So Nigel Farage gave a speech at the White Cliffs of Dover yesterday, in which he suggested that children are not playing football in the street any more because of ‘discomfort’ and ‘unease’ due to high levels of immigration.
I want to live in a community where our kids play football in the streets of an evening and live in a society that is at ease with itself. And I sense over the last decade or more we are not at ease.
If we went to virtually every town up eastern England and spoke to people about how they felt their town or city had changed for the last 10 to 15 years, there is a deep level of discomfort. Because if you have immigration at these sort of levels, integration doesn’t happen.
Further clarification of Farage’s and UKIP’s opinion on this topic was provided by the party’s economic spokesman (and candidate for Cambridge in the 2015 election) Patrick O’Flynn, as reported by the Press Association’s political correspondent –
Parents worry about safety of streets because of immigration, so children less likely to play football in them, Ukip's Patrick O'Flynn says
— Arj Singh (@singharj) April 1, 2015
Even at face value, this smells like total codswallop. If kids want to play football, they really won’t care what country the other kids’ parents might have come from. They just want to kick a ball around – the culture, nationality or language of other children they might want to play with is completely irrelevant.
Now it’s possible parents won’t let their children out on the streets because they have fears about safety due to ‘immigration’, but it’s pretty miserable politics to play up to these fears, and indeed to give them some legitimacy by presenting them as a genuine reason why children are absent from our streets.
If there’s a genuine problem with community cohesion, that can surely only be helped by letting children in the neighbourhood – from all backgrounds – play with each other, on the streets. The answer certainly isn’t to pretend that stopping further immigration into Britain can solve these kinds of problems, where they might exist.
Of course, the real reason why children don’t play on our streets is actual danger in the form of motor traffic. Where streets are closed (even on a temporary basis) to motor traffic, children from diverse backgrounds will happily play with one another – for instance, in one of Britain’s most ethnically diverse areas, Hackney.
And in the Netherlands, where residential streets are usually categorised as ‘access roads’ – not useful routes for motor traffic, and consequently with very low motor traffic levels – spontaneous street play by children is extremely common.
These are safe environments, where the only motor vehicles present will be those accessing properties on the street – residents, visitors, or delivery drivers. That’s it. There’s no real need to speed, as these aren’t through routes, but in any case, most of these locations will have traffic calming in the form of speed tables and tight geometry. The language of the street tells you that it is a residential area, and that, coupled with the low traffic levels, means that they are safe areas for children to play. That’s why parents let them play there – nothing to do with ‘immigration’.
Most residential streets in Britain, by contrast, will often function as through routes – convenient options for people who want to drive the shortest route, or who wish to avoid congestion on parallel main roads.
That’s why children don’t play on them.
If UKIP genuinely want to see children playing on the streets, they need to adopt Sustainable Safety as a policy.
Last week I wrote a long post about how West Sussex County Council are proposing to use millions of pounds of ‘sustainable’ transport funding (distributed by the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership) on schemes that have negligible (or even non-existent) sustainable transport benefit.
Even those parts of the schemes that, by West Sussex’s own admission, have no sustainable transport benefit whatsoever, could obviously be designed to accommodate walking and cycling routes. But West Sussex have chosen not to do this. They want to build very large roundabouts on the edge of a major town that have absolutely no walking and cycling provision.
In that post I described how this is symptomatic of a wider problem with cycling outside of cities in Britain – West Sussex in particular is just one many local authorities that have no consistent stream of funding for genuinely sustainable transport, no real enthusiasm for engaging seriously with cycling as a mode of transport, and little or no expertise on how to design properly for it.
What cash that is available for cycling from central government – either through these LEP channels, or through the Local Sustainable Transport Fund – appears to dribble away, used on schemes and projects of negligible benefit.
This post is the first in a series that will examine what West Sussex has done with the £2.46 million of cash the county was awarded by the DfT for sustainable travel projects, to be spent between 2012 and 2015.
West Sussex’s initial bid was for £5m, for four towns and cities – Crawley, Worthing, Chichester and Horsham. The DfT rejected that bid, and only chose to fund the schemes for Chichester and Horsham – about half the total bid (hence £2.46m). So these posts will cover where those millions of pounds have gone, in Chichester and Horsham. It should also be borne in mind that the total spend will be significantly higher, with matched funding from the local authority in many cases.
A case in point is the subject here. £140,000 of that DfT cash is being spent on the Northgate Gyratory in Chichester (with a further £70,000 coming from West Sussex’s own road safety budget). This is a very busy road system – dubbed ‘The Fire Station Roundabout’ (because it has a Fire Station in the middle of it) - just to the north of Chichester city centre. It is where the city’s inner ring road meets roads heading off to the north, out of Chichester.
What is that £210,000 buying?
It should be borne in mind that the Northgate Gyratory is a significant barrier to cycling in Chichester – to get in and out of the city centre from the north, this roundabout has to be used. And it also has a safety problem – despite its innate hostility obviously suppressing cycling, there have been six serious cycling injuries in the last nine years.
Here’s the video West Sussex have produced to publicise the repainting of the cycle lanes, and the new flashing signs.
The basic problem here is that the existing design for cycling is dire, and it isn’t being changed. The crap cycle lanes are being repainted, and the flashing signs smack of desperation, an attempt to mitigate for inherent flaws in the road layout. As a Chichester local told me –
By definition if you need to have such signs, surely this means you haven’t designed your roads properly for cyclists.
And it’s hard to disagree.
It should be noted that there are already signs at Northgate gyratory – signs that aren’t electronic.
I doubt flashing signs will do much to address the risks for people cycling at this gyratory, any more than the existing metal ones do anything.
The problems are the result of poor design, on both entry and exit to the roundabout.
On entry, drivers will not be looking in the direction cyclists are coming from, which is almost from their side. Their attention will be focused instead on the roundabout, and gaps in motor traffic.
The problems are compounded by ‘masking’ – even if they are looking in two different directions, drivers in the nearside lane will often have their visibility of the cycle lane obscured by motor vehicles in the outer lane.
Likewise on exit, collisions occur because drivers are unsure about where people cycling will be going (or make assumptions about their direction), while similarly people cycling will be unsure about whether drivers will be entering or existing the roundabout. For example.
The blue arrows represent a driver and a cyclist. At the positions pictured, neither has a clue what the other is going to do – stay on the roundabout, or exit it. That uncertainty is a recipe for collisions.
Safely navigating this cycle lane involves looking back over your shoulder, through 180°, in an attempt to observe what motor traffic behind you is doing.
Conveniently this is even demonstrated in West Sussex’s video.
It’s dreadful design, a recipe for collisions.
These are the kinds of problems that need to be resolved. People cycling are not in visible positions, and when they are, there’s uncertainty about who is going in which direction.
Another local, Paul Wreyford, has this to say in the road.cc article on the gyratory plans –
The cycle lane design remains very similar to the existing layout. There still remains the danger and conflict that I and many of my neighbours have experienced on this system.
This is; the high speed of exiting traffic at each junction, the lack of visibility for the kerbside driver when two vehicles are at a two lane entry, the failure of drivers to signal when exiting, and the lack of lane discipline/lane markings on the gyratory system.
I’d also add that even relying on drivers signalling their intentions to exit (or stay on) the roundabout, is simply not good enough, because if someone doesn’t signal, or signals in error, and their intentions are (mistakenly) assumed, the consequences would be catastrophic.
So there are a series of clear, identifiable safety problems, that are a direct consequence of the existing design, which is merely being repainted. The issue is not a general lack of ‘awareness’ of cyclists – awareness that needs to be ‘raised’ by a number of flashing signs -as the video implies.
Here’s a video I’ve taken showing one of the exit points of the gyratory, in the south-west corner.
The video essentially speaks for itself, but a few things can be observed.
An extra insult is how the poor existing road markings – needless ‘Give Ways’ for people simply leaving the roundabout by bike, like these –
Sensible advice would be to avoid these cycle lanes entirely, if you feel confident enough to do so, and to cycle in the traffic flow on the roundabout, to minimise the problems of intervisibility described here. That’s a pretty dire state of affairs.
But it could have been even worse. The initial plans from West Sussex for this gyratory proposed giving cycling priority on both entry and exit.
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with giving cycling priority over motor traffic, but not with this kind of geometry, and with these kinds of speeds on exit. The flashing warning ‘Think Bike!’ signs were included as part of this scheme, again presumably in an attempt to make it slightly less lethal.
That design appears to have been abandoned following a road safety audit, leaving us with the status quo. Plus the signs.
So £210,000 is going to be spent doing essentially nothing.
Unfortunately that simply wasn’t enough money in the first place to come up with a serious, design-led solution to the issues with this roundabout, drawing on best international practice in designing cycling infrastructure that is safe and attractive to use.
There’s plenty of space at Northgate for a major redesign, accommodating cycling infrastructure of the type seen in David Hembrow’s video above, and described in his blog post here. But the aimless result we’ve ended up with has probably flowed from that initial problem of insufficient cash. Northgate needs a major physical redesign, and £210,000 was never going to be enough.
Maybe West Sussex weren’t ever that interested in examining serious alternative designs, or in devoting a large chunk of the money they won from the DfT on implementing one scheme, preferring instead to spread it thinly on a large number of schemes that look good, presented as a nice long list, but are ineffective in practice.
Meanwhile the old paint is being scraped off, ready for new paint.
There’s been some concern that Transport for London (TfL) has dropped its target for cycling to have a 5% mode share in London by 2026. We have posted on the target question before, but it’s time for an update.
While some think we spend too much time on TfL and cycling in London, we’re unapologetic. Cycling has such a small modal share in the UK now, and is so crucial for a sustainable transport future, that it needs attention. And TfL is the one Highway Authority trying to invest significant resources in changing things.
So what should people make of the headline in LTT that “TfL axes 5% cycle trips target”? While studying this I suggest you look at Transport for London Board’s meeting on: 5 February 2014 , Item 6: Cycling Vision Portfolio: in particular Figure 5: Forecast growth in cycling trips in London to 2026 [Source: TfL Group Planning, Strategic Analysis] which is the same as the graph above before my additions to it.
TfL’s targets for growth in cycling modal share – setting the scene
The idea of having a 400% increase in cycling’s modal share was first raised under the first Mayor of London, and was regularly quoted as the target under Mayor’s Transport Strategies and other documents. For anybody with the most basic knowledge of statistics, 400% is a five times increase – although it seems to have been thought of as four times greater.
“4.17 In his 2010 Transport Strategy, the Mayor set an ambitious target to increase levels of cycling in London by 400 per cent by 2026 (from 2001) and to achieve a five per cent mode share of all journeys in the capital.”
Multiplying by 5 instead of 4 would mean:
A. The 2026 target – of 5 x 320k (daily) cycle journeys – would be 1.6 million cycle journeys, not 1.5 million. That is some 100,000 journeys more. In context, the well-known Cycle Hire programme aims for 40,000 journeys daily.
B. The modal share would be 5 x 1.2% (the share in 2001), which would come to 6%, not 5%.2. The axing of the target
On 26 March 2015 Item 10: Cycling Vision Annual Update was presented by Lilli Matson, Head of Strategy and Outcome Planning, Better Routes and Places, TfL Surface Planning directorate. She is reported as saying: “Mode share is not appropriate to be used as a target, as it is changeable due to population flux.”
What’s the justification for this? Presumably she’s saying that the increase in London’s population (known about for some years) means that modal share targets for cycling journeys go down, but go up for all other modes. Why? Transport planners are used to employing modal share as an indicator, even with population changes.
The only rationale I can think of is that while TfL are keeping the 1.5 million journey stages by bike by 2026 target – this “remains a relevant challenge” – they can’t really cope with the idea of having to get beyond it.
To explore this further, let’s look at TfL’s conceptualisation of cycling trips by studying the graph (whether as shown above or directly from Figure 5: Forecast growth in cycling trips in London to 2026 in Transport for London Board’s meeting on: 5 February 2014 , Item 6: Cycling Vision Portfolio).
TfL’s targets for growth in cycling modal share – what’s the trend?
The main issue is the two lines on the graph as supplied by TfL: these are ACTUAL in light blue font and TARGET in red font. I have no quarrel with the blue line, although TfL could have done a lot more to get good figures on the numbers and types of cycling trips. My problem is with the red line.
Or, to be more precise, the red curve. I have added a straight BLACK line on to the graph, which runs straight from the 2001 baseline point to the target point.
The characteristic of the red curve as it has been drawn by TfL is that it allows a lower number of trips to be presented as “on target” in the early years.
To be specific: If we used my straight black line, the “on track” number for 2013 – the last year for which we have figures – would be something like 900,000, not the much lower 585,000 for cycle journey stages on an average day announced by Lilli Matson. (Even on the red curve the number should be c. 620,000, but 585,000 is not very much lower.)
Of course, it is quite legitimate to give a curve such as the red one as the indicator of likely growth, rather than a straight line, because it represents a constant percentage increase each year. But this projection has to be based on evidence. In this case it would mean that the rate of growth increases very significantly from about 2016 – 2017. It should also be made clear that this assumption is being made.
Now, there are good reasons for making the assumption. It could be said that TfL has done very little since its inception to generate an increase in cycling. We are now due to have the much publicised measures of changes in highway layout coming in shortly, and these could result in a significant increase in take up of cycling from about 2016/2017 when the changes become apparent – and this would justify the sudden increase in rate of increase in cycling journeys.
So is TfL’s forecasting right?
TfL certainly has plenty of transport planning tools: The Cycling Policy Evaluation Tool (CYPET) which “provides a reasonable estimate of the impact of different infrastructure programmes in different locations”, development of modelling capacity through the Cycle Network Model London (CYNEMON) and the Cycle Demand Evaluation Response working group (CYDER) .
My experience is that TfL’s evaluation of cycling potential comes up with some interesting data. For example through the MOSAIC (a marketing tool used by transport planners) assessment, it is possible to see where he groups least likely to give up car usage live. It all helps TfL to work out where the “low-hanging fruit” – the easiest areas to invest in to get visible return – are.
But that could be the problem.
My suggestion is that TfL are generally cautious about their ability to support cycling as an everyday form of transport, and that this leads to limited initiatives for cycling, combined with an unwillingness to engage with the sustainable transport policies required to have a genuinely equitable approach towards cycling.
This is reflected in the ditching of the 5% modal share target and in another target – the Cycle Safety Action Plan target – chosen by TfL.
The Cycle Safety Action Plan target
We have reviewed the current TfL Cycle Safety Action Plan (CSAP) here.
A key problem with it is – against continual reassurance to the Cycle Safety Working Group – the failure to base its approach on an exposure-based measure of cyclist casualties. As I said at the time:
“The draft CSAP is a fundamentally flawed document which fails… Firstly, its idea of “safety” for cyclists is measured in a way which can indicate that having fewer cyclists and a higher cyclist casualty rate is BETTER than having more cyclists and a lower casualty rate…”.
This is not a technical or abstruse issue. It is an approach which would see as a failure any increase in cycling which outstrips a reduction in the cyclist casualty rate – where the rate is based on a measure of exposure such as journeys or distance travelled by bicycle, or time spent cycling. It means, for example, that if the number of cycle journeys doubles, the main official casualty (Killed and Seriously Injured, or KSI) rate would have to be halved. Along with a greater willingness to report injuries, and a higher concentration of children and elderly people (who are more likely to be seriously hurt after a collision) the casualty rate would have to go down by 60% or more in order to have a cut in overall cyclist KSIs. Such a cut would be very dramatic.
The conventional “road safety” way of assessing safety on the road is embedded in TfL’s culture. And it is inherently biased against a target of more than some 100% of extra cycling trips.What TfL’s current targets mean:
TfL’s targets, as with forecasting, are indicators of what goals it is prepared to pursue. In fact, cycling targets in the UK have historically been way higher than those achieved, and it could be that TfL has simply been unwilling to risk a shortfall. On the other hand, one can point out that no proponent of a sustainable travel target – the most obvious case being John Prescott’s commitment to cutting car usage - has ever had to suffer public ignominy when that target has not been reached. And the target is anyway twelve years away from assessment.
So I would suggest that the current state of targeting within TFL is indicative of caution, based on its reluctance to really push forward towards a genuinely healthy status for cycling as an everyday form of transport in London.
Let’s examine why this is, and what would be required.
The “Mayor’s Vision for Cycling in London” is discussed at length here and in previous posts. We have argued that measures necessary to support cycling are weak in terms of failures in:
The above are just parts of the car-centred culture that TfL operates in. It features abuse and victim-blaming of cyclists, and what is in effect discrimination against cycling as a form of everyday transport. Transport for London is, of course, limited in what it can do to deal with deep-rooted beliefs. It is, after all, a highway authority with what it calls “cycling customers” on its TLRN roads.
But it could do a lot more, in our opinion, through its role as funder of the boroughs to address issues away from its roads, and indeed away from the context of highway infrastructure. Of course, that would in turn mean looking critically at its own belief system.
So do the Mayor, the Greater London Authority and Transport for London really want to see cycling have its proper status as a mode of transport in London. Because, if not, maybe cutting back on targets is the appropriate thing to do.
The Dutch ‘simultaneous green’ junction arrangements allow people walking and cycling to progress through signal controlled junctions in any direction they choose, at the same time as people from all the other arms of the junction.
‘Simultaneous green’ works well on very large junctions, as this David Hembrow video shows –
As well as on smaller ones. My video this time –
In Britain, however, there is some confusion about whether these kinds of arrangements would be legal, particularly as they involve ‘conflicting greens’ – green signals running at the same time on arms of a junction that are an angle to each other. (See this thread on the Cycling Embassy forum, for example).
Now of course we already have examples of ‘conflicting greens’ in the UK – greens for traffic from opposite arms of a junction, which allow people to turn right across the opposing traffic stream. For instance, if I’m turning right in my car, or on my bike, I have a green signal to go, while someone heading straight through the junction from the opposite direction also has a green. We both have a green, yet our paths will cross! The answer is – the turning party yields, rather than assuming green means a manoeuvre can be performed without conflict.
So this seems to be a straightforward objection to the ‘we don’t do conflicting greens in the UK’ claim.
But what about greens from junction arms that are not directly facing each other? What about you having a green to go straight ahead, while the junction to your left – at 90° to your junction – also has a green?
I was told last year by a highway engineer, whose opinion I value, that there isn’t actually anything in UK traffic regulations that specifically rules out doing this. He explained that this option is technically available. You could give motor traffic green signals simultaneously on two arms of a junction at 90° to each other. This just doesn’t happen because, well, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, and would probably be quite unsafe – for motor traffic, at least.
There is now a new junction in Oxford that seems to substantiate this – that you can allow ‘conflicting greens’ on a junction, at 90° to each other (or indeed at other angles). The Hythe Bridge Street junction lies between the city’s station, and the city centre. It used to be composed of two separate roads, with a cut-though in the middle diagonal for walking and cycling –
The odd arrangement is on the western arm of the junction.
The signals tells us that all motor traffic must turn left, heading north. Meanwhile, however, people cycling are exempted from that instruction – they are able to cycle off in any direction they please, north, east, or south.
So far so good, but allowing people cycling to do this actually involves a ‘conflicting green’. While this arm of the junction is green, it turns out that traffic flowing south out of the northern arm also has a green signal.
Here’s another photograph, this one from Graham Smith, showing the same location, but from the south-western corner of the junction.
The man on the bike and the van driver both have a green signal. Note that at the time Graham’s picture was taken – January this year – there aren’t any road markings in the junction. Indeed, this was the initial plan, as below.
This is, of course, still far from brilliant – if you are not familiar with the junction, it’s not entirely clear how it will work, and even if you are, you are still exposed to collision risk from motor traffic turning around you, without any protection.
But the main point of this post is that – regardless of the safety implications – it is apparently entirely legal to give green signals, simultaneously, from junctions at 90° to each other, as shown below – even if the ‘traffic’ coming from the western arm is cycle-only.
The safety implications of this odd arrangement in Oxford – which involves interactions between bikes and motor traffic – are surely much greater than a clearly-explained simultaneous green layout, which will involve interactions only between people cycling.
So – what’s stopping us?
In 2011 Ghulam Murtza was stopped by the police, and issued a fixed penalty notice. He was prosecuted for committing an offence under section 24 of the 1988 Road Traffic Act, and fined £115. He was carry his child on his bike, on a seat that may or may not have been strictly legal.
This is section 24 –
As it happens, this is a fine I am at risk of receiving pretty much every single day, because I give my partner a ‘backie’ on my omafiets, like this –
This is the law Murtza fell foul off.
In the case of Michael Mason, the driver faced no criminal proceedings whatsoever, despite the fact she ‘could not explain why she did not see Michael when many other witnesses had.’
In the case of Daniel Squire, the driver walked free from court, despite admitting texting while driving in the period immediately prior to the fatal collision, and (from the new reports available) a deeply unconvincing account of what transpired.
Two fatal collisions.
But no fines, not even any penalty points, in either case. Killing people apparently merits less punishment than carrying someone on a bike.
We have written about this case before in the context of law enforcement in London and our aims in the Traffic Justice Alliance. Unfortunately, we can’t report strides forward – yet – with the Traffic Justice Alliance, and have to report on developments in this case which should upset anybody who wants to see a civilised approach to danger on the roads. That may sound extreme, but recent developments reveal what we think is a national scandal and disgrace. This is not just a London matter, or just of concern to cyclists. It is about how crucial elements of the “road safety” culture we live under – including the beliefs and behaviour of those entrusted with law enforcement – are part of the problem of danger on the road.Since our last post on this case:
On 13th March 2015 Michael Mason’s family held a vigil near the place where he was killed, with a protest and “die-in”. Brenda Puech, Dr Robert Davis and Councillor Caroline Russell from the RDRF Committee attended this event, with Caroline speaking as a pedestrian and cyclist activist.Speakers: Caroline Russell, Cynthia Barlow (RoadPeace), Nicola Branch (Stop Killing Cyclists), Anna Tatton-Brown (daughter of Michael Mason). Roger Geffen for Cyclists’ Defence Fund also spoke.
It was an emotional gathering with palpable relief at the news – broken that day – that the file on the case had been passed by MPS to the Crown Prosecution Service.
Since then the news has been that some kind of mistake was made, and that in fact the MPS has not passed the file through, deciding against supporting a prosecution of the driver. For an account of this, and how horrified people have been at the treatment of Michael Mason’s family, see this.
However, our main concern is with the justification for the police not proceeding. This means analysing the Investigating Officer’s Report, which you can find here.What’s wrong with the Investigating Officer’s Report?
(You can read a similar set of arguments in an excellent article here )
Four justifications are given for the MPS failing to proceed in the manner which we should expect of them. These excuses are:
I have written at length on the problems of advocating hi-viz or bright clothing for pedestrians and cyclists. Part of our concern is a lack of evidence for such clothing actually making a difference to the chances of not being hit – luckily (so far) the Department for Transport has not come out with any convincing evidence.
But a larger part of our concern is that this focus shifts responsibility yet again away from those who endanger others (the motorised) on to those they endanger (pedestrians and cyclists). If drivers choose not to look where they are going, and simply watch out for very bright objects, they may well not “see” people outside their cars. Our problem is that this feeds into and colludes with the “SMIDSY” (Sorry Mate I Didn’t See You) excuse of drivers who refuse to look where they are going. They break the first rule of safe driving: Never drive in such a way that you cannot stop within the distance you can see to be clear.
Just in case anybody thinks we are being too extreme here, I should remind you of the experience of Tom Kearney, knocked down by a “bendy bus” mirror when walking on the footway on Oxford Street, not far from where Michael Mason was killed. When questioned by the police after the incident (or rather when he came out of the coma he was in after the incident), Tom was asked if he had been wearing dark clothing. When walking. On the pavement.
We think this is all victim-blaming nonsense that facilitates the endangering of others. It is related to the next excuse:
2.◾that a witness’s opinion was that “it would be difficult for a driver to pick out anything” in the visual noise of Regent’s Street
Ever since the CTC warned of the implications of getting other road users to be lit up for motorists’ benefit before the Second World War, there has been concern that street and vehicle lighting could dazzle. Glare became an issue. The message to anyone with any sanity would be that there is too much reliance on lighting.
There are two issues here: Are we seriously supposed to accept that a driver cannot see a cyclist or pedestrian who is not wearing bright clothing in Regent Street. Go there on a March rush hour evening and see what you think. The other issue is: if you can’t see a pedestrian or cyclist without hi-viz clothing then you are not driving properly, and are responsible for any crash occurring because you have not seen the person outside your car.
(There is also the issue of why “a witness” is an authority here, and not some sort of forensic expert)
3. ◾that the driver maintained her course
This excuse is not separate from the ones above – indeed it is essentially the same. The point about “not seeing” is not that is about images not falling on the retina. It is about whether the driver is watching, looking out and willing and able to process the images – and to do so in the correct manner. People see what they want to see, and similarly don’t see if they aren’t prepared to watch out in the manner required of them. It is very easy to drive on the basis that anything without lights is no threat and can therefore be ignored. It is also wrong, as anyone who has crashed into a deer realises.
In this case, as Bez says: “Of course, maintaining one’s course is often an effective means of driving straight into things: if there is someone in front of you, it hardly seems a reason not to prosecute.”
The final excuse is one that has concerned us for some time:
4. that Mason was (as was his legal right) not wearing a helmet
Now, we can argue that there is a lack of evidence on the benefits of helmet wearing across cycling populations, whether because of a lack of effect or relevance in cyclist collisions. We can argue that compensatory behaviour by helmeted cyclists and/or other road users absorbs any safety benefit. Or that it would make more sense to wear such helmets in cars. (See www.cyclehelmets.org for evidence). But probably the biggest concern about helmet advocacy is the red herring effect – one which we see here to grotesque effect.
The simple fact is that what Mason may, or may not, have been wearing on his head is irrelevant to whether a driver who drove into him had broken the law – in this case driving without due care and attention. The idea that if Mason had been wearing helmet there would have been no case to answer is beyond preposterous. It is simply preposterous to assume that if Mason had been wearing a helmet there would have been:
That’s the simply preposterous part – what takes it further is that driver carelessness is exonerated even if the consequences of it might not be that bad. Would we reduce the sentence of – or not even prosecute – someone who shot a policeman, because the policeman was wearing a bullet-proof vest?How the Investigating Officer’s Report reasoning is part of the problem…
This is the fundamental issue. “Road safety” ideology for decades has assumed that drivers are unwilling or unable to drive properly, and that driver carelessness is just part of the territory. The “can’t see” excuse has been accommodated by lighting and longer sight lines. The generally careless driver has been accommodated by more crashworthy vehicles (roll bars, crumple zones, seat belts, air bags, collapsible steering wheels etc.) The incompetent or rule-breaking driver has been colluded with through highway engineering (crash barriers, felling roadside trees, antiskid surfacing etc.)
Such idiot-proofing has often demonstrably exacerbated or generated idiot driving . Even where there is little evidence that it has, the long term effect is, as the MPS have done in this case, to confuse common dangerous behaviour with acceptable behaviour.: . Of course, we have also had the complete failure of the official “road safety” organisations to get involved in cases such as this, and a general failure of the police to address the issues of careless and dangerous driving. But underlying it all is that the idea that bad driving is an inevitable feature of the cyclist’s or pedestrian’s surroundings.
…and what to do about it.
So where does this take us? My view is that cycling in London is not anything like as hazardous as is made out. I also think driver behaviour can be changed through measures such as guard rail removal, and that there is a Safety in Numbers effect from more cycling. But in a sense, that doesn’t matter when it comes to cases like this.
If the police, and other organisations with a brief for safety on the road, feel that driving is so antagonistic to other road users, there needs to be forthright commitment towards reducing that danger. That can be achieved by – well , any means necessary. It can be done by proper road policing addressing the danger at source. The highway can be engineered to reduce danger to cyclists and pedestrians, as can vehicles (with cyclist/pedestrian-activated braking, or at least “black box” type collision recorders).
And if “road safety professionals” are so keen to point out the threats posed by mass motoring, then there is yet more of an argument to bring in driver liability legislation (at the least in civil law). But whatever the means used, the basic issue will be one of seeing inappropriate driving as wrong and the basic problem, whether it has resulted in someone being hurt or killed or not, and whether or not ‘everyone does it’.
Consider the case of collisions where nobody is reported as hurt or killed – in fact the vast majority of collisions involving motor vehicles. Measures of road danger could include actual collisions. The vast majority of car crashes, particularly at the lower speeds of urban areas, are not recorded in casualty statistics, because no injury is reported. Indeed, without (reported) injury, these results of careless/dangerous/rule-breaking/criminally negligent or whatever driving just don’t exist for the road safety professional.
Is that not what the excuses brought up by the MPS are all about? If they can claim that a reported injury occurred because of the victim’s own actions, then the world of bad driving can continue to be tolerated.
But it shouldn’t be.
For the moment, what you can do is:
Give: To help the family of Michael Mason you can make an online donation to the Cyclists’ Defence Fund to support its work on cycling and the law – such as challenging unduly lenient law-enforcement of dangerous drivers, unjust prosecutions of cyclists, and highway and planning decisions which disregard cyclists’ needs. Or see information on other ways to donate to CDF here.
At the Big Cycling Debate on the 2nd March, one of the most astute questions from the audience came from Ralph Smyth of the Campaign to Protect Rural England. He wanted to know what the three political parties who had been invited to the debate would do to improve cycling levels in ‘middle Britain’ – those areas of the country that are not covered by ‘Cycle City Ambition’ money, the latest tranche of which had (conveniently) been announced that very morning.
Unfortunately the current cycling minister Robert Goodwill chose not to engage with the question that had actually been asked, instead deciding to talk about cycling in rural areas, waffling on about potholes, cycle routes along roads in rural areas that nobody is using because it’s too remote (apparently), the Tour de France in Yorkshire, and ‘cyclists’ preferring to use roads in rural areas.
This wasn’t what Ralph Smyth’s question was about. It was about what political parties should be doing to drive cycling across the country as a whole, not just in the city pockets that are fortunate enough to be granted funding. By focusing entirely on ‘rural’ cycling in remote areas the question was ducked by Goodwill.
And this is a serious issue – tens of millions of British people do not live in cities (let alone in those few cities that are getting DfT funding). They live in large towns, across the country, as well as in more rural locations.
Yet the story in most of these areas is one of rock-bottom cycling levels, and no sign on the horizon that things are going to change any time soon.
These areas will typically be the responsibility of local authorities that have –
Although many areas – places like Bristol, Brighton and Hove, Leicester, Cambridge, and other cities getting to grips with designing for cycling – are showing ambition and a willingness to do things differently, the story is frankly pretty bleak across the rest of Britain.
One of these places is West Sussex. Although the County Council likes to imagine that the county is ‘largely rural’ (see right), the vast majority of West Sussex’s 800,000 residents actually live in urban areas, places like Crawley (population 107,000), Worthing (104,000), Horsham (55,000), Burgess Hill (28,000), Littlehampton (28,000), Chichester (27,000), East Grinstead (24,000), Bognor Regis (24,000), Haywards Heath (23,000), Shoreham (19,000), and other towns and large villages.
Yet cycling levels across this temperate, largely flat county are dismal. Cycling to work levels in the large towns to the south of Gatwick airport scrape to a 1-2% mode share –
And things aren’t much better in the towns along the south coast, with only pockets of Chichester and Worthing bucking the 1-2% cycling to work trend, reaching as high as 5%.
These cycling to work levels – which we should remember are likely to far outstrip general cycling mode share – have actually fallen in many West Sussex towns since 2001.
I’m told that West Sussex’s cycling capital expenditure – from the council’s own budget – amounts to only a few tens of thousands of pounds a year. The council’s sole cycling officer has been made redundant; there is no cycling plan (the West Sussex Cycle Forum were asked to draft one themselves) and what money the County Council does receive from central government for sustainable transport, in the form of the Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF), has, and will, go to waste on poor schemes of questionable value. (To take just one example, over £100,000 of the £2.4m worth of LSTF ‘sustainable’ funding West Sussex won from the government has been spent in Horsham on… brand new traffic lights, specifically for motor traffic, to reduce queues for vehicles and hence lower pollution.)
That waste of LSTF cash will be examined in a series of forthcoming posts. The subject here, however, is the latest source of transport funding from central government, one distributed through LEPs (Local Enterprise Partnerships). This new funding stream is, again, going to fail walking and cycling in West Sussex, unless there is radical change.
What follows will be long and probably a little boring, but I hope it will be valuable as an insight into the disastrous direction transport is heading in places where there is little or no engagement with modes of transport beyond the car, and indeed no apparent willingness to even think differently. I may not get all the details exactly right, but in my defence I am trying to make sense of quite a complex process.
Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) were set up by the current government in 2011.
Local enterprise partnerships are partnerships between local authorities and businesses. They decide what the priorities should be for investment in roads, buildings and facilities in the area.
From a transport perspective, they are therefore obviously hugely influential, given that they are essentially determining what money should be spent on.
There are 39 of these LEPs in England and Wales. The pertinent one in this post is the Coast to Capital (C2C) LEP, which covers all of West Sussex, Brighton and Hove, a large part of Surrey, and Croydon.
As can be seen from the map, this a large and strategically significant area, covering the southern outskirts of London, as well as Gatwick Airport, several south coast towns and cities, and many major towns in Sussex and Surrey.
LEPs have no requirement for public involvement or democratic accountability. Here’s a select committee chairman, back in 2011 –
LEPs have a significant impact on their local community; they would be failing if they did not. Despite this, the ability for the local community to scrutinise their performance is patchy. If LEPs are to be held accountable for their performance, measureable indicators of that performance are needed. And they are needed in a format easily understood by local communities.
Four years later, in February this year, TransportXtra commented on ‘the lamentable efforts that most LEPs have made in opening themselves up to scrutiny’, pointing out that
the Campaign for Better Transport rightly criticised the LEPs last month, saying that decisions on the latest award of £1bn from the fund had been taken “behind closed doors”.
Funding is available from Coast to Capital for what they term ‘Sustainability and Resilience Schemes’ – a pot of £62.6 million, which was granted to C2C from central government, to be spent between 2015 and 2021. A list of current bids for portions of that funding is available here. Decisions will be made on who gets what on the 25th of March (i.e., next week) by the Local Transport Body – made up of these individuals. (The Local Transport Body’s role is to advise LEPs like Coast to Capital on what they think transport priorities should be).
I am going to look here at just one of those bids, put in by West Sussex – this is the West of Horsham Transport Package. This involves a substantial sum of money – well over £3m, to fund a £4m project. In essence it amounst to changes – major and minor – to four roundabouts on main roads to the west of Horsham.
These roundabouts –
Three of these roundabouts – the larger ones – lie in a line on the town’s existing dual carriageway bypass, built in the late 1960s to divert the A24 (which runs from the south coast to London) away from the town centre.The other, smaller, roundabout – Five Oaks, to the west- lies on the main road towards Guildford, from the bypass.
The 14-page application form from West Sussex for this funding doesn’t provide a great deal of detail (not even any plans of these schemes!) so I’m going to run through the 62-page Supporting Document for this application for funding, prepared for West Sussex County Council by CH2MHill. Strangely, it does not appear to be available anywhere online (I’ve only seen a copy because a colleague emailed a West Sussex transport planner to specifically ask for detailed plans of the schemes), so I’ve uploaded it here.
Very early in the document, we are told the rationale for these ‘upgrades’ –
The Farthings Hill Interchange and Five Oaks schemes are linked to the wider delivery of the 2,000 home West of Horsham development
The Great Daux Roundabout and Robin Hood Roundabout schemes are linked to the delivery of the 2,500 home North of Horsham development
That is, the two roundabouts to the south are linked to a large new housing development (currently under construction); the two roundabouts to the north are linked to another large (proposed) housing development, to the north of the town.
It is not clear why West Sussex are bidding for what amounts to funding from central government – through the Coast2Capital LEP – to mitigate the effects of increased motor traffic from these new developments. The developers are building (or are proposing to build) housing that is believed will generate more motor traffic, and yet it is the taxpayer that is being asked to cover the bulk of the costs of accommodating it. Indeed, 75% of the costs – the remaining 25% coming from Section 106 (developer) contributions.
In an ideal world, the costs of any necessary changes to these roundabouts should surely be covered by the developer themselves. But perhaps that’s too idealistic in 21st century Britain.
This also raises the question of what happens if this funding bid is rejected by the Coast2Capital LEP – West Sussex will have a £3m funding shortfall for these projects that are (apparently) necessary to accommodate motor traffic.
The supporting document then moves on to a presentation of the cost:benefit analysis for the four roundabouts. This is where things get very silly indeed.
Notice here that two of these roundabouts (the two that happen to be exclusively focused on easing congestion for motor traffic) have extraordinary cost-benefit ratios (BCR). These are the two ‘capacity’ schemes, listed at the bottom. The Robin Hood roundabout will cost £465,000, yet will apparently net £322 million in Present Value Benefits, meaning the benefit:cost ratio for this roundabout scheme is 693:1. The Great Daux roundabout is nearly as ludicrous at 506:1. This really is fantasy economics.
The other two roundabouts are termed ‘connectivity’ schemes, which purport to make walking and cycling more attractive (more on that later) and have negative cost benefit ratios.
The roundabout plans with the extraordinary alleged benefits do absolutely nothing at all for walking and cycling. The Robin Hood roundabout currently looks like this.
It’s a fairly straightforward crossing of a 70mph dual carriageway (running N-S), with the road to the west connecting with the village of Warnham, and the one on the right connecting to Horsham. There are (mostly) two lanes on entry and exit. Not much fun on a bike, or on foot, but the funding proposal aims to turn it into this monster.
Four lanes on entry, signalisation, and hint at a ‘turbo’ format.
A similar arrangement is proposed for the Great Daux roundabout, a kilometre to the north. Here the bypass meets the A24 at a T-junction roundabout.
This is to be replaced, again, by a signalised, turbo-ish roundabout with 3-4 lanes on entry. Again, no consideration of walking or cycling whatsoever.
Both these schemes could address existing severance issues for walking and cycling between Horsham and the villages to the west, and north-west. They don’t, however.
The justification for the massive expansion of both of these junctions is as follows –
The Horsham District Transport Study which assessed the impact of forecast strategic development and background traffic growth up to 2031 concluded that both junctions would require mitigation.
The truth is that motor traffic flows in and around Horsham are either steady or declining, over the last decade. Motor traffic in the town appears to be falling, at least on the three main roads with DfT count points.
And on the bypass itself – between these roundabouts – there has been very little change (perhaps even a slight decline) in motor traffic levels over the last decade.
That’s not to say that there might be a case for expanding these roundabouts. What’s scandalous, however, is that absolutely no account has been taken of walking and cycling connections in the plans that are on the table. It’s like these modes don’t even exist. And it is acknowledge in black and white -
The proposed scheme is on the strategic road network and is primarily aimed at providing journey time benefits to motorised vehicles, there are no sustainable transport benefits.
But of course there could, and should be. Roundabouts like this should have connections for walking and cycling built into them at the design stage. Grade separation, or at-grade crossings with minimal delay, should be an absolute necessity. But it seems you can get away with completely ignoring walking and cycling.
On to the extraordinary benefit:cost ratios presented in this bid. They are derived simply by adding up the value of time savings accruing to motorists over a 60 year period, using the DfT’s WebTAG. Also bear in mind that the DfT’s aforementioned traffic growth forecasts are lying behind this modelling. The comparison in time savings for motorists (between the scheme being built, and the existing layout) is built around the assumption of large increases in motor traffic –
Using the opening year 2023 and forecast year 2029 traffic flows, the difference in highway network performance between the base model and the ‘with scheme’ models forms the basis of the Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA).
The assumption being that these roundabouts will become completely ‘saturated’ (that is, clogged) without widening.
But here’s what the authors of the bid have to say –
It should be noted that using outputs from a junction model, as opposed to a strategic model, will overestimate journey time impacts because it is unable to account for traffic reassignment. In reality, a change to a junction is likely to either induce extra traffic to use it or divert traffic away depending on the nature of the scheme, thus diluting the predicted journey time impact. [my emphasis]
The dilution effect, however, will be offset by the economic, social, and environmental benefits that have not been included in the transport appraisal. On this basis, the proposed methodology is considered to be robust.
A methodology that produces Benefit:Cost Ratios of 700:1 for schemes that completely ignore walking and cycling is considered ‘robust.’
Yet, later in the document, it is again acknowledged that this ‘time saving’ comparison is fundamentally flawed –
In reality, the delay predicted by the junction models [without the schemes going ahead] would not occur due to traffic reassignment and peak spreading (people choosing to start their journeys earlier of later, outside of the peak hours). This, in addition to the manually assigned 2029 traffic flows means the journey time benefits of implementing the scheme would not be as high as predicted. It should also be noted that the junction modelling software will not be providing reliable analysis of journey delays once significantly over capacity.
These two roundabout schemes are being considered only in terms of motoring. This is made plain by the ‘Journey Quality’ assessments, shown below.
The ‘traveller stress’ of cycling across a four lane roundabout isn’t considered. ‘Traveller stress’ is framed only in terms of reducing drivers’ ‘frustration’ at delays and ‘fear of potential accidents’. Likewise ‘care’ for travellers is ‘explicitly for the motorised transport users’. If you’re not in a car – we don’t care.
The neglect of walking and cycling is completely unacceptable. These are not roundabouts in the middle of nowhere. I’ve set them into context, below.
The two roundabouts (framed in blue) lie between the Horsham and surrounding settlements, including a railway station on the line to London. These settlements are not any great distance from the town; Warnham to Horsham is 2 miles, as the crow flies. Likewise the railway station is just above the northern bypass, but essentially inaccessible if you are not in a car.
Moving on to the other two roundabout schemes, which purport to actually focus on sustainable travel. The Farthings Hill interchange is a grade-separated roundabout, sitting over the dual carriageway bypass.
It’s huge, scary, and fast, with slip roads onto and off the dual carriageway, and multiple junctions to the west, including another dual carriageway, a petrol station, and the entrance to Broadbridge Heath village itself. There is a path across the roundabout, skirting around the inside of the northern bridge, but you have to dash across two lanes of fast traffic on either side.
The proposals are to signalise this roundabout, entirely.
… providing toucan crossings and, erm, shared use footways.
While this will make the roundabout less lethal to cross on foot, or by bike, it’s hardly going to make it particularly convenient to cross. Whichever route you choose to take, you will have to wait at four separate toucan crossings.
With a bit of thought (and a willingness to actually prioritise walking and cycling) the number of crossings should really only be two - for instance, a bi-directional path on the northern edge of the roundabout, crossing only the two slip roads.
It’s worth adding that an extra third lane for motor traffic is being added to the slip lane entries onto the roundabout as part of this scheme, and also that the ‘shared use’ footpath will remain at a substandard width, below 3m in most locations. Furthermore there are no plans to connect these poor routes up with Horsham – the shared use footway simply ends on the main road into Horsham a few metres south of the roundabout, with (nonsensically) people expected to stop using the pavement, and join a busy main road, at an arbitrary point.
So really the alleged ‘sustainable’ benefits of this scheme are negligible indeed, only a by-product of a pre-existing decision to signalise the roundabout to increase capacity. The claim
For pedestrians and cyclists, the scheme will significantly improve connectivity and reduce severance between Broadbridge Heath and Horsham
is highly dubious.
Yet the reason this roundabout performs poorly on the Benefit:Cost Analysis (minus 15:1, compared to 500:1 and 700:1) is blamed on these toucan crossings.
The significant journey time dis-benefit is a result of traffic reassignment following the completion of the West of Horsham infrastructure and the introduction of the Toucan crossings.
There’s also this extraordinary admission –
A safer junction would encourage more trips using sustainable modes for commuting purposes (via the train stations) or for leisure trips.
It has not, however, been possible to quantify these benefits. Accordingly, they have not been considered as part of the BCR appraisal.
In other words, we don’t know how to quantify the benefits of people walking and cycling; so those benefits are not part of our analysis. Precisely the same admission is made for the final part of the scheme, the Five Oaks roundabout.
This roundabout is being downgraded, because a new dual carriageway road has been built further to the south, bypassing it.
The plan at the roundabout is principally to rearrange road arriving at the roundabout from the village. The existing junction, onto the roundabout, is being closed entirely, with the road being bent away to the east to a junction on the ‘old road.’ The intention is to increase the length of car trips through the village and hence to discourage ratrunning, which is a serious problem given that the village is (and remains) the most direct east-west route towards Guildford.
Whether this will work or not, I don’t know, but again the arrangements for cycling are pitiful. There is a shared use pavement coming out of the village (which is ridiculous, given that through-traffic is supposed to be being removed) which then extends around the roundabout like a conventional footway, with the opportunity to dash across two lanes of motor traffic. Just as at Farthings Hill, there is no attempt to connect this alleged ‘cycle provision’ up with places people might actually want to go. Despite plentiful space in the area the diverted road is being built, there are no plans to build either a cycleway or footway along this road.
This failure is even more acute because the new road has been built without any cycling or walking provision.
These roads are the existing, and new, direct routes towards Horsham. Again, in context –
Both of these roads will be surrounded by existing and new housing, and both run directly towards the centre of Horsham. Yet nothing is being done for walking and cycling on either of them, either as part of the planned development, or indeed as part of bid for funding from the Coast 2 Capital LEP. It’s another wasted opportunity to reap the benefits of a blank slate on the part of West Sussex.
Now a new bridge has been provided over the bypass. But the old bridge simply had to be go, because the bypass is being widened to eight lanes as it runs through the new development. And the new bridge is a design failure.
With sets of barriers built into it, and wiggly ramps to access it in remote corners of car parks, far from natural desire lines, it’s hard to see how it could have been made less direct and attractive.
On top of these failures to build high quality cycling infrastructure into brand new development (or indeed any kind of cycling infrastructure), West Sussex are compounding their problems by hoovering up millions of pounds of LEP funding on road expansion projects that – again – take either absolutely no account of walking and cycling, or provide for it shabbily in piecemeal, tokenistic ways, around the fringes of existing road projects.
This is the state of cycling where I live. It’s getting worse, not better.
We have already criticised Labour’s current shadow Secretary of State for Transport for his car-centrism. It seems that after a particularly lacklustre performance at the recent Times debate on provision for cycling in the next Parliament, some of his advisers had a few words with him, and he was rather upbeat in his recent talk to the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT).
So would a Labour Government make things radically different and better for walking and cycling? We analyse his talk below. But first there have been some more bits of nonsense since we last posted on Dugher. Regrettably, it looks like he is still bent on an agenda which sees motorists as an oppressed minority to be pandered to with additional subsidy, soft touch and minimal law enforcement. So here’s what looks like the face of Labour’s transport shadow again.
Since our last post on Dugher, here are three episodes:
“Quite a number of journeys that people make are less than a mile. There is a lot of evidence that if people switched a proportion of their journeys you’d have a huge influence in terms of environmental benefits” , he explains, “but there’s a whole bunch of reasons why people in those circumstances choose to use their cars. there’s got to be viable alternatives. You’re only going to do that if you’ve got a bus network market that isn’t broken, as it is at the moment. You’ll only cycle to the station if, when you leave your bike there, there is a reasonable expectation that it will be still there when you return“.
Now, three RDRF committee members have spent a fair amount of time trying to get better cycle parking at stations. We think it is good and necessary. But is it the main reason why people don’t cycle to the station? Is it even in the top ten? Nor do people drive just because of problems with bus network efficiency (and we doubt that future Government is likely to massively change it).2. “Stealth cameras”
These utterances looked like they came straight from the Daily Mail, so let’s look at how they reported this. Basically, you have to be allowed to break the law except at limited locations (decided by the number of “accidents” that have occurred at their locations being high enough), and at those you have to be given the warning that you might be given a few points on your licence and a small fine (like Dugher)
Of course, if you really do want motorists to avoid paying, you could conceal cameras and have far more of them. Then drivers would know not to exceed speed limits anywhere, and not get fined.3. “Transport policy in England is too heavily shaped by people who don’t drive cars.”
Transport policy in practice means: declining costs of driving – when austerity economic policy means higher housing costs, static or lower incomes, etc – road building for more cars, predict and provide forecasting, minimal levels of walking and cycling. + cancelling a rise in fuel duty despite a big fall in the oil price and the govt’s desperate need for more income And that is “too heavily” shaped by people who don’t drive cars? And who are these people?
One quote from this interview is: “Given that most people spend most of their time travelling by road – politicians spend most of their time taking to the minority of people who don’t.” Of course , most politicians – of whom Dugher is just one – assume the view of a motorist-as-victim, without even having to talk to them. They certainly don’t base their policies on those who don’t drive, even if they bother to talk to them. And of course, the people who “travel by road” might be walking or cycling, or going by bus. But for Dugher (although he did try to correct himself on this in a tweet afterwards) “going by road” means going by car.
Another: “The idea that I should be cycling from Westminster to Barnsley to show that I’m not anti-cyclist, it’s just bollocks!” . No, but you could go by train. And maybe even cycle to the station. A minor point, affected by precise details of origin and destination – but why is the “proud son of a railwayman” not doing the 2¾ hour journey by train from Barnsley to central London rather than driving the 185-mile journey – which would have be done at a 67 mph average to be as quick?
(By the way, Dugher does like saying “piss me off” and “bollocks” a lot. Does this make him a man of the people?)…but do we now have a different Dugher ?
At a Campaign for Better Transport event, he said that .A Labour Government would “put cyclists and pedestrians at the top table of transport policy” with a cross-government Cyclist and Pedestrians’ Advisory Board to boost active travel, which would include ministers from across Whitehall, senior civil servants from the Departments for Transport, Education, and Health, and the Department for Communities and Local Government, as well as cycling and pedestrian representatives, and chaired by the Secretary of State. An active travel strategy would then be put in place by summer 2016.
Other key elements in the announcement were a stated commitment to:
* Ensuring “justice is done and seen to be done in cases where collisions lead to cyclist deaths and serious injuries.”
* An end to “stop-start funding” for cycling.
* an in-depth review of how all government departments, agencies, local government, LEPs and the private sector are currently investing in walking and cycling. This will help determine the scale, sources and distribution of per capita funding we need for the future.”
So what conclusions can we draw from this? Cross-departmental working is necessary, and a commitment to Ministerial direction is welcome. But significantly it does not include the Treasury (who always have a big say in expenditure).
That may seem pessimistic, but we have been here before. A key problem with Cycling England (the quango abolished by the coalition) was its failure to get sufficient funding for projects. And in the party political debate, while the Liberal Democrat spokesman gave a figure for the amount of money to be spent on cycling, Labour and the Conservatives would not.
And then we have the issue of what that money would be spent on. The blogosphere is alive with tales of money supposedly to be spent on cycling being misspent.
On sentencing, we note that the reference is to cases of death and serious injury. But addressing danger to cyclists and pedestrians means using law enforcement – not just sentencing – to deter people from endangering others. How does this sit with someone whose best-known other comments on traffic law enforcement are about the supposed unfairness of having speed cameras which are not painted in bright colours?
Dugher’s stated intentions continue:
“…move cycling and walking from the margins to the mainstream – not only swelling the ranks of people cycling and walking to work, but giving people from all walks of life the confidence to ride a bike. We will ensure that we change how our streets are designed, improve traffic management and enforcement, and encourage people to change their travel behaviours.”
Encouragement: Some recent spring cleaning unearthed my delegate badge to the 1984 “Ways to Safer Cycling” conference, where the then Minister, Lynda Chalker, first stated Government intention to “encourage” cycling. The experience of the last 31 years does not breed confidence in Government’s effectiveness in encouraging cycling.
Improve: Without specified amounts of funding, clear definition of what this will be spent on, “improvement” can mean very little in terms of change.
How our streets our designed: Again, we don’t know what this will mean in terms of design standards and how widespread any new design – or more important, re-design – would be. And cyclists and pedestrians use roads as well as streets.
The RDRF has always taken the view that cycling and walking cannot be assessed, let alone genuinely supported as forms of everyday transport, outside the context of wider society and its culture.
Whether in terms of road space re-allocation, general engineering of new and existing roads, engineering motor vehicles, law enforcement and sentencing, land use policy, parking standards etc., that requires changes in transport policy and its implementation which will have an actual (or perceived) impact on motoring.
But everything we have seen from Dugher indicates that he inhabits a car-centred culture bubble. In this bubble drivers are an oppressed minority who must suffer no possible impact on their easily bruised sensibilities, whether policies will have any real adverse effects on their rights or not.
Are we done with the driver-dominated depiction of our destiny from Dugher? As usual, time will tell. My view is that it doesn’t look good.
The French are to continue with their programme for felling trees to protect motorists who drive off the road. This story illuminates yet again how “road safety” (The Telegraph piece correctly uses inverted commas) ideology and practice inherently colludes with homicidal rule and law breaking by the motorised, rather than working to reduce danger at source.
This is an old story. In 2001 it was reported that gangs of chainsaw-wielding motorcyclists (the “Anti-Plane Tree Commando”) were felling roadside trees in the name of “road safety”, and France has had a policy of felling such “obstacles” for some time.
What interest us are the arguments for and against the measure. Against the felling are conservation groups arguing for the beauty of the French countryside. While a noteworthy cause, that is not our principal concern. There is also an argument that shadows from roadside trees have a speed-reducing effect on drivers, and that the presence of trees can otherwise moderate driver carelessness. That’s more to the point, although not our main interest here.
The next argument is that there is no demonstrable effect (as seen through casualty statistics before and after felling) on casualty rates. That is a good point – and rarely comes up in discussion. But again, it is not the main point. After all, the history of “road safety” is history of measures being implemented regardless of the evidence on their success in reducing casualties.The risk compensation question
Often this is because, as we have seen again and again, drivers adapt to their perceptions of danger (risk compensation) and the “road safety” intervention largely displaces the risk elsewhere. And what is really interesting is how this happens not just in the short term – as displayed in the (lack of) change in casualties – but in the long term. These long-term effects are the penetration of our culture by unstated ideas about what safety on the road is all about. And that is our main point in this piece.
For what we think is really revealing about this episode in the history of “road safety” is the acceptance of, and conniving and colluding with, rule-breaking and illegal driving. Even where drivers are forced off the road into trees by other drivers, the problem for us is essentially that of motor vehicles being driven off the road. This, for those who don’t know, is illegal.
There are two problems with this. In the short term, measures which idiot-proof motoring produce (or at least facilitate) idiot motoring. Whether it be idiot-proofing the vehicle environment (seat belts, crumple zones, side impact protection systems, collapsible steering columns, air bags or ABS brakes), or idiot-proofing the highway environment (anti-skid, longer sight lines, crash barriers, hatching and wider centre lines), the evidence shows a worsening of driver behaviour.
This is through changes which are generally slight enough not to be immediately noticeable, but sufficient to counter much if not all or more of the benefits. This consumption of the safety benefits as performance benefits – as the technical literature calls it – also shifts the danger on to other road users, usually those who are less dangerous to others and more vulnerable.
In the longer term it has less distinct, but crucial, effect in terms of altering general assumptions about what the problem of danger on the road actually is. The deleterious effects of “road safety” practice and beliefs are on our society’s culture. For what really counts is how the commentary on the tree-felling in France hardly ever mentions that motorists are not supposed to drive their vehicles off the road.
The Road Danger Reduction opposition
There are exceptions: Chantal Fauché, the president of the Association for the Protection of Road-side Trees, blames successive French governments for creating an anti-tree psychosis among road users. “The politicians prefer to cut down trees rather than take any real action against speeding and drinking, which are the real causes of deaths on the roads,” she said.
But there is hope.
In presentations for some years I have been referring to this school of “road safety” engineering. In a key text (Rattenbury and Gloyns, Traffic Engineering and Control , October 1992) cutting down roadside trees is described as “like putting insulating tape on electric cable”: tree stumps should also be removed “as these can still be aggressive”; fences are “a particularly aggressive form of man-made structure” . Faced with this sense of motorist entitlement – a world where “my way” extends not just to wherever the driver feels like going on the road, but off it as well – the audience reaction is fascinating.
The traditional highway engineers don’t understand what the problem might be. Some may stare at their shoes as gales of laughter sweep from the (few) members of the audience from sustainable transport, cyclist, pedestrian or other road danger reduction organisations. I can report that there is more laughter as the years go on. For whatever reason, a generation including some professionals and campaigners prepared to support road danger reduction as opposed to “road safety” has appeared.
Errant drivers don’t deserve the death penalty for their violent law breaking – but then neither do their actual or potential victims, particularly if they are using transport modes which pose less of a threat to others.
The decent and humane way of addressing the issue is to reduce danger at source – whether through vehicle or highway engineering, law enforcement or whatever – for the benefit of all road users’ safety. The precise technologies (if any) don’t really matter.
In addition, while violent driver rule and law breaking is not only tolerated but accommodated by this society, arguments which shift blame on to cyclists and pedestrians simply have no basis (See this episode , for example). If careless, reckless, criminally negligent – whatever – behaviour by drivers is accommodated, then it’s unjust to treat that by those with less lethality to others any differently.
What matters is that we understand what the problem is. Doing that means deconstructing the ideology behind roadside tree felling and replacing it with something civilised. It means opposing “road safety” and replacing it with road danger reduction.