A Porsche has been driven over the footway and into the Gerrards Cross branch of Cafe Nero, temporarily trapping two customers. No charge has been made by Thames Valley police, who are quoted as saying that the incident is “not thought to be suspicious”.
In this essay I examine this and a few similar incidents to see how the authorities accept and tolerate obvious rule and law breaking by motorists. As well as the Police services involved, the official “road safety” authorities in highway engineering collude and connive with this sort of violent behaviour. There is little comment on these incidents to challenge what appears to be the dominant narrative of tolerance of this behaviour, not least the type of language involved.
I challenge that narrative below, and argue against the dominant approach to these incidents, as well as the tolerance of them by the authorities. I think it indicates that in a crucial respect – the apparent acceptance of rule and law breaking by people simply because they have chosen to drive – this society is fundamentally uncivilised.
I am choosing seven different incidents which I have picked up in the last few months to illustrate my case. I am used to reading of similar cases on a regular basis: nothing about them is, in my view, exceptional or atypical.Incident 1: Sheffield, reported 21st January 2015
According to the Guardian: “In Sheffield, a car careered through the front window of a house after losing control in the treacherous conditions. It was pictured by passers-by after it mounted the kerb, drove through the garden wall and into the property.”
The issue here is apparently one of an inanimate object which manages to “lose(s) control” (presumably this is a loss of self-control), and power itself (“mount”, “drive”) with no human agency involved.
If I may continue to examine the language used: the one occasion where pejorative words are employed again relates to the inanimate, this time the weather conditions. These are said to be nothing less than “treacherous”. The implication is that unsuspecting drivers have been betrayed by what many of us have assumed to be a normal occurrence, namely snow falling in Yorkshire in the winter.
The Yorkshire Post uses the same language regarding the inanimate object: “The red Ford lost control and mounted the curb, before ploughing into the front window of the property on the residential street”.
I contacted the local police through Twitter to find:
I don’t want to get pompous about this, but it fascinates me that everything other than the driver is blamed. I’m sure that car-dependent Sheffield residents have all sorts of problems to contend with, but surely they should be aware that (a) Sheffield is hilly and (b) when it has been snowing the road surface is likely to be icy?Incident 2: Whittlesey, A605, reported 21st February 2015.
The account on the Facebook page of Policing Whittlesey describes the incident:Policing Whittlesey
Officers on patrol in Whittlesey witnessed a vehicle roll several times on the A605, landing upside down in a water filled ditch, a lone female was trapped inside the car full of icy water, the quick thinking officers put themselves at risk to rescue the the lady working tirelessly to prise the door open and pull her to safety, the lady is currently in hospital and on the road to recovery! If it wasn’t for these officers being in the right place at the right time it could of been a very different story. The roads are going to be icy of the next few days, please drive safely
I should make one point very clear: along with the commenters on the Facebook page, I applaud the police officers for their selflessness and commitment to assisting any member of the public in distress; however they came to be in the situation described.
I do have a problem though. In fact, I think the story as described by Police officers (and those commenting) is fascinating for what it leaves out. In fact, I think the Police and others commenting have the problem.
As indicated in my exchange on Twitter with Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Roads Police:
At no point in the accounts and Facebook comments is there the suggestion that the driver who overturned her car had committed any kind of offence or done anything wrong. Indeed, the driver is only seen as a victim, for example in one comment that the Council may have not put enough grit on the roads. Another comment argues that the task of rescuing errant drivers is what the Police are for, and not just catching criminals. Or charging any careless driver?Incident 3: Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire: 16th May 2015.
According to the local newspaper :Porsche Smashes Through Coffee Shop Window
A Thames Valley Police spokesman said: “The incident involved one vehicle and resulted in minor injuries to a woman who was the only person in the car. Two people, a man and a woman, were also temporarily trapped inside the building but were released. The road has since been reopened.”
Police said the incident was not thought to be suspicious.(My emphasis)
As in other cases, there were some comments to the effect that the inanimate object – a car – was assumed to be the problem, rather than the person legally in charge of it. The other comment is the one I use in the heading of this piece, namely that there is “nothing suspicious” about driving a high-powered car across the footway of a busy street and into a coffee shop, in a Home Counties town on a Saturday afternoon.
The Fire Brigade (who attended the scene) tweeted :
Bucks and MK Fire @Bucksfire · May 16 . So glad it wasn’t worse. Must have been terrifying for everyone.
Note the equivalence between the suffering of people sitting in the coffee shop and the driver. Neutralising the difference between those endangering others and those who are endangered by motor vehicles is a staple feature of “road safety” ideologyIncident 4 Elephant and Castle , London 30 July 2014
In this case where the two car occupants had minor injuries, police said they were investigating and that no arrests had been made. (It may be the case that the vehicle was forced off the road by a third party, but this possibility could be easily investigated through use of the CCTV cameras at the roundabout). Elephant and Castle is known as a site where the Metropolitan Police Service regularly stop and issue fines to cyclists who have gone over the stop line when signals are on red, an infraction rather less likely to hurt or kill other road users than whatever happened in this incident.Incident 5 Blackheath, London 17th March 2015
The lorry “overturned”. One minor injury. No reports of any arrests made.Incident 6 28 October 2014 Wandsworth Road, London.
In one account: “A Waitrose truck flips over”. In another “A driver has escaped uninjured but is ‘shaken’ after his lorry overturned”. As in the previous incident the drivers seem to have had nothing to do with the inanimate objects’ behaviour. No arrests mentioned.Incident 7 Staffordshire, 26th October 2014
This time the driver does seem to have done something wrong – he “overturned his vehicle”, and then shortly after it crashes into a house, apparently as it was left on a slope without the hand brake on. He is, however, described sympathetically as “Britain’s unluckiest HGV driver” No mention of an arrest.
I stated above that there is nothing atypical about these crashes – both in the way they are reported and the way police respond to them. The only reason why some of them reach the national media is because they feature dramatic images: they involve large vehicles and roads being closed, or something peculiar (a car in a coffee shop). Indeed, we should look at what is going on with all the normal car crashes which occur on the roads of Britain.
To get a rough idea of these “normal” incidents: approximately 4 million insurance claims are made by British motorists annually. The majority of crashes (between 75 – 90%) involving motor vehicles do not involve personal injury, and thus do not even require reporting to the Police. Ultimately this normality leads to Police and the media thinking that “nothing suspicious” has occurred, even when a high-powered car ends up in a coffee shop.
Normal crashes and the “road safety” industry
It isn’t just the Police who are implicated in tolerating and accepting this. Despite persistent anodyne requests from the publicity wing of the “road safety” movement for drivers to try to be careful, the main thrust of “road safety” has in fact been to accommodate rule and law breaking driving. Indeed, I argue that “road safety” has colluded and connived with careless, negligent, dangerous driving.
After all, billions of pounds has been spent by highway engineers on creating a road environment designed around the needs of careless, dangerous etc. driving. Cutting down and removing road side trees ; installing crash proof barriers and central reservations; placing shock absorbing structures around bridge supports and other solid structures; making lamp posts which break, so occupants of vehicles which crash into them are protected; laying anti-skid where drivers have crashed after going too fast; placing rumble strips to assist inattentive drivers etc. All of these and similar measures have been staples of highway engineering for decades.
On top of this, straightening sight lines and similar measures are based on implicitly ignoring the age-old requirement for drivers to “always drive in such a way that you can stop within visible distance”. Of course, sometimes engineers have defended these practices to me on the basis that innocent motorists may be protected from dangerous drivers (for example, those driving across the centre–line by a crash barrier). That’s true – not all these measures are to directly protect the rule or law breaking driver, as they may be protecting their victims. Nevertheless, many of them (the typical roadside tree removal) are, and all are based on accommodating rule/law-breaking driving.…and vehicle engineering
Similarly most motor vehicle “road safety” engineering is about producing more crashworthy cars to accommodate behaviour which threatens other road users. Collapsible steering wheels, seat belts, air bags, crumple zones, side impact protection systems, roll bars etc.: all are based on an assumption that motorists are inherently likely to crash and/or be crashed into by their fellow motorists.
So where does this take us?
I am suggesting that there is a widespread evasion of responsibility throughout our culture in general, and among those authorities supposedly responsible for safety on the road in particular. We are up against a belief system based on a sense of entitlement among motorists, which impedes both moves towards sustainable transport policy implementation in general, and reduction in road danger in particular – and the institutions and practices of official “road safety” are part of this.
That doesn’t mean we should despair. Some of us stress the low risks of travel by the benign modes, and the ways we might move forward. But what it does mean is that if this society has accepted “normal” crashes in the ways illustrated, we can and should base our demands accordingly.
For a start, although the level and extent of motorist incompetence and unwillingness to obey rules and laws may be exaggerated, it is organisations representing motorists – and those of the “road safety” industry – that are claiming that driving is inherently dangerous. Why else do drivers need the plethora of safety aids (seat belts, air bags etc.) in cars, and the enormous sums spent of engineering the highway (cutting down roadside trees, installing crash barriers and anti-skid etc.) . That means we can demand forms of driver liability in collisions where cyclists or pedestrians are involved, at least in civil law, accordingly.
It means we can argue that enforcement exercises like Operation Safeway should stop being biased towards the rule/law-breaking which is less dangerous to others, namely that by cyclists .
(At our conference on law enforcement last year an officer in the MPS’ Cycle Task Force stated that he saw no problem in arresting law-breaking cyclists if the law is enforced for errant motorists. The point is that it isn’t).
It means that highway engineers (as well as individual drivers) should accept the likelihood of pedestrians and cyclists making mistakes: Accommodating this is less anti-social than accommodating driver rule and law breaking..
It means that vehicle engineering should be based on controls on the potential of drivers to hurt or kill others. At the very least “black box” systems to monitor crash causation should be on the agenda.Interventions and the dominant culture
As a general rule we need to recognise that any specific intervention occurs within the culture which is car-centred and discriminatory against the non-car modes in general, and against non-motorised modes in particular.
Consider two commonly discussed areas of intervention: calls for forceful changes in law enforcement and sentencing policy, or the re-organisation of the highway to take space away from general traffic and re-allocate it specifically to cycling, are fine in themselves, but have to be assessed in the context of the surrounding dominant culture. As theorists of risk compensation have argued, unless there is an underlying change in the extent and kind of risk taking in society, official interventions can simply press down on the problem in one area while it pops up somewhere else. In these cases, unless the reasons for cracking down on forms of driver behaviour are carefully explained in terms of the obligations and duties of care owed by the motorised towards others, in the case of law enforcement and sentencing changes we may get resentment and a lack of willingness to support other forms of road danger reduction. Re-allocation of road space to cyclists may increase the unwillingness of drivers to behave properly in highway environments where drivers will have to be in close proximity to, and sharing space with, cyclists.
Now, this does not mean that we never engage in any kind of programme of danger reduction measures, such as those above, 20 mph areas, motor traffic reduction measures, etc. But it does mean that we have to be aware of the knock-on effects of these moves, and how they are affected by – and also affect – widely held beliefs about the kind of risk taking that is acceptable in the highway environment. Whatever the success of a specific intervention, it always has to be seen in the context of the car-centred (I have elsewhere called it “car supremacist”) culture we live in. And, regrettably, despite the best efforts of many individual professionals, the institutions of “road safety” are very much part of this culture.
Motor danger has been nornalised in the car-centred society we live in, not least by the agencies who should be dealing with it. But understanding this can allow us to move towards an alternative based on reducing danger at source and making those responsible for it accountable. This can come about by specific programmes being implemented as part of an overall cultural change towards a society where car usage – and specifically, the ways in which cars are driven – is seen in a more critical way. If we don’t achieve this, we will indeed be living in a fundamentally uncivilised society.
5:12 pm – 22 Feb 2015 · Details
Inclusive cycling infrastructure is often described as being suitable for ‘8-80′ – for the young as well as the old. It’s a good philosophy. However, it is not quite adequate, in and of itself, to capture what’s required for infrastructure to be of a suitably high standard.
For instance, a good deal of substandard infrastructure could reasonably be described as 8-80. Wibbly-wobbly crap on pavements, for instance, can be negotiated by eight year olds, as well as eighty year olds.
This isn’t, however, this kind of infrastructure that many people would actually choose to use. Nonsense like this gets avoided by people who are able (although not necessarily willing) to cycle with motor traffic.
So ‘8-80′ isn’t quite sufficient, in and of itself. What’s required is infrastructure that is suitable for the young and the old, as well as the fast, the confident and the experienced. Infrastructure, for instance, that’s suitable for 8-80, as well as for a team time trial.
The cycle path in the picture above is one that can obviously accommodate high speed cycling, but at the same time it is also suitable for a full range of other cycling types, the slow; the young; the old.
A similar version of this test was proposed by Joe Dunckley – a ‘Boris test’.
Need an addition to the 8yo kid test of cycling schemes. The Boris test: would Boris just keep his wits about him + continue using the road?
— Joe Dunckley (@steinsky) July 9, 2014
That is, infrastructure has to be good enough for someone like Boris Johnson – who habitually disparages substandard off-carriageway infrastructure, while voicing his preference for mixing it with motor traffic on busy roads – to choose to use it, rather than opting for the motor traffic alternative.
Cycling infrastructure should accommodate all these people, on the same singular design. It should offer comfort, safety and attractiveness, as well as being direct and convenient. This is uniformity of provision, well explained by David Arditti –
We know from looking at the systems of cycling infrastructure in the most successful cycling nations and cities that they design one network for cyclists, and only one, to one set of standards. They treat cycling as we treat motoring and walking, that is, as an essentially homogeneous activity facilitated on one network, built to one set of standards, for all those who do it. They recognise that cyclists, whether they be young or old, fast or slow, able-bodied or disabled, all need essentially the same things, in terms of a quality network that gives priority, directness, and both actual and subjective safety.
There is no question of us having a network of roads for “less confident drivers” and a different one for “fast and advanced motorists”, and this is how the places that get cycling right also treat cycling. They build cycle lanes, paths and tracks that work of all types of cyclists and all abilities at the same time, and have sufficient capacity to cope with all, taking the attitude that if it’s not safe enough for young children, it won’t be safe enough for anyone, and if it’s not convenient enough for commuters in a hurry, it won’t be an attractive option to anyone. They build up to a common standard that works for all, and don’t say “If you don’t like it, there’s always the busy, dangerous main road”.
Uniformity of provision is tremendously important, because its alternative – dual provision – essentially involves designing for failure. Dual provision means building something that, at the design stage, it is already accepted that people will not use. It involves building, for instance, shared use pavements that the designer knows will be avoided by people who prefer to cycle on the carriageway, because the shared use pavement is too inconvenient, awkward, or slow. Equally, it involves catering for people on the carriageway while acknowledging that many people simply won’t want to use that same carriageway because it is too intimidating, or hostile. We still continue to build infrastructure according to this failed philosophy, at tremendous cost.
Accommodating fast cycling doesn’t mean ignoring the needs of the slow, or the less confident, or the nervous. In fact, quite the opposite – cycling infrastructure designed for speed means more convenience for everyone. It means an absence of sharp corners, of barriers, of ‘shared use’ in appropriate circumstances, of pedestrian-specific design in general. If it’s good enough to ride a bicycle fast on it, then it will undoubtedly carry benefits for slower users, even those who are not on bicycles.
That’s why aiming for 8-80, although admirable, isn’t good enough by itself. It needs to be good enough for everyone to want to use it.
I don’t know what percentage of bikes in the Netherlands operate with coaster brakes, but it must certainly be a sizeable proportion, perhaps even a majority. The tell-tale sign is handlebars free from brake levers (or those with just one brake lever, for the front wheel), and in Dutch towns and cities, these kinds of bikes are ubiquitous.
I’d never ridden a bicycle with a coaster before, so I was quite nervous about how it would work out for me, and hesitated about whether I should opt for a more familiar lever-operated brake. But having lived with it for a few years, there’s absolutely no way I would have a different kind of brake for my rear wheel. It’s brilliant.
The front (drum) brake is lever operated, so I am UK-legal, in that I have two independent braking systems, one for each wheel. But in all honesty it’s not really necessary – the vast majority of the stopping power comes from the coaster at the rear. It’s an effective brake, particularly because on this kind of bike, your body weight is almost entirely over the rear wheel. The front brake is merely a nice extra.
The coaster brake is a back pedal brake – to slow down, you merely apply downward pressure on the pedals, in precisely the same way you apply downward pressure on a brake pedal in a car. In fact, that’s the closest analogy to the action of a coaster brake – slight downward pressure, slight braking; more downward pressure, stronger braking; stamping down on the pedal, well, your wheel is going to lock up.
I think it’s that association with braking in a car that makes a coaster brake actually quite intuitive. Braking with your feet quickly becomes natural – it took only a week or so for a complete novice like me to become accustomed to it. I now often find myself absentmindedly pushing down on the pedals to brake on my other (coaster-free) bikes, simply because that’s now a natural movement for me. (Meeting no resistance whatsoever, my brain instantly transfers the message to my hands instead!)
That ‘naturalness’ is just one advantage of the coaster brake. An important other advantage is that it leaves your hands free for other things, particularly signalling. As signalling with your hands is often needed when you are simultaneously slowing down, to turn off of, or onto, a road at junction, it’s so much more convenient and easy to have your feet doing the braking, rather than having to transfer your hands from the brake levers to a ‘signal’ position, and then back again, or compromising by braking with just one brake, while signalling with the other hand.
Another major advantage is maintenance. Because a coaster brake is effectively operated by the chain, which is already part of the bike, that means there’s no need for ‘extra’ cabling or levers. The bike is neater, and tidier, with no braking system to maintain in addition to the transmission (which in any case is protected from the elements).
On the downside (for me at least), with a coaster brake your pedals can’t be rotated backwards – at least only for a little bit, before the brake fully applies. That means when you stop, it’s helpful to ensure that your pedals are in a position ready for you to go again. You can’t ‘kick’ them backwards to get them back into position.
In practice, this quickly becomes very natural; my technique is shown in the video below.
The most powerful braking position is with the pedals at 3 o’clock/9 o’clock; and that’s pretty much an easy position for you to start off again.
If, by chance, your pedals aren’t in a great position to set off again, the best thing to do is to roll your bike back a foot or so, returning the pedal to a position where force can be applied. Or (as I sometimes do) just push off and use your momentum to start pedalling again. It’s no big deal.
It also helps to have your saddle low enough so your feet (or at least your standing foot) can reach the ground with you sat on it, as in the picture above. That means you are not forced to apply weight to the pedals when you come to a stop, which is tricky when that’s your braking system.
With this kind of bike, a low saddle just feels comfortable and natural in any case – just look at the relaxed chap in the first picture in this post – so any notion of raising it to an allegedly ‘optimal’ height for power transfer doesn’t really fit. Bikes like these are for comfortable cruising, not hard acceleration, or performance.
The only other downside to a coaster that I’m aware of is that – in the event of an emergency – your pedals may not be instantaneously in the right position to apply the best available braking power (unlike brake levers on your handlebars). They may be at the top, or the bottom, of the pedal stroke, where not much backwards force can be applied.
Whether this is a major factor or not, I don’t know – I have always been able to stop fairly sharply on the few occasions I’ve had to. Perhaps this is because (by risk compensation) I ride more slowly, and more carefully, more aware of what idiots might do, simply because I have to react in a slightly different way. Typically if I pick up speed, or I approach a situation where I may have stop, my pedals ‘rest’ in the best position for stopping, parallel to the ground. I rarely find myself pedalling hard into a situation where there is uncertainty. Maybe I’m just older and wiser!
But overall I find that the braking system just fits with this type of bike – it’s easy, painless, instinctive, and it works effectively. If I had to get another omafiets I would choose a coaster brake without hesitation.
You don’t have look too hard on social media to find the ravings of drivers muttering about being delayed, impeded or obstructed by someone cycling ahead of them. Usually it’s a rant about someone being ‘in the middle of the road’, or people riding two abreast, or not using a ‘perfectly good cycle path’ – often accompanied by a photograph uploaded to the internet by the driver.
The general background impression of all this noise is that delay and inconvenience on the road network is exclusively bike on motor vehicle; that it’s the slower, two-wheeled vehicles that cause the hold ups. That’s intuitively understandable – cars are fast, bikes are slow, slow things hold fast things up.
But there is, of course, a different perspective – one from behind the handlebars. This week – in a poor attempt at a parody of social media moaning – I tweeted a picture of terrible congestion on Shaftesbury Avenue.
Why is it motorists think they can drive three abreast, holding up hardworking cyclists? STAY TO THE LEFT! pic.twitter.com/kBixG9pJzr
— Mark Treasure (@AsEasyAsRiding) May 6, 2015
I was being held up; this very wide road was completely clogged by a large number of drivers, travelling three abreast. If they weren’t there, or if they were to stay over to the left, I would have been able to make stately progress.
A little further on, and I was still unable to cycle at the speed I wanted to. In fact I was stationary.
And again, later that same day, in the evening, streets in Westminster were completely clogged. I gave up, and walked on the pavement.
This is all so commonplace it’s background – I suspect even many people cycling will not reflect on the fact they are being held up and impeded by motor traffic. It’s so normal it’s not worth commenting on. Queues of traffic that are often difficult to filter past are everywhere in urban areas.
And it’s not just the traffic that is moving – or attempting to move. The car on the right of the picture above is parked. Without that parking occupying valuable road space, again, I would have been able to have made progress. Parking is often tremendously obstructive, yet this passes without comment. It’s a subtle way in which other modes of transport are impeded, yet unnoticed. And of course having parking on both sides of narrower streets means that roads have to be made one-way, causing needless delay (in the form of diversions) for people on bikes who would otherwise be able to take direct routes.
If all that parking wasn’t there, this road wouldn’t be one way, and I wouldn’t have to cycle around three streets, instead of just taking the direct route down this one. I’m directly, or indirectly, impeded up by motoring.
I’m also held up by traffic lights, pretty much everywhere I go by bike, in urban areas.
Traffic lights are so ubiquitous it is very easy to forget that they essentially only exist to facilitate the passage of motor traffic – and to allow people to cross roads dominated by motor traffic. Where motor traffic levels are low, or non-existent, there is of course no need for traffic signals, even where human beings are moving about in tremendous numbers.
And of course the width of motor vehicles means I am unnecessarily held up, where otherwise I would be able to pass by oncoming traffic without difficulty.
There are probably countless other ways in which motoring is obstructive and causes delays – feel free to point them out in the comments. The problem is that this delay is a result of street design and layouts that seem to be ‘natural’. Nobody questions parking on both sides of the street, and how that might affect flow or capacity. Nobody questions the existence of traffic lights, or one-way systems – both subtle ways in which motoring is privileged at the expense of delay and inconvenience to non-motorised users. Nobody questions the effects of motor traffic congestion itself on the free movement of non-motorised users.
This isn’t to say that people cycling won’t ever hold up people driving; just to say that there is a very large flip side to that coin. The solution to these difficulties, for both people cycling, and for people driving, is to place these two modes onto different systems – to separate the two modes of transport as much as possible, creating parallel routes for cycling on main roads, and removing through motor traffic from access roads, in line with the principles of sustainable safety.
If you’re a motorist complaining about being held up – firstly, the person who is cycling in front of you will almost certainly be held up by motoring just as much, if not more, than you, and secondly… there’s an answer out there.
As long standing readers know, the Road Danger Reduction Forum has worked alongside our cyclist and road danger reduction partners with Transport for London on this matter. Our aim has been to have only properly worded warning stickers on the right kind of vehicles, in the first instance on vehicles of TfL’s Fleet Operators Recognition Scheme.( See here for the longest account and history of this story, the follow up and how members of the public can engage with TfL/FORS on this matter.)
Some of this – replacing wrongly worded stickers on FORS member HGVs and on buses in London has progressed well. But there remains a substantial problem: a number of vehicles without blind spots (cars, vans, small lorries) belonging to FORS members (like the van above) are still displaying these stickers. Our understanding in meeting with TfL/FORS has been that they would try to get these removed and they have indicated in their guidance that they are not intended for vehicles below 3.5 tonnes (e.g. those without blind spots).
But is TfL actually doing what it can – and should be doing – here?The issue of stickers on vehicles without “blind spots”
One of the key issues has been the use of such stickers on vehicles where the driver has the ability and requirement to see cyclists on their near side. There is a major problem of drivers not using nearside mirrors (in contravention of Highway Code Rules 159,161,163, 169, 179, 180, 182, 184, and 202) associated with a significant proportion of incidents where cyclists are hit by motor vehicles. Even the AA has shown awareness of this issue through a campaign encouraging drivers to look in their wing mirrors. Accordingly representatives of The Association of Bikeability Schemes (TABS), the national cyclists’ charity (CTC), the national road crash victims’ organisation (RoadPeace), and the London Cycling Campaign (LCC) along with the London Boroughs Cycling Officers Group (BCOG) have met with TfL to get this issue addressed.
FORS specifically prescribes that warning signage should be fitted to vehicles over 3.5T (requirement V7 Vulnerable road user safety); In Mayor’s Question Time the Mayor (Question No: 2015/0852) the Mayor responded:
There have been several communications to FORS operators concerning the display of appropriate signage, and accreditation criteria has been updated to reflect the new advice. Operators who do not have the new reworded blind spot warning sticker on their vehicles will receive a minor action point in their next FORS audit.
The FORS programme firmly advocates continuous improvement, therefore any unaddressed points in an audit will be escalated to a major action point in the next audit and this would result in a failed audit result for the company. Cyclists, or any other road users, can report FORS vehicles displaying incorrect stickers through the FORS website (http://www.fors-online.org.uk/cms/contact/) and on the FORS helpline.
In addition, at the meeting of stakeholders with TfL/FORS last year, we suggested that if a robust justification of the instruction was made on a FORS web page, members of the public could contact non-FORS members explaining to them that the foremost fleet registration scheme in London (FORS) was opposed to stickers of this type on “non-blind spot”. This would spread the word to a large number of vehicle operators – FORS members are only part of the problem – and would also be a collaborative action introducing non-members to FORS.The problem now
So there have been a number of complaints in the last few months to the FORS helpline about FORS vehicles such as these:
And many others, including those belonging to supposedly pro-cycling Councils like LBs Camden, Islington and Brent).We believed that these complaints would assist TfL and FORS. However…The response…
Responses to those who complained from the FORS helpline contained the following justification for FORS not intervening to get the removal of these stickers from their members, vehicles:
Whilst FORS specifically prescribes that warning signage should be fitted to vehicles over 3.5T (requirement V7 Vulnerable road user safety), we cannot enforce the application of warning signage to vehicles of 3.5T and under as a number of clients contractually require signage to be displayed on those smaller vehicles. Where this is a contractual requirement of another organisation, it is outside of the remit of FORS and should be addressed with these companies / clients directly. Therefore I am sure you can now appreciate that FORS is not in a position to contact these companies to ask them to remove warning signage.…and our reaction
We were gobsmacked by this reasoning. We enquired as to who these clients were (are there many of them?) and why they would require the use of an unjustified sign with a reputation for being both intimidatory and excusing of careless driving. After various communications with TfL and FORS management, we were told that despite FORS Standard ‘V7 – Vulnerable road user safety’ requires approved blind spot warning signage to be fitted only on vehicles over 3.5 tonne gross vehicle weight,
“We are aware that other organisations contractually require their operators, as part of their measures to manage work related road risk, to use warning signage on vehicles below 3.5 tonne gross vehicle weight. However, we do not hold information about which of these operators are also FORS accredited. We strongly encourage other organisations to actively managing road risk and are committed to working collaboratively to provide support, guidance and to promote good practice However, neither TfL nor FORS have a remit to enforce prescriptive and onerous rules, such as the ones you appear to be suggesting, about how other organisations manage road risk in their supply chain. “
The ”prescriptive and onerous rules” RDRF suggested were that:
(a) FORS assess how many cases (approximately) have there been where clients of FORS members have contractually required them to display cyclist warning stickers on vehicles without blind spots as a necessary condition of employment.
(b) In these cases, TfL/FORS may inform the organisations in question that the stickers were never intended for vehicles without blind spots.
(c) Also in these cases, our strong request is for TfL to write to all FORS members, advising them that the use of these signs is contrary to the conditions of their FORS accreditation, and urging not to sign up to any similar contractual conditions in future, as this could lead to the loss of their FORS accreditation.
(d) In general, we would request that TfL write to all FORS members advising them that the use of these signs is contrary to the conditions of their FORS accreditation, and urging them to remove any such signs, as failure to do so could result in the loss of FORS accreditation and/or reduction in FORS accreditation level.
We don’t see such rules being enforced as onerous or prescriptive (except insofar as any rule is prescriptive).So what happens now?
RDRF has consulted with our partners:
The Association of Bikeability Schemes (TABS), the national cyclists’ charity (CTC), the national road crash victims’ organisation (RoadPeace) the London Cycling Campaign (LCC) along with the London Boroughs Cycling Officers Group (BCOG).
The consensus is that, while we acknowledge that TfL cannot over-ride any existing contractual conditions imposed on FORS operators by their clients we don’t accept that this renders them powerless to deal with this situation.
We will ask TfL/FORS to do the following:
(A formal letter, by the cyclist and road danger reduction organisations mentioned above, to TfL/FORS management making our requests is due to be sent after the General Election, and should then be found on their web sites. The link to this post has been sent to TfL/FORS. )
Dr Robert Davis, Chair RDRF 6th May 2015
This post is about London TravelWatch, but it could really be about transport in Britain more generally, and about how ‘transport users’ are conceptualised – in particular, those who use bicycles, or might want to use them.
London TravelWatch describe themselves as follows –
London TravelWatch is the official watchdog organisation representing the interests of transport users in and around the capital. Officially known as London Transport Users Committee, we were established in July 2000.
They also state
Funded by the London Assembly, we speak for all London transport users on all modes of transport.
But what does this actually amount to? Who are the ‘transport users’, using all modes, that they claim to represent?
As we’ll see, the interests of ‘transport users’ in London are not particularly well represented by London Travelwatch if the mode of transport they happen to be using is a bike. They’re even less well represented if these transport users might want to use a bike, but are discouraged from doing so because of hostile conditions for cycling.
Children getting to school are ‘transport users’. If they are using the bus, their interests are well represented by London Travelwatch, If, however, these same children are attempting to get to school by bike, their interests are essentially ignored.
To take one example, London Travelwatch responded to Camden’s consultation on their West End Project, last year. This is a major scheme, costing tens of millions of pounds, and involves major changes to the roads in the Tottenham Court Road area. There was a significant opportunity to improve conditions for cycling in the area. Yet from the summary of responses collected by Camden Council, London Travelwatch essentially had nothing to say about the comfort, convenience and attractiveness of cycling in the scheme. Indeed, their only mention of cycling appears to be
Concerns about the use of light segregation and the potential for this to be a hazard to pedestrians crossing the street.
Namely, concern that the only (inadequate) separation from motor traffic initially proposed by Camden could be a hazard to pedestrians. London Travelwatch had nothing to say about the safety or comfort of cycling on either of the main roads in the scheme, particularly cycling mixed with motor traffic on Tottenham Court Road, which will be a busy two-way road open to all motor traffic after 7pm, and all day on Sunday.
Similarly, in their response to Transport for London’s proposals for Superhighway 5, between Oval and Victoria, which involves (for the most part) a bi-directional cycle track physically separated from motor traffic, London Travelwatch opposed these proposals, arguing instead for cycling to be accommodated within ‘4.5 metre wide bus lanes to facilitate buses overtaking cyclists’.
This is in accordance with London Travelwatch’s latest policy update on cycling, from September last year, which states that
The best practicable solution for cycles on many of London‟s roads would be to accommodate them in wide bus lanes (4.5m) or wide (4.5m) inside lanes in order that cycle can pass wide vehicles and wide vehicles can pass cycle
So a group which professes to represent the interests of ‘transport users’ suggests that the best way to accommodate cycling is… mixed in with motor traffic on main roads, in lanes that will often be busy with taxis and large, intimidating vehicles.
Some ‘interests’ may be being represented here, but it’s doubtful that it includes those of people who might want to cycle for short trips in London, but are put off doing so because they are reluctant to share space with large, fast-moving vehicles, like buses.
This failure of representation flows, I think, from a failure to reflect on whether existing patterns of transport use in Britain are natural. By ‘natural’ I mean that those patterns arise out of a genuinely free choice between modes of transport. It is more than likely that bus use (and indeed driving and walking) is much more popular than cycling in London (and other towns and cities across Britain) because cycling is quite a scary and intimidating mode of transport for most ordinary people. Many ‘transport users’ who might opt for the bicycle if it were a safe and attractive choice are consequently not doing so, even if that mode of transport would make a great deal of sense for them, not least in terms of time and money saved. Their interests are not being represented because of a lazy assumption that the interests of ‘cyclists’ correspond to the behaviour and habits of the minority of existing users.
The interests of the young girl in the picture above – a genuine ‘transport user’ like anyone else – are being represented by the road layout she is riding a bike on. She can navigate otherwise hostile road environments, like the large junction shown in the picture, because that environment has been designed with her interests in mind when she is riding a bike, just as the footways here are designed for young girls to walk on, or buses that pass through this junction are designed for young girls to use.
By contrast it is extremely unlikely that her interests would be represented by shared bus lanes, even if they are slightly wider than normal.
We know this because young children are not seen riding bikes in these kinds of environments. They, and their parents, haven’t made a free choice between cycling in this kind of environment and walking, driving, or getting the bus through it. Instead, riding a bike in this kind of environment with young children is genuinely unthinkable to most people, just as it would be to walk with young children along a busy road that doesn’t have a pavement.
Indeed, more broadly, framing the debate in terms of specific ‘transport users’ is an unhelpful way of defending interests, because people are, essentially, multi-modal. It doesn’t make a great deal of sense to present the interests of ‘bus users’ in opposition to ‘cyclists’ (as London Travelwatch appear to do) because with a sensibly designed transport network everybody would be a potential bus user or bike user, every single day. Indeed, this is typical in the Netherlands, where cycling and getting the bus are extremely well integrated.
Dutch people use bikes to cycle to bus stops, and then catch the bus for the longer stages of their journeys that would be less convenient to cycle.
Nobody is born a ‘bus user’ or a ‘pedestrian’ or a ‘cyclist’ – they are all human beings who happen to be choosing a particular mode of transport at a particular time. On that basis a proper defence of ‘transport users’ interests’ should examine whether people have a genuine choice the modes of transport that would make most sense for them, for the trips they make on a daily basis. To take just one example, if it turns out that cycling (for instance) would make a great deal of sense for children to make their way to school, and yet few children do actually cycle for these trips, then quite plainly the interests of these transport users are not being represented, even if they are not ‘cyclists’ at the present time.
To ignore this and other ways in which choice of transport mode is constrained when examining the kinds of improvements that could be made to our transport environment would be a fundamental failure.
Here’s a quick post on what the Conservative’s promise for cycling in the 2015 election. We have had a pop at the Labour promises (and take a recent look at Labour’s claims against those of the Lib Dems ) Above all, take a look at the CTC’s excellent summary of the Manifestos.
We note:1. The target of “doubling cycling by 2025”.
That is some time off, there is no way of checking if we are on target – and penalising those who are judged responsible for failure. That never gets mentioned. We have had doubling (and quadrupling) targets before, and they were not only met, but there was often no increase at all.
2. “£6 per person” being spent.
No, this is only in 8 specified cities and London, not for the vast majority of people in Britain.
3. £200 million
This is an aim. As the CTC point out…” As pointed out by Ralph Smyth of Campaign to Protect Rural England however, this figure comes from the Highways England Road Investment strategy launched in December 2014 and is unfortunately nothing new.” Also over what period? £200 million is just over £3 per person, over a Government that is some 60 – 70 pence.
4. “Cut red tape”.
The localism agenda again. How many local transport professionals see this as away of shifting responsibility away from central Government on to those without resources or commitment to achieve objectives?
5. Trialling “cycle streets”.
An interesting idea but trialling something in a even quite a few locations doesn’t really deal with the vast majority of cycle safety issues. The problems of motors overtaking cyclists are associated with highway engineering in general, a lack of understanding by motorists about the space necessary and the willingness of the police to work in this area to get the kind of behaviour motorists seem to be able to achieve more frequently in other European countries .6. Changing design features of ASLs and pedestrian/cycle crossings
Are these changes seriously expected to make a significant difference to the ease and safety of cycling?
7. Role models
Actually, here at RDRF towers we think Mayor Johnson cycling in normal clothing because he obviously thinks cycling is a sensible way of getting about (as opposed to the usual politician photo-ops) is excellent. But the role models selected are mainly sports cyclists. I also love cycle sport – but the issue is cycling as TRANsport, not as sport.
On new roads only – and we don’t know what the design standards used would actually be.
There has been plenty of criticism of the parties’ manifestos on the web, with a focus on the nature of what “spending on cycling” is actually going to mean in terms of what happens on the ground. There are plenty of grounds for fearing that . Any programme which is going to work for cycling needs:
Basically we have political parties, with the possible exception of the Greens, that are going along with a car-centric system which has a variety of obstacles and dangers to cycling. Issues such as the costs of motoring to society need to be raised both for producing a sustainable transport policy as well as attacking the mythology of the motorist paying “road tax”. Steps have been made by cycling campaigners like achieving the Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Bill, but don’t expect there to be any change in the UK lagging way behind nearby European countries on cycling whoever gets in on May 8th.
This hit and run incident at the junction of Tower Bridge Road and Abbey Street has been featuring in the new recently.
Andrea McVeigh posted on the SE1 forum last week to describe what happened when she and her husband crossed Tower Bridge Road near the Abbey Street junction at about 6pm on Tuesday 14 April.
As they stepped onto the pavement on the western side of the road, a cyclist who was on the pavement collided with Ms McVeigh causing her to fall.
This is as ongoing case; the person cycling still doesn’t appear to have presented themselves to the police so it can be resolved.
But from the version of events we have, it’s plainly not a great idea to have people cycling whizzing about on pavements, especially when it’s not obvious to pedestrians that they might encounter someone cycling on a footway. (In this case – because cycling on this particular stretch of footway is not legal.)
However, just 200 metres from this junction, a little further south down Tower Bridge Road, Transport for London have designed a junction on a new Quietway between Greenwich and Waterloo that involves… people cycling on the footway.
People crossing the eastern side of junction on foot, in a north-south direction, will encounter people cycling along the footway, in an east-west direction – a perpendicular conflict on a footway, very similar to the kind of conflict in this hit-and-run incident.
Yet in this junction with Rothsay Street/Webb Street, just down the road from where the collision involving Andrea McVeigh and the unknown man took place, cycling here will be entirely legal, planned for by this new design.
Quietways like this will (or should) be attracting lots of potential users on bikes. But there’s going to be very little to indicate to anyone crossing the road on foot that the footway on the other side is, effectively, a busy cycle route. It will look like a large area of pavement.
Hit and run collisions involving people cycling on pavements are shocking, but isn’t it just as shocking that we’re designing precisely that kind of conflict into new junctions just yards away?
This post is part of an ongoing series examining how West Sussex County Council are managing to spend £2.4m of Local Sustainable Transport Fund cash (won from the DfT back in 2012) on schemes of negligible ‘sustainable’ benefit, with a particular focus on cycling.
The aim is to show how the money that councils receive for cycling from central government is being dribbled away, thanks to a combination of tight timescales, limited or insecure funding streams, no continuity of local expertise, poor or non-existent guidance, and local prejudice.
Two previous posts have described how
In other words – two schemes that do next to nothing to make cycling a more viable and attractive mode of transport, at a total cost of £310,000.
The focus in this post is on a further £30,000 of that LSTF cash, which has been spent, badly, on cycle parking in Horsham town centre.
This sum is as large as it is because of an underspend in a proposed LSTF funded cycle route across the town. The original budget for this route was £320,000; this was scaled down to £180,000 once it became apparent that very few interventions were actually planned. That underspend has consequently been redistributed to projects like the parking described here.
£30,000 would buy you an awful lot of sheffield stands – the kind of parking that is appropriate in a town centre location. However, most of this £30,000 appears to have been spent on three two-tier cycle parking stands, of this type –
This kind of cycle parking is unsuitable for a town centre location, where people will generally be locking their bikes up for short periods of time – to visit shops, restaurants, friends, and so on.
Two-tier parking only really makes sense at locations where people will be leaving their bikes for longer periods of time, and where demand is particularly high. At transport interchanges like railway stations, two-tier parking like this is an obvious choice, because people won’t mind so much the effort of lifting their bikes into these racks if they are leaving the bike for an entire day.
It doesn’t make any sense at all, however, if you are just popping into a supermarket. Yet this is the kind of parking that has been chosen.
Worse still, the locations for these stands have been selected by Horsham District councillors, quite deliberately, with the intention of discouraging cycling in the town centre.
Helena Croft (Con, Roffey North, HDC’s cabinet member for Horsham town, said: “I am delighted that the provision of town centre cycle parking is being improved in this way, making the centre more accessible by a more sustainable form of transport.
“There are currently no covered cycle shelters in the centre of Horsham and cyclists are often seen penetrating areas which should only be used by pedestrians. These new shelters will help clear the pedestrian zones and motivate more people to cycle into town. It will also contribute towards less traffic congestion in the centre so it’s a win win all round.”
The idea, presumably, is that people will lock their bikes up at the edge of the town centre, then walk to the location they want to visit, then walk back to the cycle parking on the edge of town, and then cycle off again, instead of just cycling directly to the location they want to visit and locking their bike as close to that location as possible.
Cycling in Horsham town centre is unfortunately viewed as a problem, and sustainable transport funding has been used to place inconvenient cycling parking in inconvenient locations in a futile attempt to keep cycling out of it.
I say ‘futile’ because most of the town centre is already legally accessible by bike, and where people are cycling in genuinely pedestrianised areas, they are usually doing so either because a contraflow has not been provided on the sensible alternative, or because the parallel road is deeply hostile. Placing cycle parking at the extremities of the town centre will do nothing to change this behaviour, and it’s unsettling that tens of thousands of pounds of DfT cash is effectively at the whim of councillors who can make stupid decisions like this.
Here’s where the parking has been placed. One of the racks has been located behind one of the town’s car parks, tucked away in a corner.
These racks remain empty, while the pre-existing sheffield stand parking nearer the shops (on the sensible side of the car park) continues to be busy.
The second of these two-tier stands is an even more ridiculous location, plonked right next to a busy shared use path, meaning getting bikes in and out of the rack blocks it –
… and also sited well away from the two obvious nearby destinations, the library, and a Sainsbury’s supermarket.
Again, this rack remains empty, while the parking at Sainsbury’s and the library is in use – because that parking is near where people want to visit.
But again, it’s being almost entirely ignored, with people opting for the existing (easier to use) railings –
None of this should be surprising. The Horsham District Cycle Forum consistently argued against these types of two-tier racks, and the principle of locating them in out-of-the-way areas. Yet these stands, in these locations, were implemented regardless.
They’re not even very good stands. In fact they’re dire. My (fairly standard) Dutch bike won’t even fit in them.
There’s also nothing to actually lock your bike to, which needless to say is a problem if you want to leave your bike for any length of time and expect to come back and still find it where you left it.
It’s difficult to roll your bike into their upper tier (thanks to those metal bars that mean my bike doesn’t fit) – the manufacturer’s own video shows that bikes have to be lifted some height off the ground, and deposited in the rack. Not easy for most people, especially those with utility bikes.
And without any hydraulic or spring assistance, you need to be pretty strong to lift your bike back up to a horizontal position. I can barely manage it, like this commenter on the local paper website –
I’ve just come back from looking at the new rack installed in Medwin Walk. I’m an active, fit, burly, six-foot-two-er, and my bikes are light. I’d struggle to load one onto the top deck of the new rack. Unlike the racks at the front of Horsham Station this new one has no spring or strut assistance on the top deck and is missing a dedicated locking point on each rack. So how someone smaller, less strong, and with a heavier bike than me is supposed to cope with using the rack is beyond me.
The final nail in the coffin is that they’re actually quite dangerous.
Which means that they are now taped off, out of use, awaiting some kind of solution. (Entirely different cycle parking, perhaps?)
What is frustrating is that some of the LSTF cash has actually gone on good new sheffield stands, in sensible locations, which I have noticed are already well-used, despite only being in place for a matter of days. These ones were being used even before the cones had been taken away.
£30,000 could have bought a lot of this kind of parking, in the right kind of places. But instead it’s been spent almost entirely on impractical parking in inconvenient locations, of such a poor quality I can’t see a solution without the stands being entirely replaced. It’s depressing that something as simple as cycle parking can’t even be get right. The waste continues.