are.

But that could be the problem.

My suggestion is that TfL are generally cautious about their ability to support cycling as an everyday form of transport, and that this leads to limited initiatives for cycling, combined with an unwillingness to engage with the sustainable transport policies required to have a genuinely equitable approach towards cycling.

This is reflected in the ditching of the 5% modal share target and in another target – the Cycle Safety Action Plan target – chosen by TfL.

 

 

The Cycle Safety Action Plan target

We have reviewed the current TfL Cycle Safety Action Plan (CSAP) here.

A key problem with it is – against continual reassurance to the Cycle Safety Working Group – the failure to base its approach on an exposure-based measure of cyclist casualties. As I said at the time:

The draft CSAP is a fundamentally flawed document which fails… Firstly, its idea of “safety” for cyclists is measured in a way which can indicate that having fewer cyclists and a higher cyclist casualty rate is BETTER than having more cyclists and a lower casualty rate…”.

This is not a technical or abstruse issue. It is an approach which would see as a failure any increase in cycling which outstrips a reduction in the cyclist casualty rate – where the rate is based on a measure of exposure such as journeys or distance travelled by bicycle, or time spent cycling. It means, for example, that if the number of cycle journeys doubles, the main official casualty (Killed and Seriously Injured, or KSI) rate would have to be halved. Along with a greater willingness to report injuries, and a higher concentration of children and elderly people (who are more likely to be seriously hurt after a collision) the casualty rate would have to go down by 60% or more in order to have a cut in overall cyclist KSIs. Such a cut would be very dramatic.

The conventional “road safety” way of assessing safety on the road is embedded in TfL’s culture. And it is inherently biased against a target of more than some 100% of extra cycling trips.

  What TfL’s current targets mean:

TfL’s targets, as with forecasting, are indicators of what goals it is prepared to pursue. In fact, cycling targets in the UK have historically been way higher than those achieved, and it could be that TfL has simply been unwilling to risk a shortfall. On the other hand, one can point out that no proponent of a sustainable travel target – the most obvious case being John Prescott’s commitment to cutting car usage - has ever had to suffer public ignominy when that target has not been reached. And the target is anyway twelve years away from assessment.

So I would suggest that the current state of targeting within TFL is indicative of caution, based on its reluctance to really push forward towards a genuinely healthy status for cycling as an everyday form of transport in London.

Let’s examine why this is, and what would be required.

The “Mayor’s Vision for Cycling in London” is discussed at length here  and in previous posts. We have argued that measures necessary to support cycling are weak in terms of failures in:

  • Law enforcement. TfL has a major role in determining what law enforcement in London could be.
  • Concentrating on limited amendments to the highway layout, with funding levels (albeit far higher than elsewhere in the UK) that are minimal compared to those of other modes.
  • Dealing with the greater attractiveness – through what is, in effect, subsidy – of motoring.
  • reallocating road space and highway capacity away from motor vehicles towards cycling and other modes, not least because of the limitations of current forms of cost benefit analysis
  • Provision of so-called “complementary” programmes of support for cycling: there remains a failure to address issues of inadequate availability of appropriate bicycles, cycling equipment and accessories, secure and convenient home parking, maintenance and repair of bicycles, and genuinely supportive cycle training.

The above are just parts of the car-centred culture that TfL operates in. It features abuse and victim-blaming of cyclists, and what is in effect discrimination against cycling as a form of everyday transport. Transport for London is, of course, limited in what it can do to deal with deep-rooted beliefs. It is, after all, a highway authority with what it calls “cycling customers” on its TLRN roads.

But it could do a lot more, in our opinion, through its role as funder of the boroughs to address issues away from its roads, and indeed away from the context of highway infrastructure. Of course, that would in turn mean looking critically at its own belief system.

So do the Mayor, the Greater London Authority and Transport for London really want to see cycling have its proper status as a mode of transport in London. Because, if not, maybe cutting back on targets is the appropriate thing to do.


Categories: Views

Verkeersveiligheid fietsers blijft achter in EU

Fietsberaad - 25 March, 2015 - 09:19

Acht procent van de dodelijke verkeersslachtoffers in Europa zijn fietsers en dat aantal loopt de laatste jaren maar mondjesmaat terug. Tussen 2010 en 2013 met 3 procent, terwijl het totale aantal verkeersdoden met 18 procent verminderde. Dat blijkt uit cijfers van de Europese Commissie.

Categories: News

38 % of Danish car drivers want to bike more

Cycling Embassy of Denmark - 24 March, 2015 - 12:57
According to a survey, many people would actually like to bike more. But the municipalities need to lend them a helping hand. Several Danish municipalities already have good experiences to share.   By Michael Knørr Skov, COWI Car Drivers are Ready to Choose the Bike A study by COWI, member of the Cycling Embassy of […]
Categories: News

Conflicting greens – the implications of a new Oxford junction for ‘simultaneous green’

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 24 March, 2015 - 09:36

The Dutch ‘simultaneous green’ junction arrangements allow people walking and cycling to progress through signal controlled junctions in any direction they choose, at the same time as people from all the other arms of the junction.

‘Simultaneous green’ works well on very large junctions, as this David Hembrow video shows –

As well as on smaller ones. My video this time –

In Britain, however, there is some confusion about whether these kinds of arrangements would be legal, particularly as they involve ‘conflicting greens’ – green signals running at the same time on arms of a junction that are an angle to each other. (See this thread on the Cycling Embassy forum, for example).

Now of course we already have examples of ‘conflicting greens’ in the UK – greens for traffic from opposite arms of a junction, which allow people to turn right across the opposing traffic stream. For instance, if I’m turning right in my car, or on my bike, I have a green signal to go, while someone heading straight through the junction from the opposite direction also has a green. We both have a green, yet our paths will cross! The answer is – the turning party yields, rather than assuming green means a manoeuvre can be performed without conflict.

So this seems to be a straightforward objection to the ‘we don’t do conflicting greens in the UK’ claim.

But what about greens from junction arms that are not directly facing each other? What about you having a green to go straight ahead, while the junction to your left – at 90° to your junction – also has a green?

I was told last year by a highway engineer, whose opinion I value, that there isn’t actually anything in UK traffic regulations that specifically rules out doing this. He explained that this option is technically available. You could give motor traffic green signals simultaneously on two arms of a junction at 90° to each other. This just doesn’t happen because, well, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, and would probably be quite unsafe – for motor traffic, at least.

There is now a new junction in Oxford that seems to substantiate this – that you can allow ‘conflicting greens’ on a junction, at 90° to each other (or indeed at other angles). The Hythe Bridge Street junction lies between the city’s station, and the city centre. It used to be composed of two separate roads, with a cut-though in the middle diagonal for walking and cycling –

But it has now been converted into a straightforward crossroads. Or, actually, a slightly less than straightforward crossroads.

The odd arrangement is on the western arm of the junction.

Looking east, across the junction

The signals tells us that all motor traffic must turn left, heading north. Meanwhile, however, people cycling are exempted from that instruction – they are able to cycle off in any direction they please, north, east, or south.

So far so good, but allowing people cycling to do this actually involves a ‘conflicting green’. While this arm of the junction is green, it turns out that traffic flowing south out of the northern arm also has a green signal.

Here’s another photograph, this one from Graham Smith, showing the same location, but from the south-western corner of the junction.

Picture by Graham Smith

The man on the bike and the van driver both have a green signal. Note that at the time Graham’s picture was taken – January this year – there aren’t any road markings in the junction. Indeed, this was the initial plan, as below.

Click to enlarge. I’ve highlighted, in red,  the paragraph that makes clear people cycling can progress in any direction through the junction from the western arm.

Some markings were then hastily added at the end of January, presumably in response to local complaints and actual collisions.

A painted waiting area, right in the middle of the junction.

This is, of course, still far from brilliant – if you are not familiar with the junction, it’s not entirely clear how it will work, and even if you are, you are still exposed to collision risk from motor traffic turning around you, without any protection.

But the main point of this post is that – regardless of the safety implications – it is apparently entirely legal to give green signals, simultaneously, from junctions at 90° to each other, as shown below – even if the ‘traffic’ coming from the western arm is cycle-only.

 

The safety implications of this odd arrangement in Oxford – which involves interactions between bikes and motor traffic – are surely much greater than a clearly-explained simultaneous green layout, which will involve interactions only between people cycling.

So – what’s stopping us?

 


Categories: Views

Leeuwarden Bicycle Rush Hours

BicycleDutch - 23 March, 2015 - 23:01
Leeuwarden has very different types of infrastructure for different types of streets. When I filmed rush hour at two locations in the city last month, the end result seems to … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

Copenhagenize Consulting

Cycling Embassy of Denmark - 23 March, 2015 - 07:30
New member of CED: Copenhagenize Consulting Read more at www.copenhagenize.eu
Categories: News

Groningen komt met ambitieuze fietsstrategie

Fietsberaad - 23 March, 2015 - 00:00

‘Nergens ter wereld wordt zoveel gefietst als in Groningen’. Zo begint de ‘Fietsstrategie 2015-2025’ van de gemeente. En dat willen de Stadjers weten. In de nota wordt een campagne aangekondigd om Groningen wereldwijd als fietsstad (nog meer) op de kaart te zetten. Maar de nota gaat vooral over de keuzes die nodig zijn om het groeiende fietsverkeer in Groningen de ruimte te bieden.

Categories: News

Compare and contrast

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 21 March, 2015 - 16:45

In 2011 Ghulam Murtza was stopped by the police, and issued a fixed penalty notice. He was prosecuted for committing an offence under section 24 of the 1988 Road Traffic Act, and fined £115. He was carry his child on his bike, on a seat that may or may not have been strictly legal.

This is section 24 –

Section 24 of the Road Traffic Act 1988

As it happens, this is a fine I am at risk of receiving pretty much every single day, because I give my partner a ‘backie’ on my omafiets, like this –

My oma isn’t ‘constructed or adapted’ for carrying more than one person – she just sits on the rack – so by the letter of the law we are both risking fines every time we do this.

This is the law Murtza fell foul off.

Compare this £115 fine with the cases of Michael Mason and Daniel Squire, who were both mown down from behind and killed by drivers.

In the case of Michael Mason, the driver faced no criminal proceedings whatsoever, despite the fact she ‘could not explain why she did not see Michael when many other witnesses had.’

In the case of Daniel Squire, the driver walked free from court, despite admitting texting while driving in the period immediately prior to the fatal collision, and (from the new reports available) a deeply unconvincing account of what transpired.

Two fatal collisions.

But no fines, not even any penalty points, in either case. Killing people apparently merits less punishment than carrying someone on a bike.


Categories: Views

The Michael Mason case: A national scandal and disgrace

Road Danger Reduction Forum - 20 March, 2015 - 23:07

Michael Mason and his daughter Anna Tatton-Brown (Ross Lydall)

We have written about this case before in the context of law enforcement in London and our aims in the Traffic Justice Alliance. Unfortunately, we can’t report strides forward – yet – with the Traffic Justice Alliance, and have to report on developments in this case which should upset anybody who wants to see a civilised approach to danger on the roads. That may sound extreme, but recent developments reveal what we think is a national scandal and disgrace. This is not just a London matter, or just of concern to cyclists. It is about how crucial elements of the “road safety” culture we live under – including the beliefs and behaviour of those entrusted with law enforcement – are part of the problem of danger on the road.

Since our last post on this case:

On 13th March 2015 Michael Mason’s family held a vigil near the place where he was killed, with a protest and “die-in”. Brenda Puech, Dr Robert Davis and Councillor Caroline Russell from the RDRF Committee attended this event, with Caroline speaking as a pedestrian and cyclist activist. 

Speakers: Caroline Russell, Cynthia Barlow (RoadPeace), Nicola Branch (Stop Killing Cyclists), Anna Tatton-Brown (daughter of Michael Mason). Roger Geffen for Cyclists’ Defence Fund also spoke.

It was an emotional gathering with palpable relief at the news – broken that day – that the file on the case had been passed by MPS to the Crown Prosecution Service.

Since then the news has been that some kind of mistake was made, and that in fact the MPS has not passed the file through, deciding against supporting a prosecution of the driver. For an account of this, and how horrified people have been at the treatment of Michael Mason’s family, see this.

However, our main concern is with the justification for the police not proceeding. This means analysing the Investigating Officer’s Report, which you can find here.

What’s wrong with the Investigating Officer’s Report?

(You can read a similar set of arguments in an excellent article here )

Four justifications are given for the MPS failing to proceed in the manner which we should expect of them. These excuses are:

  1. that Mason was (as was his legal right) wearing dark clothing

I have written at length on the problems of advocating hi-viz or bright clothing for pedestrians and cyclists. Part of our concern is a lack of evidence for such clothing actually making a difference to the chances of not being hit – luckily (so far) the Department for Transport has not come out with any convincing evidence.

But a larger part of our concern is that this focus shifts responsibility yet again away from those who endanger others (the motorised) on to those they endanger (pedestrians and cyclists). If drivers choose not to look where they are going, and simply watch out for very bright objects, they may well not “see” people outside their cars. Our problem is that this feeds into and colludes with the “SMIDSY” (Sorry Mate I Didn’t See You)  excuse of drivers who refuse to look where they are going. They break the first rule of safe driving: Never drive in such a way that you cannot stop within the distance you can see to be clear.

Just in case anybody thinks we are being too extreme here, I should remind you of the experience of Tom Kearney, knocked down by a “bendy bus” mirror when walking on the footway on Oxford Street, not far from where Michael Mason was killed.  When questioned by the police after the incident (or rather when he came out of the coma he was in after the incident), Tom was asked if he had been wearing dark clothing. When walking. On the pavement.

We think this is all victim-blaming nonsense that facilitates the endangering of others. It is related to the next excuse:

2.◾that a witness’s opinion was that “it would be difficult for a driver to pick out anything” in the visual noise of Regent’s Street

Ever since the CTC warned of the implications of getting other road users to be lit up for motorists’ benefit before the Second World War, there has been concern that street and vehicle lighting could dazzle. Glare became an issue. The message to anyone with any sanity would be that there is too much reliance on lighting.

There are two issues here: Are we seriously supposed to accept that a driver cannot see a cyclist or pedestrian who is not wearing bright clothing in Regent Street. Go there on a March rush hour evening and see what you think. The other issue is: if you can’t see a pedestrian or cyclist without hi-viz clothing then you are not driving properly, and are responsible for any crash occurring because you have not seen the person outside your car.

(There is also the issue of why “a witness” is an authority here, and not some sort of forensic expert)

3. ◾that the driver maintained her course

This excuse is not separate from the ones above – indeed it is essentially the same. The point about “not seeing” is not that is about images not falling on the retina. It is about whether the driver is watching, looking out and willing and able to process the images – and to do so in the correct manner. People see what they want to see, and similarly don’t see if they aren’t prepared to watch out in the manner required of them. It is very easy to drive on the basis that anything without lights is no threat and can therefore be ignored. It is also wrong, as anyone who has crashed into a deer realises.

In this case, as Bez  says: “Of course, maintaining one’s course is often an effective means of driving straight into things: if there is someone in front of you, it hardly seems a reason not to prosecute.”

The final excuse is one that has concerned us for some time:

4. that Mason was (as was his legal right) not wearing a helmet

Now, we can argue that there is a lack of evidence on the benefits of helmet wearing across cycling populations, whether because of a lack of effect or relevance in cyclist collisions. We can argue that compensatory behaviour by helmeted cyclists and/or other road users absorbs any safety benefit. Or that it would make more sense to wear such helmets in cars. (See www.cyclehelmets.org for evidence). But probably the biggest concern about helmet advocacy is the red herring effect – one which we see here to grotesque effect.

The simple fact is that what Mason may, or may not, have been wearing on his head is irrelevant to whether a driver who drove into him had broken the law – in this case driving without due care and attention. The idea that if Mason had been wearing helmet there would have been no case to answer is beyond preposterous. It is simply preposterous to assume that if Mason had been wearing a helmet there would have been:

  1. no change in his or others behaviour (risk compensation).
  2. no other significant injury other than a head injury
  3. Total prevention of any head injury
  4. no significant inconvenience or discomfort to Mason

That’s the simply preposterous part – what takes it further is that driver carelessness is exonerated even if the consequences of it might not be that bad. Would we reduce the sentence of – or not even prosecute – someone who shot a policeman, because the policeman was wearing a bullet-proof vest?

How the Investigating Officer’s Report reasoning is part of the problem…

This is the fundamental issue. “Road safety” ideology for decades has assumed that drivers are unwilling or unable to drive properly, and that driver carelessness is just part of the territory. The “can’t see” excuse has been accommodated by lighting and longer sight lines. The generally careless driver has been accommodated by more crashworthy vehicles (roll bars, crumple zones, seat belts, air bags, collapsible steering wheels etc.) The incompetent or rule-breaking driver has been colluded with through highway engineering (crash barriers, felling roadside trees,  antiskid surfacing etc.)

Such idiot-proofing has often demonstrably exacerbated or generated idiot driving  . Even where there is little evidence that it has, the long term effect is, as the MPS have done in this case, to confuse common dangerous behaviour with acceptable behaviour.: . Of course, we have also had the complete failure of the official “road safety” organisations to get involved in cases such as this, and a general failure of the police to address the issues of careless and dangerous driving. But underlying it all is that the idea that bad driving is an inevitable feature of the cyclist’s or pedestrian’s surroundings.

 

…and what to do about it.

So where does this take us? My view is that cycling in London is not anything like as hazardous as is made out. I also think driver behaviour can be changed through measures such as guard rail removal, and that there is a Safety in Numbers effect from more cycling. But in a sense, that doesn’t matter when it comes to cases like this.

If the police, and other organisations with a brief for safety on the road, feel that driving is so antagonistic to other road users, there needs to be forthright commitment towards reducing that danger. That can be achieved by – well , any means necessary. It can be done by proper road policing addressing the danger at source. The highway can be engineered to reduce danger to cyclists and pedestrians, as can vehicles (with cyclist/pedestrian-activated braking, or at least “black box” type collision recorders).

And if “road safety professionals” are so keen to point out the threats posed by mass motoring, then there is yet more of an argument to bring in driver liability legislation (at the least in civil law). But whatever the means used, the basic issue will be one of seeing inappropriate driving as wrong and the basic problem, whether it has resulted in someone being hurt or killed or not, and whether or not ‘everyone does it’.

Consider the case of collisions where nobody is reported as hurt or killed – in fact the vast majority of collisions involving motor vehicles. Measures of road danger  could include actual collisions. The vast majority of car crashes, particularly at the lower speeds of urban areas, are not recorded in casualty statistics, because no injury is reported. Indeed, without (reported) injury, these results of careless/dangerous/rule-breaking/criminally negligent or whatever driving just don’t exist for the road safety professional.

Is that not what the excuses brought up by the MPS are all about? If they can claim that a reported injury occurred because of the victim’s own actions, then the world of bad driving can continue to be tolerated.

But it shouldn’t be.

 

====================================================================

For the moment, what you can do is:

Give: To help the family of Michael Mason you can make an online donation to the Cyclists’ Defence Fund  to support its work on cycling and the law – such as challenging unduly lenient law-enforcement of dangerous drivers, unjust prosecutions of cyclists, and highway and planning decisions which disregard cyclists’ needs. Or see information on other ways to donate to CDF here.


Categories: Views

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