In yesterday’s BBC Sunday Politics piece on the Superhighways, presenter Tim Donovan repeated, in the form of a question, the City of London’s statement that the proposals are ‘heavily biased’ towards cycling and cyclists (that comment appears three times in this City response). Donovan included Canary Wharf in his comment that the plans are
heavily biased towards the cyclists
and he then followed this up with the statement that
They [the City] are saying that when you’re looking at changes, you are being biased towards the cyclist in the changes you’re putting in.
You can see these exchanges in this video of the whole section of the programme, from the six minute mark.
Gilligan makes the obvious point that this is (predominantly) a cycling scheme. If it wasn’t ‘biased’ towards cycling, something would be seriously wrong.
Cycling in towns is here to stay, and is going to grow, and we don’t resist that, we try to accommodate it… but normally… major infrastructure, you really want years to get everybody on-side… not just one group, you want everybody on side.
In the context of 50+ years of road and street design that has utterly failed to consider cycling as a mode of transport this is, frankly, a laughable comment. To suggest that when, for pretty much the very first time, cycling is being considered in a serious way on a few major roads in London, that such a scheme amounts to a sudden departure from the normal procedure of getting ‘everybody on side’ is deeply ahistorical.
Likewise, in an interview with the Guardian’s Peter Walker, Welbank makes a similar point, this time about cycling apparently being ‘prioritised’ -
All road users should have equal opportunities. At the moment [with these plans] we believe the cyclists are having priority to the disadvantage of other users.
This isn’t what’s happening, at all. Cycling is, for the very first time, being treated as a mode of transport suitable for anyone who might want to ride a bike, rather than the usual process of making token (and often completely ineffectual) changes. The only way in which this scheme could amount to cycling being ‘prioritised’ is if you are blinkered enough to believe that the existing road network has been designed and built to equally prioritise cycling and driving – that they are impartial, and mode-neutral.
Let us, hypothetically, imagine that there is no footway along the Embankment, as shown in the picture below. Understandably, very few people are prepared to walk along here. Transport for London then propose to install a footway, to make walking attractive enough for everyone, along this road.
Would that amount to ‘bias’ in favour of pedestrians? Would it mean that Transport for London are only considering the needs of pedestrians, failing to get everybody else on side’?
Let’s get one thing straight here. Roads and streets in London, and everywhere else in Britain, are almost without exception heavily biased – but heavily biased against cycling.
The changes that are being proposed to the roads like the one in the picture above aren’t some kind of ‘icing on the cake’ for the people already cycling there; a bit of extra ‘niceness’ for the existing cyclists.
These roads are extremely unsuitable for cycling, such that only a tiny percentage of the population would be willing to cycle there. The changes that will (hopefully) be implemented are really the bare minimum we should be expecting; they begin to put cycling on something approaching an equal level of consideration as motor traffic, and walking.
The only conceivable way in which these proposals could be seen as ‘biased’ is if the existing road network is taken to be equally attractive to people cycling, driving and walking. But that’s plainly a nonsense. Walking along the Superhighway route is not always pleasant, but it’s something that families can do, reasonably happily. By contrast, I have never, ever seen children cycling on these roads, except for the one day a year when they are closed to motor traffic.
So these comments about ‘bias’ and ‘too much prioritisation’ really amount to ignorance about cycling as a mode of transport, manifested as reluctance to move away from the existing state of affairs in which cycling remains the preserve of a small minority of the population. It’s perhaps forgivable that the general population continues to see ‘cycling’ and ‘cyclists’ as a minority pursuit, but the people in charge of transport – people who should be knowledgeable and informed – should really know better.
I argued then that: “The draft CSAP is a fundamentally flawed document which fails in three main respects. Firstly, its idea of “safety” for cyclists is measured in a way which can indicate that having fewer cyclists and a higher cyclist casualty rate is BETTER than having more cyclists and a lower casualty rate. Secondly, it fails to differentiate between measures which reduce danger to cyclists (and other road users) and those which do not. Thirdly, it has no real way of assessing the effects of measures implemented.”
The new CSAP is now out . Apart from some typographical differences, there are only two noticeable changes. One of these changes seems to be simply cosmetic, the other could potentially have an effect, but I suggest is unlikely to. (So much for the effects of consultation). I discuss these changes below along with general comments: if these seem the same as before it’s because (apart from the two changes) the criticisms remain the same. So:
Let me refer to my experience here: for some years I sat on the Cycle Safety Working group at Transport for London (then representing the Borough Cycling Officers Group) and had a role in preparing the first CSAP. Reviewing its effects in September 2012 I wrote “The above report indicates ways in which the CSAP has been inadequate. It also shows that insofar as issues are addressed and attempts made to implement necessary changes, the impacts made have been minimal or very limited. Pursuing the overall objectives of the CSAP will require substantially more commitment and resources to achieve a significant reduction in danger to cyclists (and often other road users) and a reduction in the cyclist casualty rate.”
I don’t think there has been any fundamental change since then. In fact, we seem to have gone backwards on the key issue of actually defining what the problem is. This is so basic that nothing worthwhile can really progress unless a clear definition of what the problem is has been agreed upon.What is”Cyclist safety”? The measurement issue.
This is not an abstract academic issue. It is absolutely critical as a basis for any discussion about cyclist safety.
As far as traditional “road safety” is concerned, “Cyclist safety” is about the total number of reported cyclist casualties (generally “Killed and Seriously Injured”) per head of the population or in a given location – in this case London. It is NOT about what the cyclists’ organisations asked for – and what TfL for many years at the CSWG agreed on – namely an indicator based on exposure. This is sometimes referred to as a “rate-based” indicator, in that casualties are expressed in terms of the exposure of cyclists, for example cyclist casualties per journey made, distance travelled, or time taken cycling.
At various places in the draft CSAP the casualty rate is indeed considered as the indicator, but elsewhere it is not. For example, take this graph which was prominently displayed in the draft CSAP – and which has been dropped from the final version:
Figure 2 : International cyclist fatalities per million population, 2012
So, the casualty rate per journey, per mile or per hour spent cycling may be far lower in Amsterdam than in London. The experience of cycling in Amsterdam may be far more pleasant and inviting because of the lower levels of danger presented to cyclists. But for TfL, reviewing this graph in the draft CSAP: “Internationally, in terms of cyclist fatalities per million population (Figure 2), London had fewer cyclist fatalities in 2012 than many other cities such as Amsterdam and New York. TfL takes precisely the opposite view that we take, and as far as we are concerned this is a fundamental problem. Unless they invert this position we disagree on what we are trying to achieve.
Now, let’s consider the dropping of this graph and the quote above from the final CSAP. What we have instead is :”Other cities across Europe may have proportionally more cyclists, but London had fewer cyclist fatalities per million population in 2012 than many of these European cities”.
Which is still saying exactly the same thing: the metric which is valued by TfL is the cyclist death rate per head of the population, rather than per cyclist journey, or per kilometres cycled.
To be fair to them – following the persistent criticism of TfL made by RDRF and others for years – they do now admit the following in the final version of the CSAP:
International data comparisons of cyclist fatality should ideally be normalised for exposure using a common denominator such as journeys cycled or distance cycled. However, a lack of data in major international cities, including those where cycling is a popular mode of transport, presents a challenge for international benchmarking. Given that population data is readily available, it currently provides the only measure for comparison. TfL continue to seek accurate data to benchmark cycling risk in London with cyclised cities. (p.10)
Or to put it another way: we’re using the wrong measure but we have to because we haven’t got proper data.
But this is nonsense. It is quite easy to show that the chances of having been killed on roads in European cities that have far more cycling are lower. My suggestion is that TfL – and the “road safety” industry generally – are inherently biased against cycling (and for that matter walking, particularly by the elderly and children). This is because with far more cycling it is quite likely that we can get a lower casualty rate (per journey or distance cycled) but that the numbers of injured cyclists per head of the population may rise. To take the usual example: nationally the Dutch have a far lower death rate for cyclists when exposure is considered, but a far higher one per head of the population.
This is not just some sort of abstruse technical discussion: it goes to the heart of whether cycling is to be supported or not.
In fact we need to go a lot further. Even casualty rates are inadequate as measures. We should be looking at whether casualties result from a third party’s rule- or law-breaking, or from careless behaviour on the part of the cyclist. We should be stating that locations laid out so that cyclists are subjected to unacceptably high levels of road danger (gyratory systems like Bow Roundabout or Staples Corner) are just that: particularly dangerous locations for cyclists, and that this is objectively so. When actual or potential cyclists are scared to travel through such locations we don’t need to talk about “subjective safety” – these people are making a correct analysis of the objective danger presented to them.
But considering these issues systematically – as I attempted in Local Transport Today last year – is apparently not on TfL’s agenda. There is some reference (“This draft plan, taken as a whole, seeks to improve the reality and the perception of cycle safety.” Page 9) to concerns about people being deterred by their perception of safety – but this is not followed through.
This is a classic difficulty with traditional “road safety” which we have pointed out numerous times before, whether the offenders are TfL or Government ministers and where we agree with our colleagues in the London Cycling Campaign: “London Cycling Campaign has always called for casualties to be measured against exposure to risk. How risky is cycling per mile travelled compared to other ways of travel? Without such measurements the benefits of increasing cycling can be misrepresented in casualty data.”Road Danger Reduction versus “Road Safety”: The “Who-Kills-Whom” question.
Our colleagues in the LCC correctly say: “…(we) will be assessing the 32 actions in the plan for their impact on reducing road danger. For each action we will ask:
… too few of the actions really address sources of danger.”
For us there is a fundamental issue about the difference between those road users who kill, or hurt, or endanger others and those who are killed, hurt or endangered. All road users may well have responsibilities, but there is a fundamental difference in actual or potential lethality between (broadly speaking) the motorised and those outside motor vehicles endangered by them. This difference is routinely and systematically neutralised by the “road safety” lobby. So:
“Sharing the road
Research also shows that Londoners are concerned by safety on the roads; however they tend to consider the need for change to lie with others rather than themselves. This is a fundamental barrier to improving safety at present. Even though many people acknowledge that they take risks at times, they feel that they have appropriately accounted for the safety of themselves and others and that any risks that they take are calculated and ‘safe’.”
This paragraph perfectly demonstrates the determination to deny the difference in lethality between the different modes. Indeed, in the Foreword to the CSAP, Leon Daniels, MD of TfL Surface Transport, says:
“Our high-profile marketing campaigns will bring balance to the debate (my emphasis) by showing drivers and cyclists how they can keep themselves and each other safe.
Rather as if drivers on the one hand, and cyclists on the other, pose the same sort of potential threat to other road users.
In this context, Figure 2 is interesting, because it shows that casualty rates for cyclists and pedestrians vary with age (excluding the over-80s) much less than for drivers and motorcyclists. This strongly implies that it is largely the behaviour of others, rather than their own behaviour, that causes cyclist and pedestrian casualties. For pedestrians and cyclists, the ratio between highest and lowest risk ages is just over 3 to 1. For drivers it’s over 12 to 1, and for motor-cyclists 33 to 1.Analysing effects
Even without tackling this basic moral issue properly, there is a point about analysing the effects of interventions. “This new draft Cycle Safety Action Plan builds on the original, published in 2010,” (Page 5). But, as I argued in 2012, with the possible exception of resources directed at the freight industry to reduce cyclist deaths involving HGVs, there was precious little evidence for the effects of interventions. This doesn’t stop TfL baldly stating: “There are some notable successes achieved through the previous CSAP that have made cycling safer in London (Page 25)”
These “notable successes” are:
That may seem like grumbling, but I can’t help wondering whether the changes achieved so far – or even those mentioned as potentially to be lobbied for in the new CSAP – are rather less than might be pushed for with other modes of transport. For example: “TfL will lobby vehicle manufacturers and representative organisations to make vehicles safer for cyclists by pushing for:
Which is all very well, but how about consideration for systems to be retro-fitted? And what happens in the meantime while the motor industry considers these devices? To take just the example of under-run guards on HGVs which could prevent cyclists (and pedestrians) from being crushed? Is it too much to suggest that TfL could actually part- finance installation of such devices – after all, with a £6 billion a year budget it shouldn’t be too hard to find the money.Seeing cyclists as the problem
I have already discussed the basic problem of how “road safety” measures and generally conceptualises the safety of cyclists. But a further element of this needs consideration. By looking at the people who are hurt or killed rather than those hurting or killing them, crucial issues for other road users are avoided. Consider these issues:
This is the other apparent change from the draft CSAP, which said
“Excessive, illegal or inappropriate speed of the other vehicle involved does not appear to be a major factor in cycling collisions.” (p.16)
We commented on this by saying in our consultation response that :
Speed is indeed not implicated in most cyclist Serious Injuries in London. But this is because most cycling in London is concentrated in inner London where speeds are low. Motor vehicle speeds are higher in outer London where there is little cycling. That doesn’t mean that speed is not an issue there – indeed, high speeds may be a deterrent and one of the reasons for relatively low uptake there. The suggestion would then be that speed control (or separate cycle paths on higher speed roads if speeds can’t be reduced) is indeed an issue.
But the more important issue is that excess speed is discussed solely in terms of its effects on (existing) cyclists. Speed has been a preoccupation for transport professionals concerned with safety from the beginning. Even Colin Buchanan, architect of the car-centred urban transport systems of the 1960s onwards, advocated default urban speed limits of 20 mph. Would it not make sense to be part of initiatives for speed control and 20 mph which primarily benefit pedestrians? If you look at reducing danger at source you would do that – for the benefit of the safety of all road users. If you concentrate on cyclists as casualties, you miss out on that.
But now we have an apparent change of heart: on Page 18 of the final CSAP, where the fact that speed can be a contributory factor is recognised, along with “…reduction in (motor traffic) speed may assist with the perception of cycle safety”.
But will this actually lead to any change in terms of attempting to reduce speeds of motor vehicles? There is nothing new in the CSAP to suggest this (Para 21 , page 36 is referred to but doesn’t mention speed and is no different from the draft CSAP). Speed law enforcement is essentially about fixed cameras at sites where the “right number” of personal injury collisions have been recorded, and there are much discussed problems with a lack of enforcement in the new 20 mph areas.
And this is really the only significant change that TfL has made in response to consultation…
2. Other law breaking
The same applies to policing. There are areas where law enforcement would benefit the safety of all road users through a road danger reduction approach:
A key feature of focussing on those hurt or killed – essentially a victim-focused approach – is that it easily slips into victim-blaming. I have argued that this is a feature of the emphasis on hi-viz clothing for cyclists and pedestrians here, here , and here , for example. Despite the lack of evidence for the value of hi-viz, we have measure 12: TfL will work with manufacturers and cycle businesses to help cyclists be safe by: challenging cycle manufacturers to increase the conspicuity of bicycles, for example building into the frame… retro-reflective equipment…, through innovator seminars.
On the same theme, there is a strong focus on lights, which are at least a legal requirement.
2007 -2011 fatalities. Fourteen of the collisions in the sample (26%) occurred in darkness or partial light, and in half of these collisions the cyclist did not have lights. Bicycle lights are a mandatory requirement and this lack of compliance needs to be addressed Page22
But how important is this issue for cyclists in London as what might be considered a cause of collisions? Firstly, the analysis I have carried out in one London borough (confidentiality required by use of official figures means I can’t name it) indicates that in no more than 1.5% of cases is contributory factor 506 (non-use of lights) a factor for all casualties (see this) Secondly, while I might have taken an unrepresentative borough, at least some 300 casualties’ were looked at, rather than some 64.
But most important, a detailed manual analysis – easily done with small numbers – would show whether this factor was actually key to the collision occurring. Was the behaviour of the cyclist and other road user(s) exemplary apart from the non-use of lights? Was it the case that an alert driver capable of seeing unlit pedestrians on typical well-lit urban roads would be unable to see an unlit cyclist?
One of the key complaints from cyclists is that drivers constantly overtake without giving enough room. Conflict types 2 and 4, covering some 20% of cyclist KSIs, involve changing driver behavior here. Some of this can be solved by segregation, but since this is not going to happen on most roads in London (and would take decades to install anyway even if desired) there is clearly scope for addressing the issue.
“give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car (see Rules 211 to 213 and 214 to 215).”. Lengthy discussion with MPS officers indicate that there are problems in addressing this without specific distances given, but there is apparently precedent with regard to cyclist “wobble-room” being required when overtaking. At the very least: Is it really too much to expect some sort of police activity in this key area when officers have been giving (misguided) advice to cyclists on helmets etc. in Operation Safeway?
“16: TfL will extend the safety principles of FORS”
Given the amount of time taken to get TfL to see sense over the “Cyclists stay back” stickers and the fact that they are still around, one hopes that these principles are properly sorted out.
Our response to the draft CSAP concluded:
We have made it clear to TfL, along with the other cyclist and road danger reduction organisations, that they need to measure danger in more appropriate ways in order to properly understand safety of cyclists and other road users, and to implement measures to control road danger at source. There isn’t much evidence that TfL are listening to this message.
Removal of an embarrassing graph indicates that the message has been noted. But TfL are still not taking on board the message.
Hackney’s Cycling Plan has the (admirable) stated aim -
To make Hackney’s roads the most attractive and safest roads for cycling in the UK, and a place where it is second nature for everyone, no matter what their age, background or ethnicity.
However, for a borough that prides itself on its levels of cycling, the Plan’s target of a 15% modal share for cycling by 2024 is unambitious.
Even more unambitious is a target of just 5% cycling share for trips made by children to school, by the same year (and not even for all trips children make). This compares very poorly with Dutch levels of child cycling, which are above 40% for the entire country, as a percentage of all trips. This is a target a genuinely ambitious cycling borough should be aspiring to. Correspondingly, Hackney should look and learn from the best of Dutch practice.
Hackney already does many things very well, better than nearly every London borough. In particular it has made many residential streets, and roads away from the main road network, safe, comfortable and attractive for cycling, by filtering out motor traffic (or removing it completely).
However, the strategy in this Plan for making cycling an attractive prospect on the borough’s main roads remains vague – talking only of creating ‘clear space’, which is ambiguous.
The Council will look to pursue a policy of ‘clear space for cyclists’ when designing public realm and traffic schemes on busy routes or where there is high traffic flows.
This is despite the Plan itself acknowledging several problems on Hackney’s main roads. For instance, the problems caused by a lack of clear routes on congested roads -
Where there is regular congestion and queuing vehicles there will be limited room for cyclists to advance and as a result cyclists will often squeeze between vehicles or even undertake on the left hand side despite the known dangers
The problems caused by having to negotiate around the outside of parked vehicles -
Parking and unloading arrangements at the kerbside on these busier roads can also represent a danger to cyclists when moving around them especially when vehicles try to overtake and cyclists are also at risk from being hit by vehicle doors being opened in their path
The problem of where actual, serious collisions are occurring -
the majority of serious [cycling] accidents occur on our busier roads with high traffic flows and often multiple bus routes
And perhaps most importantly of all, the problem of subjective safety -
Chapter 5 established that fear of injury and the perception of cycling as a dangerous activity is a primary reason why many residents do not currently cycle
All of these problems clearly need to be addressed, if Hackney is to get anywhere near its own targets, let alone start progressing towards the considerably higher levels of cycling achieved in cities in the Netherlands and Denmark. Not least because – as the Plan itself acknowledges -
It is inevitable that cyclists will continue to use our busy high streets and strategic roads that carry high volumes of vehicular traffic because often they are the most direct and quickest routes.
There are – tentative – noises about starting to do things properly on main roads, rather than relying on a strategy of mixing people cycling in with high volumes of motor traffic.
the borough is unsure as to how [full/light segregation] will impact on the borough’s highway network (both TfL‐controlled and otherwise) but will work with the Mayor and TfL to assess the appropriateness or otherwise of this approach on a case‐by‐case basis.
Not ruling it out, but hardly a ringing endorsement. And later -
The Council is open and willing to examine proposals for segregated and semi‐ segregated cycle lanes on principal roads but it will be considered on a case‐by‐case basis ‐ taking into account concerns about: high collision rates at intersecting junctions where segregated lanes end; visual impact on the streetscape; interaction between bus users and cyclists at bus stops; and other competing demands for road space on Hackney’s busiest routes.
There are plainly many roads in Hackney that could happily accommodate cycling infrastructure, with physical buffering from motor traffic, and separated from pedestrians. This space could either come from footways that are sufficiently wide that reduction in width would not affect pedestrian comfort -
Or from private motor traffic lanes on the carriageway -
Hard choices will have to be made in some locations about which modes of transport – and which uses of public space – get prioritised, but that’s no reason to ignore those places where comfortable cycling conditions, separated from motor traffic, could be provided with little difficulty.
Of course, in other locations, the borough will have to make those choices; about how many lanes of private motor traffic to keep; about whether bus lanes should be a higher priority than cycling infrastructure; and about whether simply returning gyratories to two-way running represents the best available way of making cycling an attractive and viable mode of transport – retaining one-way flow for motor traffic could, for instance, allow the creation of separated two-way flow for cycling.
In short, Hackney needs to decide how much cycling it wants to have – whether it wants a small amount of growth on top of what it already has, or whether it wants to reap the benefits of genuine mass cycling. If it wants the latter, this Plan needs to reflect a serious commitment to prioritising the comfort, safety and convenience of cycling in the borough, especially on main roads, rather than the uncertain-sounding noises it currently contains.
I really, really wish I didn’t have to write another ‘helmet’ post ever again, but the Headway brain injury association have made me. Thanks very much.
Here’s what they’ve done. They’ve responded to Chris Boardman’s appearance on BBC Breakfast with a sanctimonious, error-strewn press release, that only serves to highlight their total inconsistency on the issue of head protection.
This is their release. I won’t link to it; you can find it easily by Googling, if you so wish.Former Olympic cyclist ‘setting poor example’
03 November 2014
Headway has expressed its anger and disappointment over a BBC Breakfast feature on cycling in which Chris Boardman was seen cycling through Manchester city centre wearing dark clothing and without wearing a helmet.
Mr Boardman, a former Olympic cyclist and currently a policy advisor for British Cycling, was cycling with BBC reporter Louise Minchin, who was appropriately dressed and was wearing a helmet in compliance with the Highway Code and BBC editorial policy.
Mr Boardman attempted to justify his reasoning in a subsequent piece to camera which was later posted on the BBC Breakfast Facebook page.
In this one-sided interview, Mr Boardman states that ‘it (wearing a helmet) discourages people from riding a bike’ and that while ‘there is absolutely nothing wrong with helmets, they are not in the top ten things you can do to keep safe’.
In July 1998 Mr Boardman featured in a full-page article in The Sun in an article entitled I was saved by my helmet. Following a crash at 30mph that left Mr Boardman unconscious, the cyclist said: “If I was left unconscious with a helmet, then I don’t like to think what would have happened if I had not been wearing one.”
He continued: “I will continue to wear one. It was a real lesson for me. Things could have been so much worse. At the moment you are not forced to wear a helmet but I choose to.”
Peter McCabe, Chief Executive of Headway, has labelled Mr Boardman’s appearance on BBC Breakfast and his recent comments as ‘dangerous and lacking in common sense’.
“It is worrying that a leading figure in the world of cycling should be allowed to put across such a dangerous and irresponsible view of helmets in this manner,” said Peter.
“The UK’s leading independent transport research institution, the Transport Research Laboratory, has recently demonstrated that cycle helmets are effective in reducing the risk of head and brain injury. The TRL has also dismissed the myth that helmets put people off from cycling, stating in a report to the States Assembly in Jersey that there is no evidence to suggest this is accurate. In fact, cycling in Australian states where helmets are compulsory has never been more popular.
“Questions have to be asked about why a representative of British Cycling, which receives public funding, is actively encouraging cyclists to disregard the Highway Code, putting their lives at risk in the process. Mr Boardman is on record saying he is lucky he was wearing a helmet when he had an accident, which can happen to any cyclist at any time. His recent actions and comments are dangerous and irresponsible.
“The reality is that had Mr Boardman not been wearing a helmet when he had his accident he might not have been able to cycle around Manchester this morning. He needs to explain why he said one thing then and the complete opposite now, and why he promotes a brand of helmets in his own name if he feels they are not effective.
“It is vital that cyclists are given education and encouragement to ensure they comply with the Highway Code and increase their safety by wearing helmets.”
This is the video of Boardman cycling around Manchester that has provoked this outrage; accompanied by Minchin, who as a BBC employee is of course wearing an eye-meltingly bright yellow top (‘appropriately dressed’, according to Headway) and a helmet. The subsequent piece to camera, in which Boardman explains why he chooses not to wear a helmet for ordinary, everyday cycling, is here.
Note, firstly, that Headway are arguing that Boardman is ‘actively encouraging’ people not to wear helmets. Such is the perspective of the blinkered zealot. Suggesting that people should have a free choice whether they wear helmets, or not, simply isn’t ‘actively encouraging’ one of these options, any more than me offering you a choice between fish and chips and a curry amounts to me ‘actively encouraging’ you to have a curry.
Note also that the Headway press release talks about ‘complying’ with the Highway Code, by wearing a helmet (and apparently ‘disregarding’ it, by not wearing one).
But there is no requirement to wear a helmet in the Highway Code. It’s merely a recommendation; a ‘should’, not a ‘must’. To take just one example from elsewhere in the Highway Code, Rule 102 suggests that
children should get into the vehicle through the door nearest the kerb
Which is a recommendation. Entering vehicles through other doors is not a ‘failure to comply’ with the Highway Code. Clearly, talk of ‘compliance’ with regard to helmet-wearing is gibberish.
The central ‘argument’ in the Headway press release is just as bizarre. It appears to be that Boardman once crashed his bike while wearing a helmet, acknowledging, at the time, that his helmet might have reduced the injuries he suffered, and that this somehow makes him a hypocrite.
But as the press release itself mentions, that crash occurred at 30mph+, in a sporting event, with considerably higher levels of risk. A video of that crash is below.
Riding at these speeds, competing with other riders in close proximity, bears absolutely no relation with the kind of cycling Boardman was doing in the BBC video – slow cycling, in ordinary clothes, around a city.
Indeed, it bears as much relation to cycling in the Tour de France as driving to a supermarket does to rallying; yet I’m sure Headway don’t berate rally drivers for setting ‘a poor example’ by driving to the shops without their safety equipment.
Either Headway can’t tell the difference between these wholly contrasting kinds of cycling, with their entirely different levels of risk, or they do know the difference, and have chosen to belligerently ignore it to ram home their dogmatic point. What’s worse?
But when it comes to head injuries suffered by people employing different modes of transport, this ‘broad brush’ approach from Headway – the approach that apparently can’t tell the difference between the Tour de France, and cycling around town – suddenly vanishes. Headway become deeply selective about which kinds of activity require protective headgear.
Take a look at the case studies on their website. Any head injury that was sustained away from a bicycle passes without comment about the presence or absence of a helmet. Any head injury that happened to involve a bicycle – lo and behold, a helmet is preached about.
Here’s Ben Quick, who was hit by a car while walking, and suffered severe head injuries. No comment on whether he should or shouldn’t have been wearing protective head equipment.
By contrast, Gareth Green, who hit his head on the ground while cycling, having swerved to avoid a bus, thinks that “the Government should make wearing cycle helmets the law. If all cyclists wore helmets, fewer lives would be lost or forever changed by brain injury.”
No comment on whether this logic applies to the pedestrians and drivers featured on Headway’s website; drivers like Luke Flavell, who crashed his car into a lamppost, suffering serious head injuries. His lack of protective headgear again passes unmentioned. Or Michael Darracott, who severely injured his head when he flew through his car windscreen. It’s almost as if Headway don’t care if drivers injure their heads – why aren’t they advocating full-face crash helmets for car occupants?
Like Ben Quick, Nicola Scott was knocked down by a car while walking, suffering serious head injuries. Should she have been wearing a helmet? Or Paul Calderbank, who was hit by a taxi while walking? Headway don’t say.
By contrast, Kirsty Offord, who happened to be on a bike when she was struck by a car, is ‘determined to promote the use of cycle helmets’. Likewise, Carolyn Molloy, who suffered a brain injury when she crashed her bike, ‘strongly believes that cycle helmets should be made compulsory.’ And unsurprisingly, Sinead King, who fell off her bike in her back garden at the age of six, also manages to preach about helmets.
This is Headway’s Brick Wall.
Risk, taken across the population, does not stop when you get off a bicycle. The figures make that quite clear. In fact they make it clear that it may not even subside.
And this is The Brick Wall against which one has to beat one’s head when trying to discuss helmets: the fact that the evangelists believe cycling to warrant a helmet when real figures show that there’s no demonstrable risk above other activities for which even the evangelists argue that a helmet is not necessary.
Why is that Headway seemingly don’t care about serious head injures suffered by people walking and driving, even though the rates at which these serious head injuries are suffered are comparable to the rate at which people cycling suffer serious head injuries?This selectiveness is all the more remarkable in the light of their failure to distinguish between 1998 Chris Boardman, and 2014 Chris Boardman; it’s a selectiveness that comes and goes.
Headway really need to take their single-issue campaign away, have a think about what it is they’re trying to achieve, and attempt to reach a measure of consistency. At the moment, they are embarrassing themselves.
A new style ‘zebra’ crossing with a cycle crossing bolted onto it is in place in Bexley.
This is a trial version of this new type of crossing, which is proposed in the Department for Transport’s consultation on TSRGD 2015 [pdf] -
Some people (including me!) have been a wee bit sceptical about this crossing, and so I think it’s worth setting out why, in long form.
Before I get started, it’s obviously worth stating that priority crossings for bikes are plainly a very good idea in principle, and it’s great that the DfT are open to new ideas, and that this kind of crossing (which could work well, in the right circumstances) is being trialled, on street. I am an optimist, and this does represent progress.
However, there are grounds for concern. Mainly, it’s that this design remains a pedestrian-specific piece of infrastructure, that has had some cycle provision bolted onto it.
Walking and cycling are different modes of transport, with different design requirements, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to lump them in together, on the same crossing.
This is why I made comments voicing concern about this crossing actually being given a name, because doing so legitimises treating walking and cycling the same way. As we shall see, the Dutch don’t name walking and cycling crossings that happen to be next to each other, for the obvious reason that they are entirely separate things.
There is, of course, an existing British crossing that lumps pedestrians and cyclists in together, that has a name – the Toucan.
I think it’s fair to say that Toucans are a pedestrian-specific piece of infrastructure that have had cycling bodged into them. They are pedestrian crossings that simply allow cycling, and for that reason they are sub-optimal.
They tend to treat people who are cycling as pedestrians, rather than giving them their own clear distinct routes across junctions. It makes cycling slower and more inconvenient. It’s bad for people cycling, and it’s also bad for people walking, as it creates confusion and unnecessary hazards.
Toucans are obviously not worse than having no cycle crossing at all, but they are worse than crossings that treat pedestrians and cyclists separately. Finally, toucan crossings can provide an incentive to create ‘sharing’ areas away from the crossings – shared used pavements, and so on – because the crossings themselves are shared.
Flexibility, and designing separately
Now it is possible to delineate Toucan crossings, providing separate walking and cycling routes across a junction, as in this example from Jitensha Oni -
But we don’t have to do this – it’s perfectly possible to provide a cycle crossing that is entirely separate from a pedestrian one, with their own respective signals, rather than one set of ‘Toucan’ signals.
And this is, unsurprisingly, how the Dutch design. They treat walking and cycling as different modes, and provide separate signals, and crossing paths, rather than lumping the modes in together, like a Toucan would.
Besides the crossing routes keeping the two modes separate, there are good reasons for doing this. Pedestrians and cyclists will take different amounts of time to cross a road, and the signals can be adjusted accordingly, with pedestrians given more time. If there are no pedestrians waiting to cross, the ‘green time’ can be shorter.
Of course, the kind of crossing pictured above doesn’t have a name – it’s, well, a bike crossing that happens to be near to a crossing for pedestrians.
And much the same is true of the way the Dutch treat unsignalised crossings. The pedestrian crossing (zebra or otherwise) is a separate element from the cycling crossing, which may or may not have priority. Sometimes the two ‘bits’ are close to each other, sometimes they are not – but at no point are they the same ‘thing’.
This means the Dutch have a great deal of flexibility in how they design crossings. They can, for instance, put a (two-stage) bicycle crossing, without priority, next to a zebra, if that makes sense. Pedestrians have priority on the zebra, but cyclists don’t have priority.
Of course, you could have the same arrangement, but with cycling priority. The key point is flexibility, and treating the two modes separately, at all times.
However, this flexibility is not available with the DfT’s proposed new ‘combined’ zebra crossing, which, to repeat, is a cycle crossing tacked onto a pedestrian crossing. It’s worth quoting here what the Cycling Embassy had to say about this ‘cycle zebra’ -
We are concerned that the proposed ‘cycle zebra’ is simply repeating the mistakes of shared use paths and toucan crossings – namely, that cyclists are simply ‘botched in’ to an existing design, without concern for the needs of cyclists.
We are particularly concerned that there is insufficient difference between the proposed ‘cycle zebra’ and an ordinary zebra crossing, and that drivers may not appreciate the need to yield to (faster) approaching cyclists…
We also note that there is potential for great ambiguity (and hence danger) in the existing rules for zebra crossings, whereby drivers must give way only once pedestrians are on the crossing itself. The dangers of this ambiguity are intensified with faster moving cyclists.
We also feel that the regulations with respect to crossings do not give sufficient flexibility to allow for appropriate crossings to be designed in many circumstances, particularly in the vicinity of road junctions. (For instance, the use of elephants’ footprint markings, with give markings, to indicate cycle track crossings across junctions).
Consequently we suggest that controlled area ‘zig-zag’ markings, zebra crossing markings, and elephants’ footprints cycle crossing markings should be prescribed separately as ‘building blocks’, and that it should be the responsibility of the designer to identify how or if these should be combined in each particular instance, including allowing for combinations with stop and give way lines at junctions.
There are practical problems with cyclists using zebra crossings in this way, because of priority rules that only give priority to pedestrians once they are actually on the crossing. This is really quite unhelpful (and potentially dangerous) for cyclists, who will obviously usually be arriving at crossings at a greater speed than pedestrians.
People cycling would really benefit, instead, from a much more straightforward cycle-specific priority crossing, that can simply be placed adjacent to a pedestrian-specific zebra.
Once this new ‘cycle zebra’ crossing has a name, I fear it will encourage – just as the Toucan crossing has – the employment of shared use footways, and general ambiguity in the areas surrounding crossings, because that’s the easiest way out for designers who don’t have a great deal of interest in doing things properly.
As the Embassy response argues, it would be far better if we could employ priority cycling crossings (something we can already provide!) in the vicinity of zebras, while continuing to treat the two crossings as distinct, separate elements, rather than putting an ambiguous cycle crossing onto the zebra itself.
This ‘building block’ technique, as employed by the Dutch, gives much greater flexibility to designers and engineers – they can decide where to place crossings, how to mark them up, and whether or not to give priority to pedestrians and/or cyclists.
It’s laudable that the DfT are (finally!) open to new ideas, but I worry that this minor ‘cycle zebra’ concession may lead us down an unhelpful path, already trodden by the Toucan, and actually inhibit the development of the more useful and practical ‘building block’ approach – which would also require some stripping away of the (often needless) requirements for zebra crossings.
Time will tell.
It’s been all quiet on Pedestrianise London for far too long, and for that I can only apologise. Over the last 3 years since I started this blog, the cycling climate in London has changed and the beginnings of change are starting to be seen.
So why the radio silence? Over the last 6 months I’ve been busy moving my family and my life out of London and to the city of Rotterdam in the Netherlands. I think there comes a time for most non-native Londoners when you know you have to leave before the city completely consumes you. With my wife being from Rotterdam, my young daughter being of pre-school age and thus immune to large lifestyle disruptions, and family living nearby, this feels like the sensible move for us.
I hope to continue to write stuff here, but hopefully with more of a lean on how things are done in Holland’s 2nd city (and beyond).
"But", I hear you say, "I don’t know anything about Rotterdam", well, it’s the 2nd largest city in the Netherlands (after Amsterdam) and the largest port in the Europe. It’s situated in the province of South Holland at the south end of the Randstad economic area, has a population of 600,000 people, 1.6 million in the greater Rijnmond area, oh, and it was bombed completely flat in the 2nd World War and was thus totally rebuilt in the 1950’s, as such it’s renowned for it’s crazy architecture.
Oh, and of course, bicycles.
The visualisations Transport for London have been producing recently for the Superhighways – and for the Oval junction redesign – have attracted some comment from naysayers, about how little motor traffic is shown.
But I don’t think there’s any grand conspiracy here – any visualisation of a new road or street scheme will tend to show very little motor traffic, Exhibition Road being a fairly typical example.
However, the reason for this is probably much more mundane than any attempt to pull the wool over the public’s eyes, regarding potential congestion. It’s that filling a visualisation with cars doesn’t make the space you are presenting very attractive. Who wants to look at hundreds of fairly anonymous metal boxes, when you could instead show human beings, smiling, walking, interacting with each other?
Indeed, more generally, cars are very dull things to fill public space with.
Don’t get me wrong - some cars are attractive, and nice to look at. But plonking large numbers of average-looking cars on roads and streets makes those spaces much, much less interesting than if they were filled with people.
Who wants to look at this?
Pretty uninteresting. By contrast, public space filled with human beings…
That’s why visualisations tend not to include large numbers of motor vehicles – even if that’s unrealistic.
The issue of ‘kerbside activity’ and cycling infrastructure comes up intermittently.
In plain language, this is loading, and dropping off/setting down, and how it works with cycle tracks between the loading/drop-off point, and the footway. Just last month, the Freight Transport Association responded to Transport for London’s detailed proposals for the N-S and E-W Superhighways in London, with a particular focus on this point.
FTA’s message to Boris Johnson is that whilst it supports the development of infrastructure which improves safety for cyclists, the association is also asking him to remember that the people of London depend on goods being delivered and collected.
Natalie Chapman, FTA’s Head of Policy for London said:
“FTA supports the development of new cyclist infrastructure which is targeted on improving safety for cyclists, and believes it can provide real benefits. But cyclists are only one user of the road and the needs of all must be considered – Londoners depend on the goods our members supply every hour of every day. It is important that these schemes are carried out in such a way that they do not unduly disrupt traffic flow or prevent kerbside access for deliveries to businesses and homes.”
FTA added that it must be recognised that delivery and servicing activity does not only take place in high street locations but on many different street types including residential streets, therefore full segregation in these locations may hinder access for deliveries. In such areas, FTA favours the use of other measures such as ‘armadillos’ or giant cat’s eyes, which provide partial segregation stronger than painted white lines, but at the same time enable vehicles to access the kerbside. [my emphasis]
My understanding of this passage is that the Freight Transport Association favours the kind of cycling infrastructure that HGVs and vans can park on, obstructing it, so they can park right next to the kerb. In other words – cycling infrastructure that, while nice in theory, is functionally useless, if it’s going to be used as a parking bay.
Similar reasoning appeared recently from Hackney councillor Vincent Stops, who argues that cycle tracks are not appropriate where there is kerbside activity.
Likewise the British Beer and Pub Association had this to say in response to the House of Commons Transport Committee on Cycling Safety -
Segregated cycle lanes already cause particular issues for pub deliveries. Manual handling of bulk beer containers such as kegs and casks (as specified in current Health & Safety Regulations) ideally requires the delivery vehicle to be sited at the kerb-side outside the premises. Physically segregated lanes prevent this access
Given that loading and parking has to occur pretty much everywhere on main roads – where cycle tracks will almost always be necessary – then if we take these objections at face value, continuous cycling infrastructure, separated physically form motor traffic, is an impossibility.
But is this really true? How does the Netherlands manage to cope? Deliveries and loading still take place on their main roads, as well as people parking, and dropping off passengers – and these are roads that will often have cycle tracks.
Well, it’s not really that hard. HGVs and vans park in marked bays outside the cycle track, and then load across it, and the footway.
The delivery driver has put a home made ‘watch out’ sign on the cycle track as an extra (albeit slightly obstructive) precaution. But it’s clear that loading across a cycle track is hardly an insurmountable problem – it’s not really any more difficult than loading across a footway, provided that the cycle track is well-designed, with low level, mountable kerbing between it and the footway, as in both these Dutch examples.
I suspect the objections from these groups are based partly on assumptions about existing patterns of cycling behaviour in places like London – cyclists are perceived as fast and silent car-like objects, whizzing around like vehicles, rather than as the more sedate mode of transport it is in places where cycle tracks are commonplace in the urban realm. It’s easier to imagine loading across a cycle track with these kinds of people moving along it -
… than one with people clad in lycra, riding on racing bikes, in cycle-specific clothing. That’s not to criticise this latter group – it’s just that perceptions can be skewed, because the existing environment tends to exclude other types of cycling.
Their objections are probably also based on their understanding of existing UK segregated infrastructure, which will often present loading issues, due to the use of unforgiving, high kerbing, which is an additional obstacle for drivers to load objects across.
But this is poor design – cycle tracks shouldn’t be constructed like this, not least because it’s bad for cycling, as well as for people loading. Cycle tracks can and should fit seamlessly into the urban realm, allowing easy loading across them. It can be done – just look at best practice, across the North Sea.
I blogged for the Cycling Embassy last week about the value of new audit tools, from TfL, and in the Welsh Active Travel Design Guidance.
These tools allow professionals and cycle campaigners to objectively assess the quality of cycling provision, scoring routes out of 100, and 50, respectively. If a route scores less than 35 out of 50 under the Welsh Guidance, it should not be classified as a ‘route’, or be included as part of a cycle network.
I was reminded of the potential uses of these tools by some discussion on Sunday about the National Cycle Network, and how, while some bits of it are genuinely excellent, the Network as a whole is diminished by the inclusion of sections that simply aren’t up to scratch.
Take the National Cycle Network around Bath. Some of it is genuinely high quality, like the traffic-free Two Tunnels Route 244.
But some bits of it aren’t, like this section of NCN 4, which runs into the centre of Bath on a very busy road, with a significant proportion of the motor traffic composed of HGVs.
This is actually Bath’s inner ring road, the A36. This stretch would almost certainly fail to meet the minimum standards set out in the Audit Tool. There’s just too much motor traffic, it’s too fast, and there are too many additional hazards, like car parking and junctions where there are turning conflicts.
Yet looking at the map, this section (circled) is included in the network, as part of NCN 4.
I would assume that this is for reasons of continuity – it makes no sense to have a route that has breaks in it. But there are downsides to this approach.
First of all, it means people can have little confidence in the quality of the network. If parts of it are this bad, how are they to know how much of it is equally bad? What are the criteria for including bits of roads as parts of a ‘Cycle Network’? Having low-quality, or even hostile, sections included downgrades the ‘brand’ of the National Cycle Network, as Joe Dunckley argued.
Secondly, it suggests that a ‘network’ actually exists, when, in reality, there isn’t much of a network, at all, if parts of it are difficult to negotiate, or actively hostile. It suggests that the job has been completed, that journeys can easily be made from A to B on the ‘National Cycle Network’ – politicians can even boast about it.
Sadly even Sustrans themselves fall into this trap, claiming that ‘The National Cycle Network passes within a mile of almost 60% of the population’ – by implication, we have a functioning network already, rather than a bits-and-pieces affair of highly variable quality, that quite often doesn’t really go anywhere near where people live and work.
By contrast, if only the parts of the network that actually met minimum standards were included, we would have a truer picture of state of the network, and of inclusive conditions for cycling more generally. Marking up ‘networks’ that simply don’t work for most people gets us nowhere, and in fact lets politicians and councils off the hook.
The council where I live drew up what can only be described as a farcical ‘network’ map, composed of sections that sometimes link up (but sometimes don’t), and even sections that are ‘proposed’ (we’re still waiting!).
This map has, however, quietly been withdrawn, once the council discovered that cycling in some areas of the town centre (as marked on the map) wasn’t technically allowed. Rather than changing TROs to make cycling legal… it was easier to make the map disappear.
I recently assessed the best part of this ‘network’ with the Welsh Active Travel Guidance tool – it scored 24.5 out of 50, well below the minimum threshold of 35. So in truth Horsham doesn’t have a cycle network, at all, when even the best parts of it are so far below a minimum standard. It’s for the best the map has vanished.
This kind of objective quality control would also mean that councils could no longer get away with boasting about how many miles of cycle lane they’ve put in, if the ‘network’ they produce doesn’t meet minimum standards. If a route composed of painted lanes doesn’t score over 35 out of 50, it’s not fit for purpose.
For all these reasons, I think a ‘downgrading’ across the country to a much smaller cycle network, composed of the bits that are actually of a suitably high standard, would be beneficial. It would be an accurate reflection of where Britain’s cycling provision actually stands, and would act as a spur for genuine improvement.