I’ve just spotted that Transport for London’s new Draft Cycle Safety Action Plan attempts to pull the same trick that Norman Baker and Mike Penning tried to pull back in 2012.
That is, it makes a comparison between cycle safety in London and Amsterdam (along with other cities) on the basis of deaths per head of population, rather than deaths per total distance travelled by bike (or by total time spent travelling by bike).
Here’s the graph in question, from page 10 of the Plan -
Followed by the helpful explanation -
Internationally, in terms of cyclist fatalities per million population (Figure 2), London had fewer cyclist fatalities in 2012 than many other cities such as Amsterdam and New York.
So, looking at this graph, you might think that London (in yellow) is fantastically safe! Just look how much lower the number of fatalities there are, compared to Amsterdam, per capita. London had just 1.7 cycling fatalities in 2012 per million population, where Amsterdam had 6.5 – nearly four times higher.
But of course this is an entirely misleading comparison. It doesn’t take into account the fact that, across London, cycling only accounts for around 2% of all trips made, whereas in Amsterdam cycling accounts for nearly 40% of all trips made. There is much, much more cycling in Amsterdam per capita, so comparing cycling fatalities purely on a per capita basis is absurd. It’s like concluding it’s much safer to cycle in London than in Amsterdam if you have a Dutch name, because many more people with Dutch names are killed cycling in Amsterdam than in London.
This is the same logic that led Mike Penning to argue
I think the Netherlands may want to come and see us, to see how we are making sure that so few people are killed cycling
And (more recently) Denis McShane to suggest
— Denis MacShane (@DenisMacShane) July 7, 2014
How much of this is down to stupidity or dishonesty is hard to tell. You would certainly think Transport for London and a Transport Under-Secretary (as Penning was, at the time) should know better.
The other thing that’s worth mentioning here – beyond the failure to use an appropriate rate – is that, in Amsterdam, children and the elderly (both more vulnerable groups, for different reasons) ride bikes in large numbers.
24% of all trips made by Dutch over-65s are cycled, while in London 95% of over-65s never cycle. If people that are, in general, more frail – and more likely to suffer death than a younger person in an equivalent incident – aren’t cycling at all, that will have a further skewing effect on casualty figures.
One of the principles of the Dutch approach to road safety – sustainable safety, or duurzaam veiling – is homogeneity. Homogeneity of mass, speed and direction.
Roads should be designed to eliminate, as much as possible, mixing road users with large differences in speed and mass in the same space. So, for example, relatively slow pedestrians should not have to mix with relatively fast bikes, and relatively light bicycles should not have to mix with relatively heavy buses or HGVs. Likewise road users who travel slowly should not be expected to share space with vehicles travelling considerably faster.
It appears this principle has been grasped by the Freight Transport Association, who argue
we believe there is evidence confirming that road safety will be improved if the differential between HGVs and other road users is reduced.
Except… the measure the GTA are welcoming involves reducing the speed differential by shifting lorries to a higher speed, so they are travelling at the same speed as smaller motor traffic.
Conveniently the FTA seem to have overlooked those ‘other road users’ who will still be travelling at around 15mph, or slower, for whom this move to higher speed limits for HGVs will distinctly worsen their safety, according to the logic that the FTA themselves accept. The speed differential between people walking, cycling and horse-riding, and HGVs, is being increased.
Sustainable safety – the British way!
I have already discussed the basic problem of how “road safety” measures and generally conceptualises the safety of cyclists. But a further element of this needs consideration. By looking at the people who are hurt or killed rather than those hurting or killing them, crucial issues for other road users are avoided. Consider these issues:1.Speed
“Excessive, illegal or inappropriate speed of the other vehicle involved does not appear to be a major factor in cycling collisions.” (p.16)
Speed is indeed not implicated in most cyclist Serious Injuries in London. But this is because most cycling in London is concentrated in inner London where speeds are low. Motor vehicle speeds are higher in outer London where there is little cycling. That doesn’t mean that speed is not an issue there – indeed, high speeds may be a deterrent and one of the reasons for relatively low uptake there. The suggestion would then be that speed control (or separate cycle paths on higher speed roads if speeds can’t be reduced) is indeed an issue.
But the more important issue is that excess speed is discussed solely in terms of its effects on (existing) cyclists. Speed has been a preoccupation for transport professionals concerned with safety from the beginning. Even Colin Buchanan, architect of the car-centred urban transport systems of the 1960s onwards, advocated default urban speed limits of 20 mph. Would it not make sense to be part of initiatives for speed control and 20 mph which primarily benefit pedestrians? If you look at reducing danger at source you would do that – for the benefit of the safety of all road users. If you concentrate on cyclists as casualties, you miss out on that.
2. Other law breaking
A key feature of focussing on those hurt or killed – essentially a victim-focused approach – is that it easily slips into victim-blaming. I have argued that this is a feature of the emphasis on hi-viz clothing for cyclists and pedestrians here, here , and here ,for example. Despite the lack of evidence for the value of hi-viz, we have measure 12: TfL will work with manufacturers and cycle businesses to help cyclists be safe by: challenging cycle manufacturers to increase the conspicuity of bicycles, for example building into the frame… retro-reflective equipment…, through innovator seminars.
On the same theme, there is a strong focus on lights, which are at least a legal requirement.
2007 -2011 fatalities. Fourteen of the collisions in the sample (26%) occurred in darkness or partial light, and in half of these collisions the cyclist did not have lights. Bicycle lights are a mandatory requirement and this lack of compliance needs to be addressed Page19
But how important is this issue for cyclists in London as what might be considered a cause of collisions? Firstly, the analysis I have carried out in one London borough (confidentiality required by use of official figures means I can’t name it) indicates that in no more than 1.5% of cases is contributory factor 506 (non-use of lights) a factor for all casualties (see this ). Secondly, while I might have taken an unrepresentative borough, at least some 300 casualties’ were looked at, rather than some 64.
But most important, a detailed manual analysis – easily done with small numbers – would show whether this factor was actually key to the collision occurring. Was the behaviour of the cyclist and other road user(s) exemplary apart from the non-use of lights? Was it the case that an alert driver capable of seeing unlit pedestrians on typical well-lit urban roads would be unable to see an unlit cyclist?
5. Close overtaking during 2010-12 Conflict rank Manoeuvre description Seriously injured casualties (% of total) Fatal casualties (% of total) 1 Other vehicle turns right across path of cyclist 219 (13%) 2 (5%) 2 Cyclist and other vehicle travelling alongside each other. 180 (11%) 4 (10%) 3 Cyclist hits open door / swerves to avoid open door of other vehicle. 160 (10%) 3 (7.5%) 4 Other vehicle turns left across the path of cyclist 134 (8%) 9 (23%) 5 Other vehicle disobeys junction control & turns right into path of cyclist 114 (7%) 0 (0%)
One of the key complaints from cyclists is that drivers constantly overtake without giving enough room. Conflict types 2 and 4, covering some 20% of cyclist KSIs, involve changing driver behavior here. Some of this can be solved by segregation, but since this is not going to happen on most roads in London (and would take decades to install anyway even if desired) there is clearly scope for addressing the issue.
“give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car (see Rules 211 to 213 and 214 to 215).”. Lengthy discussion with MPS officers indicate that there are problems in addressing this without specific distances given, but there is apparently precedent with regard to cyclist “wobble-room” being required when overtaking. At the very least: Is it really too much to expect some sort of police activity in this key area when officers have been giving (misguided) advice to cyclists on helmets etc. in Operation Safeway?
And also… “16: TfL will extend the safety principles of FORS”
Given the amount of time taken to get TfL to see sense over the “Cyclists stay back” stickers and the fact that they (with a new variant above) are still around, one hopes that these principles are properly sorted out.
“Although TfL is taking the lead to make roads safer, TfL cannot achieve safe cycling for all alone. Ninety five per cent of London’s streets are the responsibility of London’s boroughs, making them essential to the success of this draft plan.”. Matters like policing are actually much more in TfL’s control than the boroughs. Also, TfL often dictates – over matters such as “smoothing the traffic” – borough behaviour, and of course allocates substantial funding to boroughs. Can it not similarly direct boroughs in the right direction on safety?
Why does it “matter” which times and places people choose to cycle, and who has the right to decide this?
We have been critical of the way enforcement is done in London, but agree with a properly resourced enforcement programme. Only some of this will involve the Cycle Task Force but “increasing the number of police officers in the Cycle Task Force from 39 to 50 “ is hardly impressive.
We have made it clear to TfL, along with the other cyclist and road danger reduction organisations, that they need to measure danger in more appropriate ways in order to properly understand safety of cyclists and other road users, and to implement measures to control road danger at source. There isn’t much evidence that TfL are listening to this message.
The draft CSAP is a fundamentally flawed document which fails in three main respects. Firstly, its idea of “safety” for cyclists is measured in a way which can indicate that having fewer cyclists and a higher cyclist casualty rate is BETTER than having more cyclists and a lower casualty rate. Secondly, it fails to differentiate between measures which reduce danger to cyclists (and other road users) and those which do not. Thirdly, it has no real way of assessing the effects of measures implemented.
Let me refer to my experience here: for some years I sat on the Cycle Safety Working group at Transport for London (then representing the Borough Cycling Officers Group) and had a role in preparing the first CSAP. Reviewing its effects in September 2012 I wrote “The above report indicates ways in which the CSAP has been inadequate. It also shows that insofar as issues are addressed and attempts made to implement necessary changes, the impacts made have been minimal or very limited. Pursuing the overall objectives of the CSAP will require substantially more commitment and resources to achieve a significant reduction in danger to cyclists (and often other road users) and a reduction in the cyclist casualty rate.”
I don’t think there has been any fundamental change since then. In fact, we seem to have gone backwards on the key issue of actually defining what the problem is. This is so basic that nothing worthwhile can really progress unless a clear definition of what the problem is has been agreed upon.What is ”Cyclist safety”? The measurement issue.
This is not an abstract academic issue. It is absolutely critical as a basis for any discussion about cyclist safety.
As far as traditional “road safety” is concerned, “Cyclist safety” is about the total number of reported cyclist casualties (generally “Killed and Seriously Injured”) per head of the population or in a given location – in this case London. It is NOT about what the cyclists’ organisations asked for – and what TfL for many years at the CSWG agreed on – namely an indicator based on exposure. This is sometimes referred to as a “rate-based” indicator, in that casualties are expressed in terms of the exposure of cyclists, for example cyclist casualties per journey made, distance travelled, or time taken cycling.
At various places in the draft CSAP the casualty rate is indeed considered as the indicator, but elsewhere it is not. For example, take this graph prominently displayed:Figure 2 : International cyclist fatalities per million population, 2012
So, the casualty rate per journey, per mile or per hour spent cycling may be far lower in Amsterdam than in London. The experience of cycling in Amsterdam may be far more pleasant and inviting because of the lower levels of danger presented to cyclists. But for TfL, reviewing this graph: “London is performing well when cycling in London is compared against national statistics” (Page 9). TfL takes precisely the opposite view that we take, and as far as we are concerned this is a fundamental problem. Unless they invert this position we disagree on what we are trying to achieve.
In fact we need to go a lot further. Even casualty rates are inadequate as measures. We should be looking at whether casualties result from a third party’s rule- or law-breaking, or from careless behaviour on the part of the cyclist. We should be stating that locations laid out so that cyclists are subjected to unacceptably high levels of road danger (gyratory systems like Bow Roundabout or Staples Corner) are just that: particularly dangerous locations for cyclists, and that this is objectively so. When actual or potential cyclists are scared to travel through such locations we don’t need to talk about “subjective safety” – these people are making a correct analysis of the objective danger presented to them.
But considering these issues systematically – as I attempted in Local Transport Today last year – is apparently not on TfL’s agenda. There is some reference (“This draft plan, taken as a whole, seeks to improve the reality and the perception of cycle safety.” Page 9) to concerns about people being deterred by their perception of safety – but this is not followed through.
This is a classic difficulty with traditional “road safety” which we have pointed out numerous times before, whether the offenders are TfL or Government ministers and where we agree with our colleagues in the London Cycling Campaign: “London Cycling Campaign has always called for casualties to be measured against exposure to risk. How risky is cycling per mile travelled compared to other ways of travel? Without such measurements the benefits of increasing cycling can be misrepresented in casualty data.”
Road Danger Reduction versus “Road Safety”: The “Who-Kills-Whom” question.
Our colleagues in the LCC correctly say: “…(we) will be assessing the 32 actions in the plan for their impact on reducing road danger. For each action we will ask:
… too few of the actions really address sources of danger.”
For us there is a fundamental issue about the difference between those road users who kill, or hurt, or endanger others and those who are killed, hurt or endangered. All road users may well have responsibilities, but there is a fundamental difference in actual or potential lethality between (broadly speaking) the motorised and those outside motor vehicles endangered by them. This difference is routinely and systematically neutralised by the “road safety” lobby. So:
“Sharing the road
Research also shows that Londoners are concerned by safety on the roads; however they tend to consider the need for change to lie with others rather than themselves. This is a fundamental barrier to improving safety at present. Even though many people acknowledge that they take risks at times, they feel that they have appropriately accounted for the safety of themselves and others and that any risks that they take are calculated and ‘safe’.”
This paragraph perfectly demonstrates the determination to deny the difference in lethality between the different modes.
In this context, Figure 3 is interesting, because it shows that casualty rates for cyclists and pedestrians vary with age (excluding the over-80s) much less than for drivers and motorcyclists. This strongly implies that it is largely the behaviour of others, rather than their own behaviour, that causes cyclist and pedestrian casualties. For pedestrians and cyclists, the ratio between highest and lowest risk ages is just over 3 to 1. For drivers it’s over 12 to 1, and for motor-cyclists 33 to 1.
Even without tackling this basic moral issue properly, there is a point about analysing the effects of interventions. “This new draft Cycle Safety Action Plan (CSAP) builds on the original, published in 2010,” (Page 4). But, as I argued in 2012, with the possible exception of resources directed at the freight industry to reduce cyclist deaths involving HGVs, there was precious little evidence for the effects of interventions. This doesn’t stop TfL baldly stating: “There are some notable successes achieved through the previous CSAP that have made cycling safer in London (Page 25)”
These “notable successes” are:
That may seem like grumbling, but I can’t help wondering whether the changes achieved so far – or even those mentioned as potentially to be lobbied for in the new CSAP – are rather less than might be pushed for with other modes of transport. For example: “TfL will lobby vehicle manufacturers and representative organisations to make vehicles safer for cyclists by pushing for:
Which is all very well, but how about consideration for systems to be retro-fitted? And what happens in the meantime while the motor industry considers these devices? To take just the example of under-run guards on HGVs which could prevent cyclists (and pedestrians) from being crushed? Is it too much to suggest that TfL could actually part- finance installation of such devices – after all, with a £6 billion a year budget it shouldn’t be too hard to find the money. (continued in next post)
From the press release, the ‘turbo’ roundabout in Bedford will now be under construction – building was scheduled to start yesterday, Monday the 21st of July.
Pretty much everything you need to know about this strange scheme and its convoluted history is here on the Alternative Department for Transport blog. (The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain also hosted a guest blog critically examining some of the claims made for this design).
Presumably in anticipation of construction starting, the local cycling campaign for North Bedfordshire (CCNB) have put out a statement justifying the design. It’s as curious as the scheme itself. Principally it clings to the sad, failed strategy of attempting to design for two different categories of ‘cyclists’ separately, instead of the proven, successful approach of inclusively designing for everyone.
CCNB believes that the dual use scheme will improve the safety of all types of cyclists (and pedestrians). Experienced cyclists will use the on-road carriageway around the roundabout while the less confident, new and young cyclists will use an off-road shared use route using four zebras is a good compromise.
For ‘experienced cyclists’ -
The tighter geometry and enforced lane discipline should slow down traffic over what it is at present. An experienced cyclist adopting the primary position should thus avoid being overtaken or cut-up and as a consequence feel much safer. The lane discipline should also ensure that most motorists know what cyclists are doing and in the same way cyclists should also know what motorists are doing.
Well that sounds attractive, on a roundabout that will still be carrying around 25,000 PCUs per day! And for everyone else -
Current regulations stipulate that cyclists can cycle across zebras if there is a dual use path on either side but unlike pedestrians must give way to motor vehicles. The zebras will be wider than normal and the design will allow easy modification to a more traditional Dutch style junction when the DfT allows cyclists to use them in the same way as pedestrians, hopefully sometime next year.
The experience of cycling like a pedestrian.
I am deeply, deeply sceptical about claims this design can be ‘modified’ to a Dutch-style junction, not only because a Dutch-style junction would have perimeter tracks, clearly distinct from footways, rather than shared use areas, but also because the zebras in this scheme cross multiple lanes on the approaches, at sharp angles, a design that is simply not appropriate to ‘convert’ to a crossing. (To say nothing of the appropriateness of cycling on these zebras while waiting for this ‘conversion’).
The CCNB response also contains this strange factoid -
The roundabout is generally very busy mainly in the short morning and evening rush hours. The area concerned is fairly small and it is not possible to have Dutch style off-road cycle tracks along any of the four roads involved. [my emphasis].
Really? Looking at the four roads involved – the four arms of the roundabout – in turn -
Tavistock Street -
In the application, the designer submitted a mocked up version of what the roundabout could look like with a ‘proper’ Dutch design, including side road priority for cyclists on fully segregated cycle tracks and tight curve radii to slow vehicles.
That’s right – the designer of this scheme presented a possible version of this roundabout, with cycle tracks on entry and exit. Here it is!
As the CTC report, Bedford Borough Council vetoed this design on the grounds that it would affect motor traffic capacity; having one lane on each of the approaches wouldn’t be sufficient to cope with current volumes of motor traffic.
So – faced with the intransigence of the council, and the ludicrous constraints of the the DfT’s Cycle Safety Fund – it would be understandable if the local cycle campaign admitted defeat, and grimly accepted this being forced on them, while grumbling about it. But to actually come out and support this dog’s dinner?
The junction outside the Bank of England is truly awful; a vast open space of tarmac, motor traffic thundering through in five directions, and pedestrians accommodated on tiny pavements. What should be a beautiful civic space is devoted to motor traffic flow.
To be fair to the City of London, they have recognised the problem, and are looking to make improvements. It seems they are examining the potential for closing off motor traffic from certain directions, or at certain times of day.
But here’s the method they are choosing to employ for examining the options -
At the moment we are establishing how wide the impact might be if we make big changes at the junction. This will give us the starting point of what we will need to look at in detail. We should complete this work by September 2014.
Our next task will be to build a computer traffic model to assess what is likely to happen if traffic is prevented from crossing the junction for example in certain directions or times of day. Information from pedestrian and cycling movements will also help to develop solutions. This is likely to be a big piece of work and will take some time to complete but it is very important to have credible options for alterations to the junction. We hope to have this work completed by early 2016.
They are building a computer traffic model to do so – in their own words, ‘a big piece of work’ that is going to take one and a half years to complete. Eighteen months. There is no word on how much this is going to cost.
I imagine the complexity here is due to the fact that we don’t really know how to model people cycling and walking, as described in this excellent post by smalltown2k. It’s really very difficult, and the City appear to be attempting to do so. Now obviously the ability to model these kinds of movements is going to be very important in the future, and it is valuable that we can start to assess what might happen to traffic flow if we acknowledge how people walk and cycle about, and how they might shift mode under different conditions.
But really, rather than just building a hugely complex model from scratch to find out what happens when a junction is closed to motor traffic, couldn’t the City just do it, on a trial basis? If the result is genuine chaos, then the trial can quickly be abandoned.
There are good reasons for thinking a trial of this kind – closing roads at Bank temporarily – would not result in chaos. The main one is that the area is ringed by major arterial roads, composed of London Wall to the north, Aldgate and Tower Gateway to the east, and Upper Thames Street to the south.
All are designed to carry large volumes of motor traffic, and all lie very close to Bank itself. These are the roads that should be carrying through traffic; the area around Bank should, realistically, only be carrying private motor traffic that is accessing the area. Certainly, the Bank junction should not be carrying through motor traffic in an east-west direction, as there are two major roads to the north and south – just a few hundred metres away – that were built for this purpose.
So – why not just try this? Try it now, rather than spending eighteen difficult months building a model from scratch. You’ll get results that correspond to the real world, and much more quickly!
The summer is the season when West Sussex County Council – and presumably many other British councils – decide to start spreading gravel on their country lanes, sticking it down with tar and hoping that motor vehicles will ‘bed it in’. This technique is apparently called ‘chip seal’.
It is simply awful to ride on, especially when it has just been laid – the gravel is still loose, and slippery to ride on. Stones get flung up, particularly by passing vehicles, which rarely stick to the 20mph suggested limit. And it’s a poor surface to ride on, even when it has been ‘bedded in’ – rough, and noisy, and far worse than a machine-laid tarmac surface.
Worse than that, chip seal appears – to me at least – to actually accelerate the deterioration of a road. Here’s an example, a mile away from where the new chip seal has been laid in the photograph above.
This road was ‘chip sealed’ in the last four to five years (I can’t remember precisely when). But as you can see, the layer of gravel has been intermittently blasted off, leaving a bumpy patchwork surface, partly composed of the remaining chipseal, and the underlying original road surface. Again, absolutely awful to ride on, but more problematically, the kind of road surface that is going to deteriorate very rapidly. Potholes are already starting to develop in the areas where the chipseal has been blasted off. The depressions are places where water is retained, perfect for the development of road damage.
I’ve cycled on country lanes in most of the countries of western Europe, including places where roads are subject to extremes of temperature – Switzerland and Sweden. Yet no other western European country appears to employ ‘chip seal’ – they seal roads properly, with machine laid surfaces. My guess is that these roads – while more expensive to lay in the short term – are much cheaper in the long term, because they last much longer than this strange ‘gravel’ approach.
Why does Britain do things differently? Is chip seal genuinely cost-effective? Answers please!
A post by Joe Dunckley yesterday – about how we keep expecting education and awareness to change driver behaviour, ahead of physical engineering – reminded me of something I’d been meaning to write about for a while. It was provoked by this sign I came across in the village of Rotherwick, in Hampshire.Beneath the standard ‘watch out for children’ warning triangle, some locals have evidently felt the need to ask drivers to ‘please’ slow down, attaching a do-it-yourself sign to the pole.
Needless to say, although the locals are asking drivers to slow down to 20mph, the speed limit through the village – and past the school – remains set at 30mph. The official limit is on the pole on the other side of the road.
But hey, drivers have been warned there’s a school here – they’ll all drive carefully, won’t they?
And there’s a similar example in the village of Partridge Green in West Sussex – again, by the village school.
A ‘kill speed not kids’ sign near the junction with the school is, of course, not accompanied by any corresponding low speed limit, or physical measures to enforce it.Although the DIY sign here has a picture of a zebra crossing, there isn’t any crossing, at all, outside the school itself – but there are some barriers to stop people crossing the road where they might actually want to.
Nice of West Sussex County Council to do absolutely nothing to make this dead straight road – just outside of a 60mph limit – safer for schoolchildren.
And it’s not just outside schools. The residents of Tower Hill – a rural road, but with plenty of housing along it, and no footpath – plainly feel that the 60mph limit through where they live is preposterous, and have made their own speed limit signs. There have been many crashes here.All this is sadly symptomatic of the British approach to dealing with traffic danger. At locations where there really shouldn’t be fast motor traffic, and where there is clear local demand for low vehicle speeds (people are making these signs and attaching them themselves) there isn’t anything to make drivers behave, or design that reduces the danger posed to vulnerable road users; only informal requests and home-made signs.
Perhaps the background assumption here is the one Joe describes in his post – that the British driver is innately well-mannered, and doesn’t really need to be told what to do; he’ll either be behaving sensibly already, and if not, polite requests will be sufficient.
the British tradition of soft measures goes far wider, deeper and further back… Motorists may moan about having been the victim of a “war” that restricts their freedom, polices their movements, or sends campaigns of severe punishment for accidental and unavoidable infringement of petty rules, but the reality is that right from the start, when the red flag acts were repealed, this country’s response (and that of much of the English-speaking world) to the problems that motorists create on the road has largely been light touch and libertarian, in which the children are simply asked again and again to play nice, even as they become ever greater bullies, and only if they’re really bad might they have their pocket money docked. We encourage and raise awareness, appeal to the legendary British sense of fair play, and still believe that the ideal road is within reach if only we can persuade everybody to get along through courtesy, good manners, and communicating our intentions clearly to one another.
But these homemade signs are symptomatic of a failure of that strategy. They wouldn’t exist if drivers responded properly to their environment; there wouldn’t be any need to exhort them to slow down to an appropriate speed if they were already doing it. Moreover, there wouldn’t be any need for barriers to stop children crossing the road where they want to, if we could rely on drivers approaching schools at a sensible speed.
What these signs demonstrate are that ‘soft’ measures – education, exhortation, awareness, and so on – don’t work. We need physical environments that make people behave, and that design in safety. If we want people to drive slowly, that needs to come from the design of the road or the street in question, not from home-made signs that plead desperately for sensible behaviour.
So TfL have produced a short advert once again asking everybody to calm down, play nice, and share the road. I figured it might make a good excuse to post again this thing that I scribbled a couple of years ago.
On the Guardian Bike Blog, Tom Richards points out that “while we’d all love better cycling infrastructure, there is neither the money nor the political will…” Therefore we should focus on easier and more populist things — like conquering human nature and legislating to re-educate 30 million people.
Now, leaving aside the fact that the effects of changing driver education (if there are ever any effects at all, and it’s not a very robustly researched field) have long lag times — as long as street lifecycles. And leaving aside the fact that there is no evidence that this sort of intervention would ever actually have any significant effect on the sort of issues we’re concerned about, such as occurrence and severity of motor vehicle/cycle crashes (but if Richards were to propose a randomised controlled trial…). And leaving aside the fact that it could have, at best, only a small effect on the arguably more important issue of barriers to cycling, which are more about subjective assessment of the comfort of the environment than about raw injury statistics, and so can make no significant contribution to solving the wider issues which cycling is tied to. Basically, leaving aside the fact that this is, at best, a mediocre proposal. The interesting question is, why do people keep clinging to these kinds of ideas?
The idea that somehow physical engineering is difficult and expensive and unpopular, while changing human behaviour is quick, easy, cheap and effective, is one that the British are remarkably strongly attached to. It is manifested in a wide variety of rarely very effective campaigns and initiatives, from marketing the unmarketable to the bizarrely widespread belief that obscure details of insurance law are a significant influence on behaviour. One of my favourite examples of the attitude was caught by Freewheeler a couple of years ago, from “3 feet please” campaigner and now ex LCC trustee David Love:
This provoked a response from David Love in the Comments, who among things writes:
Sure, segregation would be great but in London at least there’s no room and no money so it’s not going to happen.
Campaigning for behaviour change is more realistic right now
And there you have the ‘realism’ of a man who is LCC Trustee and Vice Chair.
But the British tradition of soft measures goes far wider, deeper and further back than this. Motorists may moan about having been the victim of a “war” that restricts their freedom, polices their movements, or sends campaigns of severe punishment for accidental and unavoidable infringement of petty rules, but the reality is that right from the start, when the red flag acts were repealed, this country’s response (and that of much of the English-speaking world) to the problems that motorists create on the road has largely been light touch and libertarian, in which the children are simply asked again and again to play nice, even as they become ever greater bullies, and only if they’re really bad might they have their pocket money docked. We encourage and raise awareness, appeal to the legendary British sense of fair play, and still believe that the ideal road is within reach if only we can persuade everybody to get along through courtesy, good manners, and communicating our intentions clearly to one another.
Joe Moran has an entertaining history of this English approach to road safety in the chapter “please don’t be rude on the road” in On Roads. Amongst others he tells the story of Mervyn O’Gorman, who argued against introducing a driving test because all that a motorist should require is a natural “road sense”, and who acted on his belief that the cause of road accidents is poor communication by inventing the Highway Code, a list of mostly legally baseless customs and courtesies, explaining that “is is just as ungentlemanly to be discourteous or to play the fool on the king’s highway as it would be for a man to push his wife off her chair at the Sunday tea table and grab two pieces of cake.” Perhaps most entertaining is his coverage of the period in the 1930s when “courtesy cops” went around with megaphones politely asking errant drivers to behave themselves. He concludes:
Underneath this appeal lay an uncomfortable truth: many members of the respectable middle classes were incompetent drivers who were to blame for fatal road accidents. Rather than turning them into criminals through putative legislation, British traffic law relied on appeals to their sense of fair play. It was always better, went the mantra of the time, to cultivate good habits than propose bad bills. [Sound familiar?] So the courtesy cops did not prosecute motorists; they offered friendly advice to the careless. The Times blamed accidents on what it called ‘motorious carbarians’ — the few bad apples hidden among the vast majority of gentlemanly drivers, who could be relied upon to break the law sensibly. Motoring correspondents railed against excessive regulation in the 1930s in a way that eerily echoes today’s campaigns against speed cameras and road humps. ‘Regulation after regulation pours from the Ministry of Transport in a never-ending flood,’ complained the Daily Mirror in 1934 … but ‘courtesy and good manners may be cultivated easily enough by everyone.’
They say that the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. For eighty years or more the answer to motorists playing nice has been just a little bit more education and awareness raising, and look where it has got us. It’s time to call off the search for the British sense of fair play and abandon the naive idea that meaningful and worthwhile change on the road can be achieved with a few gentle nudges.
I have already confessed my love for cycle sport in general and the Tour de France in particular – while arguing that that the Tour in Britain may have had a negative effect on the prospects for everyday cycling. It’s not just that the benefits of cycling as sport for cycling as transport are limited – the Tour de France is, after all, not supposed to be more than, well, the Tour de France. It’s that the impressions of what “cycling” is, as derived from the Tour and cycle sport in general, can actually impede the progress of cycling as transport.
I’ve enjoyed the Tour in the UK, and will stay glued to it. But it is time to review the situation with some observations of where we are and what the effect of the Tour may be.
The rule of the Smarter Travel movement is to be positive, talk up the alternatives to car use, and not to be negative about car use. Being sceptical about benefits of the flavour of the month is not smiled on by the powers that be. But – and remember, I’m speaking as a cycle sport nut – that is exactly what we have to do. In this case I’m not the only one.…and the reality
A good review of the amount of cycling in the UK is provided here. It’s nicely scientific; not coming to definite conclusions about whether there are small trends (outside the obvious increases in inner London this century) upwards or not. The point it makes is that any upward trends there may be are just that: small. It also shows how a continuing cycling modal share of around 1 – 2 % nationally is regularly associated with government and other officials talking up cycling. We are led to believe that if a large number of people are not cycling already, they very soon will be. The history of my career as a transport professional is of politicians from Lynda Chalker in 1984 onwards talking about how government wants to encourage cycling. Take a look at the graph below to see what’s happened
Let’s take a swift look at some cycling themes which have been brought to my attention in the last week:1. Here’s the view we had of the Tour passing by near the Olympic site:
And the road after they have gone: remember this is part of a mainly purpose built environment close to the Olympic site.:
So, the problems with Operation Safeway look set to continue, with the Met telling cyclists to wear helmets and hi-viz while – I hope this report of what the officer said is wrong – there is reluctance about enforcing the law “because we would be accused of it just being about revenue”.3. This tweet from Green MLA Jenny Jones:
Jenny Jones@GreenJennyJones 14h
While #cycling this morning a cabbie shouted at me: ‘Why no hi viz? You look like a pedestrian.’ Don’t they have to look out for them too?
Any prospect of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association taking disciplinary action?4. Road Safety GB North-East
Then the “road safety” publicity in South Yorkshire (which appears when the Tour de France visits) comes up again from “Road Safety GB” in the North East with the same old (to be polite) “problems”:even more money to support the country’s car culture.
One can go on, and on, and on…The point is, will the Tour de France visit help to deal with the car-dependent and anti-cycling culture of which these (few of many) cases are manifestations? Or make no difference? Or hinder?
Now, obviously the failure to achieve a significant rise in cycling’s modal share can’t be attributed to cycle sport. But it does have some bad effects, which I can illustrate again:
I mentioned here the high tendency – compared to normal urban cycling in the UK – of Tour de France racers to crash. Since then the two main British stars, Chris Froome and Mark Cavendish, have crashed out in front of billions of viewers. Based on watching TV coverage, it is easy to see how “Cycling” can be seen as inherently hazardous, with a relentless stream of crashes. that must be a key element in any image of “cycling” drawn from the Tour.Photo: Baltimore Sun
Speaking for “cycling”
The go to spokesmen for “cycling” are now those with deserved reputations for expertise when it comes to the sport, who are now supposed to be authorities on cycling in general. Of course, Sir David Brailsford, as the architect of Olympic and Tour de France wins, has to be worth listening to. But on transport policy and safety on the roads? Try this: “It’s quite clear when you stand back and look at it,” he urged. “If cyclists took a little bit more time to think about motorists, and people in cars took a little more time to think about people on bikes, everybody would win.”
No, it is not “quite clear”. This is just the old “road safety” policy of the “even stevens” approach, which ignores the difference in potential danger to others of the two forms of transport.
Me, I’m going to carry on being glued to the TV and websites, as I am every July. I’m hooked on the magic. But every time a racer hits the deck or displays his bandages, I’m not just feeling their pain. I’m thinking about the negative effects of the Tour de France on the prospects for sustainable transport. Cycling as sport does not have to be cycling as transport – but I do have concerns about it getting in the way of it.
7 years, 4 months and 18 days ago, a train crashed in Cumbria. So it seemed like an appropriate moment to post this extract from another project that I’ve been working on. It’s all a draft so your comments and corrections on matters of style and fact are very much welcome.
Just before 8am on the 5th of October 1999, a commuter train left London Paddington bound for Bedwyn in Wiltshire. A few minutes later, just as it was getting into its stride through the inner suburbs, it approached the location where the bidirectional terminus station tracks cross over one another and organise themselves into strictly segregated “up” and “down” direction main lines in a great tangle of points. The train passed straight through a yellow warning signal without slowing, and soon after skipped the red stop signal that was all there was to protect those Ladbroke Grove crossovers ahead.
The morning InterCity from Cheltenham hit the commuter train head on at a closing speed of 130mph. The front car of the commuter train was crushed by the heavy express locomotive, which in turn shed its diesel across the tracks while its rake of coaches, full of momentum and still propelled by a second locomotive at the rear, jackknifed into the flaming wreckage. Thirty one people were killed on that occasion; more than 500 were injured.
The driver of the Bedwyn commuter train was obviously unavailable to explain why he failed to respond to the two signals warning him of the danger ahead. The front carriage of his train was completely destroyed in the impact; neither driver was available to defend against media speculation and blame. An Inquiry was ordered, and Lord Cullen was appointed to get to the bottom of the matter and find out what went wrong.
Cullen was unusually thorough in his investigations into what went wrong at Ladbroke Grove, eventually publishing not one but two reports. The first, as you would expect, looked at the immediate cause of the crash. It reconstructed the story of how the driver of the commuter train jumped the lights, but found that far from being one man’s mistake, a catalogue of errors had added up to the catastrophe. The driver had only graduated from his training two weeks before the crash, and the inquiry uncovered multiple problems with the train company’s training programme, including inadequate instruction in signal procedures. The train was equipped with an Automatic Warning System, with audible in-cab alarms to warn the driver when the train passes signals — but the system was too simple to differentiate between yellow warning signals and red stop signals, and each time the Bedwyn train passed a signal, the driver had pressed the acknowledgement button to prevent the system from automatically stopping the train, as was the correct practice for yellow signals. The signals themselves had been erected in confusing arrays on gantries over the tracks, with views restricted by nearby bridges and by the line’s newly installed overhead power supply. And the position and design of the signal lights meant that at 8am on a bright October morning, westbound train drivers would see the reflection of the sun “lighting up all the signals like Christmas trees”, as one driver told the inquiry, making it far from obvious that a signal was set to red rather than yellow. The inquiry concluded that a momentary lapse of concentration caused the driver to respond incorrectly to the first signal, while the poor visibility and reflections led him to incorrectly read the second.
The inquiry revealed that the crash on the fifth of October was just the visible tip of an iceberg. The failures that led to the Bedwyn train jumping the lights had led eight others to do exactly the same at that one signal in the previous six years, with a 67 red signals in total passed on the tracks out of Paddington during that time. So-called “signal passed at danger” events — SPADs — were endemic, and railway management had never taken the problem seriously enough. It was only by chance and good fortune on those previous occasions that there was no oncoming express train. In fact, it was later calculated that, at the rate that signal jumping was occurring at Ladbroke Grove, a catastrophic crash was absolutely inevitable in that location, and at an expected rate of one every 14 years.
In short, Ladbroke Grove revealed that there were widespread failings in the railway system that enabled mistakes to happen and to go uncorrected, and the risks resulting from these failings were accepted as an inevitable fact of life. Cullen realised that his inquiry into the one incident couldn’t ignore the much bigger problem on the railway. And he was proved right even before he could publish his conclusions. One year after the Ladbroke Grove crash, an InterCity bound for Leeds at 115mph derailed on poorly maintained track at Hatfield, killing 4 passengers and revealing the scale of the failings that would soon lead to the collapse of Railtrack, the privatised owners of the railway infrastructure.
Cullen knew that the failings on the railway were far too numerous to identify and fix in one report — he had identified a dozen serious problems in the Ladbroke Grove case alone — and besides, fixing problems would not guard against new ones creeping in. Instead, Cullen introduced the systems that would enable a continual process of identification and correction of problems, and a long-term plan for improvement. Key amongst these were the creation of the Rail Safety & Standards Board (RSSB) and the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) to oversee an overhaul of the railway’s safety culture. RAIB, modelled on the older Air Accident and Marine Accident Investigation Branches, was created to ensure that an independent investigator got to the bottom of every incident on the railway, rooting out the failures at all levels of the industry. RAIB does for railway incidents today what Cullen did for Ladbroke Grove: the investigator makes extensive enquiries, consults the detailed operational records, and reconstructs events, leading to thick reports highlighting the lessons that are to be learned. Working practices get revised, enforcement of rules is tightened, and investment is made in new technology.
RAIB investigates incidents with the aim of preventing anything like them from ever happening again. But the one thing RAIB does not do is assign blame. It inherits from Cullen the recognition that in a complicated system like the railway, it takes more than one person to mess up. Malice and incompetence, laziness and greed, and momentary lapses of concentration are surely all characteristics that can be expected of people from time to time. But if those traits are ever allowed to lead to a catastrophe, it is the system that has failed at least as much as any individual.
As Cullen put it, describing the problem of the epidemic of jumped signals — SPADs — at Ladbroke Grove:
Underpinning my approach to these matters is the following. On the one hand the public quite rightly expects that there should be no SPADs which run the risk of causing injury. On the other hand human nature is fallible: no matter the training and experience — and they are extremely important — it is impossible to exclude the possibility of such an event. … if and to the extent that the safe operation of a train is dependent on one person it is essential that the demands which the railway system makes on him or her take adequate account of human factors.
This is a central principle of the systems that Cullen put in place. Ladbroke Grove was not the fault of one driver for failing to stop at a signal: the life and limb of 500 passengers should never have been placed entirely in the hands of one fallible human, just a single momentary lapse of concentration between him and disaster. So in Cullen’s system, the railway industry now identifies situations where one easy mistake could have terrible consequences, and it eliminates them.
Frequently, this means re-configuring track to reduce the kind of the movements that could allow a crash to happen, and introducing new technology to automatically protect trains from the minor mistakes that human drivers and signallers inevitably make. Cullen’s report, for example, specifically advised that Britain roll out technology called Automatic Train Protection (ATP). This system, coupled with other advances in modern signalling technology, makes it pretty much impossible to accidentally crash a train: the positions of all the trains on the line are automatically detected by circuits in the rails and the system keeps them apart by lengths of several train braking distances, refusing to allow the person operating the signals to put trains on collision courses; and the trains are sent information about speed limits and signal states, preventing their drivers from speeding and, even if the driver fails to do so, stopping automatically at red lights. ATP had been investigated by British Rail before privatisation, but the government at the time was not prepared to pick up the billion pound bill for installing it across the network. Once the inevitable had happened at Ladbroke Grove, it was perhaps a source of shame to some that the technology which would have made the crash impossible had been rejected on these cost grounds.
Equally important to the success of mechanisms like RAIB in building a safe system is a recognition of the Heinrich Triangle. This, remember, is the pyramid of the many near misses, minor incidents and major injuries that sits below every fatality. RAIB investigates all of these things, not just the headline crashes and fatalities. Even if nothing serious ever came of the near misses and minor lapses, understanding and eliminating the could-have-been calamities is vital if actual catastrophes are to be avoided. In 2013, for example, RAIB investigated such incidents as a part on a poorly maintained engineering train working loose, causing minor damage to track; a team of maintenance workers coming within 2 seconds of being hit by a train, when processes in place should have ensured they always clear the tracks with at least 10 seconds to spare; another in which a farmer was given the go ahead to use a manually operated level crossing while a train — which she saw in plenty of time to stand clear — was approaching; and a signal passed at danger on a minor line that had yet to be equipped with a full train protection system. None of these incidents had any consequences for life or limb — but it was only luck that there were not worse outcomes. So, rather than dismiss them as inconsequential, RAIB investigated and made recommendations for revised working practices and improved technology. New maintenance regimes were implemented for the engineering trains; the planning process for work teams was tightened; and a software bug in the signalling system for the farm crossing was identified and quickly eliminated. By tackling the could-have-been tragedies at the bottom of the pyramid, RAIB have stopped the tragedies at the top before they ever happen.
Ladbroke Grove was just one of a series of catastrophic train crashes that occurred during the short tenure of Railtrack as the privatised owners of the railway infrastructure. Before that, British Rail presided over regular train crashes — diminishing slowly in number and severity over time, but a fact of life nevertheless, from the 112 killed at Harrow and Wealdstone in 1952 to the 35 killed in a similar three train pileup at Clapham Junction in 1988. The pre-nationalisation rail companies were worse still, from the death of William Huskisson in 1830 on the opening day of the original passenger railway, through the dark decades of the late 1800s when sometimes rail disasters could be expected monthly, to the railway’s worst year, 1915, when 265 were killed in four catastrophic crashes. And these are merely the numbers for train crashes, not including the poor neglected navvies who built and maintained the lines or the men operating the freight yards. In the early years, such lowly workers were expendable labour, while politicians agreed with the railway companies — in which many owned shares — that safety regulations would be too burdensome a barrier to bigger profits. The railway was a different world.
The last time anybody died on a train that crashed in Britain was on the evening of 23 February 2007 when a Virgin Trains express to Glasgow derailed on mistakenly unmaintained track at Grayrigg in Cumbria, the lead carriage performing an impressive backflip as the trailing carriages rolled down an embankment. Thanks to the sturdy design of the modern carriages, just one person died. The Grayrigg crash happened just 7 years, 4 months and 18 days after Ladbroke Grove. It’s impossible to say “never again”, and we must always guard against complacency, but as that incident fades ever further into history, it has started to feel like train crashes simply don’t happen any more. The world changed, and it only took 7 years.
For the blog it made sense that I let this little extract stand on its own as a story by itself, but really it’s meant to be understood as one piece within a larger story that I assembled early in the year, topped and tailed with an edited version of this story. In it I try to tie together a few disparate strands that I had been thinking about, using as a theme the imagined “different worlds” that Dave Horton talked about and the real different worlds that have come about, in surprisingly short time, in the Netherlands and on the railways. And in it, the 7 years, 4 months and 18 days of fatal train crash free days are contrasted with the 27 days during that period when we can expect there to have been zero fatal crashes on Britain’s roads. Hopefully it might one day be fit to see the light of day…
I recently acquired a copy of Residential Roads and Footpaths: Layout Considerations. Exciting.
It’s a 1977 Department for Transport publication, perhaps more commonly referred to as ‘DB32′ (Design Bulletin 32). It has (in theory) been superseded by the Manual for Streets guidance, in the design of residential streets.
It is perhaps most notorious for a fairly ridiculous visibility splay recommendation – that the SSD (sight stopping distance) on a road with a speed limit of 30mph should be 90m. That is, a driver on a minor road arriving at a major road with a 30mph limit, waiting at the junction, should have a clear view for 90m, up the major road. This inevitably creates big, open junctions, and the temptations for drivers to travel faster, and with less care – because it feels safer for them to do so. John Dales has written recently about how this guidance is still being adhered to.
But I was really more interested in what a 1977 DfT document about roads and streets in residential areas had to say about cycling. And it’s really quite depressing.
Here it is -
Provision for cyclists
3.18 The need for the provision of a separate cycle network rather than the use of the urban road network is a matter for local authorities to decide in the light of their overall transportation planning and considerations of cyclists’ needs and safety. In some areas the use of cycles is well established whilst in other areas the terrain may be discouraging to their use.
3.19 Where there is likely to be a sufficient cycling demand in new housing schemes and where an existing cycle network terminates at, or is adjacent to, a new housing development, consideration should be given to the need to link the scheme to it, or to extend it.
3.20 In addition the provision of comparatively short lengths of segregated cycle routes may be sensible in the immediate vicinity of schools or shops to allow cyclists to disperse in a variety of directions in greater safety than would otherwise be possible, provided the use of cycles is sufficient to warrant such provision.
Paragraph 3.18 contains the now familiar ‘up to local authorities to do as they see fit’ mantra. If you are a council, and you don’t want to bother with designing for cycling, go right ahead!
And because the vast majority of local authorities didn’t want to do anything to cater for cycling, consequently nothing happened. The DfT guidance here shrugs and looks the other way; it just doesn’t care, because cycling is a mode of transport they didn’t care about. It could be forgotten – and was.
The next two paragraphs betray a form of thinking that unfortunately lingers to the present day – namely, that local authorities and planners only need to cater for the cycling that might currently exist, and need not cater for it at all, if there isn’t much of it. Paragraph 3.20 is particularly awful, with its comment that cycle provision ‘may’ (may!?) be sensible, ‘provided the use of cycles is sufficient to warrant such provision.’
If only a handful of people were cycling in an area in 1977 – well, tough luck, no cycle provision for you!
Similarly, paragraph 3.19 ponders whether there might be ‘sufficient local demand’ to merit catering for cycling, without apparently stopping to consider whether the designs being advocated in DB32 might do anything to increase or suppress cycling levels, in and of themselves. It’s almost wilful blindness.
It is this failure to recognise that the transport choices people make are not innate, but are instead a product of the environment that people are confronted with, and that has been designed for them, that persists today. We’ve had decades of planning that has assumed that people want to drive for short trips – indeed, that children want to be driven for short trips, rather than cycling independently – without ever stopping to consider whether those choices are really choices at all. Planning that hasn’t considered that many people might be driving these short trips not because they have freely chosen between driving and cycling (for instance), but because the quality of the alternatives has been eroded so much they have become too unpleasant to bear.
Cycling was rightly seen as unpopular by the authors of guidance like DB32, but the actual reasons for this unpopularity were misdiagnosed, or completely overlooked. In truth, cycling had become unpopular by 1977 because it was a pretty awful experience. It wasn’t that people had realised that driving was innately superior, and consequently logically discarded their bicycles; driving isn’t, for many types of trips. Cycling had just been squeezed out of the way roads and streets were designed, and by the amount of motor traffic that was arriving on them.
And it is this same form of thinking that has to be battled against today. Cycling is a mode of transport that, by and large, doesn’t exist in Britain. But that’s not because it’s innately unpopular. It’s because it hasn’t been catered for, for decades. By analogy, bus travel in London is, today, immensely popular, but it is easy to imagine a parallel world in which bus lanes didn’t exist, in which buses were smelly, and slow, and dangerous, and socially unsafe – a world in which very few Londoners used buses, at all. We created a system in which bus travel was made attractive and obvious, and people flocked to them.
Let’s not be like the authors of DB32 and imagine we can’t do the same for cycling.