Back in late 2011, I wrote a post about how the TfL policy of ‘smoothing traffic flow’ is antithetical to the creation of space for cycling. Creating ‘smooth flow’ means attempting to push as many motor vehicles through a green signal phase as possible, either through longer phases, or more stacking lanes. A ’100% efficient’ junction is one at which all the queuing motor vehicles manage to pass through the junction on a green signal; the queue disappears at each signal phase. So taking some of that space away for cycling, or allocating more time for pedestrians to cross, will inevitably mean ‘flow’ is ‘less smooth’, when flow is measured purely in terms of motor vehicles.
The context for this post was the death of Deep Lee at the King’s Cross gryatory in October of that year, and a public meeting in December at which TfL representatives tried to justify doing pretty much nothing at all to adjust the layout of the junction where she died. They argued that taking one of the two queuing lanes away and replacing it with protected space for cycling would cause ‘considerable queues’.
In the short term, this would probably have been true. Queues would lengthen around King’s Cross, as the amount of time allocated to drivers to pass through the junction would have been reduced. But this assumes a static volume of motor traffic, that can’t be adjusted.
People are not stupid. If congestion on the road increases, they will switch to other routes, or more importantly switch to other modes of transport, if those modes of transport are sufficiently attractive. By contrast, demand for driving in cities is so high that however much space and time you allocate to it, that space will become filled with vehicles.
We know from cities around the world that taking space away from driving does not result in congestion, or increased journey times. It results in better cities. The private motor car is an extremely inefficient mode of transport in built-up areas, and the space in our cities can be used far more efficiently.
But even if it were true that more congestion would result as a consequence of changes to junctions like King’s Cross, should that matter if people on foot or on bikes are being seriously injured, or dying, because of compromised layouts? Is it acceptable to trade off queueing times for drivers against the risk of death? I argued in that 2011 post that
Transport for London have chosen minimizing queueing times for motor vehicles over the safety – indeed, the lives – of vulnerable road users on their network.
That’s even more clear from the details that have emerged from this week’s inquest into Deep Lee’s death. She was stuck in traffic, unable to progress forwards, trapped just ahead of the HGV that was to kill her.
In this picture of the junction, taken while some minor changes were being made in 2012, you can see a man on a bike (just visible on the left) filtering his way forward through the two stationary lanes of traffic, like Deep Lee would have been doing.
She had the misfortune to find her progress forward blocked by two vehicles, a bus and a minicab (close to each other thanks to the narrow lanes here), precisely while she was stranded just ahead of an HGV, apparently in its blind spot. This much is clear from Andrea Casalotti’s summary of the inquest, particularly this detail -
Deep Lee did nothing wrong, nor dangerous. She was unable to reach the ASL, because there was no feeder lane, because TfL was and is still unwilling to take one lane out. The lanes were too narrow and she became bottled in. Even if she had been able to reach the ASL, it was occupied by two vehicles.
Quite obviously, she would not have found herself in such a dangerous position had there been a safe, dedicated cycling route to the head of the junction. Providing two narrow lanes for queuing motor vehicles, instead of an approach that takes the safety of people on bikes seriously, demonstrably leads to dangerous situations like the one that resulted in Deep Lee’s death.
The report in the Camden New Journal notes
TfL head of capital development Nigel Hardy told the court there was a plan to introduce cycle lanes in Pentonville Road and Caledonian Road as part of a second-phase revamp of King’s Cross expected to begin next year. Despite calls from the London Cycling Campaign, which attended the hearing, a cycle lane will not be set up at the junction where Ms Lee died.
So it seems that while there will be some adjustments elsewhere in King’s Cross, this junction will remain unchanged. However, the details for the Central London Bike Grid, released yesterday by Transport for London, suggest that the North-South Superhighway will run through precisely this location.
So there should be serious, substantial change here – the kind that is desperately needed. What form it will take, time will tell.
I have a confession to make, Dear Reader.
Last night whilst cycling, I went through a red light.
There is a simple reason why I did it and I would just like to state my case.
You see, I broke the law because………………I’m almost too embarrassed to admit this…………………………….because I don’t weigh a ton.
I know, I know and, although my home nation would prefer it if I did weigh a ton, I’m very sorry for not weighing a ton. Despite my love of traditional hand drawn ales.
I rode over the ‘pad’ before the stop line at a junction in Worthing, West Sussex, and I was just too light to trigger a green light or Channel 5 documentary team or cause any damage to the precious highway whatsoever.
Apparently, to trigger a green light at many junctions on the highways of Britain, one must be shaped like a one ton metal box or actually weigh somewhere upwards of a quarter of a ton to roll over a pad to trigger a green light. Otherwise one has to wait for about two or three phases at best before being allowed to continue on one’s journey, which I think beautifully sums up the British cycling experience of being treated like a mild but treatable rash or Celebrity Big Brother.
However, the South Coast at this particular moment in time was being buffeted by 50-70 mph gusts, the rain was lashing down and something in me finally snapped. I personally believe that if there is a painting in the world that best sums up the British cyclist and campaigner, it is ‘The Scream’ by Edvard Munch – the inspiration for his compositions came from a sunset walk he was taking with friends. The blood red sky and the screams from the asylum below culminated in a physical and natural scream. After years of observing the local and national powers that be in a first world country such as ours fail to understand something so simple as a bicycle, combined with that blood red light in the driving Worthing rain drumming against my body, I started to understand what Munch might have been getting at.
If anyone was watching from the surrounding flats late last night, no doubt they have probably written to the Worthing Herald (because, you know, I might have killed someone) as they saw one of those irritating cyclists, without a helmet no less, and attempting to dress like a normal person, say ‘f*** this’ very loudly to himself after getting drenched for 5 minutes and proceed through a static red light to cycle across a 30 mph urban dual carriageway.
Another example of this hotbed of crime can be found on the cycle network of Brighton & Hove.
At the bottom of the segregated path of Grand Avenue, bicycle riders have to cross to the right hand lane to then continue over the road to pick up the east west seafront path as shown on this Google streetview. However, if a heavy motorised vehicle doesn’t pull up behind you, triggering the lights, then you can be stood there for quite a while. I always enjoy a sea view, but sometimes I would actually like to get to work. Many cyclists either dismount or ride to the nearby pedestrian/northbound cycle crossing and use that. I’ve done it myself as I actually enjoy seeing my son grow up, but that to me kind of defeats the object of cycle infrastructure.
It’s not all doom and gloom – apparently, all one has to do is notify their local Council Highways Department and they can and will adjust the pressure pad so a bicycle can trigger it. It’s just the fact that we have to do this – to remind councils that we do exist and don’t weigh the sort of volumes that even damage roads.
Anyway, I have broken the law and am now a fugitive. I guess I’ll have to flee to another country. One that can actually design for a bicycle. Please.
If you cycle in London, you’ve almost certainly seen these yellow stickers over the last few months. They’re on the back of most buses, many vans, and a few HGVs.
What can they mean?
“Cyclists stay back – I get priority as I pay road tax / am bigger / faster / more important than you“?
“Cyclists stay back – I can’t be bothered to check my mirrors before turning, stopping or pulling out, so if I run into you it’s your fault“?
Most people reading this will know that there’s a major safety issue for cyclists and pedestrians that HGV drivers can’t see all round their vehicles, and often drive into roadspace without knowing if anyone is already in it. As a result, around 50% of cyclist fatalities in London involve HGVs. (This is often referred to as the “blindspot” issue)
But what does that have to do with vans and buses? And how many of those seeing the sign on a van or bus make the connection?
A couple of problems arise immediately:
2. Do the signs mean that cyclists should never overtake? On either side?
It may be coincidence, but I think the behaviour of some van and bus drivers around cyclists has got worse since these signs became common. That’s not a surprise – the signs aren’t exactly self-explanatory, and it’s very tempting to assume one of the meanings I suggested at the top.
Do these signs benefit anyone? Inexperienced cyclists, at whom they’re presumably aimed, may not know about the special dangers of overtaking HGVs on the inside. Being told not to overtake any commercial vehicle is not going to teach them about this. And when they see other cyclists happily passing any vehicle they can, on whichever side has more space, they’re going to learn to ignore the signs pretty fast.
Some HGVs have more understandable signs on the back, typically reading ‘Beware of passing this vehicle on the inside’ (such as the one on the Murphy van above). That’s a lot clearer. But we now have no suggestion that this is any more dangerous than passing a van or bus which may well have a stronger message on the back.
It was a good idea to try warning signs on the back of HGVs, to help teach cyclists about a real risk. But putting signs on the back of vans and buses, which pose no special risk, is counterproductive. And making those signs so blunt and unclear is plain stupid. It misleads cyclists, and encourages bad driving. They need to go, and TfL have been told so. Yet again, a well-meaning attempt to help cyclists actually makes things worse – and is far harder to reverse than it was to implement.
If you agree, why not email TfL, Boris, or your London Assembly member now?
Colin McKenzie (as RDRF Committee member)
Below is the graph produced by the University of Otago Injury Prevention Research Unit. Look at levels of cycling and the cyclist injury rate.
On 6th August 2011, Samuel Harding was killed on Holloway Road in north London. As he passed a parked car, the driver opened his door without checking, striking him, and sending him into the path of a passing bus, which crushed him. From the reports, the dooring and subsequent collision appeared to occur at approximately this location.
In the days after Samuel Harding’s death, his father pleaded for improvements to the layout of Holloway Road.
Retired teacher Keith Harding said he did not blame anyone for the death of his son, Sam, 25, in a collision with a bus in Holloway Road on Saturday afternoon. But he added that as a society we are encouraging more people to cycle while not providing sufficient safety.
“Something needs to be done for cycling,” he said. “It may be reducing the speed limit to 20mph or dedicated cycle lanes. But some of our roads are not designed for cyclists.”
Two years later, and TfL are now consulting on some changes to Holloway Road - ones that will ‘improve road safety for pedestrians and cyclists’. Not at this precise location, but only a few hundred feet to the north, between the Camden Road and Seven Sisters Road (two large one-way roads that run in opposite directions).
What is being proposed? Here’s a section of the plans -
A new loading bay (previously just a portion of the footway), with a cycle lane running outside it. And on other side of the road, a cycle lane is being painted, again right next to the outside of the existing parking bays.
If you were seeking to encourage the kinds of conflict that resulted in Samuel Harding’s death, just a short walk down the road, this is precisely the design you would put in place.
Now of course responsibility lies with the driver to ensure that when he or she opens their car door, they are not endangering someone (the driver in this case was charged – and cleared – of manslaughter). But some responsibility must also lie with those who design streets where the consequences of inattention will be serious injury or death.
It is clearly unacceptable to propose cycle lanes running down the outside of parked cars on Holloway Road, purely on grounds of objective danger, to say nothing about the attractiveness of such an arrangement for the people who don’t currently feel able to cycle in London.
Transport for London have a concrete example of how lethal it is for people to cycle in this position on the road, in the tragic form of someone’s death just yards away, only two years ago – yet, apparently oblivious, they are creating a design that makes this kind of death more likely than doing nothing at all.
Holloway Road is enormously wide in this area. Six lanes in total, with a median, and parking, and fairly substantial footways.
The obvious answer here is to move the parking out and to create a protected cycle track on the inside of any parking or loading bays, instead of just painting a 1990s-style stripe down the outside, and hoping for the best. That’s not good enough any more.
This is an area of significant bus movement, so a cycle track would have to run behind large bus stop islands on both sides of the road. The principle of bus stop bypasses is already in place on Stratford High Street, and it can be implemented here, with the design failures of that approach ironed out.
TfL are also proposing ridiculous, tokenistic ASLs across the front of three lanes of motor traffic.
The example on the left is quite interesting, given that you can’t turn right at this junction – it seems that these ASLs are being installed purely to create a semblance of something being done.
As Shaun McDonald wrote yesterday, many aspects of this proposal are actually dangerous; the cycle lanes directly outside parking, or the ASLs that encourage you to squeeze up the inside of vehicles. These are not proposals that should be seeing the light of day in 2013. If TfL can’t design properly yet, then they just shouldn’t bother here. This is a waste of time.
The consultation is only open over the holiday period, until the 6th January 2014 – please have your say.
I was struck by two details from yesterday’s blogpost by Mark Wagenbuur, about early protests for child-friendly streets in Amsterdam in the 1970s – details that highlight the importance of the quality of the physical environment for enabling cycling, over and above any prevailing national culture or attitudes.
The first instance was the contentiousness of the changes being proposed to the streets in Mark’s post. One Dutchman, surrounded by children, argued that it was ‘impossible’ to create a street without motor traffic on it. You can see this in the video, about 2:30 in.
These were residential streets, which now have motor traffic filtered out, as Mark describes in his post. This is an almost universal treatment across residential areas in the Netherlands now, but back then, the notion of doing this was evidently completely foreign to this gentleman. These streets were for driving. (These attitudes were reflected elsewhere in the video, as a man attempting to drive down the street turns violent as his passage is obstructed).
The second thing that struck me from Mark’s post was that while the side streets have now been calmed, the main roads in this area haven’t really changed at all, and are still hostile and unpleasant today, with a seven-year-old girl killed while cycling on Cornelis Troostplein just last Friday.
These details bring home how the Dutch have been through the battles we need to go through. Their marvellous environments for cycling did not appear out of nowhere – they are not some innate condition of being ‘Dutch’. Back in the 1970s, Dutch residential streets and main roads had the unpleasant quality of their British equivalents, and were getting worse. The physical environment in Dutch towns and cities had to be changed. And this has all happened relatively recently.
When I cycled around Utrecht and Amsterdam earlier this year with Mark, and Marc van Woudenberg, they were at pains to point out to me the bad bits of their cities, the areas that haven’t got around to being changed yet. These are quite ‘British’ in their appearance, with no cycle infrastructure to speak of, or that disappears when you need it, or with parked cars that have to be negotiated out and around, and relatively fast motor traffic in close proximity. Principally, these were main roads.
Junctions in Amsterdam will occasionally leave much to be desired too.
But these aren’t locations that have been forgotten about, or that are seen as acceptable. They are places the city has not got around to fixing yet, or where political battles are still being fought.
In Utrecht Mark showed us a striking example, on Adraien van Ostadelaan. The southern end of this street has cycle tracks, protected by kerbs.
But at the northern end – just a few hundred metres away – this same street looks rather British.
No cycle tracks here – you have to cycle in the carriageway, outside parked cars. The reason is quite simple – the city are waiting for this part of the street to be renewed before they put in the bike infrastructure, as part of the twenty year cycle of renewal and repair. The southern part of the street has been upgraded; the northern part is still waiting, and looks much like it did forty years ago.
There’s another nice example in Amsterdam too, which I found on Streetview. In 2008, Amstelveenseweg looked like this -
But just a year later (and one click forward along the street) -
The crap roads in Dutch cities are slowly being eliminated, one by one.
The important point in all this is that Dutch roads and streets would undoubtedly be just as hostile to cycle on now as British streets are, if these changes had not been made. Their streets are attractive for cycling because of physical changes, to create safe space.
A long history of mass cycling in the Netherlands would have counted for very little without these changes. Their urban roads and streets would have continued to fill up with cars, and people would have continued to abandon cycling as a mode of transport, as their streets became more and more unpleasant. Children would increasingly have been kept indoors, and would have been driven around, instead of cycling independently. It is emphatically not ‘culture’ or history that explains why the Netherlands has very high cycling levels today, but rather these measures that have been implemented in the last forty years. Without them, the Dutch would have a driving culture rather similar to our own.
Of course it may well prove to have been much easier for the Dutch to have done this than it will be for us. Cycling was still a familiar mode of transport for a larger percentage of the population, and in that sense the Dutch did benefit from their history. But the point remains that these physical changes had to happen if cycling was not to be eroded in the Netherlands, to levels approaching those of anglophone countries. It might even be argued that we have one very specific advantage over the Dutch, in that we can see how their solutions have worked out. Back in the 1970s, closing off streets to motor traffic was clearly particularly radical and contentious, even for the Dutch, and they had no-one else to point to, to show how it could be done, and how it would work. They were pioneers, while we can copy.
Safe, attractive conditions for cycling don’t simply fall out of the sky. They are not the inevitable result of history, or of culture. They have to be fought for, and argued for.
A question from TfL board member Eva Lindholm at today’s board meeting.
Posted without comment.
Something struck me when I was reading [item] 2.2 on cycling accidents. Now this may be more of a philosophical point, and not fit for discussion today.
You mention a number of campaigns that are underway, targeting both drivers and cyclists, highlighting that every road user must look out for themselves, and each other, and follow the Highway Code to remain safe. Now of course drivers, through the licensing process and the Theory Test, demonstrate a knowledge of the Highway Code.
And we have drivers and cyclists intermingled on some pretty dramatically occupied roads like the Embankment, where you wonder whether it’s right to have such an imbalanced equation, with only one part of the population using the road demonstrating the knowledge of the Highway Code, and the other part of the population not.
And so my question is – as we’re all encouraging and expecting more cycling use – are we happy to live with this imbalance, and deal with the cyclist population in a purely voluntary way? Or are we thinking of it in some other way? Because it just strikes me as quite imbalanced.
Analysis of this welcome below.
Spotted in a local newspaper -
I remember a debate on cycling helmets. People were writing to the Times newspaper stating that, statistically, helmets were not effective in the reduction of injuries. And then one correspondent cut through all the crap with one simple letter.
It was along the lines of: “To all those claiming cycling helmets are ineffective, I have a challenge for them. We can meet up and I’ll hit them round the head with a plank of wood. And, before I do it, they can choose to wear a helmet – or not.”
That says it all really. Let common sense prevail.
Let common sense prevail. Let common sense prevail.
Looked at objectively, this obviously isn’t a meaningful test of whether a cycling helmet is actually ‘effective’, unless the author is suggesting that such a helmet should be worn at all times. A helmet will protect your head – a bit – from someone wielding a plank, whether you happen to be on a bike or not. The fact it is a ‘cycling’ helmet is rather irrelevant here. Why minimise your risk of plank-related injuries only while you happen to be cycling? Wear a helmet all the time.
Nor does it make a particularly compelling case for why helmets, alone, are necessary items of safety equipment, but not other pieces of protective equipment. For instance, I doubt you would be persuaded by
For all those claiming bulletproof vests are ineffective, I have a challenge for them. We can meet up and I’ll shoot them in the chest. And, before I do it, they can choose to wear a bulletproof vest – or not.
as an argument for the wider use of bulletproof vests by the general population. Or, similarly -
For all those claiming shin guards are ineffective, I have a challenge for them. We can meet up and I’ll kick them in the shins. And, before I do it, they can choose to wear shin guards – or not.
as an argument for the mandatory use of shin guards by pedestrians. You would probably say, quite reasonably – don’t kick me in the shins or shoot me.
But precisely this same insane logic appears to be so persuasive to the author he presents it as an ultimate, winning knock-down argument for the use of bicycle helmets.
Why? It’s hard to hazard a guess, but I suppose an answer might lies in the notion that being ‘in the road’ is an activity that involves an innate acceptance of danger, like entering a war zone. You wouldn’t enter a war zone without a bullet proof vest, so why cycle in the road without a helmet? Being in the road is where random acts of violence similar to being hit by a plank could occur, so it’s just obvious you should take action to protect yourself. By contrast, walking on pavements is somewhere we don’t tolerate risk, and we don’t expect to have to wear shinguards in case people come flying out of nowhere to kick us in the shins.
So, in a way, the fact that arguments like this appear so often, without any reflection on what they actually imply, is a nice little window onto the established British view of the road environment, where danger is accepted as normal, and the only way to address it is to clad your body in protective equipment, rather than minimise or remove that danger at source.
This recent news story from Australia – where helmets are indeed compulsory – represents almost a textbook example of this kind of attitude -
A HAMILTON cyclist’s life was saved by his helmet after he was hit from behind by a car on Saturday morning. The impact thrust the 63-year-old man backwards on to the car windscreen before landing on the roadside. Yesterday, he was in a stable condition in Melbourne’s The Alfred hospital with multiple fractures.
“Had he not been wearing his helmet it would have been a different story,” Sergeant Darren Sadler said. “The helmet’s taken the impact when he hit the windscreen. Fortunately the driver was travelling below the speed limit. It’s a timely reminder for all cyclists to wear a good quality helmet when they are riding.”
The accident happened in a 100km/h zone on Nigretta Road about 9am. Local crews called in the ambulance helicopter to fly the man to The Alfred for emergency surgery. Sergeant Sadler said investigations were continuing and no charges had been laid.
Multiple fractures, hit by a car travelling at around 60mph, and yet the story here is entirely about a polystyrene helmet, not about whether human beings mixing with metal objects travelling at that kind of speed is sensible or even sane.
The disturbingly similar British version of these attitudes often manifests itself in response to the injuries of children in the road environment. Earlier this year the Ryan Smith case attracted a huge amount of publicity, as the family campaigned for – you guessed it – compulsory helmets after Ryan was left in a coma after a collision with a van (while cycling, not while walking).
And more recently we have the Put Things Right campaign, set up in the wake of the death of 15-year-old Harrison Carlin, hit while cycling by a driver travelling at or above 60mph, and 12-year-old Jeff Townley, a pupil at the same school, again killed while cycling. Put Things Right is also campaigning for compulsory helmets, as well as more education.
Depressingly it seems that campaigns like this can’t conceive of any other way of approaching the issue of reducing serious injury and death, beyond shifting responsibility onto the vulnerable parties, and doing little or nothing to tackle the physical environment. We need a different kind of common sense to prevail.