It’s noteworthy that the North-South and East-West Superhighway schemes, which (while not perfect by any means) are the most ambitious and inclusive designs for cycling currently on the table in Britain, barely use any Advanced Stop Lines (ASLs) on the length of their route. The Superhighways are good because they do not use ASLs, among other reasons.
Indeed, more generally, good cycling schemes don’t involve ASLs.
That’s because ASLs are lipstick on a pig. They are a tokenistic attempt to provide something a bit ‘cycle-friendly’, a veneer of legitimacy, while doing next to nothing to address objective problems of safety (and, as we shall see, often creating problems of safety), or to create an environment that feels safe and comfortable to cycle in.
Good cycling schemes separate cycling, temporally and/or spatially, at major junctions, or they involve lowering motor traffic levels to a point at which ASLs are redundant. The reason why ASLs are disappearing from the Netherlands is that the maximum motor traffic threshold for their use is roughly equivalent to the point at which traffic signals can, and should, be removed. That is – Dutch guidance only recommends using ASLs at a level at which traffic signals shouldn’t even be being used.
Earlier this year, I cycled for about 300 miles across the Netherlands, and I only encountered three sets of ASLs. Two sets were at objectively bad junctions -
The other set was at either end of a new Fietsstraat in Utrecht. It’s questionable whether they are even needed.
Everywhere else, I was moving through junctions that had so little motor traffic, they didn’t need traffic signals at all -
Or through junctions where signals were required, and cycling was separated from motor traffic.
Advanced Stop Lines are almost entirely absent in the Netherlands because they are a deeply mediocre approach; an attempt to accommodate cycling in an existing motor-centric template.
Why are they so dire?
Even if Advanced Stop Lines do work, they only do so on a part-time basis. When traffic signals are green, they offer absolutely no benefit at all – they’re just a large painted area on the ground. There’s no point them even being there.
When traffic signals are red, anyone who doesn’t want to find themselves in a potentially dangerous situation has to run through a complex assessment process, adjudicating the risk of attempting to reach the ASL. This flowchart from Magnatom summarises this process brilliantly.
The problem is that human beings are fallible, and they will make poor decisions and mistakes about whether to attempt to reach the ASL, or to wait safely. Impatience can’t be designed out of us; we will always want to make progress. ASLs represent a very poor way of attempting to deal with that human fallibility, especially as they may encourage poor decision-making, and do nothing to prevent dangerous outcomes.
The thunderous main roads in Horsham have recently received some tokenistic green paint at three major junctions. Many of these ASLs are often difficult (or even impossible) to access.
Even when these ASLs are apparently accessible, considerable danger is presented, as in this instance, from just the other day.
Note here that I have highlighted a young child on a bike, completely ignoring this new ‘infrastructure’, and cycling on the pavement – entirely sensibly. These ASLs have done nothing to ameliorate the hostility of these roads; even for those people who evidently want to cycle, like this young boy.
An HGV is waiting at a red light, and a nice tempting ASL is within easy reach. But (because I am reasonably clued up about these matters) I know of the lethal danger posed by this kind of situation; I don’t know where the truck is going (it isn’t signalling, at this point, and even that shouldn’t be relied upon) and I also don’t know how long the lights have been red, and thus how long that truck is going to remain stationary. So I hang back.
As it happens, only a matter of seconds later – barely enough time for me to get on the footway and photograph what happens – the truck sets off, turning left, the driver signalling now, as he turns.
This is precisely the kind of situation in which people can and do get seriously injured; attempting to reach an ASL, they find themselves on the inside of an HGV that starts to move, and get caught up under it. Indeed, UCL academics who undertook a rigorous study of the causes of cycling deaths in London came to the following conclusions -
That is – if you want to stay alive, or avoid serious injury, do not do what the paint is telling you to do.
What kind of ‘cycle provision’ is that?
Unfortunately there isn’t a great deal else, beyond ASLs, in the toolkit for designing for cycling at junctions. Our current guidance is woefully short on genuinely safe infrastructure at major junctions, and steps are only just being made to address this serious oversight. So it’s partly understandable why ASLs are still being painted out.
But their continued presence in manuals, and in new schemes, affords highway engineers, planners and (in particular) politicians a degree of complacency; it allows them to to avoid thinking about the ways in which cycling should be designed for at junctions, and to continue ignoring the serious safety problems, both objective and subjective, that these junctions present.
This is just the latest egregious example -
Not the least bit ‘cycle-friendly’, despite the copious amounts of green paint. ASLs are an easy and obvious option, when you want to pretend you’re doing something tangible.
So stripping out the ASL from the toolkit – halting the march of the Advanced Stop Line – might just force us to think a bit more carefully about how to design properly at the kinds of junction pictured above, rather than adding in those green boxes and hoping for the best. We need to be forced to think about alternatives.
Our last post is one of the most well-read and commented on since www.rdrf.org.uk went live, with particular support on social media from supporters of cycling and sustainable transport. We’re aware that many people with good intentions feel that supporting Road Safety Week (RSW) is worthwhile. We don’t. As I concluded after a debate with Brake at the end of the post:
“…a generally “fluffy” approach appealing to people to try to be nice if they feel like it is exactly what has not worked to reduce danger on the roads – whatever the feelings of people involved (and I should add that these feelings are frequently highly commendable). Wanting people to be less dangerous and telling this to whoever wants to listen is not only not enough, unless you address important obstacles – often represented by your partners – it can become part of the problem.”
Brake initially responded by accusing us of insulting those bereaved by road crashes – which we strongly deny and bitterly resent – and then took the trouble to engage in responses to our concerns. We’re happy to continue the debate. To repeat: “I raise these issues because I hope they can assist people in developing and supporting programmes for road danger reduction: real road safety, Safer Roads for All.”What has been happening in Road Safety Week?
Let’s look at some of the events in RSW that Brake has drawn attention to on social media. We think some clarification is needed on what Brake’s message is.Pushing cycle helmets…
Philip Goose (Brake Senior Community Engagement Officer) claims (Twitter Nov 20th)that he supports the position of the CTC: Many people ask me why I think what I do on cycle helmets. I agree with the @CTC_Cyclists POV: http://www.ctc.org.uk/campaign/cycle-helmets-evidence …
But Brake is a long term supporter of campaigns for compulsory bicycle crash helmet wear . It both denies relevant evidence and replicates helmet mythology.
In RSW Brake supported an initiative to auction bicycle crash helmets signed by celebrities (such as the stars of Strictly Come Dancing) , including the rugby player Danny Care. In 2012 Care was banned for drink-driving, arrested a few hours after tweeting “…Earn respect. Earn the shirt. Set the example.” Interestingly, the media noted this as one of Care’s three offences involving alcohol at the time. We are more interested in the fact that this supposed role model already had three points on his licence for texting on his mobile phone while driving, and six points for speeding.
Our last post refers to our concerns about advocacy of wearing hi-viz feeding into “Sorry mate I Didn’t See You” (SMIDSY) victim-blaming. Although Philip Goose tries to assure us that Brake is opposed to such victim-blaming (“quite the contrary”), an awful lot of RSW seems to be about hi-viz.
It could be the hi-viz vests given out by their co-sponsors Bridgestone tyres, RSW partners Specsavers or
the RSA Group. We noted that Co-op Funeralcare (who work with Brake on child “road safety”) produced a video which tells school children to wear the reflective yellow badges they were given (160,000 given out so far), and which tells parents that they can ”ensure your child stays safe by following a few simple steps…” such as not playing near a road, and walking on the side of the pavement furthest away from the road. And wearing the badges. Then there are the hi-viz wristbands handed out by North Ayrshire Police and hi-viz vests designed by Jet Petrol
RSW was launched by the Road Safety Minister Robert Goodwill MP, and Brake’s Julie Townsend
As readers of www.rdrf.org.ukwill know, one of our main problems with the official “road safety” establishment is the idea that genuine safety on the road can be measured by totting up aggregate numbers of road deaths and dividing them by the population, (see the piece here )
Sure enough, the Minister started his launch speech with “Britain has some of the safest roads in the world …”. RSW was also the occasion when a story appeared in which the Minister dismissed the provision of cycle infrastructure ” because there aren’t enough cyclists“, using a recycled extract from an earlier letter .
This all takes place against a background of the Government failing to allocate the funding required for the provision advocated in the “Get Britain Cycling” report (although the opposition are no better). Although Brake spokespeople may say they want this kind of funding, how do they square this with being paid by the Department for Transport to organise RSW?
…and the Police.
Although she was not present at the launch, Brake’s Press Release gave prominence to Chief Constable Suzette Davenport, the Association of Chief Police Officers’ national lead for roads policing, who is quoted as saying: “Our officers and staff do a vital job in enforcing important safety laws and protecting the public on the roads…”
But that’s the point: as we have pointed out here, here , and here we do not have the level and kind of traffic law enforcement we deserve. Does Brake point this out to its partners in the police forces it works with in the UK? What we do get from Brake is a Press Release which claims that it’s survey “reveals the extent of selfish driving in the UK”. This surveys headline statistic is that there are:
Two fixed penalties for ‘careless driving’ or speeding issued every minute in the UK
This is broken down by region, e.g. LONDON: A fixed penalty for ‘careless driving’ or speeding is issued in London every seven minutes. 73,804 fixed penalty notices were issued for ‘careless driving’ and speeding offences in London in 2013 – one every seven minutes. 71,529 were for speeding, and 2,275 for careless driving (a fixed penalty newly introduced in August 2013).
So do these figures “reveal the extent of selfish driving” in the UK (or London)? Just taking London, we can assume at least some 3 million drivers are on its roads on a typical day…> It’s tricky to get exact figures: there are some 2.6 million cars registered in London, more come in from outside, and then there are the motorcycles, lorries, vans, buses and taxis to consider, so 3 million is a conservative figure for the number of motor vehicle drivers on London’s roads on a typical day. We know that approximately 40% of drivers break speed limits when they can, and that more than half claim to do so from time to time. That would bring the annual number of potential speeding offences in London to hundreds of millions, not just over 70,000.
That leaves us with careless driving. Are Brake seriously suggesting that a proportion of less than one in a thousand London motorists drives carelessly just once in a year? Is that the “extent of selfish driving”?What was Road Safety Week actually about?
The dominant impression of RSW we have, particularly after Philip Goose’s contacts with us, is of a variety of different and often conflicting messages. During this week I discussed RSW with colleagues, with two conversations standing out. One view was that simply saying “road safety” is somehow seen as giving carte blanche to any view on how to achieve whatever anybody may think “road safety” actually is. Similarly, a former Road Safety Officer commented that Brake and its partners throw together a hotchpotch of views that may be considered “road safety”. These views are expressed with or without evidence, blaming victims or not, or locating a problem without any real strategy to deal with it. For us that is not good enough.
Here are Alaw Primary pupils suitably decked out during RSW. Questioned by Bike Commuter @BikeCommuter2 about whether they had been required to wear this clothing, and how danger from drivers was going to be addressed the answer is:
We did! They always wear hi vis when out. It’s health and safety and, yes, it’s as well as ensuring drivers are considerate. –
But that is simply wishful thinking. RCT Council do not ensure safe driving on their roads.
During RSW, Brake introduced road crash victims and those bereaved by road crashes to speak at events. In Rhondda Cynon Taf, a lady spoke movingly about her husband being killed while crossing the road on a signalled crossing by an 86-year-old driver, who then received the “punishment” of a one-year driving ban.
Our reason for criticising Brake and Road Safety Week is that it does not actually engage in a programme which could address the danger leading to such events. The cultural change required to achieve Safer Roads for All is undermined as much as it may be facilitated.
We do not insult road crash victims. In fact we believe that features of RSW add insult to the harm of so many road crashes, both to those immediately affected and to those at risk from road danger. In case Brake are really prepared to work for a programme of real road safety with Safer Roads for All: one based on the principles of Road Danger Reduction (of reducing danger at source), we’re happy to advise.
‘Road safety week’ concluded last week; appropriately, I thought I’d share a small story of how boggling backward Britain is when it comes to prioritising walking and cycling in urban areas, and how we deal in such a peculiar way with issues of safety.
Arunside is a small cul-de-sac, close to the centre of Horsham.
There are only 62 separate properties in this cul-de-sac; that means the number of movements in and out of this close is minimal (or at least should be).
Only a matter of a few yards from Arunside are two primary schools. St John’s Catholic Primary is on the east side of Blackbridge Lane, and Arunside Primary School on the west, adjoining Arunside itself.
In the 2011 census, there were 165 pupils attending Arunside, and 190 at St John’s. Around three-quarters of Arunside pupils walk to school, with the remaining quarter driven. The picture is less rosy at St John’s, where 60% are driven to school, and the remaining 40% walk. (You can find the census data for these schools here; but see the ‘health warning’ here).
Taking these two schools together, it’s reasonable to assume that there are around 150 motor vehicles arriving in this area and leaving again, every school day, both in the morning, and again in the afternoon, to drop off and pick up children.
In Summer 2012 – after much lobbying – the schools gained a zebra across Blackbridge Lane, the road dividing them. (You can see this crossing on the aerial view, above). This crossing has been accompanied by a School Safety Zone (SSZ) which attempts to stop parents parking on the road right outside the schools, with gigantic zig-zag markings -
… And a 20mph limit that only comes in to force at school opening and closing times.
These (minor) interventions are welcome, and probably go some way towards explaining why Arunside, at least, has a reasonably good walking to school rate. However, virtually no children are cycling to these schools; Blackbridge Lane remains a hostile road, with a 30mph limit outside of this tiny (temporary) 20mph zone, and with plenty of motor traffic using it as a rat-run to bypass the traffic signals and queues in the centre of the town.
That still leaves around 150 motor vehicles arriving and departing twice a day; this presents a problem for the surrounding streets and cul-de-sacs – in particular, Arunside, as we shall see.
I was recently told that a lollipop lady actually volunteers here to allow school children, and their families, to cross this cul-de-sac. Not the main road between the schools; only the entrance to this dead-end road.
I couldn’t quite believe this, until I passed by and saw it happening for myself.
Reminder – this a very minor side street, containing only around 60 properties. Why is a lollipop lady needed to help children cross it?
The simple answer is – because of the large number of cars being driven in and out it, at school time, by parents using it as a car park to drop their children off. The two cars in the photograph above – one entering Arunside, one leaving – are, of course, parents on the school run.
So a problem is evidently being created by the amount of cars being driven into and out of Arunside, during the school run. But the solution isn’t to ban parking here, or to redesign the junction so that the children walking across this side street have priority.
No, the solution is to get a volunteer to stand here in a hi-viz jacket, twice a day, in an attempt to alleviate a problem that shouldn’t even exist in the first place.
That’s how we do things in Britain!
Back in 2012, the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain received a letter from Patrick McLoughlin, the Secretary of State for Transport. It contained the following passages.
With reference to the Netherlands and Denmark, McLoughlin wrote
We do not place the same emphasis on segregation in the UK. Alongside high speed roads we encourage it but in urban environments space is often at a premium. Providing a broad, high quality cycle route segregated from motor traffic in these circumstances might be desirable but in many cases not always practicable. There are also concerns about the potential for conflict between cyclists and motor vehicles where these roads cross routes regardless of whether cyclists have priority.
In the UK, we tend not to encourage cycle priority in these situations because, given the relatively low current levels of cycling, there are concerns that motorists might fail to give way. That said, cycle priority crossings are not ruled out and local authorities are of course free to consider them if they might be suitable in a given situation.
If we begin to see increases in cycling in the UK that we all wish for, it is likely we would want to reconsider our guidance in general, and specifically our position on segregated cycle routes and priority at road crossings.
Many of you may have seen the letter Stuart Helmer received from Robert Goodwill MP, Under-Secretary of State for Transport, circulating today on Twitter. It is eerily familiar, not least because the passages quoted above, are repeated, word for word, in Goodwill’s letter, sent over two years later - with a handful of very minor changes, as highlighted below. Goodwill -
We do not place the same emphasis on segregation in the UK. Whilst alongside high speed roads we encourage it, in urban environments space is often at a premium. Providing a broad, high quality cycle route segregated from motor traffic in these circumstances might be desirable but in many cases it is not always practicable. There are also concerns about the potential for conflict between cyclists and motor vehicles where these routes cross roads, regardless of whether cyclists have priority.
In the UK, we tend not to encourage cycle priority in these situations because, given the relatively low current levels of cycling, there are concerns that motorists might fail to give way. That said, cycle priority crossings are not ruled out and local authorities are of course free to consider them if they think they might be suitable in a given situation.
If we begin to see the increases in cycling [in the UK] that we all wish for, it is likely we would want to reconsider our guidance in general, and specifically our position on segregated cycle routes and cycle priority at road crossings.
A few questions present themselves, perhaps the most important of which is – where is this text coming from?
The other question is – for how long can this text keep on being recycled, used again and again to justify inaction on the basis of low cycling levels? Will Ministers in 2025 be writing
If we begin to see increases in cycling in the UK that we all wish for, it is likely we would want to reconsider our guidance in general, and specifically our position on segregated cycle routes and priority at road crossings.
Or will they, by then, have begun to acknowledge that low cycling levels are their responsibility, flowing directly from their failure to champion safe, attractive and convenient cycling conditions in Britain?
This week Transport for London have been tweeting pictures of proposed station improvements, connected to Crossrail upgrades.
I’ve been struck – as have many others - by the way these designs appear to involve polishing a turd, and also by the way they completely ignore cycling as a mode of transport.
The West Drayton station visualisation includes a bridge that doesn’t include cycling.
The Ilford station visualisation has an expanse of fancy paving, combined with a fashionable narrow carriageway, with someone cycling right by the kerb.
This is the A123, by the way – the traffic levels in this visualisation are a tad unrealistic.
Southall station gets fancy paving, and a nice coloured carriageway, with unrealistic traffic levels. No cycle provision.
Goodmayes gets a ridiculous ‘shared space’ treatment, miraculously free of motor traffic in this visualisation. No cycle provision.
Again, it’s fair to say this is a ‘charitable’ representation of motor traffic levels here.
Seven Kings actually looks like the best improvement out of a bad bunch; the road in front of the station is going to be closed off, and the existing ASL is going to be painted green.
Not pictured – buses.
Another ‘fancy’ surface, serving no apparent purpose, outside Manor Park. Again, this is an A-road – the A117.
Forest Gate. Another A-road; another smear of expensive granite.
Maryland station - three wide lanes of motor traffic replaced by… three narrow lanes of motor traffic.
Acton station gets some lovely cycling-hostile carriageway-narrowing.
Fancy colouring for the car parking spaces outside Hanwell station (this is a dead-end, so they can’t really get this wrong).
And finally Chadwell Heath. It’s not really clear if there are any changes here at all.Crossrail’s own page on the ‘Urban Realm’ changes involved across London is here (thanks to Alex Ingram for spotting it).
A continuing difficulty in Britain appears to be an assumption that ‘cycling infrastructure’ is antithetical to ‘urban realm’. It’s seen as ugly, and associated with traffic engineering, and facilitating movement, which stands in contrast to what ‘urban realm’ designers think they are trying to create, a sense of place. White lines don’t fit in with the aesthetics of places like Poynton, or of Frideswide Square.
Of course, there’s no reason why cycling infrastructure can’t be blended into attractive urban realm – cycle tracks can be constructed from sympathetic materials for instance. The opposition seems to be based on what cycling infrastructure looks like now, rather than what it could look like, with a little thought and effort.
And the other problem here is a fundamental dishonesty about the function of the roads and streets that are being ‘prettified’ – this is the placefaking I’ve talked about before, or, more bluntly, polishing a turd. Rachel Aldred has also written about this issue at length. The assumption seems to be that cycling doesn’t fit in with these placemaking schemes, despite the fact that they still function as major traffic arteries. The paving might have been changed, trees might have been planted, the carriageway might be a different colour, but fundamentally it’s still a road with thousands of vehicles thundering along it every day.
Maybe having to include cycling infrastructure represents a tacit admission that the problem still remains. But it’s not particularly sensible to bury our heads in the sand, and to pretend that the barriers to cycling can be resolved with some planting and some surface treatments.
The reduction of motor traffic in British towns and villages is not a particularly alien concept. Throughout the latter part of the twentieth century, the bypass became an increasingly familiar, and often contested, way of reducing the effects motor vehicles were having on the centres of these settlements – namely, the problems of congestion and pollution resulting from an excess of motor traffic.
There is a rather fantastic ‘Look At Life’ film from 1962, showing how bypasses were built to deal with these problems.
Indeed, just as with the towns featured in that film, many of the towns and villages in my county, West Sussex, are now ringed by recently-constructed dual- or single-carriageway roads, designed to divert through-traffic away from the towns and villages themselves.
The villages of Ashington and Billingshurst both had bypasses constructed in the 1990s, taking the A24 and A29 trunk roads, respectively, away from the village centres.
These were villages that were blighted by through-traffic, particularly Ashington, a small village that had a thunderous A-road running through the middle of it. The old route of the A24 is now considerably more peaceful.
DfT traffic counts show that the A24 bypassing Ashington carries around 30-35,000 vehicles per day; it’s obviously completely inappropriate for that amount of traffic to be passing through the centre of a village. Bypasses are often necessary.
The town where I live, Horsham, also has a bypass. The original northern section (built in the late 1960s) was extended in the 1980s to incorporate a western diversion, keeping the main trunk roads, the A24 (running north-south) and the A264 (running approximately SW-NE) away from the town centre. In theory, this should mean that the town itself should have very little motor traffic passing through it; what motor traffic there is should only be accessing the town.
Bypasses are just as common in the Netherlands, and serve much the same purpose. A big difference, however, is that the Dutch are far more assiduous about ensuring that bypasses serve their original purpose – taking out the through-traffic from urban areas.
By contrast, in Britain, bypasses are often presented as ‘relief roads’, aimed at easing the congestion that through traffic might otherwise cause. You will still find little impediment to direct journeys by car through Horsham, Billingshurst or Ashington – the roads have remained largely unchanged subsequent to the construction of their bypasses, which are in effect an ‘additional’ measure to accommodate motor traffic. The roads are much quieter than they would be without bypasses, but they are still unpleasantly busy, and needlessly so.
In the Netherlands, by contrast, bypasses form part of a package of measures aimed at reducing motor vehicle use within town centres; they are, explicitly, a way of keeping the traffic out.
The Dutch city of Assen does, of course, have a ring road, the single-carriageway Europaweg. It is also flanked by a motorway, the A28.
But what makes Assen different from a typical British town with a bypass, however, is a centre that is difficult to drive through (although it is still easy to access by car).
Some of the town centre streets are access-only, or allow only pedestrians and cyclists to use them.
Others form part of a network of one-way streets, arranged in such a way that their use, by car, makes no sense as a through-route, although they remain useful and convenient two-way routes for bicycles.
Routes for motor vehicles into and out of the city centre still exist, of course – they haven’t been excluded from the city completely. To take just one example, deliveries to shops, restaurants and offices remain essential, and these will have to be made by lorries and vans.
It’s not just the city centre that has been carefully planned to favour bicycle use; residential streets in the suburbs are typically designed in such a way that the only people driving on them will be those seeking to gain access to a house or property on it, achieved through a combination of selective road closures, and/or one-way arrangements. Likewise, driving from a place of residence in a suburban street will often involve a circuitous route out onto a distributor road, while making that journey by bicycle will be continuous and direct. The street below, which heads into the city under the ring road from the new settlement of Kloosterveen, is a direct route for bicycles only, along the canal.
Radial routes that still exist for motor vehicles will have bicycle paths running alongside them, making cycling into the city a safe and pleasant option for people of all ages.
Busy junctions are also easy to use by bike; there is no mixing with motor vehicles, achieved by means of a separated network of paths, or, more commonly in Assen, a dedicated green stage for bicycles –
It wouldn’t make sense to make the use of cars difficult in the city centre without providing a feasible alternative. A pleasant and attractive city centre has been achieved through facilitating, and prioritising, bicycle use both in that city centre and across the city as a whole.
The equivalent UK town or city has very little (and often none) of these advantageous measures put in place to enable sustainable modes of transport. Journeys by car are often just as short and direct as they would be on foot or by bicycle. Similarly, the major routes which a UK cyclist will have to use to get into and of town centres are typically unpleasant and hostile for cycling, being shared with high volumes of motor vehicles.
While Horsham has a bypass, it also has an inner ring road, constructed after the bypass was completed.
This means it’s still very easy to drive through the town. There is, undoubtedly, a large amount of motor traffic here that should be using the bypass instead. And without any attractive conditions to cycle in, many short trips within the town – to work, to school, to leisure facilities, to shops – will continue to be driven.
The safe, high-quality segregated cycle facilities common in Assen, which protect cycling on arterial routes, are non-existent in the UK. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that the car continues to be used for such a high proportion of short journeys in this country when the alternatives are not being prioritised, or made attractive. 56% of all British journeys under 2 miles are made by car. If we are really going to make a dent in that figure, the sound policy of bypasses needs to be accompanied by the measures the Dutch have put in place.
What could be wrong with a campaign like this?. Well, quite a lot actually…The core message of Road Safety Week 2014…
Run by Brake, it is supported by large numbers of “road safety” professionals and members of organisations with an official remit concerned with safety on the road: (schools, local authorities, police forces, emergency services) and various motoring organisations. This year’s theme is : “Look out for each other”. Let’s look in detail at the core message: (My numbering)
“We all use roads to get around and most of us use them in different ways: often a mix of walking, catching the bus or driving, and maybe cycling, running or skating too. Of course, however we use roads, we are all people underneath just trying to get about, but some road users are especially vulnerable and need protecting by those of us in charge of vehicles. (1)
Yet sometimes it can feel like roads are angry places where different road users are in different tribes and competing for space and priority.(2) A simple lack of consideration and care can have awful consequences. (3) It can mean people feel less able to get out and about and less likely to choose walking and cycling: kids not being allowed to walk to school, commuters not feeling able to cycle, families being more inclined to always use the car. It can also lead to tragedy: people suffering horrific injuries or even being killed because of someone going too fast, too close or not looking out.
Wouldn’t it be better if, instead of being stressful and risky, streets were places where everyone looked out for and protected each other, particularly the most vulnerable?(1)
In this year’s Road Safety Week (17-23 November 2014), we’re asking everyone to look out for each other on roads, because being selfish can easily lead to tragedy. We’ll be particularly calling on drivers to protect people on foot and bike by slowing down to 20 in communities, looking longer and taking it slow at junctions and bends,(4) and giving people plenty of room. We’ll also call on everyone to put safety first and be considerate to one another,(3) encouraging people on foot and bike to never take chances (5), and make sure they can be seen (6).”
We’ll be appealing to everyone to show their commitment to care and compassion on roads by making and sharing Brake’s Pledge.…and what’s wrong with it
1. This is essentially patronising . Also, the idea that rule or law breaking which intimidates, hurts or kills can be dealt with by a polite request to “look out” for potential victims is rather strange. Can you imagine a Health and Safety regime in industry, aviation, the railways or sea travel which relied on such polite requests? Indeed, following the central theme of the “road safety” industry since it was founded in the 1920s, the fundamental difference in potential lethality between Primary Road Users (cyclists and pedestrians) and the motorised, is neutralised. We are all, as the saying goes, “in it together”. (“…we are all people underneath just trying to get about”). Of course we are. It’s just that some (the motorised) have far more potential to endanger others than those that are not.
This view is that the people who get about outside cars (incidentally, the majority of people in the world) are seen by definition as “vulnerable” and to be “protected” by those who have the potential to hurt or kill them. How about the idea that those with far more potential to hurt, kill or just intimidate (the motorised) are Dangerous Road Users to be seen as the problem?
2. “Different tribes”. As above, the point is exactly that there is a difference between people when they are using different forms of transport. The fact that people may also walk or (less likely) cycle does not mean that they pose no problem for pedestrians or cyclist safety when they drive.
3. For whom? Again, the fundamental difference between endangering others and endangering yourself is glossed over. And anyway, people have quite different ideas about what constitutes appropriate care and consideration.
4. The central rule of careful driving is: “Never drive in such a way that you cannot stop within visible distance” – which can include “…slowing down to 20 in communities, looking longer and taking it slow at junctions and bends”. But decades of “road safety” highway engineering based on lengthening sight lines, more powerful street and car lights and “road safety” vehicle engineering with more powerful brakes, anti-skid etc. have worked against this. Shifting the burden of responsibility to “be seen” on to pedestrians and cyclists actually makes it more difficult to achieve this basic requirement for safer driving.
5. What is meant here by “taking a chance”? And how on earth are we supposed to live in a world where we don’t ever take any kind of risk? Highways and cars have been engineered to accommodate “taking chances” – or to be more precise, rule and law breaking – by motorists for decades. Even without consideration of how this collusion and connivance with ”taking chances” has exacerbated bad driving behaviour, if we are to assume that drivers require a forgiving environment, why can’t pedestrians and cyclists have one?
6. This needs to be mentioned again as it is key to so much “road safety” ideology. The picture below of the ideal pedestrian presented to children trickles into the collective imagination of how we should behave when travelling is on the web site of one of Brake’s partners,
This slots into a belief system where responsibility from drivers is reduced and transferred on to their potential (or actual) victims. For cyclists and pedestrians to really “be seen” we need a reversal of this belief system, with enforcement, car and highway engineering which is based on a cultural shift to place responsibility back where it belongs.
Genuine “mutual respect” means leaving behind the “Evens Stevens” campaigns and reducing danger at source. Not threatening each other’s lives is the only real mutual respect.
Bridgestone and sustainability
(An aside: A case of how a safety benefit is consumed as a performance benefit.
Taking a look at the twitter account of one of Brake’s partners, Bridgestone, I note their commitment towards motorcycle racing. The photograph below is a classic example of how “safe” technology (in tyre design and construction) allows people to take additional risk -
After all, could you corner at speed like this on a normal motorcycle tyre?)
Brake mentions a commitment towards sustainable transport. Indeed, one of the promises made in their Pledge is to drive less. But what actually works? A voluntary pledge which a tiny minority of motorists make while Government (funding Road Safety Week through the “Think!” campaign) plans more road building for more cars? While even a very large number of committed pledgers would be offset by far more who simply don’t want to drive less and are facilitated in driving more?
And do we think that the world’s largest tyre manufacturer would finance a campaign likely to result in less motoring?Brake and cycle helmets
Brake is long term supporters of campaigns for compulsory bicycle crash helmet wear . It both denies relevant evidence and replicates helmet mythology. Of course, Brake claim to be campaigning to create a “safer environment for cyclists” – but what do we actually get?
What we get is not a “safer environment for cyclists” – whether through law enforcement, highway or vehicle engineering – and I suggest that any efforts which may be made in these directions are the results of others than Brake. What we have had is a relentless push to make pedestrians and cyclists wear hi-viz, and cyclists war crash helmets.
Brake is very effective at public relations and getting corporate sponsors on board. Some of the funding gained goes towards providing road crash victims support services. In our experience our friends in RoadPeace provide a more in-depth victim support service, with detailed study of the post-collision processes, and of course a commitment towards road danger reduction.
So, if you want to get involved with activities at this time, we would suggest supporting RoadPeace with the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims with its campaign to reduce motor traffic speed
Or consider joining the National Funeral for the Unknown Victim of Traffic Violence with its demands
Safety for all road users with a more sustainable transport system requires shifts in culture and attitudes to support (and be supported by) specific interventions. That means focusing on reducing danger at source – danger from motorised vehicular traffic. Brake consistently fails to do this, obscuring differences in the potential lethality of different modes of transport and regurgitating the (non-evidence based) mythology of hi-viz and cycle helmets.
We think that Brake and its partners are very much part of the problem of danger on the road.
The Frideswide Square redevelopment in Oxford has got me thinking (again) about the ways in which current road design – even in places with relatively high levels of cycling use – continue to treat cycling as a mode of transport that doesn’t exist, and why.
To recap, although this is a ‘Square’, it’s a busy junction, with around 35,000 vehicle movements, per day.
This is, clearly, a vast area, but the plan is to create what amounts to a carbon copy of Poynton.
A ‘shared space’ scheme, with narrow carriageways and ‘informal’ roundabouts.
Where does cycling fit into this design? Answer – it doesn’t.
As with Poynton, people cycling will either have to share the carriageway with those tens of thousands of motor vehicles, combined with buses moving in and out of the bus stops, taking an ‘assertive’ position along the road, and through the roundabouts, or if they don’t fancy that, they are going to be ‘tolerated’ on the footways.
Council spokesman Paul Smith said: “We’ve had numerous discussions with cycle groups throughout the planning of this scheme and listened carefully to concerns.
“One of the most important things we’re trying to achieve is to keep vehicle speeds down to enable the whole place to feel more welcoming for pedestrians and cyclists as well as helping to keep traffic flowing more smoothly than now.
“If we provided cycle lanes on the road, the width of the road overall would increase to the point where we feel that vehicles will start to travel at higher speeds. This would make things less pleasant for pedestrians and cyclists.
“We have heard that there are still people who may not want to cycle on the road in Frideswide Square even if speeds are low and that is why we are proposing that some space in the paved pedestrian area of the square is shared between cyclists and pedestrians.”
Unfortunately nobody was asking for ‘cycle lanes on the road'; both the CTC and the Embassy were asking for cycle tracks, physically separated from motor traffic. The point about the ‘width of the road’ is therefore completely irrelevant. The road could be whatever width Oxford choose to make it, because cycling would be physically separate from it. (This basic misunderstanding isn’t exactly confidence-inspiring).
The final paragraph pretty much encapsulates the dead-end philosophy of catering for two different groups of ‘cyclist’. There are plainly many, many people who don’t want to cycle on busy roads; this is the main reason why cycling levels are so suppressed in Britain. Why this is apparently some kind of revelation to the council – ‘we have heard that there are still people who may not want to cycle on the road’ – is beyond me. These people are not being considered in these designs. They are being treated like pedestrians.
These kinds of proposals are a failure because they do not explicitly consider cycling as a mode of transport in its own right, designing for it in a way that responds to the needs of people actually using bicycles. What cycling that is taking place (and in this location, even with the existing poor conditions, quite a lot, several thousand movements a day) will continue to be bodged into a walking/driving model – that is, being treated as a motor vehicle, or as a pedestrian, neither of which is particularly attractive, to anyone. Cycling gets nothing, even in a location where it is reasonably dominant in an existing hostile environment.
I think this is why it is really important that a two-tier approach of catering for cycling – allegedly slow, less confident people on the footway, while the confident continue to use the road – is explicitly ruled out as a design strategy. It provides a mechanism for ignoring cycling completely, even in schemes that are being funded with cycling money.
The Perne Road roundabout in Cambridge, and the ‘Turbo’ Roundabout in Bedford, have both been funded with several hundreds of thousands of pounds of cycling money, yet what has been produced are roundabouts that do not design for cycling. At these roundabouts, you either continue to cycle on the roundabout itself, with motor traffic, like a motor vehicle, or you use the footway, like a pedestrian. This is fairly extraordinary, given the source of funding, but it remains possible because we allow cycling to be divided up this way, offering up a bit of what’s needed to different kinds of user, simultaneously watering down cycling to the point that it can safely be ignored, as it is in a multi-million pound scheme in Oxford. The two-tier approach is a complete disaster, and it has to be killed off.
Draft of essay commissioned for a special issue of the Mathematics Enthusiast entitled “Risk: mathematical or otherwise”. Still time to make changes so critical advice welcomed, especially from mathematicians.
What role might mathematicians have to play in the management of risk? The idea of turning a risk, a possibility of loss or injury, into a “calculated” risk, a quantified probability of loss or injury, is one that has obvious appeal not just to statisticians and mathematicians – but to large numbers of others who would like to know the probability of failure before pursuing some intended course of action.
Conclusion: even when risks can be calculated with great precision, they can only be used to inform judgment, but not substitute for it. And it matters who is making the judgment. Read more …