Self driving cars and the child-ball problem

John Adams - 6 July, 2015 - 17:48

“…if a ball were to roll onto a road, a human might expect that a child could follow. Artificial intelligence cannot yet provide that level of inferential thinking.”

This quotation from 2012 has already been overtaken by the extraordinary progress in the development of self-driving cars. But programming a self-driving car to anticipate a child following a ball is the easy part of the problem. 1 The tricky bit is programming the car’s response. … read more

Categories: Views

A "Pinch-Point" design which slows cars without "pinching" bikes

A View from the Cycle Path - 6 July, 2015 - 06:30
On-road cycle-lane approaching a pinch-point. A potentially dangerous situation for cyclists. Note how from this view the driving lanes appears to narrow at the pinch-point. Pinch points are often installed on roads to slow motor vehicles and to provide crossing places for pedestrians. They are often dangerous for cyclists. Road lanes which suddenly narrowed to encourage drivers to slow down David Hembrow
Categories: Views

Tour de France in Utrecht

BicycleDutch - 5 July, 2015 - 23:01
It seems impossible that you missed that the Tour de France started in Utrecht this weekend. But I did miss it, at least, I couldn’t be there! I was in … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

Everyone cycles in Antwerp (who knew?!)

ibikelondon - 5 July, 2015 - 17:21

I'm in Antwerp, Belgium, which will host stage 3 of the 2015 Tour de France tomorrow.  I'm here for the Tour (follow my Twitter feed for live updates tomorrow) but hadn't appreciated what a great cycling city Antwerp is.

Home to about a million people its Belgium's most populous city, blessed with a compact historic core which is criss-crossed by a web of tram lines and very good cycling infrastructure.  There's tonnes of Tour fans in town, and roadies were out in force riding the route ahead of tomorrow's stage, but I also saw lots of just about everybody else riding a bike as well.

As you'd expect, cyclists share with other traffic on small and quiet roads here, but where volumes or speeds of cars are high the bikes are given their own space.  And I was glad to see there was plenty of new cycling infrastructure in place and that it was well maintained; always a sure sign that a city cares for its cyclists.

From the moment you step off the high speed train at Antwerp Centraal (and oh my goodness me, train fans, what a station it is) the fact that you're in a cycling city is apparent - deep in the bowels of the station there's acres of secure bicycle parking, a mechanic's workshop and a bike hire station. There's a suite of city bike share schemes - depending on how long you need a bike for - but if you're just visiting I recommend Fietshaven's Yellow Bike scheme, where you can rent a fantastic bike for a full 24 hours for just €13.

It was great to see the beautiful merchant's houses in the bike and pedestrian-friendly city centre.  Cyclists are exempt from having to follow most one-way streets here, and bike parking abounds. But it is not just in the old town that the city has been thinking about bikes.  There were acres of heavily-used bike parking outside the nearly-new Berchem Station, and smooth, wide brand-new bike tracks to get you there. 

Beneath the river Scheldt, the 1933 Saint Anne's tunnel accommodates people on bike and foot, and allows you to take your bike down the original wooden escalators before a leisurely ride beneath the river with excellent acoustics!

I found drivers to be courteous and interaction between riders and cars seemed friendly. What's more I saw cyclists of all ages out enjoying a summer's Sunday ride.  Indeed, the leisurely cycle track that follows the railway south out of the city is so popular it could well do with being made even wider - that's what we call in cycle planning circles "a nice problem to have".

Antwerp had never been on my list of places to visit before. I knew it was here, of course, and that it was really just a short trip by train from London.  I had a vague idea that it was famous for diamonds, and shipping, but that was about it.  Well, more fool me.  Antwerp punches above its weight; both as a cycling city and as a destination in its own right.  I couldn't think of a nicer weekend away than riding around here by bike.

For more info on cycling in Antwerp go to Visit Antwerp.
Check for a profile of tomorrow's stage departing from Antwerp.
You can get to Antwerp via the Eurostar in about two hours, with tickets from £80.

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Categories: Views

Trying it out

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 3 July, 2015 - 11:54

Last year I wrote about the stalled attempts to improve Bank junction in the City of London. The problem appears to be the time it is taking the City to model the effects of potential changes to the junction – in fact, the City are developing a new model from scratch, which is taking eighteen months, meaning results won’t even be in until Spring 2016.

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.

As I wrote then, this is a very time-consuming and expensive way of finding out something that could be established by trial arrangements, on the street itself; this could involve closing or restricting some of the streets in the area to motor traffic. Such a trial could be temporary, meaning that if genuine chaos did ensue, then the layout could be reverted back to normal very quickly, with alternative arrangements tried at a later date. The results of such a trial – given that they correspond to the real world – would also be much more accurate than those provided a model, even a very expensive one.

Of course tragedy struck at this junction last month, with the death of Ying Tao. If action had been taken more quickly to try out arrangements to improve Bank, rather than waiting years to develop and test a model, then improvements could already have been in place by now.

In a similar vein, in their response to the consultation on Quietway 2 in London, Transport for London rejected closing parts of the Quietway as a through-route to motor traffic, for the following reason –

Some respondents to the consultation felt that closing Calthorpe Street and/or Margery Street to general traffic would be a more appropriate intervention. The changes proposed at this junction are due to be delivered this year, in line with the opening of the new Quietway route. These suggestions would have a wider impact of LB Camden and LB Islington’s road network and would require much further investigation. It is considered this would not be deliverable within the timescale, as investigation would be needed of the impact on adjacent streets.

Such a measure would apparently require ‘much further investigation’, because of the impacts on the surrounding road network.

As it happens, I was passing along this very road – Calthorpe Street – earlier this week, and was amazed to discover that it was actually filtered, in the way respondents to the consultation had been calling for.

Well, not in exactly the same way – people cycling were bumping up onto the footway to get around the closure. But the effect is the same. What look like some water main repairs have seen the total closure of this street to motor traffic.

Was there carnage on the surrounding streets? Total gridlock? I didn’t come across any, at least nothing out of the ordinary for London. At the very least a simple trial closure like this could be implemented for, say, six weeks to genuinely investigate whether such a closure would cause gridlock elsewhere. It would also give residents (who, by the way, are in favour of such a closure on this street) a chance to experience the benefits in terms of quieter and safer streets for a short period, buying-in support for a permanent closure.

What seems to be at play here, both at Bank and with TfL’s response to closure requests, is what Rachel Aldred has recently called

The terrifying spectre of delays to motor traffic

Fear of holding up drivers, even for a few more minutes, seems to be crippling, to such an extent that rather than just trying out closures we will spend years developing models, or carrying out ‘much further investigation’, to establish what we could find out quickly and easily by on-the-ground trials.

To be fair, some local authorities are much bolder, and are keen and willing to experiment with reducing routes and capacity for motor traffic. Last year Camden coned off a lane on the entry to Royal College Street, just to see what happened.

Answer – nothing happened. Traffic still flowed.

That means there’s a whole lane’s worth of space that can be (and is now) being re-allocated to cycle provision on St Pancras road, in the form of a stepped cycle track.

And this week Camden announced plans to trial reallocating an entire vehicle lane along the Tavistock Place route to a westbound cycle lane, restricting this road to one-way for motor traffic, in opposing directions (which should mean a large reduction in through motor traffic too). The existing two-way track, grossly over-capacity, will become a one-way track. More about this in a future post.

Waltham Forest are also keen to experiment; their bold mini-Holland scheme of closures to through traffic is now becoming permanent.

And in Leicester – were the Cycling Embassy spent last weekend for their AGM – the council is apparently keen to trial lane closures in advance of building cycling infrastructure. This cycle track on Newarke Street, built on a vehicle lane, was preceded by a coning off of the lane in question, to examine the effects on motor traffic.

Spot the lawbreaker.

And a similar ‘coning off’ was recently performed by Leicester City Council on the nearby Welford Road – a lane was deliberately taken away to see what happened.

Again, we were told that the impacts on motor traffic were minimal – and presumably some cycling infrastructure is now planned for this pretty scary road.

Finally, CycleGaz spotted another recent temporary trial arrangement on Norbury Avenue – this one for three months.

Road closed to cars on Norbury Avenue to prevent it being used as a rat run.

— CycleGaz™ (@cyclegaz) July 1, 2015

These kind of trials don’t really require that much boldness; they’re cheap, quick to install, and can be reversed at the end of the trial if they prove to be unpopular, or if genuine gridlock does actually result.

Why can’t other councils and transport authorities break out of their paralysing fear of effects on motor traffic, and emulate what Camden, Leicester, Waltham Forest, Croydon and other councils are willing to try out?

Categories: Views

Cargo Bike Logistics on Harbours and Rivers by Copenhagenize

Copenhagenize - 1 July, 2015 - 18:05

Urban logistics is just one of the many challenges facing our cities. After Copenhagenize worked for three years on the European Union project Cyclelogistics, we have cargo bikes on the brain and provide cargo bike logistics as one of our services. We also live in a city with 40,000 cargo bikes in daily use. As ever, we look for solutions not only for other cities, but our own. During the Cyclelogistics project we determined that there is a massive potential for shifting goods delivery to bikes and cargo bikes. 51% of all motorised private and commercial goods transport in EU cities could be done on bicycles or cargo bikes.

Great. Let's do that. But how to do it best? Lots of small companies are already operating in cities with last-mile service for packages, which is great. DHL is rocking Dutch cities with cargo bike deliveries and UPS and FedEx are getting their game face on, too. But we need to think bigger and better.

The City of Copenhagen created the framework for the idea of setting up a consolodation centre south of the city where logistics companies could drop off their goods in their larger trucks. Last mile service could be provided by smaller vehicles so that the trucks stay the hell out of our city. The industry has been slow to pick up the baton, however.

Copenhagen's City Logistik website hasn't been updated for a while because industry is lagging behind. This film explains their basic concept:

Sådan virker Citylogistik from Citylogistik on Vimeo.

There are a lot of packages to be delivered to the citizens in cities. In the Netherlands, for example, over half of all shoes are bought online. That is a lot of shoeboxes needing to get out to the people. In Europe we speak of the Zalando effect - similar to Amazon in North America.

Last mile service by smaller vehicles is great for cities but what about the solutions that are right there under our nose? What about the most ancient of transport corridors in our cities - the rivers and harbours.

We at Copenhagenize Design Company propose having barges - electric if you like - plying the waters of Copenhagen harbour. Dropping off small goods at specially designed piers at strategic locations on the harbourfront. Secure facilities that keep the goods stored in lockers. Depots designed especially for cargo bikes to arrive and pick up goods - or drop them off - in order to deliver them to the people and businesses in the various areas and neigbourhoods.

Our urban designer Adina Visan took our idea to the visual stage. Envisioning iconic off-shore depots for urban logistics along Copenhagen Harbour - or any city with a harbour or river.

This should be the new normal for goods delivery in Copenhagen.

Depots arranged to serve the densely populated neighbourhoods on either side of the harbour.

Designed for a fleet of cargo bikes that can roll in, pick up goods in lockers, and roll out again onto the cycle tracks of the city.

What are we waiting for?Copenhagenize the planet. And have a lovely day.
Categories: Views

Wooden cycle bridge in Harderwijk

BicycleDutch - 29 June, 2015 - 23:01
An exceptional new wooden cycle bridge can be found in the town of Harderwijk on the former Zuiderzee (now IJsselmeer). It was opened on 11 December 2014 by several aldermen … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

Study Tour round-up (June 2015 with Cambridge Cycling Campaign)

A View from the Cycle Path - 29 June, 2015 - 13:56
Study Tour participants from Cambridge riding on a canal-side cycle-path in Assen. Our study tours in Assen and Groningen have been quite popular this year. The feedback section of the study tour website shows where most of the people have visited from and there are plans for more visitors. The photos below show some of what we currently demonstrate on study tours: This photo may not appearDavid Hembrow
Categories: Views

Time to Stop the Killing

Vole O'Speed - 28 June, 2015 - 20:57
Tomorrow, Monday, sees a vigil and die-in at Bank junction in London at 5:30pm to mark the deaths of Ling Tao, killed there on 22 June by a tipper truck, and Clifton James, killed the night before on Forward Drive, Harrow by a car. There has already been a large protest at Bank organised by London Cycling Campaign on Wednesday morning. Whether or not you went to that one, I urge you, whatever your usual mode of transport, if you are interested in making London a more civilised city thast tries harder to protect its people from the dangers of the roads, to attend the vigil and die-in tomorrow.

I've attended this year two similar events in London organised by the group Stop Killing Cyclists. This group has developed, under the leadership of the admirable Donnachadh McCarthy, into a powerful and well-organised 'conscience' for road safety in London, operating in the capital in a complimentary manner to the London Cycling Campaign, separate from it and with different methods, but similar goals. Where we used to get ghost bikes placed by a few anonymous souls at the site of a cycling fatality, and little else, we now get a significant demonstration with speeches from the relatives of bereaved and from campaigners, and then a protest that involves people lying in the road with bicycles for several minutes. We now have this very time there is a cycling fatality in London. It is systematic, and London's authorities now know it will happen every time, and that the movement is likely to grow until these unnecessary deaths stop.

I did not attend the event that marked the death of Esther Hartsilver in Southwark on 6 June, so I'll not discuss that one here, but I will write about the previous two Stop Killing Cyclists events, both of which I attended, commemorating Michael Mason and Moira Gemmill, as they illustrate starkly and respectively the twin issues the UK must address to make cycling (and walking) safe: road justice and infrastructure.

 Michael Mason was given fatal injuries by a on 25 February 2014 driver on Regent Street who simply ran him over from behind. He was a cyclist with half a century of experience doing everything right, and he was just struck down on a busy central London street by a driver who just claims she 'didn't see him' and can't explain why. The police believe they have insufficient evidence to prove a charge of causing death by careless driving, and so no action has been taken against the driver at all. No case has been sent to the Crown Prosecution Service.

It would be had to imagine a clearer case of failure of road justice. The Metropolitan Police's response to a complaint over their failure to prosecute shows their mentality: rather than taking an objective view,  they themselves construct a one-sided 'case for the defence', seeking to try to invent inadequate and incoherent reasons why the driver 'did not see' Michael Mason, whose visibility was was obvious to witnesses, rather than putting the case before a jury to decide. They say (my comments in italics):
  • Mr MASON (Deceased) was wearing dark clothing, the collision having taken place during hours of darkness. (Irrelevant. He had bright lights)
  • An independent witness at the scene (Neil TREVITHICK) stated that with the sea of brake lights, flashing lights and movement it would be difficult for a driver to pick out anything. (What? 'Sea of lights and movement'? This is what a busy shopping street is always like in the early evening. This is what road users have to cope with all the time. Drivers have to have adequate sight and responses and control of their vehicle and their speed must allow them to react to everything occurring on the road. This is a pathetic attempt to abrogate responsibility from the driver. It might be something that a non-expert accidental witness might come up with, but it has no place as a justification in a police report.)
  • CCTV traced corroborated how busy the area in general was, with both motorists and pedestrians. (Same comment as above)
  • All witnesses traced could not describe in any detail the lead up to the collision. (Irrelevant. As they were not involved in the collision, this is no surprise.)
  • Mr MASON was not wearing a cycle helmet, the cause of death being head injury (A helmet may or may not have saved his life, but this is irrelevant to deciding whether the driver was culpable for the collision that killed him.)
Of  course a jury may have taken the same view as the police, but at least a trial would have tested this view. The view will probably now be tested by a private prosecution of the driver by the relatives of Michael Mason, that is being funded by the Cyclists Defence Fund, to which I urge readers to donate. If this is allowed to stand without further legal or political challenge, the position seems to be that any good and responsible cyclist cycling in every way within the law can just expect to be be killed by a driver running them over from behind, there need be no rational explanation of the incident, and the driver may just walk away from such a killing with no legal procedure following and a blameless record.  The implications are quite horrific for all who cycle on our roads.

Stop Killing Cyclists vigil for Michael Mason in Regent Street on 13 MarchThe vigil in Regent Street on 13 March saw Michael's daughter give a moving tribute to her father and an account of the desperate situation for the family that the police's unfair and unbalanced treatment of the case has created. There were also speeches from Donnachadh McCarthy and Nicola Branch of Stop Killing Cyclists, Cynthia Barlow of RoadPeace, Caroline Russell of the Green Party and Roger Geffen of CTC. Following this the police facilitated the protesters to lay themselves and their bikes down in the street for two minutes. Here is part of Donnachadh's speech:

Sadly police incompetence in this case continued beyond this point. An announcement that had been made that the the case was in fact going to be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions, which was seen as most likely a response to the protest and publicity, was then reversed, without apology, and with a further effect on the family that can only be imagined.

The vigil and die-in held on 20 April for Moira Gemmill was even more impressive. Moira,  an acclaimed museum designer distinguished for work at the Museum of London, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Royal Collection was the fifth cyclist to be killed riding in London in 2015, the fifth to be killed by an HGV, the fourth by a construction lorry, and the fourth woman. There was an additional big issue in this case, though, apart from the usual one of the danger of lorries and their drivers' blind-spots and the apparent statistical extra vulnerability of female cyclists. The Millbank and Lambeth Bridge roundabout, where the crash occurred, is known as an especially dangerous junction. for Millbank and Lambeth Bridge junction, crashes 2005–2113. 'Too many incidents to display'If you have ever tried cycling round this roundabout you will know why it is one of the most dangerous in London. It has heavy traffic volumes and is a terrible design that encourages speed and aggression. It was identified as a junction requiring urgent work by Transport for London in 2012. It was also a focus of a conference in October of that year nearby at Church House in Westminster entitled the Love London Go Dutch Cycle Conference, sponsored by the Kingdom of the Netherlands and involving the London Cycling Campaign, Dutch consultancy firm Royal HashkoningDHV, Transport for London and others, and attended by then Under Secretary of State for Transport Norman Baker.

There was a working party consisting of campaigners and Dutch and British roads experts sent on the morning of the conference to examine the Millbank roundabout and come up with better designs. The better design proposed was a Dutch-style roundabout with a priority cycle track and parallel zebra crossings. There was discussion on this in the afternoon. I remember the bafflement of the Dutch representatives who couldn't quite understand the objection to their tried-and-testyed standard Dutch design from elements of the local contingent that it would not be able to cope with the number of vehicles that the roundabout currently does. They understood that to create a safe cycling environment and an attractive city for walking you have to reduce traffic to reasonable levels with designs not calculated to maximise motor throughput! They couldn't, at a fundamental level, understand why people would actually wish to have in the historic centre of a city and close to a world heritage site a motorway's worth of polluting, noisy, aggressive, fast and dangerous cars and HGVs.

Transport for London subsequently went away on worked on designs for the roundabout, and came back with something one-one much liked. It was a classic two-track provision compromise with shared pavements for "less-confident cyclists" and on-road cycle "awareness-raising" markers for the others, with raised tables under zebra crossings at the entrances and exits. It was roundly condemned by LCC and the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain (but not by CTC, who seem to think "tightening-up corner geometries" was all that was required).

TfL's 2012 design for Millbank roundabout
It appears Westminster council had their own reasons for opposing TfL's proposed changes, though what their argument was never publicly made clear. TfL announced finally that they would not processed with the proposed changers, and would not do anything else to the roundabout in the short term, but that they would trial a Dutch-style roundabout at the Transport Research Laboratory in Berkshire. The trial roundabout was indeed built in Berkshire in 2013, but no results from this trial have yet been published. Following the publication of The Mayor's Vision for Cycling in London in March 2013, Andrew Gilligan, the Boris Johnson's Cycling commissioner, often publicly suggested that temporary emergency changes could be made to known danger-spots for cycling on the road network, but no such action was ever taken, anywhere in London. There was clearly a lack of political support for this common-sense view.

The memorial for Moira Gemmill at Millbank roundaboutI can't report on the speeches that were made at the vigil and die-in for Moira Gemmill on 20 April, as the demo was so huge I could not get within (amplified) earshot of them. During the die-in the entire junction became a human and bike interlaced carpet, the low spring sun shone, and the tulips in the centre of the roundabout went a deep shade of crimson. There was a special quaity of silence, and this brief tweet with accompanying picture I made seemed to strike a popular chord, as it had 126 retweets and 47 favourites.
Genuinely amazing scenes. Lambeth Bridge #MoiraGemmill #StopKillingCyclists 
Sea of cyclists on the Millbank roundabout commemorating Moira Gemmill during the die-in on 20 April. Maybe Westminster or TfL thought that "Dutch-style roundabout" meant planting lovely red tulips on it.Hints are about now that Millbank roundabout may finally get a re-working as part of the Mayor's 'Better Junctions' programme, but that cannot now happen before 2016, and in the meantime it remains as deadly as ever.

Another junction that is well known as dangerous is the complex Bank intersection in the heart of the City of London. Bank junction has been admitted by the local authority, the City Corporation, to have "One of the poorest road safety records in the City, particularly in relation to injuries to pedestrians and cyclists" and they further, shockingly, state  "The junction does not work well for any mode of transport" Their head-scratching has been going on over this since at least October 2011, with seemingly no end in sight. The City have an extraordinarily leisurely project timetable in which
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.So that's just building this model by early 2016. No actual building of anything on the ground. The latest from the Corporation suggests they will not have finished building whatever new design  they eventually come up with before 2020 or even 2021!

Mark Treasure asked in July 2014:
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! One can draw a sharp contrast between the London approach and that of New York under Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, with her mantra "Do bold experiments that are cheap to try out". While New York is certainly not yet any kind of cyclists' or pedestrians' paradise, the radical changes achieved in locations like Time Square and Broadway with quick and temporary infrastructure used to experiment with concepts that can later be made permanent represent a possibility that seems anathema to the lumbering structures of London government.

While these structures, the boroughs, the City Corporation, TfL, and the Department for Transport, continue to quibble, delay, and argue about what should be done to known dangerous junctions, the dead bodies metaphorically pile up. Ying Tao, a 26 year-old management consultant was crushed at Bank last week, the eighth cyclist to be killed in London this year, the seventh by an HGV, the sixth by a construction lorry, and the sixth woman. About 12 hours earlier 60 year-old Clifton James became the second male cyclist to be killed in London this year, dying from head injuries caused by a car on Forward Drive, Harrow, a bad suburban rat-run on which traffic regularly exceeds the 30mph limit, furnished with two confusing mini-roundabout junctions on which drivers often fail to give way to cyclists. This death is quite local to me, and in fact I have written about the corridor on which Mr James was killed before, pointing out the uselessness of painting "awareness-raising" cycle symbols  on rat-run urban roads. It's funny how these places that the cycle campaigners and bloggers keep writing about as dangerous but which don't get changed are the places where we see the deaths.

I was speaking to a friend yesterday who is a professional scientist and a cyclist, but not involved in cycle campaigning. He asked me, "Why can't we analyse the incidents in which cyclists die and put in place measures that prevent the repeated occurrences of the same kind of incident?" Why indeed. More enlightened societies, like Sweden, have a 'Vision Zero' concept where they attempt to carry out precisely this kind of investigation, analysis, and remedial process systematically in every case with the aim of reducing deaths to zero.

In the UK it seems priorities lie elsewhere. The best way to challenge this is to make a big fuss on the streets after every death until priorities do change. The stark language of the "Stop the Killing" movement takes its cue from the successful Dutch 'Stop the Child Murder' campaign of the 1970s. I believe we will eventually succeed with this in the UK as well, but we are far behind. The more people we get to events like tomorrow's vigil, the more publicity we generate, the harder time we  give the politicians and civil sevants responsible for the current mess, the sooner we will approach our own Vision Zero and also make London and other British towns and cities safe, pleasant and attractive place to cycle and to walk.

There is a more detailed history of the Millbank roundabout saga by Alex Ingram here.

Categories: Views

Utrecht welcomes the Tour de France but what's the legacy for a city that already cycles?

ibikelondon - 28 June, 2015 - 08:30
It's a year since the world's greatest cycle race kicked off in Britain and 'Tour fever' swept the country.  From the hills of the north York moors, to the streets of London, millions turned out hoping to catch a glimpse of their favourite Tour de France rider flash past.

Thousands of spectators packed the tiny Essex village of Finchingfield to watch Le Tour pass by in 2014.  With roads closed for miles around, most arrived by bicycle (including me!)

Everything has to have a "legacy" these days (thank you, London 2012) and the Grand Depart in Britain was no exception. Echoing last year's route, members of the public can now emulate their cycling heroes and ride Britain's hills alongside pro riders in the Tour de Yorkshire, encouraging more people to take to their bikes.  There was even a Knighthood for Grand Depart organiser Gary Verity.

This Saturday the Tour de France is heading north once more, this time starting in the Dutch city of Utrecht.  Home to canals, festivals and Miffy the bunny, it's a compact and charming university city stuffed with cycle tracks and people on bikes.  So, in a city that already has a mainstream cycling culture, will the Grand Depart be all of that big deal for the Dutch?

'Cyclists' riding in Utrecht, where the Tour de France will begin this weekend.
I've heard cycle campaigners on both sides of the equation disparaging sports cycling in mass cycling countries.  On one hand, the argument goes that sports cycling is all well and good but it is not the "right kind" of journey by bike that cities so desire.  On the other, some dedicated roadies discredit cycling provision in case it detracts from their right to ride as quickly as they can.  I can see merits in both arguments, but on the ground in successful cycling cities the reality is very different.

Sports cycling is alive and well in the Netherlands (as multi-time world champion and Olympic gold medallist Marianne Vos and 2014 Tour de France stage winner Lars Boom attest) and there is no shortage of people pulling on their lycra on a Saturday morning to head out for a long spin in to the country.

The Dutch use bikes like we use cars and buses; it is an everyday and ordinary activity.  So it seems perfectly natural that their language makes a distinction between 'being a person who uses a bike' and 'being a cyclist'. A fietser is someone who uses a fiets (a bicycle) whereas someone with all the kit and the fancy sports bike is called wielrenner, literally a 'wheel runner'.  When the Dutch say cyclists don't wear helmets or special gear they mean it sincerely as 'fietser' is only ever a description of someone using a Dutch bike going about their day in a very ordinary way.  This is not to say sports cyclists don't exist in the Netherlands and people aren't out there in all their kit putting in the miles.

As this video by Mark from the always excellent BicycleDutch blog demonstrates, the cycle tracks of the Netherlands are home to plenty of wielrenner.  The reason you don't see them so much in bike blogs and photographs about the country is that they are somewhat obscured by the everyday and ordinary fietser all around them, much as Britain's sports cyclists are overwhelmed by the everyday and ordinary car journeys going on around them.

I can't help but feel that if we had the same linguistic distinction here in the UK, perhaps Transport for London wouldn't have dipped in to the cycling safety budget to the tune of £6million in order to host the Tour last year, instead of spending that money on making roads safer for bike riders of every hue.  (Rumours abound that TfL bosses, keen to spend the cycle budget on anything other than actual changes on the road, are keen to lure the Grand Depart to London again soon)  If we had the same linguistic distinction between cyclists and cyclists as the Dutch do, perhaps there might be a clearer understanding of what is needed to bring about those everyday and ordinary journeys by bike? 

Utrecht is a beautiful energetic cycling city and I have no doubt it will give Le Tour a fantastic send off this weekend, heralding a summer of brilliant cycle racing.  It would be interesting to see - once the professional wielrenner have wheeled out of town - how Utrecht carries on being an everyday and ordinary successful cycling city; it could be a 'legacy lesson' for us all.

Categories: Views

School run shenanigans

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 24 June, 2015 - 09:09

News from Sussex Police

Woman convicted of driving dangerously outside Crawley school

A Crawley woman has been sentenced for driving dangerously outside a school.

Leanne Andre, 43, of Friars Rookery,  Crawley, pleaded not guilty to driving dangerously in October 2014 when she appeared at Crawley Magistrates Court on 11 June, but was found guilty.

Andre received a 12-month Community Order of 90 hours unpaid work, was ordered to pay total court costs of £810 and has been disqualified from driving for 12 months as well as then having to take an extended driving test.

The incident happened in Gales Drive, Three Bridges, on the afternoon of 23 October last year.

Andre had parked her vehicle illegally in the bus stop directly outside Three Bridges primary school whilst picking up her children from the school. The local Three Bridges community policing team was patrolling the area at the time in response to numerous reports of dangerous parking  near the school at opening and closing times.

They put a notice on the windscreen of Andre’s car pointing out that it was parked illegally.

Upon Andre’s return to her car a PCSO approached her explaining why the notice had been issued. She responded by directing verbal abuse at him, and drove off. A Police Constable asked her to stop but instead she accelerated towards the officer, swerving just to avoid contact, and continued gaining speed as she drove away, giving no consideration to the parents and children who were waiting, as she claimed she was in a rush.

Officers had the registration number and description of the car and subsequently went to Andre’s home nearby to arrange to inteview her under caution.

PC Jo Millard said; “Andre’s actions on that day were irresponsible and dangerous. We will take action against offenders driving in such an anti-social and dangerous manner.”

No doubt this would have been a full-page spread in the Daily Mail, coupled with earnest coverage on Radio 4, if Andre had abused and threatened police officers while on a bike. ‘Do cyclists have entitlement issues?’ ‘Is it time for cyclists to wear number plates to curb their bad behaviour?’ ‘Do they need to wear hi-viz identification vests?’

But as it is, it will pass completely under the radar, just another example of everyday traffic violence that passes without comment.

Bloody cyclists.

But this isn’t even why this story caught my attention – I spotted where Andre lives. Friars Rookery. Which is…

… 300 metres from Three Bridges Primary School.

It is, literally, just down the road – so close the police officers could presumably see her turning back into her own street.

Crawley is a New Town, meaning most of the main roads in it are lovely and wide. Cycling infrastructure (sometimes of reasonable quality, mostly of dubious quality) did arrive on the major roads, but unfortunately residential distributors like Gales Drive didn’t get any.

No continuous footways across the side roads either, meaning young children walking to school have to ‘take responsibility’ for crossing side roads while dangerous and aggressive drivers like Andre emerge out of them to take their own children to school.

Slow clap, Britain.

Categories: Views

Main cycle route in a city expansion

BicycleDutch - 22 June, 2015 - 23:01
Cycling in the newest parts of cities and towns in The Netherlands is almost always very convenient. That is because these areas were designed with cycling in mind from the … Continue reading →
Categories: Views

Us, not ‘Them’

As Easy As Riding A Bike - 22 June, 2015 - 20:45

Sad as it is to say, I suppose there’s nothing particularly out of the ordinary about another sequence of deaths and serious injuries of people riding bikes – the most troubling and unsettling being yet another woman being crushed by a left-turning tipper truck at a notoriously dangerous London junction – running in parallel with a series of poorly-timed articles and programmes , apparently driven by a media industry that seems determined to pour petrol on the flames of what should be a deeply serious issue, for the sake of ratings.

A feature of these articles in newspapers, or appearances on TV is the reference to people cycling as ‘them’, or ‘they’. All from the last few days.

Exhibit A.

Exhibit B.

Exhibit C.

Glenda Slagg nonsense there, from Sarah Vine, Fiona Phillips, and Angela Epstein, respectively.

Of course the trick with this kind of ‘journalism’ is to play to what you think is your audience, parroting their prejudice back to them. And sure enough the response was predictable –

Who is this ‘them’, though? Who are ‘they’?

Pictured below are just some of the 51 people who have been killed riding a bike in Britain so far this year.

Keep the word ‘them’ in mind.

Stephanie Turner

Clifton James

April Reeves

James Stephenson

Alan Cronin

Akis Kollaros

Michael Beard

Esther Hartsilver

Les Turnbull

Adam Jones

Alexander William Clark

Clive Wright

Claire Hitier-Abadie

Andrew Wolfindale

Craig Armitage

Dan Climance

David Thomson

Federica Baldassa

Jamie Murray

Karen Clayton

Kian Gill

Mairead Boucherat

Moira Gemmill

Paul Miller

Robert Betteley

Sally Shalloe

Yvonne Wyeth

Timothy Smith

‘Them’? What do these people have in common, beyond the tragedy of their deaths, and their mode of transport at that time?

They’re just ordinary people. Husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, daughters, sons. Not ‘them’. Ordinary people who just happened to be riding a bike.


Categories: Views

London is changing, and it's all down to you. But what next for cycle campaigners?

ibikelondon - 22 June, 2015 - 08:30
I've been away from the blog for a few months travelling, moving house and standing back to watch as London begins to change in a way that was unthinkable just five years ago. As construction in the city centre begins of high quality cycle routes for the first time, it is worth taking a moment to assess how we got to this point, and to ask "what happens next"?

The North / South Cycle Superhighway is finally under construction.
My last article here was about the serious attempt by the Licensed Taxi Drivers Authority to have Mayor Boris Johnson's Cycle Superhighway plans stopped. In a classic filibuster they threatened to submit the entire scheme to Judicial Review in the High Court, which would have added months and innumerable expense to getting the routes built. In the end the LTDA slinked quietly away, and the Board of Transport for London gave construction the green light. (Though not until Board members, some with shocking conflicts of interest, had gone over the proposals in minuscule detail for some 90 minutes.)

Cycle campaigners - myself included - have been saying for many years that the pace of change in London has not been fast enough when considered against the annual death toll of people on bikes and the growth in numbers riding. And yet, in many ways the pace of change has now accelerated faster than anyone could have imagined even just a few years ago.

The upgraded Cycle Superhighway 2 in Whitechapel, which is opening in sections and where floating bus stops are working well. (Picture via Twitter with thanks)
In 2010 I demanded to know if the London Cycling Campaign and the Cyclists Touring Club were even prepared to push for decent cycling infrastructure or not. There was no consensus among cycle campaigners as to how best go about creating conditions for mass cycling, and even less agreement as to whether segregated cycle paths were even desirable. The integration / segregation conundrum sparked heated debates, both online and off. Respected cycling journalist and author Carlton Reid disparaged from the comments section of my blog;
"We ain't gonna get the sort of cycle infrastructure we'd all love. Ever.
In such a car-centric society as the UK it would be next to impossible to take meaningful space away from cars."But here we are some 5 years later, and construction of high quality, segregated cycling infrastructure is already underway in London.  The plans are by no means perfect, but they will be revolutionary. When TfL's previous Cycle Superhighways were built - effectively little more than just blue paint - cycling levels on those routes leapt.  Imagine what the effect is going to be with safe new routes, separated from traffic and useable by all abilities?  We didn't just get the kind of cycle routes that people said were impossible, they're going to be game changers too.

Aldgate Gyratory is being largely rebuilt, due for completion in September 2016.  Segregated cycle tracks in Oval will arrive by next spring.  Construction is underway on the North / South Cycle Superhighways from Elephant and Castle to King's Cross, also due for completion by next spring.  The most contentious cycle route of them all, the East / West Cycle Superhighway along the Embankment, is currently causing a little light traffic chaos along the river and will be operational by May 2016, not withstanding gaps in the Royal Parks who continue to dig in their heels, and in so doing reveal their prejudices.

Welcome to the future! This segregated road space on terrifying Vauxhall Bridge will soon become a two-way cycle track. (via @citycyclists with thanks)
Cycle campaigner's integration / segregation argument has largely gone away, with most (cough, Hackney, cough) now acknowledging that where traffic volumes and speeds are sufficiently high then separating cyclists is desirable.  As consensus emerged, much was made of the need for any new cycling infrastructure to be as fast and direct as the experience of riding in the road, and rightly so.  The internet brought us easily accessible examples of best practise from overseas, whilst popular protests in London rallied around dangerous junctions and the need for design rather than behaviour to provide safety.  This spawned the London Cycling Campaign's fabulous "Love London, Go Dutch" campaign and #space4cycling which, in turn, led to the Mayoral promise to build better routes.

Charting this progress is in itself an interesting exercise.  I am struck by just how far we have come; my talk at the 2012 National Conference on Urban Design detailed how design and conditions on the ground emerged as the campaigning issue of our time.  This consensus has in turn led to new routes being built on the ground.  Here's the audio and slides from that talk, if you fancy a lunchtime history lesson.

Design Led Cycle Safety; how the cycling community came to value urban design from ibikelondon on Vimeo.
My 2010 talk on Design-led Cycle Safety charts how campaigning has changed in London.
Once that consensus emerged, London's cycle campaigners became increasingly resilient. Lots of new faces got involved, the LCC's policy was hammered in to shape by brilliant contributors like Dr Rachel Aldred whilst activists became advisers, working as much behind the scenes as in front.  Brilliantly conceived activations were put together specifically with media impact in mind, and activist's work became targeted and with achievable aims.  The pop-up business campaign CyclingWorks.London was instrumental in helping the new Cycle Superhighways plans scrape through TfL Board approval, in the face of exceptionally powerful opposition from the likes of Canary Wharf and their corporate lobbyists.  Without the names of the 170 company CEOs pledging their support for the plans, I am not sure we would have made it.  In a recent speech the Mayor's Cycling Commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, highlighted just how tight the fight has been:
"It was at times nightmarishly difficult to manage this, and we saw some absolutely ferocious resistance, kicking and screaming, and we saw a lot more passive resistance, heel digging and foot dragging from whom Olympic cyclist Chris Boardman called Old Men in Limos; you've heard of the MAMILs, those were the OMILs. A lot of objections, which would nearly always start with the words 'Of course I support cycling..."Gilligan went on to highlight how, with the helps of the likes of CyclingWorks, the OMILS were "comprehensively outfought in the PR and public support battle."
"You'll have to read our memoirs, if anyone wants to publish them, to find out how difficult it all was and how close it all came to not happening.""I think we've made enormous progress - unprecedented progress - over the last couple of years, but I believe we're still in the foothills of making London a cycle friendly city and the task for Londoners is to make sure the progress we've made continues after May [2016, the next Mayoral election]."I think this is an honest assessment and shows how hard campaigners have worked to date.  Gilligan has been a highly effective banger together of heads, but will he wish to continue as Cycling Commissioner when Boris Johnson steps down as Mayor next year? Furthermore, will the movers and shakers at Transport for London want to go back to playing just with buses and trains once the political drive for cycling moves on?

Work is underway on the Embankment for the East / West Cycle Superhighway (via @jonokenyon with thanks)
Despite the amount of work involved to date, campaigners cannot yet rest easy. In the short term we'll need to ensure the new segregated routes are fit for use and finished to a high quality. They'll also have to continue powerfully putting the case to the rest of London that the disruption they're currently experiencing will be worth it.  Transport for London will need to ensure their spanking new cycle routes are maintained, cleaned and enforced - a cycle track with a truck parked in it is no good to anyone. 

In the longer term efforts must now begin to focus on the Mayoral election in 2016.  Without political will for cycling in City Hall in the future it will be too easy for TfL to draw back from their cycling responsibilities.  'Love London, Go Dutch' and #space4cycling were aspirational campaigns which captured the wider public's imagination about how London could be.  As the results of those campaigns begin to take solid form, it's important to find a way to convince London that more of the same would be a good thing.

Brand spanking new cycle tracks in south London - look how smooth they are! (Pic via @citycyclists with thanks)
Away from the cycle tracks, lethal lorries remain a chronic issue for vulnerable road users in our city, and much more can still be done on this issue to get the shocking and seemingly inevitable annual death toll down.  There is only so much campaigners can do, whereas Boris Johnson has the power to effect lasting change in the last 10 months of his Mayoralty.  To keep the pressure up on Transport for London he should appoint a cycling representative to their Board, an easy and much overdue move.  He should also push ahead with urgent reforms of lorry safety.  In doing so, he'd help to secure his long term cycling legacy and make it harder for future Mayors to unpick his good work.

For now, everyone who has attended a protest, written to the Mayor, tweeted, signed petitions and helped keep the momentum going should take a moment to reflect on how far London has come - both in terms of consensus and successes - and enjoy watching the new cycle routes being built.  But there's going to be more work to do to elevate London from "the foothills" of being a cycling city.  We need to get ready for what's next.
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Categories: Views

River crossing would be ‘discriminatory’ says councillor

At War With The Motorist - 12 September, 2014 - 13:19

A new bridge over the Thames in East London would only benefit ‘former Tory MPs’, a Newham councillor has claimed.

Councillor Airdrie Dalden is objecting to plans from Transport for London which include a bridge between the borough and the Royal Borough of Greenwich on the south of the river.

Quoting the example of journalist Matthew Parris, councillor Dalden said: “The vast majority of people currently crossing the Thames here are former Tory MPs in swimming trunks. Women of any ethnic group who wish to wear modest clothing, and I count myself in that category, are not going to put on a swimming costume and cross the Thames. Swimming is a discriminatory form of transport.”

Parris was criticised by the Port of London Authority in 2010 after writing about his experience of being swept a mile upriver when swimming across the busy commercial waterway at night.

Mayor Boris Johnson claims that the new Thames Gateway Bridge across the river would link the transport poor Thamesmead estate and Woolwich development area in Greenwich with residential and redevelopment areas around Beckton and the Royal Docks in Newham, creating opportunities for one of Britain’s most deprived boroughs.

But Councillor Dalden told AWWTM that the money Johnson proposes spending on the bridge would not “benefit every aspect of Newham, which is an ethnically diverse borough.”

“You look around and of the people who are crossing the Thames here, they do not belong to wider ethnic groups. The majority of swimmers are former Tory MPs like Matthew Parris and Boris Johnson. Fact.”

Transport for London are now considering a compromise solution which will involve building half a bridge.

Categories: Views

Repost: The definition of madness

At War With The Motorist - 14 July, 2014 - 08:00

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.

Categories: Views

7 years, 4 months and 18 days

At War With The Motorist - 11 July, 2014 - 08:00

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…

Categories: Views

Updated: That Cycling Revolution

At War With The Motorist - 7 July, 2014 - 08:00

A couple of years ago, when I had some time to waste flicking through the four decade history of stalled and deliberately ineffective “pro-cycling” transport policies, I created one of my simplest but most enduringly popular posts: a graph of That Cycling Revolution we keep hearing about.

The concept was simple (and crudely implemented) but I think must have made the point strikingly: taking quotes celebrating a “bike boom”, a renaissance of cycling, a grand new policy, or, most absurdly of all, a golden age of cycling and overlaying them on a graph of cycling’s great decline and stagnation in this country.

But of course, we were in the midst of a cycling revolution at the very time! The Olympics were coming! We were going to ride the wave! Sadly, at the time, the Department for Transport traffic survey data that was used as the basis of the graph only reached as far as 2010, when we were merely in the midst of a cycling revolution. So how did 2012’s cycling revolution work out? Last year’s numbers are in and it’s time to look at an updated picture.

(This time, to avoid faffing with crudely adding the annotations in PS, I’ve found the Google Docs annotations functionality, which unfortunately is very limited in the control it gives you over display style (and doesn’t give quite the right feel to the different types of data that crude PS labels gave), so click to embiggen and get the quotes…)

(Edited to add, thanks to @johnstevensonx, here’s a fancier one you can hover over to get the quotes.)

Oh what a change.

As ever, I’ll repeat Dave Horton’s warning here:

there are two clear and present problems which bedevil UK cycling advocacy: one is the requirement to trumpet any and all gains, however minor or potentially imaginary, in order for us to legitimate and reproduce ourselves as advocates; the other is a rush to interpret any sign of growth in cycling as both ‘good’ and a clear sign that investments in cycling are paying dividends, when a wider and more critical analysis might concur with neither.

And as before there are caveats to consider, besides the (pretty much irrelevant to the final results) fact that I adjusted GB distances to UK population change. The two in particular that occurred to me being:

Firstly, the annual traffic estimates are based on manual traffic counts for a (large) sample of roads. They don’t include off-road routes like railway paths, which have been slowly appearing over the past three decades. Unfortunately I doubt there are anywhere near enough such routes to make any relevant difference to the national numbers. Of course, in a few places they might make a difference to the local numbers, which brings us to…

Secondly, they are national numbers, and I’m sure people will still want to argue that cycling in their city is booming. In London, for example, there genuinely has been growth in the numbers of people on bikes in inner and central London over the past couple of decades. But at the same time, cycling in outer London plummeted, stabilising only in recent years.

A caveat to the caveat, though. When the CTC put together a map showing changes in cycling commuter share between the 2001 and 2011 census, people were keen to find meaning in the numbers. Why was there an apparent bike boom over here? Why did cycling rates crash over there? But in most of the country, all that the map really showed is the same thing that the DfT’s distance estimates show: that cycling hit rock bottom long ago and the tiny numbers continue to fluctuate — mostly by fractions of mode share percentage points — randomly.

If you did the stats properly, perhaps you could pin a robust narrative to the data — small but significant rural declines to small but significant inner urban gains seems to be one of the more attractive hypotheses*. But you couldn’t make the stories of the cycling revolution — or the policies that were supposedly to make one come about — stick.

(For the data and info on sources, see the Google Doc.)

* but equally you can find evidence that suggests the exact opposite and evidence that recently there’s no nationwide urban/rural trend at all; none of the evidence is all that good, and all it really says is that rates are fluctuating at low levels.

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Repost: Exclusive: things tend to have a greater effect on the world once they exist

At War With The Motorist - 4 July, 2014 - 10:49

So the Institute of Advanced Motorists have press released the fact that casualties are up on 20mph streets (deaths are down, but they were already in single figures, so that’s random). I thought it might be worth reposting this sarcastic rubbish that I bashed out last time some idiot tried to claim that an increase in casualties on 20mph roads is evidence of their failure.

I heard on the lunchtime news on Radio 4 today the shocking news of an increase in the number of people injured on 20mph streets. Back when there were fewer 20mph streets, fewer people were injured on 20mph streets, they revealed. Now that there are more 20mph streets, more people are being injured on 20mph streets. This road safety intervention, they concluded, isn’t working.

This watertight logic perhaps also explains why BBC News have been so quiet on the destruction of the NHS. Before the NHS existed, literally nobody at all died in any of the then non-existent NHS hospitals. Almost as soon as the NHS was created, people started dying in the newly created NHS hospitals. Clearly the NHS doesn’t work.

Members of the Association of British Nutters will no doubt be getting very excited about these numbers, but before they make rash recommendations they should remember that back before the British motorway network was built, there were literally no people injured on the British motorway network, whereas now that the British motorway network exists, there are lots.

I hope that the main elements of the astonishing innumeracy that went into the BBC story — the failure to put the raw numbers into any kind of useful context, either of the rapid growth in the number of streets with 20mph limits as it has become easier to set the limit (or their changing nature as 20mph starts to roll out beyond quiet residential streets onto busier high streets), or of the far higher number (and, more importantly, rate) of injuries and death on either equivalent 30mph streets or on the same 20mph streets before the speed was lowered — should be obvious. Needless to say, reducing speeds on a street from 30mph to 20mph cuts injuries, regardless of the entirely banal fact that those few injuries which remain will thenceforth be added to the tally for 20mph streets instead of that for 30mph.

So, mockery over,  there’s a more important point: should an increase in injuries, if there really had been one, automatically kill off further roll out of 20mph zones?

Those who dwell at the bottom of Bristol’s Evening Post presumably think so

It beggars belief that the council intend reducing the 30mph speed limit. A limit introduced when there was no such thing as MoT’s, ABS brakes, crash zones on the front of cars and good street lighting.

I can see no justification in spending this money and would dearly love to know who Bristol City Council think it will benefit? It certainly won’t be the youth, disabled or elderly.

James R Sawyer clearly thinks that the 20 zones must be all about safety, as he argues that his ABS brakes and crash zones are already plenty enough to keep him safe as he drives through Bristol at 30. But Bristol have always been clearabout why they’re moving towards a 20mph city:

Councillor Jon Rogers, Cabinet Member for Care and Health, said: “…20 mph zones create cleaner, safer, friendlier neighbourhoods for cyclists and pedestrians. They are popular with residents, as slower traffic speeds mean children can play more safely and all residents can enjoy calmer environment.”

Slower speeds are not a simple issue of cutting crude injury statistics. They’re more about reviving communities which have been spoiled and severed by traffic speeding through them, reclaiming a little bit of the public realm that has been monopolised by the motorcar, and enabling liveable walkable neighbourhoods to thrive. Far from “certainly no benefit for the youth, disabled or elderly”, we know much — some of the research having in fact been carried out in Bristol itself — about the many adverse effects of higher speeds and volumes of traffic, and the loss of shops and services due to car-centric planning and living and the blight of high streets by arterial traffic, on the mobility of those most excluded from the car addicted society, particularly the young, the elderly, and the disabled. If they’re lucky, these people will be forced into dependency on those willing to help them get around; if they’re unlucky, they will simply be left isolated and severely disadvantaged. But of course, we don’t like to acknowledge the existence of the large numbers of people who are excluded from much of our society, culture and economy by our rebuilding the world with nobody in mind except car owners.

The injury statistics cited in the BBC News piece include minor injuries, which is most injuries at slow speeds — little things which don’t require a hospital stay. What are a few more cuts and bruises if it means that thousands of kids are free to walk to school with their friends instead of stuck inside mum’s car? Would we rather keep the infirm all shut up and sedentary with no access to the shops and the services they need, too intimidated by the anti-social behaviour of motorists to cross the road, than risk one person having a fall?

These strands can be tied together by the other piece of context that would have been worth including in the BBC piece: in the same year that injuries in 20mph zones increased, injuries to pedestrians and cyclists in general increased — in part because there are more to be injured. It has always been the case that the great road safety gains that successive governments have boasted of have been won mainly by making streets so dreadful that people find them too frightening, stressful, unpleasant, humiliating or ineffective to walk, cycle, or do anything other than sit in a secure metal box on. Start making the streets a little bit less awful and people return to them.

“The overall results show that ‘signs only’ 20mph has been accompanied by a small but important reduction in daytime vehicle speeds, an increase in walking and cycling counts, especially at weekends, a strengthening of public support for 20mph, maintenance of bus journey times and reliability, and no measurable impact on air quality or noise.”

Like cycle tracks, which people still like to claim increase car-cycle collisions (they don’t) despite before-and-after studies largely ignoring the fact that the point of cycle tracks is to widen bicycle use from the confident and quick witted to the people who were are otherwise too scared, stressed or infirm to do so, so invalidating the before-and-after study design, an increase in minor injuries after speed limit reduction, even if it were really to happen, would be far from proof of a failure.

Postscript, July 2014

The IAM make a thing of the DfT stats showing a 26% increase in serious injuries in 20mph limits and a 9% decrease in 30mph limits. Given that the base figures for the two sets are so different, that amounts to 87 more injuries in 20 zones and 1102 fewer injuries in 30 zones. Of course, the only figures that would really matter (in the absence of a double blind randomised controlled trial) are before/after comparisons of the streets that have switched and/or case-control studies of those streets (at least, for measuring injuries; as I said before, there are other important outcomes to 20 zones besides injury rates). And given that these numbers are not (and could not really be) normalised to the changes in total length of the two types of street, and are influenced by far too many confounding variables, I wouldn’t dream of suggesting that they’re worth drawing any conclusion from. But if you’re intent on drawing a conclusion, given the trend in switching 30mph streets to 20mph streets, a net reduction in serious injuries of 1015 seems like a far more pertinent one than a 26% increase in injuries on 20mph streets.

Categories: Views

Better than nothing

At War With The Motorist - 30 June, 2014 - 08:30

So the scandalously inappropriate and inadequate designs for the Bedford turbo roundabout have come a step closer to construction, receiving DfT approval, and with grim inevitability Sustrans have proudly press released their support for this barefaced misappropriation of cycling funds for the construction of a high capacity motor road junction in an urban centre. Their defence of the scheme seems to be that, because they anticipate that motorist speeds will probably be a bit lower than in the current arrangement, cyclists will be able to “take the lane” as they ride amongst the heavy motor traffic; and if people do not wish to take the lane then they will instead be allowed to pootle on a pavement designed for pedestrians. A dual provision of equally, but differently, unattractive prospects.

But they’ll be less awful than what is there now.

And that seems to be enough for Sustrans. No need to fight for anything better, if it’s less awful than what’s there now then it gets the Sustrans stamp of approval. Perhaps it’s unfair to expect anything more from Sustrans after years of being ground down by the conditions in which they’re trying to operate, but “better than nothing” seems to be the limit of their aspirations in everything they do these days. On the National Cycle Network, where signposting flights of steps, heavily eroded sheep tracks, and private roads marked “no cycling” is for misguided reasons considered better than having no signed cycle route at all. And in the latest edition of their design guidance, where, for example, such guidance is given as to paint bicycle symbols on the carriageway at pinch points caused by traffic islands — rather than simply to stop squeezing bicycle users in with motor traffic in such a way — because such symbols are taken to be better than nothing.

I’m not convinced that paint on busy roads is in the slightest bit better than nothing for cycling. I think it’s delusional — or colossally gullible, perhaps — to believe that putting a piece of trunk road engineering in a city centre is worth anything at all for cycling. And I think that luring people onto heavily eroded sheep tracks is far worse than nothing for cycling.

But I don’t have time to argue about the specifics of cases like these, and I shouldn’t have to. Rather I have a more general point to make.

Things that are a marginal, almost imperceptible, or questionable improvement on what is there now are not better than nothing.

Marginally reduced speeds and crap shared footways are not better than nothing when they’re being employed in the theft of half a million pounds from the budget.

Rebuilding a junction to a design that you hope, maybe, might make things marginally less bad than they were, is not better than nothing if it means perpetuating a fundamentally anti-cycling and traffic dominated town centre for perhaps another fifty years.

Mediocre guidance is not better than nothing if it’s used in place of genuinely good guidance — if the Sustrans brand allows professionals to dismiss the recent London and Cambridge guidance as foreign or utopian when all that the cyclists themselves say they want and need is some paint at a pinch point.

Signing inappropriate cycle routes is not better than nothing if they give aspiring bicycle users an even worse experience of cycling than they would get from following their streets. They are worse than nothing when they are cited as an example of cycling already having been catered for and nothing more needing to be done.

Better than nothing is not good enough. Marginal gains aren’t good enough.

That’s one reason I’ve never got all that into local campaigning, much though I appreciate and admire those who do have the energy to do so. I don’t actually think it’s worth my time. I don’t think the tiny single victories are ever worth it. Call me selfish but I don’t think that one shared pavement that allows half a dozen or so additional kids to get to school by bike is worth it. I don’t think the lighting on that one path in the park that makes a couple more people feel safe getting home by bike at night is worth it. I don’t think that one bike lane that keeps one pensioner riding to the shops for an extra year or two is worth it.

I mean, I guess I’m happy for them and everything, but, whatever.

What motivates me is extreme selfishness and some bigger picture selflessness. That’s the selfish interest in the quality of the places where I spend my time, and my journeys around and between them. And the big picture of the problems that our communities, society and planet face. Transport policy has a big impact on public health — through air pollution and active vs sedentary lifestyles it impacts pretty much any non-communicable disease you can think of — on climate change, energy use and economic productivity, and so ultimately on quality of life. And on all of those counts a policy of mass modal shift away from motor vehicles and to cycling would be a huge net positive. But nothing short of a revolution will do.

A real revolution — not a 5% mode share target shoehorned in beside business as usual.

Anything less is not going to make the slightest meaningful difference. Not going to make any noticeable difference to my journey being spoiled by heavy traffic and air pollution. Nor is it going to make any noticeable difference to population, planetary, or economic health. Not even going to add up to something that does in time, or reach a “tipping point”. A “cycling revolution” that is not registrable in things like morbidity statistics, by air quality measurements, in transport sector energy consumption and carbon emissions, or in the population’s quality of life, is not a revolution. And if it’s not a revolution (and if it doesn’t help me personally), sorry, I don’t really care. It’s not worth my time asking for it.

And “better than nothing” is worse than nothing when it stands in the way of changes that are actually worth giving a shit about. One tiny aspect of one tiny tiny part of the whole being “better than it was before” is worse than nothing when it takes the pressure off and makes a handy excuse to allow everything else to continue as it was before. As an organisation or campaign, settling for better for nothing is worse than nothing when the people who have invested their time and money in you begin to lose the motivation to ever do so again. Better than nothing is worse than nothing when it distracts our attention from our actual goals and what actually needs to be done to achieve them: when it gets us too tied up in projects instead of policy.

They tell us that perfection is the enemy of the good. Well better than nothing is the enemy of anything actually worth having. And that, Sustrans, is why you’re losing so many friends.

(And before you start telling me that trite cyclesport-inspired cliché about marginal gains again: that only works when you’ve already done the big stuff and made it to the top of your game. Marginal gains make the difference when you’re a top olympic athlete. They’re not going to help when you’re the kid who doesn’t get picked at games.)

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