I am sure that if you have not already, you will soon be reading an account of the Advertising Standards Authority’s embarrassing adjudication on complaints made about Scotland’s “Nice Way Code” series of “won’t everyone just play nice on the roads?” adverts. Briefly, of all the things that the ASA could have picked up on in the Nice Way Code, the offending footage ruled to be irresponsible by the ASA are (a) showing a roughly realistic proportion of people riding bikes with and without helmets, and (b) showing somebody riding a bicycle more than 0.5 metres from the side of the road. Other people will give you the full story.
I’m not an expert on advertising regulation, but I guess the first ruling sets a precedent against any future advertising featuring helmetless cycling. Things like TfL’s Catch Up With The Bicycle campaign. A depressing but not entirely unpredictable result of the lazy fact-free assumption on helmets that seems to have put down deep roots in this country (and started growing the fearsome thorns of shouty emotional anecdote). The second ruling is the more interesting and hilarious of the two. This one effectively precludes any future advertising of the standard long-established government guidance on road positioning, as taught in the official “Bikeability” cycling proficiency training. Like the advertising TfL and the DfT (under the Think! brand) are currently running on buses and billboards in London and several other English cities. But again, others will have more time than me to explore the amusing implications of the decision.
No, I only really popped into the discussion to say one thing, in the spirit of the Nice Way Code: be nice.
Obviously someone at the ASA has made a spectacular cockup, and they deserve a day’s mockery and ridicule for such an achingly absurd, side-splittingly ludicrous joke of an assessment.
But, occasional slapstick stupidity aside, I’m sure the ASA are not bad people.
Clearly some junior adjudicator got out of his or her depth, read one document they didn’t entirely understand, and remained ignorant of the actual relevant research and guidance in the field. Sure, there should have been processes in place to prevent errors of such a preposterous magnitude from ever getting so far as publication, but I have no doubt that with the blunder now evident to all, the ASA will be working fast to fix the mistake, and will ensure all is put right before the DfT and TfL are forced to put their adverts on hold while more time and money is wasted formally challenging it.
I’m sure they’re good people, and I’m sure they’ll have this one under control in no time. So be nice to them.
By all means clog up their system with satirical reports intended to mock, and with serious test cases designed to force contradictions, but do be nice.
That’s the Nice Way Code, after all.
Scotland’s The Nice Way Code campaign got an almighty and justifiable thrashing from campaigners last year, particularly for its nonsensical advice, and notions of collective responsibility. However, with one judgement, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has managed to make me feel sorry for it.
Here’s a still from one of the Nice Way Code videos – ‘Think Horse’.
Fairly unexceptional, you might think.
Yet this particular scene apparently prompted five people to write in complaint to the ASA.
Five complainants challenged whether the ad was irresponsible and harmful, because it showed a cyclist without a helmet or any other safety attire, who was cycling down the middle of the road rather than one metre from the curb.
‘Irresponsible and harmful’.
This is complete guff, of course. At no point was the cyclist travelling ‘down the middle of the road’. ‘The middle of the road’ in these cases never refers to a precise location, more to the fact that someone is in someone else’s way, or slightly inconveniencing them. And the lack of safety attire or helmet is neither here nor there – these are not legal requirements.
Over and out, you might think. Complaints dismissed, chucked straight in the bin. Reasonable points about national guidance on how to cycle, the need to make cycling look ordinary and attractive, and the lack of legal requirements are commendably made by both Cycling Scotland and the advert’s producers. Indeed, Cycling Scotland point out that the making of the advert was actually supervised by one of Scotland’s most experienced cycling instructors.
But it seems the ASA know better, for they have UPHELD – UPHELD - this complaint. They write
The ad must not be broadcast again in its current form. We told Cycling Scotland that any future ads featuring cyclists should be shown wearing helmets and placed in the most suitable cycling position.
In more detail, particularly about what the ASA think is ‘the most suitable cycling position’ -
We understood that UK law did not require cyclists to wear helmets or cycle at least 0.5 metres from the kerb. However, under the Highway Code it was recommended as good practice for cyclists to wear helmets. Therefore, we considered that the scene featuring the cyclist on a road without wearing a helmet undermined the recommendations set out in the Highway Code. Furthermore, we were concerned that whilst the cyclist was more than 0.5 metres from the kerb, they appeared to be located more in the centre of the lane when the car behind overtook them and the car almost had to enter the right lane of traffic. Therefore, for those reasons we concluded the ad was socially irresponsible and likely to condone or encourage behaviour prejudicial to health and safety.
There is so much wrong with this it is impossible to know where to start. But just a couple of things leap out. The advert has essentially been banned because it contravenes recommendations in the Highway Code about helmets. Not rules – advice. The word used is ‘should’, not ‘must’. Here’s the relevant section -
This ruling opens the door to adverts being banned if the people cycling in them are not wearing ‘reflective clothing and/or accessories’. Even an advert featuring someone riding a bike in darkish clothes could be banned by the logic of this judgement – because you ‘should’ wear light-coloured clothing.
It also suggests that vast numbers of car adverts should be banned. Why? Rule 152.
You should drive slowly and carefully on streets where there are likely to be pedestrians, cyclists and parked cars.
You should drive slowly and carefully in urban areas. All those car adverts showing cars zipping around are toast, according to this judgement – at least they should be. Just one example.
Not especially slow and careful in areas where there are likely to be pedestrians. So I suggest people get busy and start filing complaints on the basis of this judgement.
If they were feeling mischievous, they could actually file complaints to the ASA about Department for Transport and Transport for London adverts suggesting cyclists ride centrally. Because, you know, that’s ‘socially irresponsible’ and might force a driver to even slightly enter a different lane, causing them to spontaneously combust. The ASA should be taking this seriously, and slapping down the DfT and TfL.
And the final silliness – look back at the still of the advert that’s the source of the complaint. There’s someone riding a bike, fairly slowly, without head protection, being overtaken by someone in an open-top car which can legally travel at 70mph, with his head fully exposed in the event of a crash.
Then ponder the absurdity of judging only the former activity as ‘irresponsible and harmful’.
The winter is of course the period of the year when people riding bikes get urged to ‘lighten up’ and to make themselves visible. It is easy to lose count of the number of articles and police campaigns on the subject – the latest in a long line in recent months is this from Oakham Police, covered by the Rutland Times.
Police are advising cyclists to be seen and be safe while riding at night.
During January and February officers in Oakham will target cyclists who ride their bikes without lights at night.
PCSO 6017 Martin Clarke said: “We have received a number of complaints about cyclists riding at night without any lights.
“This is not only illegal, but presents a danger to other road users as well as the cyclist themselves.”
During the campaign police will stop any cyclists not wearing safety equipment and reminding them to use lights, helmets and visible clothing.
PCSO Clarke added: “Persistent offenders may be prosecuted.”
People who persist in wearing invisible clothing may be prosecuted?
But seriously. The subject of illumination and visibility is an interesting one, especially when placed in historical context. Over time, the burden of being seen has increasingly been placed on the people who pose little or no danger – to make themselves more and more obvious to the people who are posing the danger.
Where did this obsession with illumination come from?
Before motor cars arrived on the roads, the only piece of safety equipment someone using a bicycle would possess would be a front lamp. Obviously this showed other people using the roads in the dark that you were approaching, but its primary purpose was to allow you to see where you were going, and what obstacles might be in your way. There was no need to make yourself visible to the rear, because the onus was anyone approaching you from behind to spot you.
Interestingly, even after the numbers of motor cars that were on the roads had increased sharply, a front light remained the only piece of equipment that cyclists were expected to use. No hi-viz. No rear light. There was only one ‘extra’ tool of visibility required – a rear reflector.
The very first Highway Code – dating from 1931 – is quite clear on the subject, in its advice to ‘pedal cyclists’.
Remember that in the dark you are not easily visible to following traffic. Act accordingly and keep well to the left of the road.
If you do not use a red rear lamp remember to keep your red reflector clean and properly fixed. [It is an offence under the Road Transport Lighting Act to ride at night without either a red rear lamp or an obscured and efficient red reflector.]
So in 1931, you could quite happily and legally ride a bicycle that didn’t have a rear light, provided you had a reflector. In today’s world of hyper-illumination and garishness, this probably sounds incredible to most people, but, at the time, even the law requiring just a reflector was met with much grumbling by those who used bicycles. They were merely pedalling along, and it would be the person who was approaching them from behind who should have sufficient illumination to spot them, and to act accordingly.
There is a serious issue here. It is entirely possible that many drivers today simply do not expect there to be obstacles in the road that are not illuminated, or reflective. Trees can be in the road when it is dark. Cars can be parked on the road when it is dark. People can be in the road when it is dark. We don’t expect any of them to be reflective, or clad in hi-viz, or to have lights (although perhaps in the case of pedestrians it is only a matter of time, as we shall see below).
This was something the Cyclists’ Touring Club appreciated back in the 1930s, writing to the Times in 1934 that
The club does not see the necessity for supplementing the reflector (approved by the Minister of Transport after exhaustive tests) with a white patch or any second compulsory device. Anything of this kind merely tends to lessen the responsibility of the motor driver and to encourage faster and more careless driving, to the ever-increasing danger of the unlighted pedestrian.
If motorists drove in accordance with the Highway Code, so that they could pull up within the distance of the road they could see to be clear, they would never have any difficulty in avoiding running down cyclists. To make compulsory the use of rear lights on cycles might be one step towards legalizing a standard of night driving which would increase the dangers on the roads not only to cyclists but to other road users as well.
It was in this year, 1934, that cyclists using just a red rear reflector were now required to additionally have a white patch on the rear of their bike, by the 1934 Road Traffic Act. The traditional design of the classic Dutch bike is an artefact of this period (perhaps Dutch readers could provide some information on the legal history in the Netherlands!).
From 1939, with restrictions on headlights required during blackouts, it became compulsory, for the first time, for red rear lights to be used at night, in the Second World War. This proved to be the basis for a permanent law. In March 1945 (while the country was still at war) the government pushed a Bill through Parliament perpetuating the use of rear lights, once the war was over.
So, curiously, it is World War II blackouts that gave rise to the compulsory use of rear lights in on bicycles. Before this period, it was up to drivers – and indeed anyone cycling – to spot the presence of un-illuminated cyclists ahead of them.
Doubtless this use of lights was, and still is, largely a pragmatic measure. It just ‘helps’ to have a bit of illumination to allow drivers to spot you more easily, especially on dark roads, and with the speeds of motor vehicles increasing. In the modern world, it is unthinkable to cycle on dark country roads – where vehicles could have an approaching speed of 40-50mph – without a rear light. I certainly wouldn’t dream of doing this.
The picture in urban areas is rather different, however. Here street lights are almost universal, and vehicle speeds are (or at least should be) much lower – no more than 30mph. A reasonable question here is that, if it is so difficult to perceive a bicycle without a rear light, what does that mean for pedestrians without lights on their person, who are crossing the road, either at junctions or on zebra crossings? Bear in mind that a bicycle will be travelling away from a driver, giving an extra amount of time to be spotted, unlike a pedestrian, who will typically be stationary in the direction the driver is approaching from. Pedestrians are also far less likely to be wearing clothing with reflective patches. Or lights.
The absence of a rear bicycle light, when cycling in urban areas, under streetlights, is widely seen as reckless and dangerous, yet we do not insist on these standards of illumination for pedestrians who will, very often, be in the road. The increasing prevalence of ‘shared space’ – which has the intention of making it easier for pedestrians to mingle in places where people will be driving – makes this philosophical question all the more pertinent.
I always have a rear light on my bike, but it is entirely reasonable to argue that my higher standard of illumination puts un-illuminated pedestrians at greater risk when they venture into the road. Rear lights on bikes creates a general precedent for objects in the road being illuminated; un-illuminated objects (or people) will be less readily perceived under these conditions than otherwise.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the standards that used to be applied solely to people riding bikes are now shifting towards people walking too. There was the notable case last year of an insurance company appealing against a payout for a brain-damaged young girl, hit by a driver on a country road, because she wasn’t wearing a hi-visibility vest. Perhaps it is only a matter of time before we expect people crossing the road not just to have reflective clothing, but even lights. I hope that day never comes, but this is the direction we are travelling in.
Of course this doesn’t mean I think bicycles should not have front and rear lights, or that I ever ride without them. Indeed, the two bikes I use on a regular basis have lights permanently attached to the bike, and that will always be ready to go, at the flick of a switch – powered by a dynamo. The bicycle itself is my visibility tool, with reflective elements built into it – pedal reflectors, reflective sidewalls, and reflectors (in addition to lights) both front and rear.
This kind of visibility is largely unobjectionable, because it is subtly built into the vehicle, and requires no extra cost on my part – I don’t need to wear any special clothing, or carry around any extra items. Unfortunately bicycles in Britain are rarely sold with lights fitted to them, as part of the bike. When autumn rolls around, people find themselves caught out. This is true even for bikes which are explicitly marketed as ‘city’ or ‘utility’ bikes. You wouldn’t expect to buy a car without headlights, and yet it is apparently the norm for bicycles, even for those that will never be used for sporting purposes.
Riding without lights is, of course, illegal, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it – but it is not hard to feel that the reaction to people who do ride at night in urban areas without lights is often overblown. If you ‘nearly hit’ someone riding without lights, well you could just as equally have ‘nearly hit’ a pedestrian in the road. You should be driving – or riding – to the limits of your own visibility, not relying upon people or objects in the road to make themselves visible to you, because we don’t expect them to, unless they happen to be on a bike.
I suspect many people who fixate on this issue would have a heart attack in Dutch cities like Utrecht or Amsterdam where, at night, the levels of people who have functional lights on their bikes is considerably lower than in Britain – on some evenings, at a rough guess, typically around 50 percent are riding without any lights at all. Reflective clothing is non-existent.
But this never strikes me as being particularly hazardous – the environment in these city centres feels safe, much more so than British urban areas. Encounters with motor vehicles are limited, and where they do occur, they are at slow speeds, and in areas where pedestrians are mingling in the street anyway.
Indeed, cyclists here essentially amount to wheeled pedestrians. They look like them, they move like them, except at running or jogging speed. Lack of lights just doesn’t seem like a serious problem, although there are frequent operations by Dutch police. The broader issue is one of civility, and what we want our towns and cities to look like. Reflective clothing, and excessive lighting, just doesn’t feel appropriate in high density areas. It is the wrong answer to the problem posed by motor traffic.
The promotion and advancement of cycling in the United Kingdom is filled with cycles;
Pitiful amounts of money are given to cycling projects across the land. Sometimes these are Big Headline Figures which look mighty and impressive until they are shown against the budgets normally given to transport projects, or it’s shown that the spending period for this sum is over the same time frame as the existence of the Dinosaurs – which is when the figures suddenly have the impact of Bertand Russell on the life of Justin Beiber. ‘But why is the bicycle getting such pitiful amounts?’, ask the cycle campaigners as, although most other people in Britain have access to a bicycle, they have been brainwashed into thinking it is a child’s plaything or something to do in a pastel coloured polo shirt around a Centre Parcs or in a sponsored event with lots of marshalls, high viz tabards and helmets. From Marples to Thatcher, the country has been informed that the car is the aspirational mode of transport and can also be mentioned alongside words such as ‘growth’ or ‘jobs’, particularly by local politicians, to really polarise a public already with recession paranoia. If the money is truly pitiful, it will normally go to promotion schemes and training, but the promotion materials reflect the bleak picture which has existed in Britain until now; Children with helmets cycling on a Sustrans leisure route or with twenty first century levels of traffic driven by people who can’t understand why people persist with the bicycle as it’s not aspirational or within a societal norm. These people are often parents that won’t let their children ride on the road, even if they were trained to laugh in the face of a Red Bull Downhill Challenge because the roads are regarded as dangerous by people who would never admit that they are part of this problem. So the hard work put in by cycle trainers is often tragically wasted as bikes get returned to sheds to collect dust until the next trip to Centre Parcs or Charity Ride. If the money is higher, it gets spent on Infrastructure. British Infrastructure. British Infrastructure designed by non-cyclists for people contemplating suicide or are entertaining a persecution complex. This, in turn suppresses cycling numbers and antagonises non-cyclists who think that those cyclists should be using it. Which attracts pitiful amounts of money for cycling projects across the land. Sometimes these are Big Headline Figures….and so it goes on.
This triggers other little cycles as well; the cyclists that have doggedly stuck it out on British road conditions quite often are in full cycling kit because they are mitigating for the circumstances they ride in and they often cover long distances. They know all too well the British Infrastructure that has been laid on for them. British Infrastructure designed by non-cyclists for people contemplating suicide or are entertaining a persecution complex. Which, in turn suppresses cycling numbers and antagonises non-cyclists who think that those cyclists should be using it. Which understandably makes cyclists and non-cyclists alike deeply sceptical when new Infrastructure is suggested. Experienced cyclists also feel that they will lose their right to the road as they have become so battle hardened with all the kit (and surveillance measures on their cycle helmets) that they not only classify themselves as ‘fast commuters’ but often as cycling experts on local cycling forums speaking out against Infrastructure. To an adult with an errand or deadline, the roads offer far more directness and speed than a typical piece of British Infrastructure ever could. All the kit however puts them outside a societal norm on the British streetscape. It makes the art of riding a bicycle to work look like a specialist activity and, subjectively, a dangerous one at that. Which in turn suppresses cycling numbers. Which attracts pitiful amounts of money for cycling projects across the land. Meaning that the cyclists that have doggedly stuck it out on British road conditions quite often are in full cycling kit because they are mitigating for the circumstances they ride in and often cover long distances. They know all too well the British Infrastructure that has been laid on for them…and so it goes on.
Meanwhile, Bike Week is held once a year, primarily in the public’s eyes to give Bill Turnbull on BBC Breakfast a chance to repeat the same utter drivel about how all cyclists break red lights thereby sullying the preceding report that tries to be optimistic and local newspapers write about ‘cyclists’ in the same way they would describe a terrorist cell. With typo’s.
One of the arguments leveled against cycling infrastructure in the United Kingdom is that there is no political will. Well, that’s certainly true but political will develops as a mandate from the people and how can that mandate arrive if the people don’t know that there is a way to break these cycles. That better worlds exist for in transport terms, tried and tested and advanced by other nations not dissimilar to ours with wonderful knock on effects for society. And that there are designers out there who would love to create a cycle scheme that doesn’t look or feel like the Oxford English Dictionary definition of words like ‘hatred’ or ‘brain spasm’. If the answer is ‘losing our right to the road’ then we are asking the wrong questions.
It’s not all total doom and gloom. Where I currently live in Brighton & Hove, there have been definite moves to create decent infrastructure as new cycle tracks on Old Shoreham Road and Lewes Road will testify. We still can’t seem to do junctions as a nation for some reason, Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it was built a damn sight quicker than the London Cycle Superhighways – which, coincidentally offer the same thrills, excitement and tragedy as chariot racing at the Circus Maximus.
This week marks the third anniversary of me founding the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. Some amazing people where with me at the beginning and it’s being run by incredible and able people now. Its mission; to highlight what has been done overseas and point out that to do something correctly is cheaper and building something unfit for purpose and unused. To show that it can be done in a way that benefits everyone be they motorists, bicycle riders, wheelchair users, the elderly, the partially sighted, schoolchildren, commuters, shoppers and any combination of the above and more. For all the bluster in Britain, and London in particular, it is clear that there is far, far more to be done.
Also in this series….
You need to make a short trip with your children, by car.
The first thing to do is to dress them (and yourself) appropriately. That means ensuring you are wearing dayglo reflective tabards, and crash helmets. Driving a car is very dangerous, and you also need to ensure that you are visible to other road users. They will not be expected to see you, unless you are glowing, and illuminated.
The next step is to get your car ready. There isn’t anywhere secure to store your car on the street, so you’ll have to fumble it out of the shed. You will need to unlock your car, and then attach lights and luggage to your it.
The vast majority of cars sold in Britain are for recreational purposes – for driving around in the woods, for instance – meaning that they have no coverings over their wheels, or anywhere to store possessions, or lighting systems. These have to be fitted by the buyer, in their own time, and at extra expense.
Most people don’t know how to do this, and so water and filth from the road will get distributed over them when the roads are wet. Consequently they don’t drive when it is raining. They don’t use their cars to shop either, because they don’t have anywhere to put the items they have bought.
The transmission of nearly all cars is exposed. Grease can easily get on your clothes, so you have to wear clips to keep them out of the way. Without regular maintenance, the transmission will go wrong. This means many cars languish, rusting, in back gardens, because they have quickly broken and people can’t be bothered to fix them.
Fortunately you are one of the few car enthusiasts, who has taken time to learn the intricacies of how your car works, and how to adapt it (as much as you can) for everyday use, and how to fix it. (Travelling by car in Britain is – strangely – the only mode of transport that requires this degree of intimate knowledge.)
You – and you children – sit in your car, open to the elements, with no protection from crashes with trucks. Being hit by one of these vehicles will obviously be catastrophic.
Unfortunately almost all the other vehicles on the roads are trucks, travelling at their normal, regular speed of 40mph, far faster than the maximum speed of your car, which is 20mph.
Driving cars is deeply unpopular. You are one of the few people who chooses to make short trips by car.
The government makes regular exhortations about the benefits of car driving, and ‘encouraging’ people to use cars, but to little or no effect. Car use remains the transport choice for a tiny minority of people.
Going anywhere by car will require you to travel in the same space as the trucks everyone else is driving, which bear down on you alarmingly. There is no legal alternative.
Your natural instinct is to drive to the side of the road, out of the way of these trucks, but official guidance is to drive your car in ‘the primary position’ at places where you sense conflict could occur (which is nearly everywhere in urban areas), directly in front of the trucks roaring up behind you.
No truck driver understands why you do this – you seem to be deliberately positioning your much slower vehicle in their way – and many will become furious, honking their horns and yelling at you to ‘drive your car at the side, in the car lane’. (Car lanes rarely exist, and when they do, they are functionally useless, being narrower than your car. Official training suggests you don’t use them).
This abuse – although unpleasant – is much better than the alternative of you (and your children) being hit or crushed in your car, because truck drivers feel free to squeeze past you. Roads are now designed for the way trucks travel, not the way cars travel, so truck drivers will frequently attempt to overtake you in dangerous locations.
There are a small number of cars on the market that would allow you and your children to travel side-by-side, but travelling in this way is, like the ‘primary position’, usually seen as a deliberate provocation.
You have reluctantly chosen instead to buy a narrow car, with your family positioned in a long line, safely spaced out from each other – out of the way of truck drivers.
While this car has the advantage of not annoying truck drivers, it means you can’t hold a conversation with anyone else in your car. Travelling in single file like this is something you do sadly, and you dreamily lust after a car that would allow you to travel with your children beside you, without being yelled at by truck drivers.
Being isolated from your children like this is frustrating, and you yearn to be able to listen to music, or to listen to the radio as you travel, like truck drivers do. Unfortunately this is extremely dangerous and you will be subjected to severe opprobrium by anyone who sees you doing this. How could you isolate yourself from the sounds of truck drivers speeding up behind you?
Even travelling by car with children is seriously frowned upon. Truck drivers say you are irresponsible, and putting them at risk, placing them on the roads with trucks. Better for you to transport your children in a truck, they say.
Stubbornly, you stick to your principles, although you are not entirely sure why.
Your town has a large number of one-way streets and roads. These roads used to be two-way, until the large number of trucks that appeared on the roads meant that they had to be adjusted, for ‘traffic flow purposes’.
Consequently what should be a short trip is about twice the length it could be, as you have to travel the long way round on these one-way roads, with the trucks. One-way roads aren’t too much of a problem for truck drivers as, being much faster, they hardly notice the extra distance.
You wonder to yourself why on earth it is that your considerably narrower car can’t be allowed to travel in both directions on these streets, while trucks travel in just one direction, but don’t dwell on it too much, as it is depressing.
Sometimes you are tempted to just pop up one of these one-way streets to save yourself a huge amount of distance, and exposure to danger from trucks, but you are a Good Car Driver, and would never do anything to Give Car Drivers A Bad Name.
The same goes for driving on the separate bits at the side of the road. These are very tempting places to drive on, especially in places where the number of trucks is especially thunderous. However, you are strictly forbidden from doing this, and truck drivers will berate you for ‘being dangerous’. Again, you don’t want to Give Car Drivers A Bad Name. Your reputation as a car driver is bad enough as it is.
You wish that the simple act of driving your car from A to B could be simple, direct and painless, and free from scary interactions with trucks. You wish that you could drive it with your children beside you, and that you didn’t need to wear special equipment. You wish that driving a car didn’t require constant vigilance, and awareness of the potential hazards about to be presented by trucks being driven around you.
Surely such a place couldn’t exist?
Taken from The Book of Boardman, Chapters 1-2014
And lo, the bicycle had traveled through the valley of darkness. Its riders treated as lepers, the poor and the self-righteous, who’s only sin was to get to work or school or a stable in BethnalGreen.
..And so it came to pass that a writer of scriptures for the Bloomberg Press was dispatched to chronicle yet further wisdom from the man now simply known as ‘The Messiah’ (formerly The Professor’). Although a blessed event called The Tour had been bestowed upon the land of Britain, nothing had been learned, particularly that which would benefit the women of the Islands.
The man now known as The Messiah had already gained popularity with his wisdom, speaking out against the rulers of the land whom reside at the Palace of Westminster in their luxury and ignorance.
“The MPs that sit on the transport select committee should be embarrassed by their performance yesterday in an inquiry that was meant to be about why six people died riding bicycles on London’s roads in the space of two weeks.
“In front of them sat experts from campaigning bodies, transport research and the police – all ready to get into a proper discussion – and yet the MPs demonstrated that they didn’t even know the most basic of facts. Evidence and statistics were bypassed in favour of opinions and anecdotes on sideline topics.
“Such a clear demonstration of lack of research and understanding at this level of seniority would, in any other business, be classed as negligent.
“This was an opportunity to discuss how we can make our roads fit for people to get around by bicycle, improving our nation’s health, the environment and cutting emissions. This will deliver benefits for everyone, not just cyclists, and to do it we need to transform infrastructure, tackle dangerous junctions and encourage people to use bikes to get around.
“I’d like to see a proper, fruitful evidence session, rather than opinion-based discussion, on how to protect and encourage cycling as a mode of transport. To that end I am going to write to the MPs on the committee asking them to meet with British Cycling representatives to get to work discussing the real issues that can lead to the transformation of not just cycling, but the environments that we live in.”
And there was much procrastination at the Palace of Westminster as one Parliamentary Forum begat another and another with empty words and shallow promises. For it is easier for a cyclist to enter an Advanced Stop Line via the inside of an HGV than it is for a Politician to enter a reasoned cycling debate.
The Messiah spoke unto the Bloomberg Chronicler stating that these Blessed Islands need better cycle paths, especially in urban areas with more junctions instead of circuitous routes around Lake Galilee.
“The government has a difficult choice. There is a finite amount of space so to make better cycle lanes you are going to alienate others. It’s a scary change and it could lose votes.”
“In New York there was the political will for change. In the U.K. it’s more like positive apathy…Prime Minister David Cameron says he wants to make Britain a cycling nation, but what good is that if you have no participation target, no strategy and no funding commitment”.
And The Messiah spoke more wisdom unto a Chronicler from Road.cc against the money lenders saying..
“There’s a £5.6 billion annual Highways Agencies budget for roads with a continuous revenue stream versus £128 million allocated for cycling and only committed for two years,” he said. He also pointed out that there’s no monitoring of local authority activities, even though they are the agencies that often deliver local routes.
“I think you’ll struggle to find any business that says it can achieve its goals with that kind of strategy/commitment backing it up, you’d be laughed out of the bank.
“For any business to succeed, you define your target; where you want to get to. You then define how you are going to achieve that target in great detail and then you measure your progress closely, adjusting your strategy accordingly when you meet unforeseen circumstance. It’s that simple. Hence I said ‘positive apathy’.”
and The Messiah bestow upon the land Four Commandments to deliver us from Evil.
“A statement from the government saying ‘we want cycling and walking to be our preferred means of transport in the UK. We will legislate, design infrastructure and spend accordingly’.
“A nationally set of defined targets and timescale to define what that will look like.
“A dedicated and consistent part of the budget to achieve this. £10 a head (half that of the Kingdom of the Netherlands) would be a start.
“A national monitoring scheme to assess progress.
“Or put even more simply: commitment.”
And all eyes turned to Patrick McLoughlin and Robert Goodwill.
And God wept.
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The news that the police should use some discretion and not issue Fixed Penalty Notices to anyone who rides a bike on a footway, irrespective of the local context, the type of person riding, and how they are behaving, was predictably greeted with a degree of outrage and hysteria – outrage and hysteria whipped up, deliberately or otherwise, by the British press.
A small part of the problem here is down to the word ‘cyclist’, which tends to conjure up in the mind of the average Briton an image of a young or middle-aged man, wearing odd-looking clothing, and travelling ‘at speed’ (although not faster than motor traffic) – or, failing that, a teenager or ‘youth’ tearing around antisocially on a mountain bike. Giving these cyclists ‘permission’ to ride on pavements is plainly not a good thing.
There are obvious reasons for this association – these are, usually, nearly the only types of ‘cyclist’ most people will see on a day-to-day basis. Other types of cycling – other types of people cycling – have largely disappeared in Britain, thanks to the hostility and/or inconvenience of our road system.
The Daily Mail chose to illustrate their news item about discretion on pavement cycling with this (old) picture -
A burly-looking man travelling purposefully on the pavement, which has plenty of people on it. If there is a kind of person who should be on the road – and who probably couldn’t complain about getting a ticket – this is it. Hardly appropriate to illustrate the issue.
The Daily Mail could, of course, have used a different kind of ‘pavement cyclist’ – one like this, for instance.
This is the kind of discretion that is being advised by the minister for cycling – not forcing young children to share space with motor traffic when they pose little or no danger or inconvenience to anyone walking.
Unfortunately when we hear the word ‘cyclist’ we don’t immediately think of very young girls riding tiny bikes with pink baskets. ‘A cyclist’ is not a child.
But it is this trickiness about the word ‘cyclist’, and what it suggests, that is part of a wider problem. When plans talk of ‘improvements for cyclists’ the public will unfortunately, and inevitably, have an image of the type of people cycling now, not the people who could be cycling, if conditions were right – people like them, or their children. ‘Why are we doing things for cyclists?’ they might ask – why are we doing things for a tiny minority of people, and strange ones at that, who wear funny clothes.
There is no easy way out of this – for us to stop thinking about ‘cyclists’ in this way will require wholesale changes to the way our roads and streets are designed, so that the word ‘cyclist’ will encompass everyone and lose its divisiveness. But in the meantime it’s probably helpful to avoid using ‘cyclist’, when reasonably possible – not because it’s intrinsically bad, but because it has unhelpful connotations.
Doubtless at some point in the (hopefully near) future we can reclaim it.
Along with others such as the CTC we made a submission in January 2013. Here it is:
INTRODUCTION:The Road Danger Reduction Forum www.rdrf.org.uk was formed in 1993 to promote the idea that the civilised approach to safety on the road is to reduce danger on the road at source, namely from inappropriate use of motor vehicles, as part of the promotion of a sustainable transport policy. Support for RDRF is from local authorities that have signed the Road Danger Reduction Charter and bodies representing cyclists, pedestrians and proponents of road danger reduction. Supporting cycling safety has been a key plank of the programme of the RDRF.
Dr. Robert Davis, Chair RDRF 13th January 2014 CONTACT: firstname.lastname@example.org
1. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
· Cycling is in an inherently safe mode of transport with a low casualty rate. However, there is significant danger from use of motor vehicles towards cyclists – and other road users – which should be properly addressed as a basic requirement of a civilised society.
· There is a need for a fundamental cultural change towards seeing inappropriate use of motor vehicles towards others as the key problem for cyclists and all other road users – one which has never been properly addressed. Emphasising the relative lack of danger from cyclists towards others – the real “cyclist safety” issue – is key towards doing this.
· Cycling as a form of basic, inherently safe transport (with a low casualty rate) engaged in by normal citizens wearing everyday clothing should be supported by whatever means are necessary, including provision of appropriate highway and off-road infrastructure, home cycle parking and accessible accessories etc.
· Existing road traffic law relating to danger from drivers of all kinds should be massively increased for the good of all road users’ safety. Law and rule infractions should be assessed in terms of their association with the potential to harm others and prioritised accordingly.
· Law enforcement will require appropriately deterrent sentencing, based primarily of licence endorsement and loss.
· Highways and off-road environments can be re-engineered to reduce danger towards cyclists. This should be vigorously pursued at locations such as large gyratory systems. However, it should be understood that drivers must expect to be in the vicinity of cyclists on the vast majority of roads and streets, and for their potential danger to be regulated and controlled accordingly.
· A variety of methods to reduce danger from HGVs can and should be employed, whether engineering the vehicle or its environment. As with everything else, the central issue is a cultural change towards focussing on problems arising from the danger from (inappropriate) motor vehicle use/ Technological changes are of secondary importance to this, and cannot anyway be introduced properly unless this is understood.
2. Is cycling safe, particularly in towns and cities?
2.1. The safety question – a paradox: We believe there is an apparent, but not actual, contradiction at work here.
2.2. On the one hand, cyclists are at risk from a wide variety of law- and rule-breaking behaviour by motorised road users. Much of this has been exacerbated by accommodating these behaviours in traditional forms of highway design and also motor vehicle design. This kind of danger should be seen as simply intolerable and unacceptable. This should be based not just on the fact that people are dissuaded from cycling by danger – although this does occur – but because it is simply wrong: the behaviours concerned are often illegal and frequently endanger other road users as well.
2.3. On the other hand, it is important to stress that cyclists in the UK, and particularly in urban areas, have very low chances of being seriously injured, and even lower ones of being killed. Overemphasising the chances of being hurt distorts the picture of cycling, not least in inhibiting people who wish to cycle from doing so – denying them health benefits due to fear of danger. A feature of an anti-cycling culture is the persistent tendency to see cycling as “the problem”. Part of this is the “dangerising” of cycling, seeing it as an activity which is inherently hazardous, particularly if there are any motor vehicles anywhere nearby.
2.4. It is absolutely central to any successful strategy that this state of affairs is seen as the paradox it is. Cycling, particularly in the areas where there is a lot of cycling already, should be seen as the low-risk activity it is. This should not, however, detract from promoting a step change in reducing danger to cyclists from motor vehicular traffic, by whatever means – law enforcement and sentencing, training, highway and infrastructure engineering – are necessary.
2.5. The safety question – Safety in Numbers (SiN): We think that the experience of London, with a dramatic reduction in cyclist KSIs per journey in the last decade, shows that change has been achieved through SiN. For example, approximately the same number of cyclists is killed in collisions with lorries, with at least a doubling of the amount of cycling in the areas where most deaths occur, and an increase in lorry use. Denying this mechanism denies an important positive step forward, and unnecessarily dissuades people from cycling: stopping them from cycling can have a deleterious effect not just on their health but on the safety of other cyclists. However:
(a) This does not mean that SiN on its own will deliver enough of a decline in danger
(b) SiN is particularly unlikely to be effective on roads with very few cyclists and high speed limits, as well as with particularly incompetent drivers or drivers unwilling to drive properly.
(c) Those responsible for danger – whether highway authorities, individual motorists, motor manufacturers or others – should still be held accountable. Danger should be seen as unacceptable whether or not a collision occurs.
2.6. The safety question – measuring danger: An aggregate measure of cyclist casualties or casualties per head of the population is at best useless, and at worst misleading. The measures to be used are:
A. Cyclist KSIs per journey or distance travelled – this is the minimum acceptable measure.
B. Ideally this measure should be refined to consider the proportion of cases where a third party is at fault – there is a qualitative difference between cases where this happens (e.g. the result of careless driving) and where a cyclist is clearly at fault (e.g. being intoxicated and falling off a bicycle)
C. Objective measures of danger. Some locations, such as multi-lane junctions with high-speed motor traffic, have obvious high levels of hazard. These locations can be assessed by measures such as the Cycle Skills Network Audit, where locations are assessed in terms of the level of Bikeability skills required to cycle there.
2.7. Finally, there is an ambiguity in the use of the words “safe” and “dangerous”. We believe that attention should be directed towards dealing with danger at its source – from the inappropriate use of motor vehicles. It should be emphasised that although there is some degree of danger from cycling towards pedestrians and other cyclists, ti is minimal compared to that from motor vehicular traffic. Cycling, in that sense, is a very safe mode of transport.
3. What can central and local Government do to improve cycling safety?
3.1. Traffic law and enforcement:
3.1.1. This is the key element missing from cycle safety strategies such as The Times campaign.
3.1.2. There should be a massive increase in the amount of law enforcement, focusing on behaviours that lead to predominant causes of cyclist KSIs: Overly close overtaking; careless opening of car doors, not watching out for cyclists in general and at junctions in particular, and generally poor standards of driving. Most collisions involve typical motorists, rather than the minority of extremely bad drivers, although enforcement should also be applied here, backed up by deterrent sentencing.
3.1.3. While misbehaviour by cyclists, such as failing to obey traffic signals, should be addressed, enforcement should focus on behaviours most likely to endanger others – namely from rule- and law-breaking motoring – which will be of general benefit to the safety of all road users.
3.1.4. Although we do not have the space to describe the moral and legal basis for this here, it will be necessary to consider stricter liability for motorists involved in collisions with cyclists and with pedestrians, to back up law enforcement.
3.2. Highways and off-road infrastructure.
3.2.1. It is likely that most cycling will continue to be in proximity to motorists on the public highway, who should expect cyclists to be sharing the road with them.
3.2.2. However, some features such as one-way gyratory systems and roundabouts and inherently inimical to cycling safety. The aim should be to remove such features of the highway environment, or at least to provide safe and convenient alternatives for cyclists in those areas. Reduction of motor vehicular capacity of the network in such situations is fully justified, if it is the only way to reduce danger to cyclists and support cycling.
3.3. Cycle Training
3.3.1. RDRF supporter Councils in York, LBs Lambeth and Ealing have been foremost in the “new wave” of cycle training starting in the late 1990s and designed to build cyclist confidence in real world conditions. The right kind of empowering cycle training can, we believe, increase amounts of cycling and reduce cyclist casualty rates through a Safety in Numbers effect. However, we are concerned that much supposed training does not conform to the spirit of National Standards (now “Bikeability”) cycle training and does not create confidence and an awareness of cyclists’ rights as well as responsibilities.
3.3.2. Due to a continuation of the kind of beliefs prevalent under old style “cycle proficiency”, trainees may be presented with dubious ideas about supposed inherent dangers of cycling and incorrect advice about equipment such as hi-viz and cycle helmets. We believe it is essential to show that campaigns to promote cycle helmet and hi-viz use evade and confuse the issues which should be concentrated, as well as having a dubious or absent evidence base.
3.4. Motorist training and cultural change.
3.4.1. We believe that cyclist safety is just one part of the issues stemming from inappropriate motor vehicle use. The problem is just one part of the problem of road danger. As such, changing motorist behaviour is of benefit not just to cyclists but to all other road users.
3.4.2. Motorist training has to change from being a confidence booster building unjustified feeling of pride, to one of awareness of responsibilities towards to other road users.
3.4.3. Compulsory re-testing of drivers every five to ten years should be a requirement for general road danger reduction. An absolutely fundamental requirement is to achieve a cultural change where motorists realise their obligation towards cyclists as human beings with as much – if not more – right to use the road. Rarely regarded as of significance by transport professionals, we believe it is worthwhile examining prejudice and bigotry about, and displayed to, actual or potential cyclists. Negative attitudes among motorists can exacerbate the potential to endanger cyclists or other road users, as well as putting off potential cyclists from cycling.
3.4.4. Negative attitudes and abuse towards cyclists should be countered. These can include those with regard to “paying road tax”, or the supposed superiority of driving as a transport mode due to motorists having passed a driving test. As with other elements in this programme, there is a need to address more general transport policy issues than just those immediately relating to cycling.
3.5. Other support for cycling.
3.5.1. Because of the low casualty rate, massive health benefits towards cyclists and others, reduction in environmental and other problems, cycling as a form of everyday transport should be properly supported.
3.5.2. In addition, as explained in 2 above, increasing the amount of cycling is part of dealing with the issue of danger towards cyclists.
3.5.3. This should include not just provision of attractive highway and off-road environments, but also the realisation that inappropriate behaviour towards cyclists will become less socially tolerable.
3.5.4. It should also include:
3.5.5. Programmes to address other issues limiting take up of cycling, such as inadequate secure and convenient home cycle parking,
3.5.6. Difficulty in accessing affordable bicycles and cycle accessories.
3.5.7. This has been partly addressed by programmes associated with cycle training, such as London Borough of Ealing’s Direct Support for Cycling programme.
4. Goods vehicles and professional drivers.
4.1. In London a combination of cyclist Safety in Numbers and pressure on a group of motorists (HGV drivers) has resulted in significant reduction of the chances of cyclists being hurt or killed.
4.2. However, this process needs to be accelerated by
· Retro-fitting design features on lorries which reduce the chances of cyclists and pedestrians going between the lorry body and tarmac. Such devices have not yet been properly considered.
· Installing infra-red or other sensors as the best form of technology to allow drivers to be aware of cyclists. Such devices should be linked to black box devices to be used in criminal and civil proceedings after collisions.
· Installing cyclist-activated braking systems to sensors to provide real safety.
4.3. Extension of existing provisions to limit use of HGVs in urban areas during rush hours should be considered ,although this is of minor significance compared to other measures referred to.
4.4. In the absence of such features it will be necessary to massively increase law enforcement and raise sentences for HGV drivers who break the law.
4.5. Ultimately the freight issue, although 50% of cyclist deaths in London (and a large proportion outside) involve lorries, is still a small part of the overall danger to cyclists. The problems ultimately come back to the behaviour of the person in charge of the vehicle posing more of a threat to others, whether a lorry driver, or in most cases the driver of another motor vehicle. Changing their behaviour has proved to be the most effective way of increasing cyclist safety.