The appalling story of Victoria Lebrec – the young woman who was seriously injured by a left-turning lorry at the junction of St John Street and Clerkenwell in Islington in December last year – features in the Evening Standard today. She has lost her left leg, but as the article describes, she is very lucky to be alive. As Tom Konig states in the article -
Had she suffered her injuries two years ago, she wouldn’t have made it to hospital, which is a testament to the pre-hospital team that went to her.
What is remarkable is that if Victoria had been cycling through this junction at the same time last year, or even as late as July 2014, this collision would in all probability have not occurred.
Why is this? From September 26th 2013 until August 2014, St John Street was closed so that water mains could be repaired before the Crossrail machines tunnelled through the area. For nearly a year, in other words, St John Street had a form of ‘filtered permeability’, with no through traffic.
This was the state of affairs at the junction where Victoria was seriously injured in August 2014, just three months before her collision -
Streetview has captured a woman cycling westbound across the junction, towards Farringdon, just as Victoria was. The road into which the lorry turned left across her was, at this time, closed to through traffic, and had no HGV access.
Some argued that this closure should be retained once the works were completed, but the street was reopened to motor traffic in early August, meaning that people cycling were, once again, exposed to the danger of left-turning HGVs, on what is one of London’s busiest cycling routes. It’s not as if this kind of incident is exceptional – another woman was killed by a left-turning HGV at precisely the same location, just nine years ago. As the Evening Standard article describes, it is only advances in medical care that avoided the same outcome last December.
I’m not quite sure what rationale Islington employed in returning to the status quo after a whole eleven months with the road closed, but I wonder if they accounted for the likelihood of near-fatal collisions like this one, and their devastating consequences. Is it a price worth paying?
It’s been a while coming, heralded by regular progress updates and advance extracts from the author, but here we are: 2014 saw the publication (in a variety of formats and eventually to be available free in extracts) of Carlton Reid’s magnum opus. Has the advance publicity by the author been justified?Yes, it has.
It is indeed packed full of references, anecdote, social history, facts and illustrations of interest to anyone concerned about the status of different forms of road transport. I could have done with reference to the work of John Adams, the 1990s Road Danger Reduction movement and, yes, my book, but you can’t have everything – particularly if you have a packed 300+ pages to start off with. This book is a lot more than a dry history of road building with a focus on the 20th century: it fascinates with a steady stream of revelatory contemporary views on who those roads were for. As such it is, above all, a contribution to the debates we should be having now on transport policy.
Take the example of segregation as the answer to the problems for cyclists. Carlton Reid shows that the pre-war attempts at cyclist segregation in the UK were far from the boon you might think from considering many modern advocates. The views of the cycling organisations at the time were justifiably sceptical or hostile not just because of the poor quality of the cycle tracks, or even the danger as cyclists were at increased risk when dumped into motor traffic at junctions. They realised that the official view was essentially one of cyclists being a problem to be marginalised, not least as revealed in the 1938 Alness Commission.
As such they were rightly suspicious of what would befall cyclists not just where the inadequate and dangerous new tracks were proposed, but elsewhere as well. After all, segregation elsewhere had been very obviously to the detriment of cyclists. In the most car-centred society in the world (with the possible exception of the USA), Nazi Germany, use of inferior cycle paths was mandatory for cyclists and part of a clearly anti-cycling agenda (p.253).
What numerous examples like this show is how, above all, roads are about the rights, freedom and power of different kinds of road user. The discussion is therefore highly political: both in terms of the power exercised by different kinds of road user and the governments that support or undermine them.
And for the author, this has been a motivating factor in writing the book, not least over the “I pay a tax for the road” mythology espoused by too many motorists. It is not only justifiable, but necessary, to counter this mythology. I don’t think it is overstating the case to say that this mythology impedes the possibilities of having a sustainable transport policy. It supports subsidising motoring – as well as road building for more motor traffic – at a time of austerity. It backs up a sense of motorist entitlement which facilitates rule- and law-breaking driving and threatens the safety of cyclists, as well as being a part of abuse and discrimination.
So Carlton Reid is a man with a justifiably righteous mission: showing motorists that roads were in fact not built for them and that they ought to realise that cyclists were there first.
My problem is: is that approach actually going to deal with the anti-cycling prejudice and motorist sense of entitlement? After all, any old bigot can say that even if roads were built for cyclists they just think they should now be there for motorists (in general and themselves in particular). After all, what does the fact that roads were not built for cars actually mean?
Carlton seems to me to be overly optimistic in hoping that this history will win over the Great British Motorist. Indeed, he goes a lot further by pushing the story of – as the subtitle states: How cyclists were the first to push for good roads and became the pioneers of motoring. Are cyclists supposed to be proud of this? Does it have a useful and positive relevance to the struggles ahead?
What it does achieve is a Foreword from the President of the Automobile Association, Mr King. In it he suggests that “It would be healthy for some of the Mr. Toads out there to read this book…” but getting some of the most bigoted to read a book isn’t going to make much, if any, positive difference. And King wants to tell us that “Motorists and cyclists are not two tribes” and that “Car v Cycle arguments” should be demolished. But this “We’re all in it together” type of argument will not get us further in the right direction.
In fact, it confuses the issue. Many cyclists (but by no means all) are indeed also motorists. But that tends to obscure the fact that when driving they are far more likely to endanger others on the road, as well as damage the global and local environment and have an adverse effect on public health. My view is that we need to emphasise that fact. Indeed “Car v. cycle arguments” which show that the former mode is far more of a problem to society than the latter are exactly what we need.
Take the key example of the “road tax” myth. In my view it is not enough to talk about when a specific “Road Tax” was abolished and what Vehicle Excise Duty is. More robust arguments are needed. I have tried to show how costs of motoring have fallen and that driving is subsidised. There are dangerous pitfalls with cost benefit analysis, but if Edmund King could suggest to his members that motorists – compared to cyclists – do not pay their way we could get somewhere. There is nothing to suggest that he is going to object to the declining costs (to the motorist, that is) of motoring.
Nor is he likely to take a robust approach to law enforcement (too much of that and you start losing members of the AA). Or of the cuts in highway capacity for drivers that would be required if modern segregation for cyclists (unlike the 1930s type) is to work well; or the change in enforcement and culture to reduce danger from drivers to cyclists where there is no segregation.
Carlton Reid provides us with a splendid illustration of how the dominance of the motor vehicle has developed over a short period of time: the implication is that a more civilised and equitable relationship with the more benign forms of transport and the environment can obtain. The issue is how to make this happen.
2. Everyone rides, people from every walk of life, but distances seem limited to 3km. Pedelecs increase this distance and are very popular.— Paul James (@pauljames) November 4, 2014
Rotterdam is a pretty multicultural place, it’s arguably the most multicultural city in the Netherlands, according to Wikipedia, nearly half the population is non-Dutch, and yet it’s quite clear that all sorts of people cycle. Old, young, male, female, Dutch, non-Dutch, I would argue that there’s less middle aged people cycling, and less men than woman. To me, as a place, it totally destroys the old “the Dutch cycle because of culture” canard.
In the city centre, cycling is still the fastest and best way to get around. Even with the excellent tram network and the overall central district being quite small (London west-end sized), many people I know cycle to get around the city, and not just for getting to work, but for going shopping and visiting friends etc. too.
A 15 minute tram ride can be easily ridden by bike in 10 minutes, so as long as the wind and rain hold off, it’s usually the better choice. If you are travelling further, then it’s less clear cut for most people and more will instead elect for the tram and metro.
Living out of the city but commuting into the centre, you get the usual urban cyclists like you find in London, as well as students and high school children heading to local destinations.
But then you also get men and women in suits going into town, many on electric assist bikes. The winds can be strong and harsh, so if you’re lucky you can find a pedelec to draft behind and piggyback off of their motor.
There has been (in our view, justified) outrage about the case of Michael Mason who was run down and killed in central London in February 2014 (reported here and specifically on the inquest here by Martin Porter QC ) largely because the driver was not charged and prosecuted for any driving offence. Issues have been raised about traffic law enforcement which coincide with our conference in November 2014 and the formation of the Traffic Justice Alliance which hopes to address them. Below is our take on the issues, including the response of the Mayor of London to this case.
For us this indicates, above all, a critical and serious failure on the part of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS). Other issues are raised, such as the discrimination against cyclists voiced in this case (although, as commented on this post by chairrdrf, attitudes towards pedestrians are often as negative as those towards cyclists – and indeed an example is given in another comment to this effect here).
The central point is that there was no charge made by the MPS against the driver, despite the weight of evidence and the guidelines of the CPS , with the CPS not even consulted. This is why the Cyclists’ Defence Fund has decided to assist Mason’s family in the steps they may take to secure justice, with further protest from the London Cycling Campaign
The issue is addressed by one of the commenters on The Cycling Lawyer’s report
Anonymous 17 December 2014 at 19:59
Far be it from me to question a QC’s reporting ability but I can’t help but think there is something missing. As a police officer who served for 22 years this case should have been a walk through for a Due Care charge, and if, as I assume, the death was caused by the effects of the collision, then a charge of causing death by careless driving would have equally been a walk through. But the case was not taken through CPS and why not? CPS guidelines state that a decision on such a case must be taken by a senior representative but they weren’t even asked. As it is reported here, something stinks about this case. Still, as with all actions by the Met, the motto is “Never attribute to malice anything adequately explained by stupidity.” I do hope that someone commences a private prosecution, then at least the CPS might actually look at it. I don’t particularly want the driver punished, but she should be brought to account.
While it might seem obvious what is wrong here, it needs to be clearly stated. If an apparently obvious case of rule- and/or law-breaking driving results in someone (who has been behaving according to the rules) being killed, then a civilised society would expect somebody to be held accountable. This need not exclude methods to engineer vehicles or the highway to reduce the possibilities of such incidents, but as long as such possibilities exist – which they will, whatever forms of segregated or other cycle facility are introduced – then the relevant laws and rules should be applied.
Indeed, this is not simply of concern for cyclists, but for all road users at risk from careless or dangerous driving. The failure to take danger from drivers of motor vehicles seriously has always been an issue, but is even more obvious in an otherwise highly risk-averse culture. Nor is this something which should be seen as vindictive: trying to get a reasonable level of law enforcement with deterrent sentencing (which need not involve custodial sentencing except in extreme cases) is simply a requirement of living in a civilised society.
Questioning of the Mayor of London
Bear these issues in mind when we see how Mayor Johnson responds to questioning on this case by Jenny Jones MLA in this extract here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PVANkYv0csk:Jenny Jones’ questioning…
While Jenny Jones has been (and continues to be) a good supporter of Road Danger Reduction, there are some points missed here:
Even if we are witnessing reduced chances of cyclists being hurt and killed – and unlike some others, we believe it can be useful to point out the low chances of being seriously hurt or killed when cycling on London’s roads – what does this mean in the context of the Mason case?
In an assessment of TfL’s first Cycle Safety Action Plan, I have argued that reductions in cyclist casualty rates have little to do with TfL’s initiatives:
But, anyway, none of this addresses what the purpose of initiatives by TfL and the MPS should be. It needs to be repeated that these initiatives should be based on road danger reduction or, as the MPS are now saying, “harm reduction” principles. Looking at traditional measures of “road safety” is inadequate at best. Even showing that an initiative has reduced cyclist casualty rates per journey made by bicycle is of limited use. Road users need to know that threats to their safety are seen as problems whether or not people have actually been hurt or killed by them: the current Near Miss project refers to behaviours that don’t result in injury but nevertheless intimidate.
One can go further. Ultimately the issue is an ethical one: it is about the morality of allowing some road users to endanger others. The Mason case shows that a key way of addressing this – through traffic law enforcement – is not happening.Discriminatory policing?
The November 1st 2014 Road Danger Reduction and Enforcement conference has, I believe, been a key event in focusing attention on the need for high quality traffic law enforcement. The conference was called by organisers RDRF, RoadPeace, CTC and LCC because whatever highway infrastructure is in place, road users in general and cyclists and pedestrians in particular will still be at risk from inappropriately driven motor vehicles. Hosted by LB Southwark, the conference was notable in being booked out despite being held on a Saturday, with Councillors from seven Councils in London as well as transport and road safety professionals and campaigners. Before the Michael Mason case there has been a clear demand for enforcement as part of a programme of stigmatising and deterring behaviour which endangers others.
In my presentation I raised the issue of whether the MPS – and other police forces in the UK – are biased in ways which do not allow for a non-discriminatory focus on harm reduction. Looking at policing in this way is not an attack on the police – quite the contrary. It is arguing, as Equal Opportunities culture (taken up the police as well local authorities) has propounded throughout its development, that discrimination occurs through failing to question background assumptions. It argues that discrimination happens when everyday beliefs are the basis for actions, whether intentionally or not.
This issue was raised at various times during the conference. Two important comments were made by Sgt Simon Castle (MPS), a long serving traffic police officer and currently working for the Cycle Task Force. On the question of whether there is excessive concern on cyclist misdemeanours compared to those of drivers, he commented that he had no problem dealing with cyclist law-breaking if motorist law-breaking was targeted as well he had no problem dealing with cyclist law breaking if motorist law breaking was as well.
But that’s what so many of us see as the central problem: we do not think that the numerous forms of rule and law breaking driver behaviour (whether as careless or dangerous driving or other offences) are addressed in a way which reflects their potential to threaten others.
The other comment was in response to my suggestion that a form of equal opportunities procedures should be used to deal with preconceptions of unacceptable road user behaviour. Sgt Castle’s comment indicated that police officers do indeed reflect the prejudices of the population as whole: “The police are the people and the people are the police”. But if commonly held prejudices are indeed held by those charged with enforcing the law, that should be seen as the problem – and one we need to address as a priority. It should not be seen as an acceptable fact of life.The Traffic Justice Alliance
Those attending the conference demonstrated a massive desire to see the MPS developing a Traffic Law Enforcement Strategy and action plan based on a harm reduction (or road danger reduction) approach. Key asks were for:
In order to push this Road Danger Reduction and Traffic Law Enforcement agenda along, a Traffic Justice Alliance has been formed in London: so far organisations RoadPeace, Road Danger Reduction Forum, LCC and 20s Plenty, and Cllr Caroline Russell (LB Islington) and Brenda Puech (Disabilities consultant) are represented on its Committee. We’ll be publishing the formal Key Performance Indicators we would like TfL and MPS to employ; our involvement with local communities in matters such as achieving compliance in 20 mph areas; and reviews of what we see as the issues with regard to levels of law enforcement and traffic offences in London.
Watch this space…
Postscript: To help the family of Michael Mason you can make an online donation to the Cyclists’ Defence Fund to support its work on cycling and the law – such as challenging unduly lenient law-enforcement of dangerous drivers, unjust prosecutions of cyclists, and highway and planning decisions which disregard cyclists’ needs. Or see information on other ways to donate to CDF here
Cycling culture is a term which is nebulous enough that it can mean significantly different things to different people.
To some, it will bring to mind images of hipsters and the fixed gear scene, or the likes of the counter-cultural Critical Mass movement. To others, it will invoke the BMX scene, or road cycling clubs, or people who live and breathe mountain biking. The one thing linking all of these ideas of cycling culture is that their members all take the bicycle and make it a significant part of their identities.
Because of this, I find it weird when “cycling culture” is discussed as a cause of cycling being a mainstream mode of transport in The Netherlands. The implication is that Dutch people are not choosing how to travel primarily based on their experience of their environment, but because of some sort of unique “cycling culture” which is a part of being Dutch. This implies that this ill-defined “cycling culture” would need to be somehow replicated in the UK in order to allow cycling to become a mainstream mode of transport here. Some people may make the further inference that replication of this Dutch “cycling culture” is sufficient in itself to allow cycling to become a mainstream mode of transport.
Also worth noting is that just because driving is the dominant mode of transport in the UK, it does not follow that the UK has an equivalent “car culture” which is a part of being British. Certainly there are car and motorsport enthusiasts who make the car part of their identities, but this is hardly typical of the average person in the UK. I also occasionally see arguments that the use of cars as status symbols in the UK produces a culture of driving and works against the cause of cycling as a mode of transport. Whilst there are also people who spend a lot of money on cars which they see as status symbols, these are also the kind of people who will spend money on other conspicuously expensive items in exactly the same way. It is the display of having the means to buy the car which is important, not the car itself (or the watch, clothes, house, boat, etc.). Again, I don’t see this being a major factor in the dominance of driving as a mode of transport in the UK. This kind of behaviour can also be seen in The Netherlands. Just owning a car is not in itself much of an indicator of socio-economic status nowadays.
The truth is that The Netherlands has no cycling culture and the UK has no car culture. What both countries have is people who choose how to get around by picking the path of least resistance, based on their own experience. Whereas for British people choosing the car is usually the path of least resistance, for Dutch people choosing the bike is often the path of least resistance. This is not due to a difference of culture, but an result of the differences in the built environment.
Certainly, there are also additional non-infrastructural factors increasing the attractiveness of cycling in The Netherlands, such as the provisions organisations and businesses make for people travelling by bicycle, but these are a reaction to the transport choices people make, not the main reason they make them. This reaction serves to reinforce the effect of the built environment on transport choice, as it does in the UK.
The argument that The Netherlands has a particular cycling culture which we would need to somehow replicate here for cycling to become a mainstream mode of transport is at its best cargo cult thinking, and at its worst, acts as an excuse for inaction and a quiet acceptance of the status quo.
Infrastructure is the foundation of cycling as a mainstream mode of transport. Nothing else will stand up if that foundation is not there first.
About 6 weeks ago I did a series of tweets of my initial thoughts on cycling in Rotterdam. I want to spend a few minutes expanding on them.
1. You can cycle everywhere, the quality of the infrastructure varies but you can guarantee that it exists.— Paul James (@pauljames) November 4, 2014
Rotterdam is not renowned within the Netherlands as a great place for cycling, but you have to remember that it’s got a lot of serious competition. First a quick history lesson.
In the Second World War, as a key position between Germany and Britain, Rotterdam was bombed completely flat by the Nazis in a bid to break the Dutch resistance and force the Netherlands to surrender. After a day of intense bombing, the entire city centre (2km square) was burned to the ground, the only medieval building to survive was the church of St Lawrence.
This meant the city had to be rebuilt, between the 1950’s and 70’s it was transformed into a modern US style city with large blocks and wide boulevards. Luckily, at this point the Dutch had already started down their path of building cycleways along main roads and so a comprehensive cycle network along the boulevards was also built.
The centre of the city has cycleways on each side of the main streets, they are 2+ metres wide, smooth and flat and meet at block corners with large traffic light controlled junctions. Due to the width of the cycleways and the streets in general (2 x tram lanes + 4-6 x traffic lanes + 2 x cycleways + 2 x footways), salmoning is common as there’s plenty of space to pass people coming the other way while crossing and then crossing back to get to a destination on the near side is much slower than going against the flow for a short distance.
Further out of the city centre, in the newer parts of town and along the Nieuwe Maas riverside, bi-directional cycleways are the norm as sideroads are fewer and further between and there’s more space between the main roadway and the cycleway reducing the problems when roadway and cycleway must cross.
Sometimes the cycleways do run out, but when they do you are either out of the city and have a quiet access road without through traffic, or there are still cycle lanes better than any in London. Some areas of the city are old and the bike infrastructure looks it, but motor traffic numbers are restricted or there are much better alternative parallel routes.
Although Rotterdam isn’t like the medieval streets of many European cities, I think there are many lessons for London and beyond to learn from it.