There is no global cycling policy and globally cycling’s future will emerge from multiple and intersecting trends, including: responses to big planetary challenges such as climate change, the end of cheap oil, and the growth in diseases induced by sedentary lifestyles; patterns of car ownership and use, especially across the world’s fastest-growing economies; changes in cycling’s profile, particularly in globally iconic cities; and the possibilities of new technologies (including e-bikes and public bike schemes) to re-define current meanings and practices of mobility. But cycling’s future and so also the globe’s will be importantly shaped by its advocates’ views of what cycling is for.
Why advocate cycling? Simply so it becomes easier for us as cyclists to move about by bike? Or is there a bigger vision of what everyone’s lives, relationships, places, and world should be and feel like? I think the latter – the bicycle is both symbolic of, and a pragmatic path to, another way of life, and this is why so many of us believe in cycling, and want to make it bigger.
The bicycle isn’t yet the iconic vehicle to and of a brighter world, but it could and should be – there’s an empty space in the global imagination awaiting it to fill. Though the idea of the bicycle achieving globally iconic status might seem ridiculous, a hundred years ago the same might have been said about the car, and the bicycle’s deeply loved by people everywhere.
If we want a different world organised around the bicycle not the car, it’s our business to make it. Cycling’s global future depends partly on how successfully its advocates build and sell cycling as core to a better world; and for that we need bold and powerful visions.
Yet in Britain at least, no cycling advocacy organisation obviously and proudly struts an alternative global vision (the small, grassroots, activist-initiated Bicycology perhaps comes closest). CTC – the national cycling charity – endured the time of the car, and has (understandably) found ways of co-existing with it, though its recent ‘Cycletopia’ initiative seemed a tentative step in a more visionary direction. Sustrans gives tantalising glimpses of cycling as a route to a better world in its publicity material, but doesn’t really deliver more. A new organisation, the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain is less constrained, more impatient and ambitious, but has yet to develop a really compelling and inspiring vision of why transport cycling is worth fighting for. And although it’s become more common, even acceptable, to aim not for 2 but 25% of journeys by bike, it’s still unclear why.
This absence of big and persuasive stories about why we want more cycling is a problem for two reasons.
First, it means the value of cycling gets colonised by institutional agendas and ambitions. Institutions embracing cycling is no bad thing, but is it generating a bland, pragmatic and in the long-run counter-productive view of cycling? Is the dominant trope becoming of cycling fitting this world, rather than creating a route out, towards a better one? In projecting the idea that cycling belongs to the same world as today’s driving one, institutionalised cycling promotion prevents our getting somewhere else, cycling’s potential sold short and stymied.
Second, it’s hard to motivate and inspire without a vision. As advocates we should help people cycling feel part of something big and transformative – a movement changing the world for good. Then they won’t be ‘merely’ cycling; they’ll be on a mission, and might get more involved. But the absence of global and national visions for cycling is felt locally – cycle campaigns everywhere struggle against a tide of indifference when they could and should be trail-blazing vibrant, radical and inspiring visions for their districts.
At this local level, in Britain and elsewhere two styles of cycling advocacy tend to co-exist, often uneasily. In one, advocates view themselves as ‘cycling’s representatives’ and make suggestions for things that ought to be done (usually by others, mainly local government) for cycling, and complain about schemes (so many!) that fail to value cycling. Here, cycling is done to us, by those we lobby and to whom we protest; however much we love cycling, it becomes something given to us by others. With respect to everyone who engages in such advocacy work (and I’ve done my share), such advocacy gets cycling a few crumbs from transport’s table and achieves little beyond reproducing itself as marginal; it’s jaded, lacks vision and disempowers ourselves and others.
The other style of cycling advocacy is more obviously vision-led. Cycling is not done to us, we do cycling. Although it rarely finds its way into mainstream cycle campaigning this style of advocacy can be found in grassroots projects, often workers’ co-ops, across the world; and it is one to learn, adopt and adapt more widely.
How? I’m not sure, and I’m not pretending the necessary work is easy or obvious. But articulation of a global vision could start in our own backyards and involve two main tasks: the priority is to develop and strive to popularise a local vision based around the bicycle – we need to open to and convince not just others but also ourselves of a future where cycling is the practical, ethical and aesthetic glue joining things together; this could entail shifts to advocacy in artistic, literary and educational directions, to produce locally-pertinent and collectively-owned stories about cycling’s relevance to a fair and sustainable global future; the next step is to direct energies into projects making these locally-owned visions real. Like everything, the way to proceed is through practice, and to have fun! (Much advocacy is dour and dreary, when it could be exciting and so much more effective.)
It’s time to reclaim cycling for a cause more noble than getting people to work on time, time for visions inspiring more people to ‘really get cycling’ (by which I mean not just doing cycling, but having reasons why, reasons dictated not by government policy priorities but real thirst for change). Cycling advocacy influences cycling’s future, and so too the globe’s, so we must be bold and visionary.
Dream and demand too little and we’ll get less than cycling deserves – how depressing if more cycling doesn’t, when it so obviously could, change the world? So let’s work for a ‘cycling revolution’ which is no chimera, but real.
This post is based on a talk I gave on 23rd October 2013, at the AGM of Dynamo, Lancaster and District’s Cycling Campaign. Thanks to Dynamo for having me speak, and to all those who attended for such stimulating discussion. The art work is by Mona Caron – whilst I’m sure not alone, she’s the only artist I know of who has done work that embodies a clear vision of cycling-based futures.
This week Lancashire Police have started running a campaign, ‘Let’s Look Out for Each Other’, which amounts to the usual strange attempt to make drivers and people cycling ‘more aware of each other’, as if anyone riding a bike isn’t fully aware of the presence of motor vehicles, often travelling at speed and in close proximity.
The press release contains a quote from Chief Inspector Debbie Howard -
Figures show there is a 50/50 split in who is responsible for collisions and we want to highlight the common ground between cyclists and drivers, recognising that 80% of cyclists also hold a driving licence.
A Freedom of Information request has been made by StevenInLeyland, asking for this ’50/50′ claim to be substantiated. As the FoI request states, it flies in the face of other figures from the Transport Research Laboratory, which show motorists are solely at fault in bicycle/motor vehicle collisions in 60-75% of all cases. Thus far Lancashire Police have responded by claiming that their figures relate only to Lancashire, but no references have been produced.
This idea of ‘equal responsibility’ permeates the campaign; indeed, if anything, it seems that responsibility for ‘looking out’ is being placed firmly and squarely on the person riding a bike. This ‘Let’s Look Out for Each Other’ item focuses entirely on people cycling, with some strange tips. How is wearing a helmet going to help the process of ‘looking out for each other’, beyond mitigating the consequences of inattention?
The Lancashire Police Facebook page shows a similarly odd desire to focus on the behaviour of one party. Over the last three days, they’ve been posting these pictures. See if you can spot a pattern.
Only one of these – the last – is focused on drivers. The rest are aimed at people cycling, urging them to wear a helmet, get out of the way of people driving, or to make themselves increasingly visible. Indeed, the net effect of these exhortations is actually the opposite of ‘looking out’ – cladding people in reflective clothing is actually aimed at making it easier for motorists to be less attentive.
Yet more victim-blaming.
Late last year, the initial plans for Cycle Superhighway 5 were released by Transport for London. The Superhighway was routed over Vauxhall Bridge, and straight up Vauxhall Bridge Road, to Victoria station, where it ended as it met the current gyratory.
Unsurprisingly for a main road in London, Vauxhall Bridge Road is quite wide.
As it approaches Victoria, it does narrow slightly, although remains at least four lanes wide, with reasonably generous pavements on either side.
The initial TfL plans were not particularly ambitious, at least as far as cycling comfort was concerned. The route southbound was to be a combination of widened bus lane, and mandatory 2m cycle lane, and the northbound route would have been a 2m mandatory cycle lane, similar to that currently on Millbank. An important detail is that these arrangments would have seen the stripping out of the (intermittent) vehicle lanes on each side, leaving just a single lane for private motor traffic in either direction.
It now appears that these plans have been abandoned, and the Superhighway will be diverted away from Vauxhall Bridge Road, onto the adjacent Belgrave Road.
Now this wouldn’t necessarily be too much of a problem – Belgrave Road is only marginally less direct than Vauxhall Bridge Road.
But there are two troubling aspects here. The first is that a Superhighway on a main road in London has simply been abandoned because of the concerns of Westminster Council about ‘traffic capacity’, and residents’ concern about rat-running. In the words of Boris’s Cycling Commissioner, Andrew Gilligan,
… cycle superhighway 5 was planned to come from New Cross and Peckham, over Vauxhall Bridge and up Vauxhall Bridge Road, ending at Victoria.
Nobody liked that idea much, frankly. We would have had to remove some general traffic space on Vauxhall Bridge Road. Both Westminster City Council and local residents feared that that would cause extra congestion on the road itself, and lead to rat-running through Pimlico’s residential streets.
I didn’t much like the prospect of cyclists using Vauxhall Bridge Road, which is extremely busy and in the northbound direction requires you to cycle into the middle of the road, often in heavy traffic, to avoid being taken left into Drummond Gate. There’s also the Victoria end itself, which requires cyclists to navigate one of central London’s worst gyratories, especially chaotic at the moment (and for years to come) with the station rebuilding works.
So it seems that Westminster Council simply didn’t want motor traffic lanes to disappear on Vauxhall Bridge Road. Gilligan’s comments about Vauxhall Bridge Road being ‘extremely busy’ and having to ‘cycle into the middle of the road’ are, I think, just window dressing in an attempt to back up Westminster’s position, because a properly designed Superhighway should insulate anyone cycling from that busy traffic, and not require them to cycle on a blue stripe in the middle of the road, as originally designed. It should be possible to design a junction where cyclists can progress straight ahead in safety – if we can’t do this, we might as well just give up now.
The second issue of concern is that the route the Superhighway is being shunted onto is not going to be adjusted in any way to make it attractive for cycling. All that will happen here is the painting of the now familiar blue squares, intermittently on the road, which serve only for ‘wayfinding’. In Gilligan’s words -
Because Belgrave Road is fairly quiet, we wouldn’t need to make any changes to the road, apart from intermittent markings – square symbols every so often on the road surface to reassure cyclists that they were on the right route. There wouldn’t be any continuous lines of blue paint. There wouldn’t be any physical change to the vast majority of the road. There wouldn’t be any changes to the bus stops. And there wouldn’t be any loss of parking.
Well, frankly, this is ridiculous. Belgrave Road is only ‘fairly quiet’ by comparison with Vauxhall Bridge Road. It still carries over 8000 vehicles a day, which is about half the amount of motor traffic on Vauxhall Bridge Road. (Figures from the London Cycling Census Map show that Vauxhall Bridge Road carries around 17,500 motor vehicles per day.) So Belgrave Road is not a quiet road, at least by standards that would make it appropriate for cycling for all – and nowhere near the 2,000 PCUs per day recommended by new LCC guidance as appropriate for a road without physical segregation. (Another detail – will it even have a 20mph limit?)
I would expect that a substantial proportion, but not all, of the cyclists currently using Vauxhall Bridge Road will switch to the new route. So adding the switchers to the existing users, Belgrave Road might see perhaps 1600 a day.
But this doesn’t make much sense – given that nothing is fundamentally changing on Belgrave Road, it begs the question why people cycling on Vauxhall Bridge Road haven’t switched to Belgrave Road already. Some blue squares painted on the road aren’t going to make a jot of difference to the attractiveness of the route.
So something needs to give here – if the Vauxhall Bridge Road route is being abandoned, then Belgrave Road needs to be properly adapted, to make it suitable. There are simple ways to achieve this. The road could be made fully one-way for motor vehicles, to allow space for protected cycle tracks behind the existing parking (which wouldn’t need to be removed).
The road is already one-way only at the northern end, and residents would still be able to access their properties, albeit via a slightly more circuitous route.
Alternatively – as the residents claim to be concerned about ‘rat-running’ (remember, this is the reason given for not removing capacity on Vauxhall Bridge Road) – the road could be bollarded at intervals to cut out through traffic, while still allowing the Superhighway to pass through. This would improve the quality and safety of the street for local residents, while making it appropriate for a Superhighway.
It is not acceptable to shunt a Superhighway onto another street, and to assume that street, without any adjustment, is acceptable simply because it carries less motor traffic than the thunderous Vauxhall Bridge Road. The rhetoric contained in the Mayor’s Vision for Cycling is not being matched by policies on the ground. Some quotes from that document -
Timid, half-hearted improvements are out – we will do things at least adequately, or not at all.
Our policies will help all Londoners, whether or not they have any intention of getting on a bicycle. Our new bike routes are a step towards the Mayor’s vision of a ‘village in the city’, creating green corridors, even linear parks, with more tree-planting, more space for pedestrians and less traffic.
The next all-new Barclays Superhighway, the route currently named CS5 from Victoria to New Cross, is being further improved from the already-announced plans. Details of this and other improvements and reroutings will be announced soon.
This is a test of commitment. Will this stretch of Superhighway 5 be designed appropriately, or will it be yet another timid and half-hearted compromise of the kind we are so familiar with?
Because of this, the idea of a rain cape had interested me for a while. Due to the bloody awful noise made when cycling in most waterproof fabrics, I had my eye on a waxed cotton one, but was put off by the price, general lack of information and the fact that the few places which sold it all used the same rather crappy picture from the Carradice website. Eventually I found a good review of the cape on the Smut Peddler blog which has some more useful pictures of the cape as well as more information than the manufacturer was providing.
The Duxback poncho is offered in two sizes and without the ability to try one on in a shop before buying, I decided that the larger option would deb the safest bet. Sadly, at the time the larger model was unavailable from all of the relatively small number of suppliers who stock the item, but I was able to find a second hand one on eBay. Apart from needing some re-proofing at the seams, the second-hand poncho was in very good condition.
Thankfully, the same blog which had the review of the cape also had an overview of re-proofing the cape 18 months later. After shopping around, I could not find the Carradice re-proofing wax from any supplier who didn’t wish to charge me as much again for delivery, so I decided to buy a larger pot of Barbour Thornproof Dressing which included delivery, totalling about the same amount as the Carradice wax. So far I have not noticed any ill-effects due to going ‘off-brand’ and I have plenty left for re-proofing saddlebags etc.
Usage of rain capes seems to have died out in the UK around the time that the bicycle industry decided to re-designate mudguards from ‘bicycle components’ to ‘bicycle accessories,’ but it is still going strong in parts of the world where bicycles are a mainstream mode of transport. Having finally tried a rain cape for myself I have found it to be the least uncomfortable and most practical bit of rainwear I have used. What makes the rain cape bearable is that the whole bottom of the cape is open to the circulation of air, preventing the awful sauna-suit effect which jackets and over-trousers invariably result in. In combination with mudguards (obviously) it does a good job of keeping the water off of most of you, your saddle and your handlebars, in addition to keeping the windchill off your hands. Compared to riding a Brompton with a bag on the front, the extra drag from wind and air resistance is not that bad, although I have yet to try the cape in strong winds.
Unfortunately, the rain cape does make you look like a it of a tit. This is exacerbated somewhat when combined with a small-wheeled bike like the Brompton, so if being laughed at by groups of Year 7 pupils is not something you are able to stomach, this is probably not the product for you. However, if like me you can live with looking a bit odd and have never previously managed to find a satisfactory bit of rainwear, this might be the thing for you.
Below I post a scan of Chapter 9 from “Death on the Streets: cars and the mythology of road safety“. Since the subject of cyclist and pedestrian conspicuity has raised such interest, I took another look at the evidence for conspicuity aids such as h-viz clothing, and the context in which the advocacy of such items occurs. In the twenty years since publication, I am not aware of any fresh evidence which contradicts the conclusions to this Chapter, or the Precaution which I suggest is taken when considering advocacy of hi-viz.
(Double click on each page/double page to read)
Yesterday was Risk Day in Birmingham’s Town Hall with numerous events and speakers focused on the theme. My contribution was rewarded with a conference T-shirt.
I suggested that since The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has its headquarters in Birmingham they might like to come over to take part in a discussion of Britain’s seat belt law. Sadly the chair provided for them remained unoccupied.
They will never get the T-shirt. Had they shown up I would have asked them to justify the absurd claim on their website that Britain’s seat belt law has saved 60,000 lives: “We were instrumental in the introduction of the first seat belt law in 1983, with the compulsory wearing of seatbelts thought to have saved 60,000 lives.”
RoSPA’s persistence with a claim that have to know is nonsense – http://www.john-adams.co.uk/2013/02/11/open-letter-to-tom-mullarkey-ceo-of-the-royal-society-for-the-prevention-of-accidents/ – is a deepening mystery. For more on seat belts see – http://www.john-adams.co.uk/category/seat-belts/ .
Our last post has generated more visits than any other. I refer to some comments received and a couple of news items below:
The post stirred memories for Charlie Lloyd of Australia in the 1960s where thousands of free yellow raincoats were handed out by the police (“I have a vague memory that this campaign was dropped after a year or two due to no measurable effect on casualties”) along with a catchy song. That in turn reminded me of “Wear Something Light at Night” I can half remember the tune of this campaign from the 60s - Be safe be bright, wear something light, Wear something light at night! – the advice to carry out a rolled up newspaper or “ a shopping bag will do as well” and my schoolgirl cousin distraught that she did not have the recommended white raincoat.
Of course, this could just have stuck with me because I have a professional and academic interest in “road safety” publicity. But I think the point is that this kind of material, presented to impressionable young people leaves an imprint, plays a crucial role in the construction of “road safety” ideology. In this case assisting in the usual shift of responsibility from those with the greatest potential lethality to those most at risk from it is about “being seen” As Julian Beach put it with a specific example and an associated thought experiment:
“There seems to be a gradual shift from looking to making things more visible, and a consequent shift in responsibility from the person who should be looking to the people who need to be seen. Daylight Running Lights on cars are probably the worse example of this, because they make those without DRLs less visible; particularly cyclists, who get lost in the mass of glaring white LEDs. Perhaps if we replaced high-output car headlamps with candles, people would drive more carefully!”
Fonant raised an interesting point:
“The problem of high-viz becoming “normal” may well cause problems the other way too: what should the emergency services wear to distinguish themselves from members of the public? This could already be a problem: in a crowd of people you can no longer expect the people in high-viz to be emergency service professionals, they may just be cyclists or school children.”
And with another example:
“Clearly, as with many “road safety” initiatives, the encouragement of high-viz is just another “arms race”. We used to have speed limit signs with a red border round a white circle with the limit. Then they added bright yellow backgrounds to make the signs “more visible”, and then they started painting roundels on the carriageway too. Now we even have roundels with red backgrounds on the carriageways, and motorists hardly notice the original speed limit signs anymore!”
Finally, echoing the central cautionary point we were making:
We have to stop pandering to the inattentive motorist, so that they are allowed to become even more inattentive, and we must start punishing motorists who don’t look where they’re going properly”
Let’s see how this relates to a story that was reported two days ago.A case of impaired vision?
: “The family of a journalist who was hit and killed by a short-sighted driver who was not wearing his glasses have branded the justice system “ridiculous” after his dangerous driving charge was dropped.
Laurence Gunn, 32, was struck and hurled into the air by Mohammed Rashid’s Ford Focus in the centre of a zebra crossing in Hampstead on March 3 last year. Mr. Gunn, from Maida Vale, was knocked unconscious when he landed and died in hospital from head injuries the following day.
Rashid, 23, was not wearing his glasses at the time — a condition of his being allowed to drive. Judge Aidan Marron QC ruled last week at Blackfriars crown court that the prosecution had failed to bring enough evidence to prove Rashid had caused death by “dangerous” driving. Instead, Rashid pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of causing death by careless driving.”.
Now, consider this report from December 2012 in road.cc :
Nearly 6000 drivers had their licences revoked in 2011 because their eyesight was so poor, a 10 per cent rise on the previous year – and among bus and lorry drivers a 39 per cent rise. 5,285 licences for cars and motorbikes and 685 lorry and bus drivers’ licences were stopped last year because holders could not pass a standard eye test.
Transport minister Stephen Hammond told the Mail Online: “Licensing rules have an important part to play in keeping our roads safe. We must make sure that only those who are safe to drive are allowed on our roads while at the same time avoiding placing unnecessary restrictions on people’s independence. “
“All drivers must meet certain minimum eyesight standards. There are additional checks for drivers of large goods vehicles and passenger carrying vehicles, which we strictly enforce. This is to protect the driver and other road users given their size, the number of passengers and the likely additional distance and time spent on the road.”
Labour MP Meg Munn said in Parliament: “A recent report showed that in 2010 road accidents caused by poor driver vision resulted in an estimated 2,874 casualties.These figures provide information on how many drivers who have come forward and reported problems with their vision to the DVLA had their licenses revoked or refused.“I will be continuing to seek further information to ensure that robust measures are in place to check drivers’ vision, so we can continue to improve road safety. For most people it is simply a matter of getting their eyes tested to ensure they have glasses or contact lenses if required.”
The responsibility is on drivers to state when their eyesight is too bad to drive, but police can undertake roadside vision tests.Under Department for Transport rules, all drivers should be able to read a number plate from 20 metres away, with glasses or contact lenses if necessary. They should also be able to pass an eye test with an optician and have an adequate field of vision. (my emphases).
In my book “Death on the Streets: cars and the mythology of road safety” I referred in my chapter on this subject to evidence (p.145) that between one and million motorists were then estimated to be unable to pass the existing eyesight test. As the case has not been tried (and is sub judice) we don’t know if not wearing glasses was the reason for Mohammed Rashid driving into Laurence Gunn.
What we do know is that there is no evidence to suggest that the number of one to two million has come down. It is indeed the case that “police can undertake roadside vision tests” – but how often does this happen – have you been stopped in a random check by police? I doubt that this happens in an effective way, no doubt because the motoring lobby (along with the “road safety” lobby) is “at the same time avoiding placing unnecessary restrictions on people’s independence”. (Which “people”, we might ask).
But the issue, in my view, is not so much the inability to see because of defective vision, as the inability because of driving too fast or other forms of rule and law breaking.
Even that is only part of the problem: the real issue has to be watching out for other road users.
And how much of this is less likely to happen because of the process of shifting that responsibility away from drivers as part of the hi-viz advocacy and associated campaigning?
With the opening of the Superhighway 2 Extension yesterday, I found myself looking through some photographs of Stratford High Street, before the new cycle tracks appeared. This one in particular caught my attention -
Now that cycle tracks have been built on this road (in place of one of the vehicle lanes) this kind of behaviour will almost certainly disappear – there will be no need to cycle on the pavement, now that attractive conditions for cycling exist away from it.
Pavement cycling in the Netherlands is, to all practical purposes, non-existent, for precisely this reason. There is no need to cycle on a pavement because there will be a much more suitable alternative beside it, both in terms of comfort and attractiveness.
These are all busy roads with – in particular – a high volume of bus traffic. Without cycle tracks a significant proportion of these people would either be cycling on the pavement, or would not be cycling at all. The presence of cycle tracks creates pedestrian environments that are free from uncertain interactions with people cycling.
By contrast, when the pavement is the most attractive place for cycling on a given road or street, we should not be surprised when people choose to cycle on it, regardless of potential fines or penalties.
Indeed, if there is a problem with pavement cycling in a given area, it is an almost certain sign that conditions for cycling there are far from attractive for the vast majority of people. The proper response in these kinds of situations should not be to clamp down, or to increase patrols and fining operations – not least because this would be a disproportionate use of police resources. (Although of course I am not arguing that genuinely anti-social and dangerous cycling on the pavement should not be dealt with).
Instead it should be to create a safe and inviting environment for cycling, for anyone who wishes to ride. As Dave Horton has argued
Pavement cyclists aren’t seen as heroes, but perhaps they should be… in Britain we are taught that pavement cycling is a problem and that it’s wrong; though in truth it is neither. Today, Bradley Wiggins is the great hero of British cycling, and I hope he enjoys all the adulation he richly deserves. But in the meantime, the great unsung heroes of British cycling – pavement cyclists – bravely pedal on, or try to any which way they can. They are not celebrated; they are seen as deviant, and are demonised.
Because the vast majority of people feel there is nowhere safe to ride, everyday cycling across the UK is being very effectively and very systematically blocked. Much premature talk of ‘a cycling revolution’ conveniently ignores the fact that a big majority of people are afraid to cycle, and will not start anytime soon unless something fundamentally changes. In the meantime, in most places most of the people who do ride a bicycle do so (either always or mainly) on the pavements. They ride either because they have no alternative – for example, needing to get to shift work (rendering public transport infeasible) at a location beyond walking distance – or because they actually like cycling but they just don’t like cycling in roads full of cars, trucks and buses.
The people in the pictures above are cycling despite the conditions, not because of them. Their journeys – and the trips of the people on foot that they are cycling around – should be made easier and more pleasant. Separating cycling from motor traffic benefits pedestrians, as well as those on bikes. An ideal way to make common cause with pedestrian groups?
Wearing hi-viz apparel in the UK probably started on the railways in the 1960s. So that train drivers and track workers could see each other from further away, the fronts of trains were painted yellow, and the workers donned hi-viz jackets. In the following decades it gradually spread – first to traffic policemen, then to all the emergency services, then to other outdoor workers.
Some individual cyclists and motorcyclists thought it must be a good idea, and it wasn’t long before schools started using it when moving a group of child pedestrians around.
Now, they’re doing it for pets and even chickens as well as shoelace reflectors fro school kids.Compulsory use of hi-viz is already a reality for many workers and children. One of us has been required to wear hi-viz when visiting towpath surfacing works, presumably so that digger drivers could see me better. There’s a real possibility that hi-viz could become compulsory for cyclists .
The obvious questions that arise – or rather, the questions that should be asked, are:
- What is the evidence that wearing hi-viz is a sensible precaution, and in what circumstances?
- What are the consequences of use of hi-viz for those who don’t wear it?
- In a culture which accepts hi-viz wearing as normal and desirable, what is the effect on the safety and well-being of cyclists and pedestrians generally?
On railways, there’s a clear benefit from being seen as far away as possible. Trains take a long time to stop, and drivers normally don’t expect people on the track. And lack of sharp bends means that drivers can see to a point where you might be visible in hi-viz and invisible without it. The same can apply on motorways – drivers aren’t expecting pedestrians, are going fast, and have long sightlines.
(Note: The key element here is what drivers expect.)
But what about ordinary roads – such as a bending A-road with a 50 or 60 mph limit? Sometimes sightlines are long, but often they will be shortened by sharp bends. Lights can sometimes be seen round bends at night, but hi-viz can’t – day or night. So hi-viz is a poor substitute for lights in this situation. The only safe way is for drivers to be able to stop in the space they can see to be clear. The most basic rule of safe driving, in the Highway Code and elsewhere, is to “Never drive in such a way that you cannot stop within visible distance“.
At town driving speeds, drivers can stop within 10 metres. Are there any circumstances under which you would be visible in hi-viz and invisible without, when that close? Does it help (bends permitting) to be seen 50 or 100 metres away in this situation? By definition the motor vehicle that collides with you is rather close
Cyclists have questions to answer too. “Being seen” is not just a question of the driver seeing you because they have been actively working to do see you – or to put it another way, watching out for you – but you putting yourself in a position where they are more likely to do so. Hence the emphasis on taking the correct position in modern assertive cycle training
In a 2012 paper, (Miller, P (2012) The use of conspicuity aids by cyclists and the risk of crashes involving other road users: a population based case-control study. Miller tried to analyse the actual effect on cyclist casualties of wearing or not wearing hi-vis. To the surprise of many, he found that there was no statistically significant benefit – in fact he measured a non-significant disbenefit, after controlling for all the factors he could. The study was a case-control study, and therefore very susceptible to confounding factors, especially as riders who choose to wear hi-viz are likely to be more risk-averse than those who don’t. This would tend to reduce the apparent risk of cycling wearing hi-viz as against not wearing it, but this wasn’t found.
So it’s far from clear that there’s any safety benefit to cyclists from wearing hi-viz in urban areas, where most collisions happen.What are the consequences of use of hi-viz for those who don’t wear it?
As the fashion for hi-viz has spread, is it far-fetched to suggest that this will have adverse effects on those who don’t use it? It is surely a reasonable hypothesis that drivers become used to seeing cyclists and pedestrians as people who are going to be wearing bright clothing and/or hi-viz will become less likely to watch out for and therefore see those who don’t. The big losers here will be pedestrians, as smaller proportions of walkers will volunteer to wear hi-viz for what is still seen (so far) as a normal, non-hazardous activity.
People, as readers of this blog should now know, adapt to what is around them.In a culture which accepts hi-viz wearing as normal and desirable, what is the effect on the safety and well-being of cyclists and pedestrians generally?
We now deal with the longer term effects of this move. There limited resources in a society which can be used to address safety issues. A significant part of this effort – both through formal “road safety” agencies and in everyday culture – is to instruct those potential victims of road danger to think of themselves as at least partly responsible for being hit by a motor vehicle if they are not wearing hi-viz. We would suggest that this, along with other trends to place the burden of responsibility away from the source of danger on the road to those at particular risk from it.
Previously we have argued that this fashion needs to be seen in its political dimension (small “p” for the power relationship between different road user groups). Does it not make sense to suggest that this fashion feeds into and exacerbates the classis excuse of SMIDSY (Sorry Mate, I Didn’t See You)?A precaution BMW Education If
Does it not seems a sensible precaution to view the advocacy and wearing of hi-viz as indeed a victim-blaming red herring and part of the problem of danger on the roads?
(This post is by Dr. Robert Davis and Colin McKenzie)
In September last year, the chief executive of Next, Lord Wolfson – also a Conservative Party donor and former advisor, who happens to be married to an aide to George Osborne – wrote an opinion column in the Times (£), calling for growth (or rather, particular policies to create growth). He wrote
The central problem is that many are blind to the wealth that could be created by better infrastructure and housing. Ask any Londoner: what would happen to the capital’s economy if the North Circular Road, Westway flyover, Dartford Tunnel and M25 were all permanently closed? They would instantly comprehend the permanent damage to businesses, jobs and wealth, not to mention the misery it would impose on those living in the city. Yet we find it hard to imagine the vast amount of wealth that could be created by building new roads, flyovers and tunnels.
The Westway is, funnily enough, one of the few bits of the inner London ‘Motorway Box’ that actually got built. (If you haven’t seen this excellent film about the extraordinary, aborted, Ringway project, then it’s well worth a watch). By Wolfson’s logic, the failure to flatten vast swathes of London to create ‘proper’ roads back in the 1960s and 1970s has somehow inhibited the economic growth of London.
But the Westway is only superficially ‘integral’ to London’s transport because… it’s there. If you build a nice big flyover that allows you to speed in to central London by car from west London (and indeed from out of London) then obviously people are going to start using it. And using it. And using it. Until it fills up with the people making these kinds of trips.
The lack of ‘Westways’ in the rest of central London hasn’t inhibited growth, because people have found other ways to get into the city, and to move about it. Trains. The underground. Buses. Dare I say it – bikes. And of course on foot. Modes of transport that are just as effective at getting you from A to B, without the horrendous visual intrusion, noise and blight that accompanies the Westway. They’re just more efficient, and more appropriate to a city. They also leave space on the road network for essential trips – deliveries, and so on, as well as for the kind of people who are just going to go on driving anyway.
So the lesson of the Westway is actually the opposite of what Wolfson thinks it is. He thinks taking it away would cause catastrophic economic collapse, when in fact it’s a relic, a tiny fraction of a system that didn’t get built, while London carried on functioning without it. Rather than building more Westways, we should stop and look at how London functions without them. And indeed how other cities function without flyovers within them, while cities like Los Angeles remain clogged, despite vast road-building programmes (this was something Jane Jacobs appreciated even back in the 1960s).
But this isn’t the lesson Wolfson wants to learn. In the same Times article, he goes on to write -
There is an intellectual battle that must be fought and won before any real progress can be made. Until the country comes to truly accept that building faster roads and new family homes creates wealth, it will always be an uphill battle for governments to develop them.
If we can win this argument, the potential for wealth-creating development is vast. We could build a series of flyovers into central London, allowing the wealth of the capital to spread outwards. For example a “Southway” could allow people to drive from Croydon to Westminster in just 12 minutes.
Yes, he really wants to build a flyover from Croydon to Westminster, so people can drive into central London in 12 minutes. Where would all these motor vehicles go once they had arrived there? What would be destroyed to construct these roads?
The problem is that Wolfson only sees the ‘whizzy fast car trips!’ and ‘investment!’ side of the equation, not the ‘are you sure that’s really a good idea?’ side. There’s nothing wrong with investment; you just have to make sure you’re investing in projects that aren’t idiotic.
Fast forward a year, and it seems Wolfson is still peddling the same message – Turn Your City into a Carscape for Economic Success! He was recently the guest speaker at the Sheffield Chamber Commerce of Industry’s Presidents Dinner. You can watch his speech here. Talking about economic growth in Sheffield, he argues
The potential’s there, but it’s got to be done right. And doing things right means giving people what they want. And there is an extraordinary appetite across the whole country for planners to give people things that they don’t quite want. So let’s just some up exactly what they want.
They want access. They want to be able to drive quickly to and from the city centre. They want plenty of parking. They’d preferably want a covered area. People don’t like being in the rain. So cover an area, as they have done in Leeds….
… They want it to be safe. They’d prefer not to be run over. They’d like to be able to push their buggies without the risk of a lorry mounting the kerb and mowing down their young family.
It’s easy to come up with designs that allow people to drive quickly into a town or city centre, with plentiful parking, and without too much damage to the quality of life, if you are starting from scratch with a new town. Houten is a good example of how a town can be simultaneously easy to drive into and out of, and yet retain the essential features that make it a pleasant place to live. Milton Keynes is a good example of how to do it badly.
But Wolfson is talking about established cities, where people live already, and where the road network is simply not set up to deal with a vast amount of motor traffic – the kind of motor traffic that would be generated if you ‘give people what they want’, in his words (and are we sure people do want huge roads going straight into the centre of Westminster, or Sheffield, with accompanying plentiful car parks?). This would require destruction on a vast scale – something he is at least honest about – and also would result in another kind of destruction, the destruction of the attractiveness and amenity of the places that Wolfson thinks should accommodate unlimited motor traffic.
It’s the transport version of killing the goose. We need investment in infrastructure that improves the quality of urban life, not reduces it.
Towards the end of the Ranty Highwayman’s excellent summary of a recent Institute of Civil Engineer’s lecture in London about cycling infrastructure, he makes an interesting observation, based on the two talks given by TfL staff during the evening -
TfL is in turmoil over providing for cycling, but not wanting to reduce unrestricted access for vehicles – something has to give, even on a street by street basis.
I assume he got this impression from the way the two TfL speakers emphasised ‘competing demands’ on the road network. In particular, Michèle Dix – the managing director of planning – stated that there ‘aren’t enough roads’ in London to meet all the demands being placed on them, and concluded her talk with a mention of how TfL are looking at ‘the business case’ (the very expensive business case) for burying major roads in the ground.
The background to this is that TfL’s roads are at capacity. Anyone who watched the BBC’s Route Masters programme earlier this year would have seen how even minor incidents cause complete chaos. One of the traffic managers featured in the programme professed his own amazement at the amount of motor traffic they manage to push through London’s roads.
The calls for Space for Cycling have to be seen against this background; one of motor traffic capacity stretched to breaking point. Any ‘extra’ demands placed on the network are a serious headache – this is presumably why Dix was talking about there not being enough roads, and building new ones (even putting them underground), at a lecture about cycling infrastructure.
These recent Tweets also caught my attention -
— Shaun McDonald (@smsm1) October 25, 2013
— Shaun McDonald (@smsm1) October 25, 2013
Of course the problem here is that TfL continue to see cycling as something ‘extra’ to be accommodated, rather than a way of relieving pressure on the network by shifting motor vehicle journeys to more efficient modes. This is an attitude shared by the Mayor himself; earlier this year, he was interview by BBC Newsnight, as part of their feature on Britain ‘Going Dutch’. He stated
Of course I believe in segregation, where it’s possible to do. But we don’t have – in the centre of London particularly – enough roadspace to consecrate entirely to cyclists.
Ignoring the fact this simply isn’t true, this comment is revealing, in that it demonstrates the Mayor’s failure to grasp that if you genuinely don’t have ‘enough roadspace’, it’s all the more important to make more space-efficient modes of transport attractive and obvious.
I think it is this failure to see cycling as the solution, rather than as a problematic ‘extra’ demand on the network, that explains both these kinds of comments, and also the attitudes exhibited by both Mayor Johnson and Sir Peter Hendy (the Transport for London Commissioner) last week on matters of cycling safety.
Interviewed by BBC News following a coroner’s investigation into the deaths of two cyclists on Superhighway 2, Hendy insisted that
The primary cause of the terrible accident for poor Mr Dorling was that he and the tipper went through a red light. We do need to make sure that road layouts are safe – as safe as they can be. We’ve altered it once, and no doubt we’ll alter it again.
The BBC’s Tom Edwards challenged him on this point, arguing that in this particular case the lights were irrelevant, as, ‘red or green’, Brian Dorling would have been in precisely the same dangerous position when both he and the lorry progressed through the junction. Hendy was adamant -
No. If you cycle or drive through a red light you’re likely to have an accident.
There’s not much to say on this, beyond the fact that Hendy is wrong, and Tom Edwards and the Coroner are right. If the lorry driver and Brian Dorling were both progressing through the junction on red, then they could just as easily have been in identical positions with respect to each other if they were moving under a green signal. The same terrible result would have occurred with both moving through the junction legally. Hendy is obviously an intelligent man, so this point can not be lost on him.
His willingness to maintain the red light violation as ‘the primary cause’ smacks of deliberate obfuscation of the issue; a convenient way for Transport for London to avoid admitting that their design is at fault, and also to limit the scope of calls for redesigns across the rest of the TfL network.
We’ve seen before how both Boris and Transport for London are keen to focus on mistakes by either drivers or cyclists as the reasons for deaths and injuries on the roads, and this latest response falls into this same pattern. Blaming people is convenient, because it means that little has to change. The roads can stay the same; no space has to be reallocated for cycling; no cycle- and pedestrian-specific crossing phases have to be added. The emphasis instead is on education and training – trading places events, posters, and more ‘awareness’ are relatively cheap and easy ways to respond, and don’t involve disruption to the road network.
It’s this attitude that lies behind Boris’s infamous assertion that major gyratories in London are fine to cycle around ‘if you keep your wits about you.’ By implication, the responsibility for safety lies with the individuals using the roads, not with the people who design them. That comment was made nearly two years ago, but in spite of all the fine words in the Mayor’s Cycling Vision document published earlier this year, it doesn’t seem that Boris’s outlook towards cycling has changed all that much. That document contained this inspiring passage from Boris, in the Introduction -
we must now greatly increase our provision for cyclists – and, above all, for the huge numbers of Londoners who would like to cycle, but presently feel unable to.
Yet the evidence available at the moment suggests a deep unwillingness – both on his part, and on the part of TfL, which he controls – to adjust London’s road network in favour of cycling, and more precisely, in favour of this excluded group.
At Mayor’s Question Time last week he made some comments that suggest he has completely forgotten the language of the Mayor’s Vision. Quizzed by AM John Biggs about whether the desperately poor Superhighway 2 would now be converted to a fully segregated route, all the way from Bow Roundabout to Aldgate (in other words, to make it suitable for all potential users, not the current small group of the fit and the brave), Boris responded,
This is always going to be an extremely difficult challenge for us on the streets of London, and no solution will ever be perfect. We will do our best, we will invest what it takes, but I can’t guarantee to Londoners that we are going to be able to produce segregation everywhere that it is desired. I’m afraid that is simply not a realistic objective, just because there isn’t the roadspace to do it.
An echo of his comments on the BBC’s Newsnight programme. Biggs clearly wasn’t having any of this -
On CS2 there is the space on the highway to provide for segregation, and I think that that would make sense. I’m particularly struck by the comment from the Coroner… that the CS2, with its design, creates a false sense of safety, or security, for cyclists, who see the blue markings as an indication that they’ve been thought about, and that they have the right of way, where in some circumstances they don’t.”
Biggs is right. There is an enormous amount of space along the entirety of this section of Superhighway 2 to create safe, dedicated space for cycling, rather than meaningless blue stripe that forms nearly the entirety of this route at present.
This road is four lanes wide, with a wide central median, and with very wide footways – something has to give if Transport for London (and Mayor Johnson) – are actually serious about cycling becoming a safe and attractive option for all Londoners, rather than just paying lip service to it.
But Boris’s response to this point was, frankly, abysmal.
Look, I totally accept that the way you have framed the dilemma is completely right. The dilemma is, could we have a system in London where, on lots of these roads – and CS2 is an example – you created a segregated cycle lane…. The difficulty is that in many cases… you take away a huge amount of road space and you perhaps don’t even deliver the safety improvements that you desire. Because – speaking as a daily cyclist – I think that one of the problems that I think many full-time cyclists have with the segregated option is that they don’t actually always use the segregated gullies. And I’m not convinced that it would be the knock-out solution that some people suggest it would be.”
Extraordinarily Boris is using the low quality of the ‘segregated gullies’ that do exist in London – the ones that are not attractive for ‘full-time cyclists’ like him – as the very reason for not doing things properly. Of course if people avoid ‘segregated gullies’, that is because they are not good enough.
This isn’t the first time that Boris has used crap provision in London as a basis for arguing that busy roads, with multiple lanes full of heavy traffic, are where people might actually prefer to be. The chutzpah is astonishing. It’s his job to sort out that crap provision, not to use it as an excuse for doing nothing. People in London should not have to choose between unpleasant, traffic-filled roads or deeply substandard infrastructure – yet Boris appears to be using the existence of the latter as a reason to avoid doing anything about providing an alternative to the former.
Later in the Question Time session, AM Jenny Jones drew Boris’s attention to two new schemes, the Cobden Junction in Camden, and the Tottenham Hale gyratory. She referred to the removal of cycle lanes on the High Road – I think she actually meant to refer to the situation on Broad Lane.
On this point, Boris responded
Speaking as a cyclist, [the removal of the cycles lanes] would be a good thing, in my view.
This is on a road that carries a large amount of motor traffic, including a high proportion of HGVs and buses. Once again Boris – deliberately or otherwise – is using his own personal standard of what is is acceptable as the basis for what universal cycling provision should be.
All of these noises – coming both from the Mayor and Transport for London – are deeply unpromising. They want to keep the status quo.