In the wake of the Daily Mail publishing a series of photographs of cycleways with nobody using them at the moment the photograph was taken, and asserting that those cycleways are therefore ‘lunacy’ (apparently in the belief that doing so is any more meaningful than publishing a photograph of an empty road or footway and making conclusions about lunacy) the Guardian’s Dave Hill has evidently decided to join in the fun, publishing his own photograph of an empty cycle lane above an article that applies a thin veneer of earnest, chin-stroking consideration to precisely the same tabloid arguments.
This is at the same level of intellectual endeavour as publishing a photograph of an empty bus lane on the same road, before making questioning noises about how much bus lanes are being used, and whether the new mayor ought to consider using all that valuable road space for other modes of transport.
Newsflash – a photograph of an empty bit of infrastructure is absolutely meaningless, and it remains meaningless if you attempt to garnish it – as Dave Hill does – with some anecdotes about how you hardly ever see anyone using that bit of infrastructure.
You might wonder at this point why any journalist who takes himself seriously is so eager to recycle the arguments of the Daily Mail.
Of course what actually matters is numbers and efficiency, and unfortunately for Dave Hill, all the evidence is pointing in the opposite direction. In his article he is happy to quote Transport for London’s Director of Road Space Management, Alan Bristow, when he commented that the speed of implementation of the latest superhighways was ‘suboptimal’, during the latest London Assembly Transport Committee session on congestion. But if Hill had listened to the session from the start, he would have heard Bristow saying this –
‘we are committed to sustainable transport, and walking and cycling are one of the key parts of the mix that any city must have, for moving people around. And it’s actually a very efficient way of moving people. We’re seeing a lot of activity on the cycle superhighways, and we’re getting about 3,000 people an hour in the peaks, moving along the Embankment. We’re moving five percent more people.’
Get that? Bristow is quite explicitly stating that, even at current usage levels, the superhighways have made roads like the Embankment more efficient than they were before at moving people. This is hardly surprising – 3,000 people per hour in the equivalent of a single motor vehicle lane far exceeds the ability of such a lane to carry people in private motor vehicles.
So when it comes to ‘the matter of how much they are being used’, as Hill phrases it – well, let’s put it like this. If you think cycling infrastructure is a bad idea because the numbers of users fall away, outside of peak times, you are effectively arguing that roads should be made less efficient at times when that efficiency is most needed. No amount of anecdotes about how few people cycling you see outside peak times will change that blunt reality.
None of this should be surprising given Hill’s eagerness to distribute a discredited statistic about how much road space has been reallocated to cycling in London. Nor should it be surprising that Hill’s article also covers, again, other familiar territory, claiming that the new Deputy Mayor for Transport Val Shawcross believes ‘cycling policy should not only be about servicing the existing (and rather narrow) commuter and otherwise committed cyclist demographic but properly recognising others’ interests too’ – interpreting this to mean a
pointer to a broad, consensual approach, seeking to harmonise and give equal weight to the needs of cyclists and pedestrians and to introducing new infrastructure with the greatest possible consent.
But unfortunately this is a misreading of what Shawcross actually said.
“I’m really keen the cycling work we do isn’t just about the commuter cyclists, it’s about the little short journeys, not necessarily for work. It might be mums, it might be the retired, so the local communities get the benefits of this.”
In other words, designing for cycling shouldn’t just be about commuting, it should be about designing for all other kinds of cycling trips – cycling trips by mothers, and by elderly people, for instance. When Shawcross refers to policy ‘not just being about commuter cyclists’ she is explicitly talking about making cycling itself more inclusive, and not about watering down cycling policy to create ‘equal weight with pedestrians’, a spin Hill has added himself. (Note – ‘equal weight’ with pedestrians would actually mean cycling infrastructure on every main road, lowering the level of danger people cycling have to safe to an equivalent level to those who choose to walk).
Hill has evidently leapt on the ‘commuting cyclist’ term without pausing to look at what Shawcross actually said, which is unsuprising given his evident obsession with a desire to paint cycling in London as dominated by white middle class, middle-aged men, speeding to work, a conclusion not borne out by actual statistics.
The problem for Hill is that the very best way to enable cycling beyond the allegedly narrow demographic he repeatedly refers to – to enable cycling by women, by kids, by the elderly – is to build precisely the kind of infrastructure his own articles keep denigrating. This is the conclusion of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine report he keeps tediously linking to –
In cities where cycling uptake is low, the challenge for healthy public policy is perhaps to de-couple cycling from the rather narrow range of healthy associations it currently has, and provide an infrastructure in which anyone can cycle, rather than just those whose social identities are commensurate with being ‘a cyclist’.
Building cycleways is the very best way of achieving inclusivity. Not building them limits cycling to the people who are only prepared to cycle in hostile conditions on the road network.
You might argue Hill’s position on cycling infrastructure is disingenuous. I couldn’t possibly comment.
Queuing might be a word with a French origin, but the British have a reputation for it, particularly for doing it in an orderly fashion. But our passion for queuing is, perhaps surprisingly, a relatively recent development, arising out of industrialisation and poverty in the 19th century, and especially, rationing during World War II.
I have noticed that this ‘British’ approach to queuing is, sometimes, affecting behaviour on the new cycling infrastructure in London.
The most efficient behaviour while waiting at lights is, actually, to double up, even if this appears to involve ‘queue jumping’. It’s standard practice that you will see at any Dutch junction with separate cycling infrastructure.
Two neat rows of people, making the most efficient use of the space, and ensuring the maximum number of people get through the lights on green.
Generally, I do find exactly the same kind of behaviour at the lights on similar infrastructure in London – although maybe not quite as compact.
But there are exceptions. Very occasionally I will find a queue that isn’t ‘doubled’.
There’s a particularly good example in the @sw19cam video below, at the 5:05 mark, as he emerges out the other side from Blackfriars underpass, waiting at the lights to cross onto the Embankment.
Sensibly, he decides to go right to the front, in what might be seen by some as ‘skipping the queue’. I don’t think he is, at least not in this context. Everyone should be doing this, especially at this particular location, where there is a notably short green phase.
The question, then, is why do people queue in single file, when it hampers your (and others’) ability to get through a junction? My guess is it might be partly out of politeness; partly out of a belief that, by moving over the right, you might be making a bold statement that you are ‘faster’ than riders on your left; or even that you are ‘queue jumping’.
But ‘doubling up’ really is the best way of ensuring everyone makes it through the lights in one go. Sitting at the back of a single-file queue, and adding to it, just means that you and the people behind you have got less change of making it through the lights.
So don’t be afraid to double up! You’re not being rude, you’re not pretending you’re faster, and you’re not queue jumping. You’re just helping everyone. If you don’t feel you are fast enough, you can just merge back to the left, and let everyone past as the queue disperses through the junction.
Below is a letter sent by road danger reduction, pedestrians”, cyclists’ and road crash victims’ groups including RDRF to the Government. It seems to us obvious that in a planned consultation on driving offences the role of driving bans should be key. It’s explained in our letter below:
Justice Minister Sam Gyimah
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice
Ministry of Justice
102 Petty France
6 October 2016
We welcomed your announcement last month that the consultation on driving offences will finally commence by the end of this year. And we were reassured to hear from Cycling UK, following their recent meeting with the MoJ, that the consultation will include a review of how careless driving is defined and the boundaries with dangerous driving. But we were disappointed to learn that the role of driving bans is not to be a key issue.
As organisations representing victims, cyclists and walkers, and sustainable transport organisations, we are concerned that the consultation will miss a key chance to make our roads safer.
We write now to request the consultation be extended to include the role of driving bans, and other non-custodial sentences, such as vehicle confiscation.
Driving bans are extremely underused and remain classified as an “ancillary penalty” by the Sentencing Guidelines. They are basically only being used where the Sentencing Guidelines say they are mandatory. But even in these circumstances they are not always used, with one in four drivers convicted of Causing Death by Careless Driving escaping a driving ban.
We support the proposal that drivers caught using their mobile phones a second time will receive a ban, as less than 1% of those convicted at court in 2015 for using their mobile phone whilst driving received a ban. We believe there is strong support for the use of driving bans with the public, as it is a punishment which “fits the crime”.
At the last meeting of DfT’s Justice for Vulnerable Road Users working group (and after the full review of driving offences had been announced in May 2014), Neil Stevenson raised the possibility of a meeting with the campaigners to explain how sentencing was changing. As sentencing has evolved since then, this meeting is even more needed. We ask that you meet with us, ideally before the consultation is launched, to discuss sentencing, including the use of driving bans.
Martin Key, Campaign Manager, British Cycling
Duncan Dollimore, Senior Road Safety and Legal Campaigner, Cycling UK
Tom Bogdanowicz, Senior Policy and Development Officer, London Cycling Campaign
Tom Platt, Head of Policy and Communication, Living Streets
Dr. Robert Davis, Chair, Road Danger Reduction Forum
Rod King, Founder and Director, 20’s Plenty for Us
Amy Aeron-Thomas, Advocacy and Justice Manager, RoadPeace
Last week a group of tireless cycling campaigners in West Sussex organised a Cycling Summit, attended by councillors, officers and influential people within the county, to hear presentations on the importance of cycling and cycling infrastructure from Rachel Aldred, Phil Jones, Mark Strong and Ranty Highwayman – names that will almost certainly be familiar to you. (You can see their presentations on the website).
It seemed the message did sink in, as much as it could. Everyone stayed to the end of the summit, and the questions from the floor were, generally, informed, and showed interest. Whether it will lead to substantive change is another matter.
And the need for change in West Sussex is urgent. In a county with a population of close to a million people, living mostly in large towns that are rapidly expanding, there is essentially almost no urban cycling infrastructure to speak of – certainly nothing of high quality along main roads. Continuing to build for mass car use is simply storing up trouble for the future, given the limited capacity of our existing urban road network to accommodate increasing motor traffic.
In this context, one unfortunate tendency on the part of councillors and officers is to assume that we are a ‘rural’ county and that therefore priorities for cycling infrastructure should be in rural areas, connecting up villages and small towns. These kinds of routes are of course important in their own right, but focusing on them at the expense of the county’s many large urban areas betrays a failure to look at the most pressing problems, and where there is most potential for cycling gains.
It is also perhaps natural to focus on these kinds of ‘rural’ routes because they present the least political difficulty and are also (should be) the easiest to get right – there are fewer decisions to make about reallocation of space, and fewer junctions to negotiate.
But going by a video released by West Sussex, it seems that even these kinds of routes, ones that present the least difficulty, can’t be got right. Next year it plans to build a ‘missing section’ of National Cycle Network 2, between the towns of Bognor Regis and Littlehampton – a distance of about 3 miles – along the A259. This is an important path because at present there isn’t anything any cycling infrastructure at all on this stretch of NCN2– you have to cycle on a busy A road. And it’s an opportunity to get things right, because there are only a small number of problems to deal with on that 3 mile length of road.
Unfortunately, going by the video, it seems those problems haven’t been dealt with at all well. Here’s one of them, the crossing of Climping roundabout.
A shared use path, crossing multiple lanes of motor traffic, without any assistance, close to the perimeter of the roundabout. It’s obviously hard to tell from a visualisation, but the refuge in the middle doesn’t appear to be long enough to safely accommodate a cycle either. This is pretty dreadful design – the lack of priority isn’t necessarily the issue, but the hazards involved in crossing at this kind of design certainly are.
The only other crossing of a road along this new section of route is also a big fail.
People walking and cycling are expected to go some distance out of their way to use a crossing set some 50 metres back from the junction. Why? There’s already a very long slip road for drivers to come almost to a complete stop, separate from the flow of traffic on the major road; it would be very, very easy to put the crossing close to the junction itself, with tighter geometry to keep drivers’ speeds low. Note also that pedestrians who want to cross this road have to dash across four lanes of fast motor traffic.
As for the path itself, it will be ‘shared use’, which isn’t necessarily a problem on this kind of route between urban areas. Numbers will, I expect, be low enough that separation between the two modes isn’t required, provided that this path is designed like a cycleway which people can walk on, rather than a footway people are allowed to cycle one. It’s going to be the latter, of course – see how it gives up at a minor entrance –
But I worry that the path isn’t wide enough, and won’t have a good enough surface. The visualisation appears to imply it will be composed of what looks like a bonded gravel. A path like this really needs a smooth asphalt surface, just like the road it runs next to.
And the width will be a problem, especially at this (cough) bus stop bypass.
Apparently the path will be three metres wide, but it doesn’t look like that at the location above, and in other places the usable width will be reduced by the path running alongside walls and fencing.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s good that this path is being built, and that the council is (starting) to engage with design for cycling. The problem is that, going by the design of this path where it actually has to deal with difficulties – like crossing side roads, dealing with roundabouts, bus stops, and so on – there is a serious lack of knowledge and experience about best practice. This is largely the fault of central government, which continues to fail to lead on infrastructure, providing clear guidance to local authorities to West Sussex on how to design properly. It shouldn’t cost any more to do things properly, yet we continue to see the same mistakes.
This tweet from Thames Valley Police in Windsor has attracted a fair amount of derision.
— TVP Windsor (@TVP_Windsor) September 28, 2016
Principally because what the police are ‘enforcing’ is, well, unenforceable – it’s simply an advisory dismount sign, rather than an actual restriction – but also because it’s not a particularly sensible use of resources. Lots of people complaining about something will obviously not necessarily equate to something that is an objectively high priority in terms of keeping people safe.
But the context of this ‘dismount’ sign is revealing (and thanks to @ChrisC_CFC for spotting the location). It’s Maidenhead Road in Windsor. What is immediately apparent is that all the footways along this road are shared use. The footway on the approach to the barrier where the policeman is standing is shared use –
The footway on the other approach to the other side of this section of footway is also shared use –
And the fairly narrow footway on the other side of the road is also shared use (although this appears to have recently been widened, perhaps in an attempt to ‘encourage’ people to cycle on the footway on this side of the road) –
… And, as far as I can tell, the footway between the barriers is also shared use, despite the signs advising people to dismount.
So, as usual, the picture is one of inconsistency. Councils are happy to lump cycling onto the pavement with pedestrians where they can get away with it – it’s a nice easy option that doesn’t involve making difficult choices about allocation of urban space. But of course that decision will also bring people walking and cycling into conflict with one another, particularly in busier locations.
The ‘solution’ here in Windsor seems to have been to put up some barriers and an advisory sign in the hope that people will get off and walk for two hundred metres. Obviously people won’t do that – why would they, when they have been legally cycling on footways either side – so naturally the police have been called out to ‘enforce’ dismounting ‘advise’ people to dismount.
All in all, it’s pretty dismal. If you push people walking and cycling into the same relatively small portion of urban space, you shouldn’t be surprised when conflict arises; nor should you be surprised that people are unwilling to choose to dismount on one section of footway when you have legalised it on other sections.
The responsibility for all these problems lies with the council. Looking at the photos of the road above, there really is an enormous amount of roadspace here that could be repurposed, if we were actually serious about prioritising walking and cycling, and reducing conflict between the two modes on a permanent basis.
It wouldn’t even have to be particularly expensive. The central hatching could be removed, the parking bays moved out by an equivalent distance, and – hey presto – a parking-protected cycle lane, separate from the footway, would spring into existence.
No more pavement cycling; no more dismount signs required; no more wasted police resources; no more embarrassing photo opportunities.
How about it?
I have tweeted about the current campaign by the FIA (the international motorists’ organisation) using Formula One racing drivers to tell children to wear hi-viz clothing when walking. It’s had a lot of re-tweeting and comments, not least directed at practitioners with a road safety remit . For some of us, this is just a matter of sighing that “you couldn’t make it up”. Others have argued that there is no evidence that campaigns like this will actually protect children. For many this is just a seasonal irritation – or even a partially useful intervention – to be accepted while we try to get on with the business of real road safety – reducing danger at source.
But we believe that this kind of intervention tells us a lot about what is going wrong – and what needs to change – if we are to have a civilised approach to road safety.
Formula One racer Jenson Button
The politics of what I have called “the conspicuity con” is dealt with in Chapter 9 of my “Death on the Streets: cars and the mythology of road safety” (1992) . (Downloadable here/)
Here I discuss how this kind of “road safety” initiative is not just without an evidence base, but actually becomes part of the problem it is supposed to deal with.
Mikael Colville-Andersen gives an interesting account of how “road safety” personnel push hi-viz in his son’s school. Mikael rightly reports the lack of evidence to show actual reductions in casualty rates as a result of this kind of programme. There is one rather ropey Norwegian study referred to, but even the UK Department of Transport has indicated that there is a lack of evidence to justify hi-viz for cyclists. Mikael states – correctly – that people genuinely concerned with safety on the road should deal with what he calls “the bull in the china shop“, namely danger from motorised traffic, which they don’t.
But it is worse than that. I would argue that a key reason why motorists feel they can get away with bad driving is the “Sorry Mate I Didn’t See You” (SMIDSY) excuse. (See the CyclingUK campaign against SMIDSY).And this excuse is facilitated by precisely the kind of campaigns which put the onus of responsibility to “Be Seen” on the least dangerous to others, rather than requiring those who are dangerous to others to watch out for their potential victims.
The most basic rule of safe driving, in the Highway Code and elsewhere, is to “Never drive in such a way that you cannot stop within visible distance“. But this is eroded, not just by failure to have proper speed limits and ensure compliance with them, but by the assumption that if motorists don’t “see” their victims, it is the victims’ fault. Whether by lengthening sight lines or other measures, the underlying belief system thrusts the onus of risk on to motorists’ actual or potential victims. It is not just a lack of speed control, or the failure to weed out motorists who can’t see where they are going. It is a general culture – promoted by the “road safety” industry – that you don’t have to fulfil a responsibility to properly watch out for those you may hurt or kill.
Looking, watching out – and then seeing
I emphasise “watching out for” because what is required is a thorough process where drivers consider the possible future positions of those they may drive into, think about their need to avoid doing so, and drive accordingly. The image of a pedestrian or cyclist on the retina of the driver is just the first part of this process. And the key element is searching – watching out or looking out – for these people in the first place. It is an active process which is far more effective than any amount of hi-viz, which may be irrelevant anyway. I am regularly told by motorists that they see plenty of cyclists without lights at night. Indeed: if they are driving properly (albeit in an urban area with street lighting) they will indeed see unlit cyclists.
Let me be quite clear about this. My argument is not just that this is rather unsavoury victim-blaming and morally objectionable. It is that it exacerbates the very problem it claims to address. In ten years or so these young people may become drivers, with the expectation that others should shoulder the responsibility that they as drivers have.
The official “road safety” response to this criticism is to avoid it. The typical answer is this: “Of course, motorists should watch where they are going, and we may have an advertising campaign to politely ask them to do so, but in the meantime wear hi-viz”. The problem with this is twofold: firstly, this “in the meantime” has been going on for over a century of motorists endangering, hurting and killing others, and that polite requests aren’t going to change anything. But the second point is the more important: the relentless shifting of responsibility away from those endangering others becomes part of the problem.
Why not use Formula One racing drivers positively?
There is a sense in which Formula One drivers could be usefully put to work for a safer road environment. They are role models for young men who are already driving, and a message could be got across that fast driving should be left for the race track. Simple messages such as “Don’t break the speed limit on the road – it’s there for a reason” could be widely disseminated at race meetings. The basic rule about never driving in such a way that you can’t stop within visible distance could be pushed. If there is to be a focus on children’s safety, the Formula One stars could visit schools and talk to the parents driving children to school.
In fact, there are quite a few ways in which these drivers could be used to address the problems of inappropriate driving. I understand that very often they are prepared to engage in campaigns without demanding fees. But in a crucial sense that is not the point. We have to ask: What is actually going on here?
The significance of these campaigns
The task of the road danger reduction movement includes deconstructing the basic cultural assumptions which most of us unwittingly accept. I argue that using people who are role models is an important way in which basic – often negative and dangerous – ideas are subtly inculcated into young minds. It is worth repeating that the young people being targeted will gradually come to assume that it is the task of people outside cars to “be seen”, whether or not drivers are capable of, willing to and actually looking where they are going and watching out for other road users.
This is not a conspiracy theory – it’s actually a sociological analysis (the opposite of such ways of looking at social phenomena). Although we might argue for the Formula One drivers to be used, for example, to challenge the overly fast driving of young motorists, that is only one aspect of this issue. We also need to analyse the widely held beliefs (including our own) which constitute the background assumptions about safety, and challenge them when necessary. None of this means that pedestrians and cyclists should wear camouflage. But we do need to critically consider the often unspoken beliefs which our society has, and challenge them where necessary.
On Monday the Department for Transport’s Think! campaign launched an HGV ‘safety’ campaign that has been universally panned by cycling organisations and campaigners. There’s a very good summary of the reasons why here.
The intention of the video is apparently to show the risks of ‘undertaking’ HGVs when they are about turn. But the video itself is, frankly, a mess. It initially shows an implausible situation – a lorry travelling on the wrong side of the road on a 20mph street, with a cyclist somehow managing to travel even faster on their inside.
Why is the lorry right over on the wrong side of the road, so far from the junction? I can’t think of any reasonable explanation. Most likely the driver has started to overtake the person cycling, who has then implausibly managed to accelerate and move ahead of the HGV.
This is followed by a shot, accompanied by tasteless clips of meat being chopped, of the HGV swerving across that cyclist’s path, with the cyclist still behind the HGV – which is implausible in the context of the speed difference in the (very odd) first clip.
So why is this video so implausible?
An instinctive explanation is that it is simply a cock-up, filmed by people who don’t really know how left hook incidents actually occur. The brief might have been
‘Go and make us a video of an idiot cyclist shooting up the inside of a turning HGV at speed.’
The result being this dog’s breakfast. But I think there’s more to it than that. A video that showed how left hooks actually occur would be embarrassing to the DfT.
They don’t involve lorries travelling at speed on the wrong side of the road with someone apparently attempting to ‘undertake’ them.
Instead, they occur when a previously stationary HGV has just started to move off at a junction. When someone cycling is either positioned in front of, or to the side, of that HGV, typically on state-sanctioned paint, either in the form of a crap cycle-lane, or an advanced stop line (ASL). That cyclist is either stationary in that ASL, or is arriving at the junction on the cycle lane on the inside of that HGV.
Conveniently, the DfT video doesn’t look anything like this. It doesn’t show someone who has been lulled into a making a minor misjudgement with potentially fatal consequences, thanks to negligent road design. Instead it attempts to present a scenario in which blame lies with a cyclist being an idiot, ‘racing’ an HGV and trying to shoot up the inside of it as it turns.
I commented yesterday that this Cemex video – shot from a camera on the left hand side of the lorry cab – is far more instructive about how left hooks actually occur than the DfT’s video. It’s a real-life illustration of how a combination of dreadful road design, lethal vehicles and momentary inattention can lead to death and serious injury.
At the start of the video, we see the HGV is stationary as the man cycles past it, towards the junction.
Going by the position of the cab, adjacent to a metal post, the front of the lorry is approximately 50m or so from the junction, suggesting that there are at least five cars (or equivalent) ahead of it, waiting at a red light.
The lorry driver isn’t indicating left at this point.
It might be foolish to start filtering up the inside of an HGV here, but a combination of the the fact that the traffic is stationary, that the HGV is some distance back from the lights, and the inviting cycle lane (combined with a lack of indication) all make it completely understandable.
However, as the cyclist draws level with the cab, the HGV moves off.
And then, about a second after moving off, the driver starts to indicate left.
It seems the cyclist, perhaps without even seeing the indicators, realises that he is suddenly in a precarious situation – you can see him accelerating to try and clear the HGV, to get to safety ahead of it. This is clearly not a wise decision; the best one would have been to a complete halt, to simply let the HGV go. But it’s an understandable human mistake.
The HGV driver is accelerating hard too, and soon the cyclist is back down the side of the HGV. From this point, given the speed of both parties and their intended directions, disaster is nearly inevitable.
Abruptly, the enormous lorry forms a curved barrier around the cyclist, leaving him with nowhere to go.
It is only thanks to both parties performing an emergency stop that the cyclist doesn’t end up under the wheels.
I hope it is clear that this real-life situation is rather more ambiguous than the one in the DfT video. Mistakes are made, but they are understandable ones. Particularly, can we expect people not to cycle up the inside of HGVs when there is a cycle lane there, and the HGV is stationary, some five or six cars back from the junction itself?
And much the same is true of incidents that are actually in the news at the moment, in the wake of the DfT’s campaign. Take the case of Louise Wright, killed in Nottingham in July 2014. She appears to have filtered up the inside of an HGV, and then waited at a red light, next to it. The driver failed to check his mirrors, and was convicted this week of causing death by careless driving – the same day that the DfT campaign launched.
Or, also in the courts this week, the case of Esther Hartsilver, again killed as a stationary HGV set off from traffic lights and turned across her.
Or the case of Ying Tao, again, killed a stationary HGV set off from traffic lights and turned across her.
These cases simply do not resemble the DfT’s video. They take place almost in slow motion, the inevitable consequences of human beings making understandable mistakes in an environment why are exposed to unacceptable danger; an environment where those mistakes can, in a split second, lead to death and serious injury. Environments that even actually encourage them into danger.
We should be building environments that greatly reduce or even remove that danger. Environments that keep people cycling and HGVs separated from each other, and allow people to make mistakes without those mistakes resulting in death.
Thankfully, we are starting to see this kind of approach in a small number of locations in London; new junctions where the risk of collision between HGVs and people has been greatly reduced by signal separation of movements.
But this is only a start, and in just one city.
I see little or no indication that the same Department for Transport that is producing these videos and adverts is taking any kind of lead on safe design. Where are the national standards, guidance and advice for local authorities, so that they can replicate good examples and best practice at a local level? Where is the investment required, to reshape our roads to protect people using the modes of transport we apparently want to encourage? Frankly, where is the leadership? It’s completely absent.
The simple message of the cases mentioned here, and countless others, is – do not mix very heavy, large vehicles with limited visibility with people on bikes. Keep them separated at all costs. But, again, I see no indication that the Department for Transport is taking that message on board. The issue of cycling death as a result of collisions with HGVs continues to be framed by those with responsibility for tackling it – as with this latest campaign – as one of human failing, one of mistakes that can be remedied through ‘education’ and ‘awareness’. A totally flawed approach given that human beings will always continue to make mistakes. It’s what we do.
Beyond adverts and tokenistic measures like extra mirrors, there is no noticeable action being taken at an institutional level within the DfT to deal with these predictable deaths, that keep occurring in the same way, over and over again. That’s why these adverts are so deeply insulting.
I’m currently in the middle of writing a piece about how attitudes to residential streets being access-only for motor traffic are essentially conditioned by history. That is to say, whether people are in favour of a particular residential street being ‘access-only’ largely depends on the current nature of that street. If it’s currently a through-route, attempts to convert it into an access road will probably be controversial. But, conversely, if it’s already an access road, that status will be deeply uncontroversial.
We can take this further, and point out that attempts to reintroduce through traffic onto access roads that are currently peaceful, safe and quiet would be just as unpopular as ‘filtering’, if not more so. It’s most likely that, in the cold light of day, people are not really ‘for’ or ‘against’ filtering – they are just against change.
We’ll come to this subject in more detail next week, but in the meantime, and as a teaser to that blogpost, I thought I’d look at a specific example of ‘historical’ filtering, one that happened some time ago, and that would be controversial if it were reversed – just as controversial as if attempts were made to implement it today.
Cull Lane is a small lane in southern Hampshire, on the outskirts of New Milton. I’m familiar with it because I use it to cycle to and from my grandmother’s house, from New Milton station.
Back in the 1950s, it was just a straightforward road, running across fields.
Over time, New Milton has expanded, filling out to the orange road running east-west near the top of the map, with housing development built on other side of Cull Lane. But the way this housing has been built – and the changes that have been made to Cull Lane – are very interesting.
Cull Lane has essentially been converted into two separate sections of cul-de-sac, through a series of three closures. The first, and most obvious one, is in the middle. The other two are at the (former) junctions with the boundary roads.
The only ‘through route’ across this area is now a very twisty road, looping up and and down as it runs east-west – Holland’s Wood Drive. While it is technically possible to drive along the length of this road, its twisty nature doesn’t make that an obvious thing to do, and indeed Google Streetview tells us that is much quicker (and shorter) to use the pre-existing boundary roads.
What has happened to Cull Lane itself? Well, it is, still, a rather lovely quiet country lane, even though it is now technically part of the town of New Milton. It is rare to encounter drivers on it, and those that I do are simply going to and from their properties.
At the northern end, there is a turning area for residents. The previous connection to the main road running east-west has been ‘lost’, although pedestrian access has been retained (in the foreground).
Below, some of the new housing that was built along Cull Lane at the same time as these changes to the road network were made (note the ‘dead end’ sign on what was formerly a through route) –
The ‘severed’ middle section, where what was once Cull Lane has become a pedestrian path, with bollards to stop drivers –
The crossing of the new, bendy road in the middle of the development (again, note that the southern section of Cull Lane, visible across the road, has a ‘Dead End’ sign) –
… And the southern end of Cull Lane. This would at one time have been a straightforward junction, but now it is a turning area, with only cycling and walking access to the main road where the silver car is being driven.
These pictures were actually taken at rush hour, around 5:30pm, yet I was able to stand in the middle of the road and take them, quite happily. But without the filtering that took place here, this small little lane would actually be a busy road. It would form an obvious route from the main road to the north of New Milton (connecting with the trunk road A35) into the east of the town.
As it is, that route is not available, and this residential area is something of an oasis of calm, ‘converted’ into two cul-de-sacs.
Because all this happened at the time the development was taking place, I suspect the changes to the road were a minor detail. New residents moving into the housing would not have concerned themselves with it, because it was already like that when they arrived. But had these changes been proposed after all the development took place, it is a reasonable guess those changes would have been opposed by locals who had got used to the existing driving routes. ‘Keep Cull Lane open’! ‘No to increasing pollution and congestion on surrounding roads! And so on, with the kinds of arguments that are undoubtedly familiar to present-day campaigners.
As it is, Cull Lane is an attractive place to live, with properties for sale making a virtue of the fact that it is ‘a quiet no through road’, which may have not been the case had enlightened planners not severed it at the time of the development. The slightly longer distance locals might have to travel to exit onto main roads by car is a very small price to pay for living in a desirable, quiet and attractive area.
The only small complaint I have with these changes is that they seem to have happened at a time in British planning history when cycling was invisible. The connection in the middle, and the two cut throughs at either end, are quite explicitly signed as pedestrian routes, and I suspect I may be breaking the law by cycling along a footpath every time I visit my grandmother, travelling along the length of Cull Lane.
Nevertheless, I think this is a very interesting example of how ‘closures’ of roads can be invisible and uncontroversial if they happen under particular circumstances, and if they have been in place long enough for anyone to even remember the road being configured in any other way.
The problem of cyclist warning stickers started in London (for the last account of what this issue is all about, with reference to the time line see this post ). While there are more important issues to be dealt with in the area of lorry safety as described here , sometimes relatively minor issues may well still need to be addressed.
This photograph of a vehicle on Salisbury Plain (HT Martin Baldwin) got me thinking: what exactly is a “blind spot”? The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary says:“an area where vision or understanding is lacking”
As followers of this saga will know, for the vehicle above, there is no lacking of “vision” if the driver is using their near side wing mirror as instructed by the Highway Code. What is lacking is the “understanding” that they have this obligation.
Our objective, along with other road danger reduction and cyclist stakeholders is that Transport for London, other highway authorities, bodies like CLOCS and operators , the Fleet Operators Recognition Scheme (FORS), drivers and police understand what needs to be done in order to reduce lorry danger. Achieving this objective may well involve chasing up bodies like FORS (that have clear criteria of which vehicles can have stickers on them) even if it is low on the list of priorities.
Perhaps it is the case that addressing the relatively minor issues can lead to more commitment towards resolving the main ones.