An essential component of whether a road or a street is a pleasant place is the amount of motor traffic travelling down it. It isn’t the only component, of course, but it’s going to be a struggle to make somewhere that has tens of thousands of motor vehicles travelling through it into an attractive destination. Conversely, streets that have very low levels of motor traffic – or indeed no motor traffic at all – are very much easier to ‘convert’ into destinations, places where people would like to hang around, rather than rushing off somewhere else.
This will often have very little to do with the way the street itself is designed. Waltham Forest managed to transform Orford Road into a pleasant place, simply by closing it to motor traffic.
People were happy to mingle in the street, and to let their children play in it, despite the ‘conventional’ road layout remaining, with tarmac, kerbs, and street markings.
The same is true of Earlham Street in Camden; again, a ‘conventional’ street became a place people were happy to wander around in, simply by the addition of a closure to motor traffic – without any changes to the street layout.
This is surely all fairly obvious stuff; yet there is a curious blindspot on the inescapable influence of motor traffic levels on the quality and attractiveness of our street environments, particularly (and most troublingly) amongst many of the people who have responsibility for what happens to them, or who are engaged in the design and function of them.
It is a little unfair to single any particular individuals out, especially people who are thoughtful and reflective on how streets work, and how how they could be improved. But an analysis of Exhibition Road by John Massengale and Victor Dover in their book, Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns is such a good example of this phenomenon it’s hard not to point to it.
In a two-page section on this ‘shared space’ design – perhaps one of the most famous examples of this kind of design in Britain – the authors reflect on why this street is both a success and a failure, and arrive at some reasonable conclusions. The treatment on Exhibition Road is described as a ‘mixed success’, the authors finding that the very southern half of the street, south of Thurloe Place, is a success, while the section north of it (and north of the A4 Cromwell Road) is something of a failure. Here is the relevant passage, quoted in full –
The innovations at the southern end of Exhibition Road have been more successful than the primary stretch between the museums and other institutions. Thurloe Street and the adjacent plaza are small-scale, comfortable spaces that are well used by the public. Both are lined with attractive storefronts that have been revived by the popularity of the new design, now filled with several cafés with outdoor dining, a bookstore for the Victoria and Albert Museum, and other shops. Cars can enter the Exhibition Road space here, but it feels more like a piazza than shared space. Low ventilating stacks for the tube station and a tunnel leading to it poke up in the middle of the space, helping the spatial definition. Built-in benches attached to the stacks are frequently occupied by those who don’t have to spend money to spend time people-watching, and the few cars and vans that park in the square tend to cluster around them, giving some visual order to the parking. On the street itself, bold striping in light and dark grays clearly sets the space off from the through traffic on Thurloe Place.
The effect of these paving techniques on the long, wide piece of Exhibition Road to the north is less pleasing, because here the street feels vast and poorly shaped. The bold diagonal striping is visible for many blocks, and since there are no sidewalks, the supergraphic bumps into the institutions lining the road in an almost random and uncomfortable way. On the small piazza to the south, on the other hand, the paving pattern seems less repetitive and is broken up by the ventilation shafts and the benches around them, the parked vehicles, and the number of people in the space. The outdoor tables on the southern block of Exhibition Road also cover the supergraphics at the edges, softening their effect.
A smaller pattern north of Cromwell Road would bring a more human scale to the vast space, and breaking it into smaller parts would help, too. A more traditional design would make borders along the edge and break the long space into smaller parts. cars park in the center of the road, which has traffic on one side and pedestrians on the other. “Only the parked cars look comfortable,” says Hank Dittmar, the Chief Executive of the Prince’s Foundation.
This is all clever, intelligent analysis, but amazingly (to my eyes, at least) there is absolutely no mention here of the difference in the levels of motor traffic on the distinct sections of the street that are considered to be a success, and to be a failure. The section that they feel is a success has a relatively tiny amount of motor traffic, only accessing the shops and premises on the street itself, and the handful of properties on Thurloe Street, while the section they deem to be a failure has a considerable amount of motor traffic – around 15,000 vehicles a day.
Yet this difference is not mentioned, at all.
Instead, the authors attribute the differences in quality to what are, in reality, very minor design details. Indeed, the differences in design have to be minor, because the layout of the street is essentially identical in the two sections that are deemed to be a failure, and a success.
This continuity of design is even more obvious in aerial shots of the whole length of the road.
The main reason for the difference in quality is obvious – the north section is a busy road and car park, while the south section isn’t, carrying only a negligible amount of traffic on what is actually a minor access road.
So while the authors observe that ‘the rebuilt road changes character as it goes north’, they fail to remark upon the principal reason why this is so – very different levels of motor traffic.
The reason the southern section – which has the same street layout as the northern section – feels like ‘a piazza’, and ‘a small-scale, comfortable space’, and where people will actually want to sit out on the street and eat a meal, or watch people walking by, is because it is not full of motor traffic. Nothing more, nothing less.
Is this failure to recognise the importance of motor traffic levels important? I think it is. I think it explains why towns and cities have been so ready to embrace ‘shared space’ as an apparent solution to the problems with their roads and streets. Current levels of motor traffic on a given route are taken almost as innate, an essential characteristic that cannot be changed. It’s background; the ‘problem’ to be solved then becomes one of how to arrange that motor traffic on the street, how to manage its interactions, how to make it ‘behave’, rather than one of determining the function and purpose of a road or street, and determining the level of motor traffic it should be carrying accordingly.
Dutch access roads work well because they are designed to eliminate through traffic, often in very subtle ways – an arrangement of one-ways, for instance, or simply a fast, obvious parallel road. The success of these layouts actually has very little to do with the design of the streets themselves.
Streets like the one in the picture above are designed the way they are because motor traffic has largely been removed from them; they are not designed that way in an attempt to mitigate the effects of motor traffic. They are able to function as ‘shared’ because of low motor traffic levels; their design is essentially a bit of icing on the cake.
Of course at the other end of the scale, by ignoring the reality of motor traffic we risk designing inappropriate ‘sharing’ into roads that are far too busy for anyone too actually consider sharing, creating (at some expense) what amount to fairly conventional roads, but ones that have serious downsides for groups like those who are not included on the carriageway or the footway, or those with disabilities like visual impairment. Roads that will continue to function as distributor routes for motor traffic should be designed with the needs of all users in mind, even if in practise that means a dilution of the ‘placemaking’ value of any redesign.
We ignore the importance of motor traffic at our peril.
I shared some pictures the other day, in an attempt to convey a fairly simple message – that the safety record of the Netherlands for cycling is almost entirely attributable to the physical environment people cycle in, and that it isn’t down to exemplary behaviour (either of people cycling, or of people driving), or down to clothing, or safety equipment, or special lighting, or any other kind of gimmick.
Admittedly it isn’t particularly obvious from the photographs, but these pictures were taken at two large, busy junctions in Utrecht – the first is at the Westplein, a major junction just to the west of the train station, the second is the junction of Vleutensweg and Thomas a Kempisweg. The people in the pictures are able to negotiate these junctions in total safety, despite doing what they are doing, and wearing what they are wearing, and riding battered bikes, because they are completely separated from motor traffic, either physically, or in time, with dedicated green crossing stages for cycles.
I am not necessarily condoning this behaviour – my point was that the superior Dutch safety record is achieved in spite of it.
It’s hard to generalise, but you rarely see people carrying exceptional loads, or texting, or cycling with dogs, or giving backies, in British cities, but all these things are extraordinarily common in Dutch cities, while hi-visibility clothing and helmets are almost entirely absent. Indeed, I would even estimate that people with functioning lights are definitely in the minority in the centre of larger Dutch cities.
It is blindingly obvious, therefore, that safety – true safety – for people cycling does not lie with behaviour, or with clothing or equipment, but with a safe environment, one that allows what in British eyes might be ‘stupid’ behaviour, but that is in reality just natural, flawed, human behaviour in an environment that feels safe.
The Dutch safety record is actually even more remarkable because of the broad demography of the people cycling, particularly those that are most vulnerable – young children, and the elderly. 23% of all trips Dutch people over the age of 65 make are cycled.
Likewise 40% of all trips Dutch children under the age of 17 make are cycled. This group is vulnerable in a different way. Firstly they are inexperienced, and still learning how to use the road network…
… and secondly, kids (and especially teenagers) will prat about. It’s just what they do.
Nor does safety in the Netherlands lie with exemplary (or even slightly better) driver behaviour. You will see the same kind of impatience, driver error, speeding, tailgating, and silly behaviour as on British roads. Stand at a busy junction for motor traffic, and you will see drivers fiddling with their phones, or speaking on them. Dutch drivers will SMIDSY too, when they encounter junctions where they have to process a lot of movements and interactions.
Why would it be otherwise? The Dutch are human beings, just like the British, and are just as fallible and flawed as we are, when they are behind the wheel of a car.
The essential difference with Britain, however, is that, while cycling in the Netherlands, you are almost entirely insulated from this bad behaviour. On main roads you are not in the same space as drivers. Often they will be some distance away, even invisible.
In urban areas, particularly in new developments, routes for bikes and motor traffic will often be completely unravelled, with entirely separate ‘main roads’ for cycling and motor traffic between destinations.
And on residential and access streets, motor traffic is only there for, well, access reasons, meaning your chances of encountering drivers speeding somewhere else are negligible.
This policy also means that side roads are infrequently used by drivers, again meaning potential conflict with motor traffic is greatly reduced.
Where interaction does (infrequently) have to occur, like at the side street shown above, design helps to ensure that it is clear who has priority, and that there is little to be gained from driving badly.
It is this whole raft of design measures that means interaction with motor traffic is negligible by comparison with Britain, and usually benign when it does occur. Although idiot drivers undoubtedly exist, your chances of meeting one are greatly, greatly reduced. By contrast, in Britain, you are almost always continually exposed to that idiocy, sharing the same road space as motor traffic on main roads, and indeed on side streets which will often form through routes for drivers, trying to get somewhere else.
True safety lies with design; design that accounts for human fallibility, rather than design that relies on perfect human behaviour, or on attempts to create better human beings.
Driverless Car Revolution: buy mobility not metal
by Rutt Bridges
Review for Amazon.co.uk **** 25 June, 2015
Highly recommended, but …
Mobility Not Metal is an impressively clear and comprehensive account of the potential of the driverless car revolution – with a significant omission that we will come to shortly. It provides an intelligible description of both the technology on which it depends, and the extraordinary pace of its development. The essence of the mobility vision it presents is a world transported by Uber without the drivers. It also presents convincing evidence that it will be possible for this technology to operate safely for all road users, both in and outside cars.
Bridges is clear that driverless cars will be a massively disruptive technology, and identifies the potential winners and losers in the revolution that he forecasts. Per mile travelled it will be hugely cheaper, safer and more efficient for all travellers, but especially for those denied a driving licence because of age, disability or disqualification. The potential losers include the motor manufacturing industry (far fewer cars will be needed), motor mechanics (the new “Autos” will be much more reliable and less expensive to maintain) and an army of drivers (from those driving taxis and delivery vans to pizza delivery boys on bicycles). He is clear that the gains will greatly exceed the losses – driverless cars “will have a profoundly positive influence on all of us and our planet as well” – and that the winners will prevail – Chapter 1 is entitled “How your world will [not might] change.”
He argues his case with the help of a number of American vignettes: “For simplicity’s sake, we’ll focus just on mobility services in the U.S., provided to city and suburban markets by electric vehicles.” More specifically his demonstration of the economic advantages of driverless cars is based on their potential use in Denver: “The City and County of Denver will be the theoretical test market for the Mobility economic model.” And herein lies a problem.
Bridges’ vision of the future of driverless cars is global – he speaks of its impact on “our planet” – and he envisages its principal market being “densely populated metro areas” everywhere. But by global standards the city and county of Denver are not densely populated. 82% of its commuters currently travel by car, truck, or van, mostly from sprawling suburbs. The other favourite demonstration laboratory for driverless cars is Mountain View California also, by global urban standards an area of extremely low settlement density. How, one might ask, would the self-driving car cope in a truly densely populated metro area such as London with a population density more than 150 times that of Mountain View?
This question is not addressed. Truly densely populated urban areas have dense pedestrian traffic and, increasingly, dense cycling traffic. And, after many decades of neglect, it is now official policy in most such areas that these modes of travel should be encouraged. How might driverless cars manage in such areas?
Most of the video demonstrations of driverless cars that I have been able to find show them performing on roads from which cyclists and pedestrians have been excluded. Where they are shown interacting with pedestrians and cyclists the pedestrians and cyclists are very occasional impediments, and the driverless cars are shown responding very deferentially. They are, according to Bridges, “inherently polite” and programmed to be “the ultimate defensive drivers”. It is difficult to see why, at the busy times of day when driverless cars would be most in demand, they would not suffer deferential paralysis in areas with high volumes of pedestrian and cycle traffic.
Bridges observes “it could be the regulatory challenges and not technology that pose the greatest risk for bringing the benefits of driverless cars to the people of the planet.” He fears that America might not rise to these challenges and asks: “Will America let politics and bureaucracy block real progress?” If not he fears that China might steal the lead in the race to bring his vision of progress to the world.
But he offers no clue as to how the challenges posed by high pedestrian and cyclist densities might be met. What regulatory changes would be needed to allow Autos free movement in such areas? His book does not acknowledge the existence of the problem. A challenge readers might find interesting: Google “China (or Netherlands) bicycles” and click on images, and then devise a set of regulatory changes that would allow Bridges’ Autos to share the streets with the traffic in the pictures displayed.
Buy this book. **** is a compromise. This is essential reading for those seeking to understand the evangelical enthusiasm of the advocates of driverless cars and the extraordinary wealth and political muscle of their promoters, and fearful of the consequences for pedestrians and cyclists who threaten to impede their progress.
Our last post questioned the current effectiveness of the Fleet Operators Recognition Scheme (FORS) of Transport for London (TfL). Below we put forward what we hope will be seen as constructive suggestions that TfL can pursue.The context
This year (we are just over half way through it) eight cyclists have been killed on London’s roads, of whom no less than seven were killed under the wheels of Heavy Goods Vehicles. Six months’ figures are not a basis for transport policy initiatives, but the point is that about half the cyclists killed on London’s roads for the last couple of decades and more have been killed in this manner. A roughly similar number of pedestrians have been killed under the wheels of lorries. I have represented the Road Danger Reduction Forum, the London Boroughs Cycling Officers’ Group and the London Cycling Campaign (at different times) since the early 1990s in attempts with TfL, the Department for Transport and others to address this issue.
The Road Danger Reduction approach is to reduce danger at source, i.e. from motor vehicular traffic. As with Health and Safety regimes in aviation, maritime and rail safety, and safety at work, the primary objective has to be an adequately safe environment, before placing demands on the potential victims of unsafe practices. In this area this means focusing on the danger posed by HGVs towards other road users – in London primarily cyclists and pedestrians. Car and lorry occupants are also at risk on roads with higher-speed traffic.
…and a word of caution.
Cyclist deaths involving lorries are front page news in London’s main daily newspaper, and crop up in conversations whenever cycling in London is mentioned. I have worked to address this problem because it is urgent and many of the solutions are easy to implement. Any Mayor of London will have a particular interest in bringing these numbers down, so it is an obviously necessary target for transport and road danger reduction professionals to work on. Of all the casualty figures published, it is reasonable to look at deaths first, and to remember that serious injuries where HGVs are involved are particularly likely to be life-changing – and that the feelings of fear from manoeuvres like close overtaking are especially high with HGVs.
But it has to be remembered that only about 5% of killed and seriously injured cyclists in London have been in a collision involving an HGV. The proportion where a construction industry HGV is involved, though significant compared to their share of lorry traffic, is even lower. The same applies to the (less statistically reliable) category of slight injuries. The proportion of pedestrians killed with HGVs involved is far lower than for cyclists. (See Table 1 of TfL’s current Cycle Safety Action Plan: Ratio of cyclist KSI (Killed and Serious Injury) injury and collision involvement by mode share [2010-12])
What all this means is that lorry danger is an extremely important issue to tackle, but not one which we can allow to divert us from the principal source of road danger, which comes from other motor vehicles, particularly cars. It may seem cynical, but sometimes one might be forgiven for thinking that media concentration on this issue allows ordinary motorists to feel that the problem of road danger lies elsewhere. For us, lorry danger needs to be tackled not just because of its high profile, but as just one type of road danger which can and should be addressed properly.
The simple facts of lorry design are that (a) Drivers find it difficult to see around them with traditionally designed high cabs and (b) There are large gaps between the vehicle body and tarmac which facilitate cyclists, other two-wheeler users and pedestrians being pulled under the wheels, leading to particularly severe crushing injuries.
Our view here is simply that such vehicles are not fit for purpose on urban roads where they are anywhere in the vicinity of pedestrians and cyclists. The answer is that only vehicles without these design flaws should be on London’s streets.
We now have a new generation of HGVs that don’t have such problems
O’Donovan Waste Mercedes Benz
As the new generation will not be on the streets instantly, the alternative requirement to make is that existing lorries have retro-fitted (a) transparent door panels (b) infra-red alerting systems performing like LB Ealing’s Cycle Safety Shield which allow drivers awareness of their surroundings, and (c) deeper guards around the front and sides of HGVs to prevent people being so easily pulled under the wheels.
Our understanding is that the cost of measures such as retro-fitting transparent doors , and installing more effective side-guards and alerting systems, can be largely met by reductions in the insurance premiums of the operators.
From 1 September 2015 the Mayor’s Safer Lorry scheme will come into force. In our view – while a step in the right direction – this does not go far enough. It will require HGVs to have basic safety equipment, which most lorries on London’s roads already do. We spent many years getting extra mirrors on to lorries, but these have limited benefits. Proper use of all mirrors is time-consuming (up to 5 seconds to use all properly at each junction and turn) and as a result often does not happen.
At a meeting showcasing better design this year the (now outgoing) Commissioner of Transport for London said:
“TfL are working towards a point where we’ll say if you want to work on one of our sites it’s got to be one of these – we’re not very far away from this. We’ll do everything we can to make this happen.”
We suggest that this point has been reached, and no GLA/TfL construction site should allow HGVs on it if it does not have direct vision (which may include infra-red sensors of the right type) and proper side guards.
And why shouldn’t such restrictions apply to ALL construction sites in London, brought in by agreement between the Boroughs and GLA/TfL? This then rolls onto ALL HGVs in London by extending the Mayor’s Safer Lorry scheme.
We see this element as the priority. Naturally the freight industry wants “incentives” (e.g. additional funding) to bring in such measures, which as we have noted could be self-financing. However, if necessary, financial support could be provided by TfL diverting a few million pounds from unnecessary road building schemes like the Silvertown Tunnel.
We also note that in the concluding comments to the conference by CLoCS chairman Brian Weatherly (do read the full post ) where he said, “When will CLoCS’ work be completed? Volvo has Vision 2020 – no one will be killed by a Volvo HGV in 2020. It would be an excellent goal for everyone in CLOCS to adopt. If we could achieve that we would know CLOCS has done its job.”
Another way to speed up introduction of safer lorries is to exempt them from:
40% of cycling fatalities involving lorries occur in the morning rush hour. A ban on all lorries over 7.5 tonnes between 8am and 9.30am would allow cycle commuters not to have to share space with lorries. There is a strong argument for moving construction vehicle movements out of the rush hour. Time-based bans exist in other cities, and the night-time London lorry ban has been successfully in place for years.
The problem with this idea (which has been suggested by campaigners for many years) is that it is a muck-shifting exercise which means that other (albeit fewer) cyclists will have the same problems at other times of day. It should not be there as a media-friendly “quick win” to distract attention from the more important measures. Nevertheless, it could be on the cards, particularly if it is used as a way of pushing for the safer lorries which might be exempted from this ban.
There is a serious problem with the worst elements of the freight industry: unlicensed, uninsured, untrained lorry drivers, and unsafe vehicles failing numerous requirements – such as unsafe loads or incorrectly recorded driver hours – for safe operation. Trained police officers can spot signs of non-compliance and in well-reported crackdowns have taken dozens of illegally used lorries off the road.B. “Normal” rule breaking
In freight use, as with other motor vehicle use, it is always important not to over-focus on the worst extremes of behaviour. Indeed, as already said, we see problems associated with HGVs as something of an iceberg tip of road danger. Behaviours by HGV drivers which endanger others, particularly over-close overtaking of cyclists, should be addressed in new versions of “Operation Safeway” and other road traffic policing.C. Regulation in general
Our previous post criticised the current “softly-softly” approach of TfL’s Fleet Operators Recognition Scheme. There needs to be a shake-up, and increased rigour in the management of lorry operators, drivers and vehicle fleets. Existing best practice standards set up by FORS and CLOCS need to be extended in the future (for example, by investigation of black box technology and devices like pedestrian activated automatic braking systems). For the moment they should be seen as mandatory under a new Safe Lorries Scheme.
Our suggestion is that GLA/TfL can work with Boroughs to require them to pursue the same objectives as TfL has claimed it intends to do with construction projects, possibly making Local Implementation Funding conditional on this.
To be fair to TfL, there are limitations on what it can do. The Traffic Commissioners and Health & Safety Executive need to be given greater powers and resources if we are to have an adequately safe freight industry. Taking unsafe HGVs off the road is of limited value if rogue operators can re-introduce them and continue unsafe practices soon afterwards.
There have been well publicised cases of deaths caused by HGV drivers with histories of persistent and serious driving offences. A key issue is allowing operators access to the records of such cases Potential clients of operators should also be able to have information about lorry operators’ safety records, which are at present confidential and known only to operators themselves.4. Highway engineering
The highway environment can frequently be engineered so that lorries do not come close to pedestrians or cyclists and any injury is avoided. Also, there is the advantage of protection not just from lorries, but also from other motor vehicles.
We won’t go into the potential disadvantages of segregationist engineering here – difficulty in achieving changed driver behaviour at junctions or inflating the idea that cyclists don’t belong on the road – although there are limitations in potential. (See the discussion here including my comments as rdrf). The RDRF is happy to welcome good quality “Space 4 Cycling” approaches, while voicing concerns about possible disbenefits. Indeed, highway engineering is a key element in reducing road danger for all road users.
Unlike traditional “road safety” engineering based on targeting places characterised by numbers of reported collisions, engineering should be based on other ways of assessing danger . A location like Staples Corner poses similar road danger to cyclists as one like Bow Roundabout, where there have been more cyclist deaths. The reason for the lack of incidents may just be the relative absence of cyclists – often precisely because of the high level of danger presented to them.
Drivers. In our professional work, members of the RDRF Committee e have been involved in the promotion of the Safer Urban Driving module for lorry drivers’ Certificate of Professional Competence. However, we are the first to admit that this training comes low on the list of measures to reduce lorry danger.
Cyclists. Similarly, we have a long record of supporting confidence building cycle training, some of which informs trainees of the problems of cycling near high-sided vehicles in general and HGVs in particular.
However, we do not believe in an “even-stevens” approach, which ignores the difference in potential danger to others of different modes. In this case it makes far more sense to target some 50,000 drivers likely to be behind the wheel of a typical number of some 30,000 HGVs in London daily, rather than about ¼ million daily cyclists out of up to a million people who may cycle in London in a given year. We also doubt that publicity posters – which we have supported as a small element of an overall programme – are of themselves likely to have a significant effect.
Also, even well-trained cyclists make mistakes. They don’t deserve serious injury or death as a penalty for this. After all, highway and motor vehicle engineering has often been based on accommodating rule- or law-breaking driving – with potentially far more negative consequences than accommodating cyclist or pedestrian error.
The first years of this century showed a decline in the chances of London cyclists being hurt or killed in incidents involving lorries. We think this was largely due to a “Safety in Numbers” effect, which can occur because of the increased visible volume of cyclists in parts of London, and which can be assisted by the right kind of cycle training.
However, the benefits of SiN are limited, and a proper programme of addressing the problems involved where cyclists and pedestrians may be hurt in collisions with HGVs has to prioritise measures: 1 (HGV design); 3 (Enforcement) and 4 (Highway engineering).
We have argued at TfL that a Standing Committee on HGV safety should be set up to push through the programme outlined above. Such an overseeing management structure should be introduced by the new Mayor – if it can’t be a legacy of Mayor Johnson. It could lead to a dramatic decline in the cyclist death rate in London – although it mustn’t be left at that.
In order to address what lies behind the vast majority of cyclist (and pedestrian) casualties and the danger presented to them and other road users, we need to extend measures such as those outlined above to all the other sources of road danger. That means moving beyond HGVs to the operation of other fleet vehicles: buses – and above all cars.
Firstly, don’t panic! You may feel like losing the will to live when reading the words “TfL and Cyclists stay back stickers”, but it won’t hurt, I promise. It’s just that there are serious issues about Transport for London and its Fleet Operators Recognition Scheme (FORS) in their approach to fleet safety in general, and lorry safety – specifically for pedestrians and cyclists in London – in particular.
The latest episode in the saga of “Cyclists stay back” and other warning stickers shows TfL continuing its long refusal to behave responsibly on this issue, as well as failing to work co-operatively with its cycling partners. Above all, it raises worrying questions about Tfl’s commitment towards the headline issue of lorry safety in London.A brief timeline
Let’s summarise this as swiftly as possible to avoid tedium.
July 2013: First direct complaints to TfL about Cyclists stay back stickers. No substantive response until October
December 2013: We in the Road Danger Reduction Forum raise concerns about the use of “Cyclists stay back” stickers.
February 2014: We come together in a coalition with the London Cycling Campaign, CTC (National cyclists’ charity), TABS (The Association of Bikeability Schemes), RoadPeace (The national road crash victims’ charity). At other times in this sage we are joined by the London Boroughs Cycling Officers’ Group to work out a solution with Transport for London (TfL) and its Fleet operators Recognition Scheme (FORS).
April 2014: TfL reply in an unjustifiably negative way and we respond back accordingly
May 2014: TfL show a (we try to be polite) unhelpful response to our offer.
June 2014: Hooray! TfL invite us in for a meeting and we sort out solutions
Sticker wordings on buses and HGVs are to be changed (and this has since happened with buses, and in many cases with HGVs). TfL agree that any kind of warning stickers on vehicles under 3.5 tonnes: small lorries, cars and vans which don’t have a “blind spot” issue and where drivers can see cyclists with wing mirrors, will be removed from FORS members’ vehicles. A web site page will have information on why this is the case, and non-FORS members can be informed by members of the public that TfL/FORS are against this and why.
So partnership works and everything is settled.
Except it wasn’t.
February 2015: Things didn’t seem to be progressing after all, as we show here
March 2015: We comment on the lack of progress and more general issues about lorry safety and why it’s important for cyclists and pedestrians in London
(Note: if you read these last two posts you should get a good idea about all the important points about HGV safety in London, including its position in the overall road danger picture)
March 2015: And then, just to show that we are trying to be constructive, we explained to concerned individuals how they could complain to FORS using official channels to help resolve problems . Nobody could accuse us of not trying to be helpful, but…
May 2015. It now appears that FORS is NOT prepared to take any action against its members using stickers on cars, vans and small lorries without blind spots. We explain (again) what’s wrong and (see postscript) write to TfL again requesting action, or at least a meeting to discuss ways of resolving this apparently interminable problem
(June 2015: All of this takes place in the context of other lorry safety issues such as this )
June 2015. We get a response from Leon Daniels of Transport for London (see APPENDIX below for full text). Frankly, all the organisations involved were – being polite again – very disappointed to see that no action seems to be taken to ensure that FORS members do not display stickers on the wrong vehicles.
I’ll summarise the RDRF view of Daniels’ reply before doing what’s really important – putting it in the overall context of TfL/FORS attitude towards fleet and lorry safety.The June 2015 response from TfL’s Leon Daniels.
The key sentences in his letter are:
“We are concerned that by continuing to focus disproportionately on this single issue we risk the credibility of FORS and potentially undermine the way fleet operators view the scheme. This could ultimately lead to some operators leaving the scheme and choosing not to invest in cyclist safety, something neither of us wants.”
In a brief response to Leon Daniels, I wrote:
“We all believe that FORS ensuring its requirements are met in this area would strengthen its effectiveness, rather than “risking its credibility”. We are also all fully aware of TfL/FORS’ various initiatives and efforts in the area of HGV safety: we are not interested solely in the warning stickers issue or believe we are focusing “disproportionately on this single issue”. Finally, we are disappointed that you are unable to agree to our suggestion for a meeting to discuss this matter.”
So, after a good year and a half of communication with their partners (or at least stakeholders) TfL simply can’t make a small effort to enforce a simple requirement on members of its scheme, which they have already been informed of.
How important is all this?
Our objection (supposedly accepted by TfL) is that stickers on vehicles where drivers can see cyclists through using their near side wing mirrors have adverse effects:
But how much does it really matter? There are plenty of more important issues to be dealt with regarding HGV safety – we will detail these in our next post. But we believe this episode is important in telling us about TfL’s attitude to its stakeholders, the length of time taken over a simple issue, and indeed the role of FORS.
Sometimes relatively minor issues can be revealing.
What is FORS for?
Take a look at the photo of a vehicle (taken in July 2015) belonging to a FORS member. It shouldn’t have any cyclist warning sticker.
The van belongs to A-Plant who have:
“…also recently become the first plant, tool and equipment rental company in the UK to achieve Whole Fleet Accreditation (WFA) under Transport for London’s Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS). The firm is only the second company in the whole country to secure nationwide accreditation which applies across A-Plant’s 135-strong Service Centre network and its entire transport fleet. The process involved a stringent audit of A-Plant’s 1,475 vehicle fleet, comprising cars, vans and HGV’s. The purpose of FORS is to raise the level of quality within fleet operations and to demonstrate which operators are achieving best practice in terms of safety, fuel efficiency, driver training and reducing vehicle emissions.”(My emphases)
A-Plant has scooped two major awards at the inaugural London Construction Awards.
Here is a van belonging to FORS Silver standard member JC Decaux (July 2015)
and although the photo below was taken last year, J Murphy and Sons (FORS Gold standard) still have vans carrying cyclist warning stickers.
Would it really be so hard to ask these FORS high flyers to remove stickers the next time their vehicles are being cleaned?
Do we have an “All shall have prizes” culture in FORS in which accreditation is awarded but where compliance with “achieving best practice in terms of safety…” may not be checked up on?
We hope not. Indeed, TfL sometimes seem to be giving out a different message to the one given to the coalition of cyclist and road danger reduction organisations. This year Darren Johnson MLA asked this question at the London Mayor’s Question Time:
Inappropriate use of cyclist warning stickers: Question No: 2015/1512
Thank you for your answer to question 2015/0852. What steps are TfL taking specifically to get all Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS) registered vehicles below 3.5 tonnes such as small lorries, vans and cars which do not have a blind spot to remove ‘cyclist stay back’ stickers?
Written response from the MayorThe Highway Code’s Rule 159 describes how vehicles of all sizes have blind spots and describes them as the areas around the vehicle which a driver is unable to see either directly or by using mirrors. Vehicle blindspots increase the risks to other road users, particularly cyclists and pedestrians The FORS standard require fleet operators to fit approved blind spot warning signage to vehicles over 3.5 tonne gross vehicle weight, as these vehicles have larger blind spots. FORS guidance on approved blind spot warning signage is very clear and has been communicated to all FORS accredited operators via e-news bulletins, the FORS website and in FORS training and toolkits. FORS has distributed around 65,000 approved blind spot warning signs and these are sent out with guidance on how they are to be used. This and further guidance on signage requirements is now available on the FORS website and can be viewed here: http://www.fors-online.org.uk/cms/warning-signage. The FORS audit process checks that approved blind spot warning signage is fitted to vehicles over 3.5 tonne gross vehicle weight. It marks down operators that use non-approved or badly placed stickers or where this signage is fitted to smaller vehicles.(My emphasis) Since my response to 2015/0852, TfL has made several communications to FORS operators on appropriate signage making clear that blind spot stickers should not be applied to smaller vehicles and the FORS accreditation criteria has been updated to reflect the new advice. (My emphasis) Operators who are not accredited to FORS may choose to use a range of styles of hazard warning signage. TfL is working with the industry to promote the use of consistent signage by operators. (My emphasis)
This is all very puzzling. If TfL/FORS indeed “marks down operators…where…signage is fitted to smaller vehicles” why are they giving the highest grades to members who are doing just that and – more importantly – why are they telling us that to do so would “risk the credibility of FORS”? Why are London Boroughs claiming to be supporting the Mayor’s Cycling Vision applying for even higher grades of FORS membership (LB Islington applying for an upgrade from bronze to silver, to take just one example) getting away with flouting such a simple requirement?
The coalition of cyclists and road danger reduction organisations has suggested for TfL/FORS for a year now that , although FORS has no responsibility for non-members, it could explain on its website in ways which could be communicated to them what the problems with cyclist warning stickers are. We have tried to work with FORS on this issue, without response. We now hear that “TfL is working with the industry to promote the use of consistent signage by operators”, which would be good, but we haven’t seen any evidence of this process.
An aside: Pedestrian warning stickers
Last year we also pointed out that a number of pedestrian warning stickers ordering people to – presumably – not walk down the pavement if “anywhere near” many vehicles may have problems. This has been picked up in a recent issue of the transport professionals fortnightly, Local Transport Today (26/06/2015):
If the vehicle belongs to a FORS member, surely the point is not where the sign comes from, but whether FORS members should be using them?
Why do companies join FORS?
Membership of FORS is increasingly necessary for contractors to fulfil the procurement requirements of their potential clients. While having good procurement criteria and a scheme to supervise them is necessary and a step forward in accountability in the freight industry, there is an obvious problem here. To be blunt: many transport professionals believe that some freight operators join FORS in order to secure work, without necessarily having any interest in implementing high (or even necessary) standards of practice.
Of course, many freight operators have an obvious commitment towards better standards of safety, as well as other areas such as fuel efficiency. There is no doubting their commitment, whether through a simple desire to behave as well as possible, or plain good business sense. The point is that such commitments may not exist for all freight operators in London. Our thoughts are that more rigorous accreditation processes are required for a regime which functions effectively – along with other measures such as policing – to reduce lorry danger properly
What the stickers issue has raised is a general concern about FORS. Has TfL been reluctant to act on our calls over the misuse of stickers because of threats to their credibility? We remain sceptical. Or is it that FORS members would simply continue to break this – and maybe other – criteria, forcing FORS to spend time and resources demoting companies in London and elsewhere?
What FORS could have been doing
As TfL constantly remind us, it has pushed initiatives for cyclist safety focusing on changes in the operation of HGVs in London. Indeed, until changes in highway infrastructure come into place soon, this has been the one area where there has been significant work by TfL for cyclist safety. But over the last two years or so this appears to have gone off the boil.
For example, LB Ealing promoted a system (Cycle Safety Shield) which has already been through a thorough six month independent trial (with LCC amongst others acting as independent testers). It has successfully rolled this out to their entire contractor fleet, saving them fuel costs, improving driver behaviour, and avoiding lots of potential collisions. (I don’t have any links any more with LB Ealing, nor does RDRF have any links with CSS). Given that proven collision avoidance technology clearly exists, why is TfL not rolling this out on its own fleet and actively encouraging others to do so, when organisations such as Ealing Council have already done so and are reaping the benefits?
The wider point raised by all of this is:
How is FORS membership audited? How do we know that operators are not just applying just to win work, but don’t implement FORS criteria?
Our next post looks at the kind of programme TFL could support for HGV safety in London. We think that a key element – which should be organised by the incoming Mayor in 2016 – is a more rigorously effective and transparent FORS regime.
APPENDIX: Letter from Leon Daniels
Apologies for poor image – click on image for more detail
There’s been a fair bit of discussion of ‘shared space’ recently, prompted mainly by the Holmes Report into Shared Space, which was released at the start of the month.
‘Shared space’ is of course a catch-all term that covers a wide range of street and road treatments, but in essence it involves reducing distinction (either visually or physically, or both) between the carriageway and footway – between places where users are ‘expected’ to be, in general.
I don’t think there is any genuine, or ‘ultimate’, shared space out there – one that has no distinction whatsoever across the whole building-to-building width. You will always find some kind of distinction, be it in the form of tactile paving, or colour difference, or a minimal kerb upstand, or bollards, between where different modes should be going.
New Road in Brighton perhaps comes closest, with only a drain breaking up the uniform surface – but here sheer weight of pedestrians numbers, and a tiny amount of motor traffic, make this resemble a genuinely pedestrianised street with limited motor traffic access.
And this points toward something a little bit back-to-front about how these treatments are often applied in Britain. New Road is a bit of an exception; it is effectively an access road, one that makes little or no sense to drive down if you want to go anywhere, because a one-way system sends you back to where you’ve come from.
By contrast, ‘shared space’ treatments are instead frequently applied on roads that are through-routes for motor traffic, carrying it from somewhere, to somewhere else. Poynton is composed of a junction of major A-roads; Exhibition Road carries around 15,000 vehicles a day; Byng Place in Camden is a through-route; major schemes in Coventry and Ashford have both applied ‘shared space’ treatments to main roads. Preston, too, appears to have jumped on the bandwagon in the last year.
Indeed, all the examples of ‘shared space’ shown in the Sea of Change film – areas where partially-sighted and blind users have difficulty crossing roads – involve through routes for motor traffic.
Meanwhile, all the small access roads near these big main road schemes – residential streets, or streets that (should) serve no through function for motor traffic – are left with ‘conventional’ highway engineering, footways with high kerbs, clearly distinct from what look like roads, rather than streets.
For instance, it is the through-route Exhibition Road that has the ‘shared space’ treatment (and a 20mph limit), while, bizarrely, the minor residential side-street joining on to it, Princess Gardens, has a conventional tarmac road appearance, and a 30mph limit.
This is, really, the wrong way round, and entirely opposite to the way the Dutch conventionally design roads and streets, and distinguish between them.
In the Netherlands, the ‘shared space’ style treatments are applied on streets that have been quite deliberately designed to remove through traffic, leaving only a very small number of motor vehicles using them – the access roads. Meanwhile the main roads, carrying through traffic, usually have very clear distinction between the carriageway and the footway (in large part because the Dutch clearly separate cycling from motor traffic on these kinds of roads).
So what looks like the kind of treatment we might see on a fashionable main road in Britain is almost always applied on a very low motor traffic access road in the Netherlands. Examples from Wageningen, Gouda, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Veenedaal, Utrecht, and Assen below – all very low (motor) traffic streets.
Although these treatments looks like ‘shared space’, these are all autoluwe, or very low car traffic areas.
These are appropriate locations for a lack of definition between footway and carriageway because the reason for that distinction – motor traffic – is no longer present.
By contrast, the main roads near these access roads will have clear definition, because… well, these roads are still carrying a significant quantity of motor traffic – distinction is required.
I don’t quite know how, or why, Britain appears to have grasped the wrong end of shared space stick, applying treatments designed for streets that are intrinsically suited to sharing – access roads – onto main roads instead, in an attempt to fix them.
Perhaps it is because of an innate reluctance to accept we have a motor traffic problem. Perhaps we are attempting to convince ourselves that we can turn traffic-blighted roads into ‘places’ simply by changing the way they look, rather than honestly accepting that they are through-routes, or accepting that genuine places require an access-only function for motor traffic. (I’ve written about the need for honesty – and placefaking – before).
There is a role for shared space design (or whatever you want to call it!) in Britain, but it is vitally important that it gets applied in the right places, and in the right contexts. Making our streets and roads safe, comfortable and attractive for all their potential users – particularly those with physical disability or impairment, but also everyone walking or cycling about on them – depends on it.
There are a good number of encouraging cycling schemes appearing in London now, either physically on the street, or in the form of consultations.
One of the latter is Camden’s plan for the Tavistock Place, or ‘Seven Stations’, route, running east-west across Bloomsbury. There’s an excellent, detailed history of the origins of this cycling infrastructure from David Arditti here, which is well worth reading if you haven’t already done so (and probably worth reading again, even if you have).
Given the present-day consensus on cycling infrastructure, I think it’s hard to imagine just how radical this rather narrow two-way track was at the time it was built, and David’s piece gives a good account of the struggles and difficulties that were faced in implementing it.
But fifteen years on, it is a victim of its own success – it is too popular. Around 6000 cycles pass along it on a weekday, and that’s an awful lot for a 2.5m bi-directional track with high kerbs.
I’ve heard some silly suggestions that this volume of cycle traffic means that the cycling infrastructure should be completely dismantled, mixing cycles back in again with the motor traffic that still uses this street. That would be killing the goose that laid the golden egg – destroying the attractive cycling conditions, free from interaction with motor traffic, that bring so many people to this street on a bike in the first place. 10,000 motor vehicles per day is far too high a level for comfortable sharing on a bike.
But something obviously has to give, and to its credit, the borough of Camden have come up with what is a really quite radical improvement, which is going to be trialled before being implemented permanently.
The trial will involve turning the existing, pictured, two-way track into a one-way track, conventionally at the side of the road, for east-bound cycle flows. If you’re cycling west, the entire existing westbound motor traffic lane will become a cycle lane.
The purple arrows show flow for cycling; the blue arrow, motor traffic flow. Restricting motor traffic to just one-way means only lane for motor traffic, and consequently much more space for cycle traffic.
In a neat twist, that means the street is finally going to catch up with Paul Gannon‘s original proposals from over fifteen years ago – which involved restricting motor traffic to one direction (albeit to create a genuinely wide two-way track, rather than one-way provision on each side of the street).
Of course this bold vision was watered down in the way David Arditti describes – two-way flow for motor traffic was maintained, resulting in the compromised narrow two-way facility that is on the street today. (It is nevertheless interesting that this compromised facility has attracted enough people cycling to make the case for present-day expansion unarguable).
The really clever part of this new trial scheme is how this same one-way arrangement is being used to actually reduce motor traffic levels, by pointing the one-way flow in opposing directions, on either side of Gower Street.
That means it’s no longer going to be possible to drive along the length of this street – you can’t drive (for example) into the West End from the east along it, and vice-versa, you can’t drive from the West End into Clerkenwell along it. Motor traffic levels should consequently therefore greatly reduce, on top of the reduction that will come from reducing from two-way flow in two lanes to one-way flow in one lane.
The arrangement will also prevent taxi drivers coming from the east and turning right (northbound) towards the stations on Euston road – this will remove a great deal of the collision risk at the junctions that was a problem on this route, coupled with conventional one-way flow for cycling.
Taxi drivers weren’t to blame for taking this route. Right turns are prevented on Euston Road by Transport for London in order to ‘smooth traffic flow’ along it (providing a signal for right turning motor traffic means stopping oncoming motor traffic). That has inevitably meant pushing motor traffic that should be using Euston Road onto these roads in Camden, effectively creating a gyratory system at the expense of borough roads, in order to push as much motor traffic along Euston Road as is possible. A sane solution to London’s traffic flow (all types of traffic, not just motor traffic) should involve allowing motor traffic to make right turns from main roads, instead of these kinds of arrangements, which create extra motor traffic (and extra risk) on streets that should not be carrying it.
Camden’s trial for Tavistock Place is planned to start in August, and will run for 12 months, after which it is hoped to convert the scheme into a more permanent arrangement, with stepped tracks on each side of the road, and improved crossings. With lower traffic levels, I suspect many of the existing traffic lights could be removed, replaced with priority junctions and zebra crossings, so there’s much to gain for pedestrians too. All in all it should make for a much more attractive, calmer street that is better to walk and cycle along.
The trial plans are available to view here.