The car industry seems to have convinced itself – understandably enough, from their perspective – that the solution to transport in urban areas is simply to convert existing private motor vehicles to run on electricity, rather than combustion engines.
The latest evidence of this belief comes from Renault UK, who appear to be arguing that electric cars should be allowed in bus lanes.
Leading cities should do more to encourage the use of electric cars by investing in charging facilities and allowing zero emission vehicles to use bus lanes, says the head of Renault UK. Kenneth Ramirez said that it was important to create a “wave of acceptance” around electric vehicle technology to encourage their uptake, calling on London Mayor Boris Johnson to follow Norway in allowing electric cars to use lanes reserved for public transport.
He told RTCC: “In London that would be an interesting approach. In other cities having legislation that requires new buildings have a dedicated number of parking spaces with charge stations already included.”
But bus lanes don’t exist to encourage the ‘uptake’ of electric cars. They exist to relieve congestion, and to make more space-efficient modes of transport viable. Flooding bus lanes with electric cars would render them redundant, because buses would become mired in the same congestion that necessitated their implementation in the first place.
This is all part of a wider pattern of failing to address the problem of excess car use in urban areas, and for short trips. Electric cars only deal with one particular issue – tailpipe emissions.
Motor vehicle manufacturers would like to imagine that the only issue that matters is carbon emissions. Or – more specifically – reducing carbon emissions from private transport, because unless electric cars are charged from power provided by renewable energy, the emissions are simply displaced elsewhere.
They do this by pretending that demand for driving is fixed, and not created by the physical environment – by the way our roads and streets are laid out. A classic example of this kind of thinking is a piece by Paul Everitt, CEO of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, in the Times, a few years ago. He wrote (£) -
From its invention, the car has provided an unquestionable level of personal mobility, giving people the freedom to travel where they like, when they like. For many, owning a car is no longer a luxury but a necessity that allows them to commute to work, take the kids to school and do the weekly shop. There is, and always will be, an important role for the car. But in a low-carbon future, the car will have to be cleaner and greener than ever before…
… As the global demand for cars increases it is essential that we retain and grow our share of the market. Designing, developing and manufacturing the technologies and vehicles of tomorrow is our route to a more sustainable future.
Well, not really. Electric cars are still a very inefficient use of resources and energy, and don’t address the myriad other problems caused by excess private car use. If we are truly aiming at a ‘sustainable future’, we need to be shifting a good proportion of the 40% or so of trips of under 2 miles that are made by private car in Britain to genuinely sustainable modes.
While there is a sensible case to be made for powering motor vehicles with better energy sources, the motor industry should not be allowed to pretend that this is the end of the issue. It’s not just the clogging of bus lanes that is counterproductive; it’s clogging our urban areas as a whole with the inefficient private car that is destructive and wasteful. That means we need space for cycling, not a continuation of the same patterns of designing for private motor vehicle use, however it is powered.
Health warnings on car ads?
First, the good news. The idiotic ruling of the ASA described here has been withdrawn following a veritable storm of protest. It is good to see that a diverse (and normally often disunited) community of cyclists and others concerned about a civilised approach to cycling and safety on the road can swiftly summon up good quality arguments and have an effect.
But this is just the start. This matter is far from being resolved, and it may well be that the outcome is a quite unsatisfactory judgement about the portrayal of cycling. We need to examine the issues regarding ASA judgements on matters of safety on the road in more detail.Where we are now:
The ASA has in effect admitted that it was wrong to object to Cycling Scotland’s video presentation of the position of the woman cyclist. Since this is the position recommended by National Standards cycle training they could do nothing else. However, on the matter of a helmet and the normal clothing of the cyclist (without “safety aids”) we do not yet know what decision the so far unspecified “independent review” to be set up by the ASA on this matter will make.
Supposedly, decisions by the ASA on matters such as these are based on the Highway Code. On that basis, the CTC has raised the issue of advertisements which show pedestrians not wearing hi-visibility clothing in the dark: after all, the Highway Code requires that, so why shouldn’t the ASA censure such advertisements? It’s an interesting issue to raise as it suggests some absurdity about the ASA’s methods.
The politics of it all
But we need to go rather further than this. To start off with, let’s look at the rules in the Highway Code. In our opinion there is no adequate evidence base for either the cycle helmets or the pedestrian hi-viz recommendations.
What this suggests is that the problem lies with some of the recommendations in the Highway Code. That is certainly the case, but it also raises the issues of Highway Code rules (and the law) as they relate to the behaviour of motorists. That is where it gets interesting. You might wish to consult a copy of the Highway Code as it relates to driving.
What becomes apparent is that the rules – including the more important laws, on matters such as speed – are broken as a matter of course. Typical driving involves infringing the recommendations of the Highway Code. Otherwise you would not have some four million motor insurance claims annually. Car occupants would not want to wear seat belts (and that’s even without going into the effects of the use of these “safety aids”) .
Now, I am not one to exaggerate the dangers posed by motoring in a way which might put people off cycling and walking. I am just saying that rule and law breaking by drivers is so commonplace and is regarded as such by the powers that be to such an extent that motorists feel the need to be protected from it.
So, take 4.1 and 4.4 of the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising (BCAP Code ), namely that “Advertisements must contain nothing that could cause physical, mental, moral or social harm to persons under the age of 18” (rule 4.1) and “Advertisements must not include material that is likely to condone or encourage behaviour that prejudices health or safety” (rule 4.4).
Now, there is an argument for “Health Warnings” such as these on car advertisements
Or the one at the top of this post. But I am not referring to the environmental issues about car use: at present it is legal to pollute, congest, and cause widespread environmental destruction, poor health etc. by regular use of the cars that are advertised or shown in advertisements. The point is that even without such “behaviour that prejudices health or safety”, just in terms of the recommendations of the Highway Code, typical driving which we know will be done in cars shown in advertisements will indeed be “behaviour that prejudices health or safety”.What is the ASA for?
My view is that the ASA is basically a self-regulating body set up by the advertising industry. A large part of the advertising is, of course, for motor vehicles. These vehicles will inevitably be used on UK roads in ways which damage people’s health and safety through breaking of the rules and laws pertaining to legal motoring. Is there any real possibility that the ASA will take any effective measures to prevent the advertising of these vehicles? In that sense, the blogger who says “The Advertising Standards Authority – not fit for purpose“ is wrong. The problem is exactly that the ASA is fit for the purpose of facilitating car advertising.
That doesn’t mean that advertising of cars should be stopped, although the idea of health warnings may be an interesting way of raising consciousness Also, it may seem a little unfair for the ASA to have to mediate in matters of safety on the road. As the fortnightly transport professionals’ magazine Local Transport Today (7/20 Feb 2014) suggests “When asked to think of influential organisations in the transport debate, the Advertising Standards Authority wouldn’t be at the front of most people’s minds”. Ultimately we need to be looking at the recommendations in the Highway Code as the source of the problem. But the ASA is in it now, and as LTT say “…the ASA should be prepared for criticism…”.
In the meantime…
There is a lot at stake here for cycling and sustainable transport. If every organisation (including commercial advertisers) is effectively forced to ensure that all cyclists in adverts (other than ‘fantastical’ adverts) are wearing helmets, this would really undermine the ability of advertisers to use smart-looking cyclists to epitomise free-thinking, healthy, independent-minded individuality. A source of positive promotion for the image of cycling would be denied to us. We really need to take this very seriously indeed.
It could be worthwhile getting the cycle industry to understand the potentially negative long term effects of portraying cyclists in the way the forthcoming London Bike Show does:
Of course, the ASA codes do not refer to online and print advertising, but the principle is important.
Along with concerns about surrendering the road to motor vehicles, one of the main reasons for opposition to the physical separation of cycling from motor traffic is a fear of being ‘held up’.
This is the worry, from people who cycle already, that their journeys will be slowed down, by being blocked on narrow cycle infrastructure by people who can’t cycle as fast as them. I’ve attempted to dispel this notion – at least with regard to Dutch cycle infrastructure. Separation from motor traffic should not mean that you are impeded.
But with the tube strikes over the last couple of days, it’s quite clear that physical separation of cycling would provide considerable benefits. The pictures of Superhighway 7 in particular that appeared yesterday show the uselessness of ‘cycle routes’ that become clogged by motor vehicles.
Danny Williams also took a picture of Superhighway 7 yesterday -
Here is cycle super highway 7 in action this afternoon. It’s so good you can only use it by dismounting pic.twitter.com/TJfm5tLJck
— cyclistsinthecity (@citycyclists) February 6, 2014
Contrast this with the videos that have emerged of people cycling along the segregated sections of Superhighway 2 over the last few days. The segregation is far from brilliant (indeed in places it is worryingly bad), but cycling has flowed smoothly and easily past static motor traffic.
I suspect this uselessness of the original Superhighways was built in from the start. There’s a very revealing interview with TfL by Andreas of London Cyclist, dating back from when the Superhighways were launched, in 2010. TfL provide this justification for not segregating the Superhighways -
Segregation however, is not something that is being considered for the cycle superhighways. TfL said the routes are simply not being used frequently enough to warrant separation of traffic. It is only during peak hours that you will see many cyclists in the lanes. TfL claim that segregating the lanes would create many problems for loading vehicles. They also claim that cyclists don’t want to be treated differently to other vehicles.
The implication of this is essentially that cycling was not considered enough of an important mode of transport in its own right to necessitate space being set aside for it – ‘routes not being used frequently enough’. TfL believed that the space properly-designed Superhighways would have taken up needed to be used instead for motor vehicles. Indeed, despite much progress in the last couple of years, this is probably the prevailing attitude within the organisation.
But I think we’ve seen over the last few days how wrong-headed this approach is proving to be. Despite the chaos on the transport network, with very little tube network running, desperately overcrowded buses, and clogged roads, cycling remains a non-option, principally because cycling through traffic – even traffic that is mostly stationary – is just deeply unattractive for most people.
I noticed that David Arditti left a comment below that London Cyclist article, in July 2010, which sums up the problem.
The big thing that tends not to be understood in the UK about segregated cycle lanes, Dutch-style, is that their main purpose is not safety, per se, as cycling is inherently quite safe anyway, it is the prioritisation of space for cycle traffic. It is, in other words, to give the bike a competitive advantage in the struggle for space on the roads, which makes bike journeys quicker and more efficient, as well as more pleasant. There is no other effective method of preventing parking, loading, queuing, bus and taxi stopping in cycle space, and general obstruction by motor vehicles, other than physical segregation. This is why it is used so extensively on the continent. It is not that the continentals have some malign control agenda to push cyclists off the general roads. Arguments that segregation slows down fast commuter cyclists are incorrect. It only has this effect if badly done, with insufficient capacity or other design faults. Fast commuter cyclists benefit equally with slower cyclists from the advantages that proper continental-style cycle tracks create. [my emphasis]
It’s hard to put it better than that. Space for cycling is needed for competitive advantage; to ensure that it isn’t impeded by congestion, and that journeys by bike are painless and pleasant.
This applies in the Netherlands too, where long queues of vehicles can easily be bypassed on cycle tracks – so easily you forget there’s actually ‘congestion’ on the road network.
There is a small entrance to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, from St Giles’. It brings you into the grand central courtyard from the east, through a corridor in the building, rather than via the direct and obvious entrance from the south on Beaumont Street.
On my recent visit I noticed that a walkway has been built across this corridor, linking the main Ashmolean building (to the left) to the wing of the building, on the right.
This obviously makes it more inconvenient to walk along the corridor, than to pass across it.
Presumably these steps – or walkway, depending on your perspective – have been installed to allow step-free access throughout the museum buildings. The ‘extra’ steps for people passing along this corridor, rather than across it, are not much of a problem for those who have already come up the ten or so steps from the street. Anyone who can’t manage steps will be entering the museum from the main entrance on Beaumont Street, up ramps.
But the arrangement got me thinking about priorities, and about choices.
For short trips, most people have the option to walk or cycle to their destination. It’s technically possible to walk or cycle short distances. A great percentage choose not to, however – nearly 40% of all trips under 2 miles in Britain are driven. But why?
Because we’ve built steps across their routes – steps that make driving easier. Driving has the smooth, continuous route on this walkway, while walking and cycling have to struggle up and over the steps built for it. The ease and convenience of driving has been purchased at the expense of making walking and cycling more difficult, and more hazardous.
A concrete example. Take this roundabout in Didcot.
It’s possible to walk or cycle from left to right, across this roundabout – but you have to come a huge distance out of your way, push a button, wait for a crossing signal, then travel back up to where you actually want to go. Driving from left to right, on the other hand, is a more-or-less direct route, that can be taken at speed.
This is the way we design for walking and cycling in Britain, in microcosm. It has to fit in at the margins, fenced away, and given indirect routes that skirt around and yield to the ‘dominant’ mode of transport, motor traffic. While this continues, all the talk of ‘encouraging’ and ‘promoting’ walking and cycling will ring hollow.
I don’t like it. The only continuous connected space is road space. Need more for cycling and walking. Tired of lillypadding around my city
— Katja Leyendecker (@KatsDekker) February 4, 2014
Pictured below is the junction between Biltstraat – a main road in Utrecht – and Goedestraat, a residential side road.
It doesn’t even look like a junction, because the cycle track and the pavement extend across the side road. It’s driving that has to go up and over the steps, while walking and cycling has the level walkway.
Yet at equivalent junctions in the UK we seem to go out of our way to make walking and cycling hostile and unattractive.
This is the junction of Ashley Road and The Parade in Epsom. Ashley Road is a one-way road, that forms part of the A24 gyratory in the town. Needless to say cycling here on this fast and busy road is inadvisable if you are not confident. The Parade, on the left, is a residential side road – actually a dead-end. But it has a ludicrous flared treatment, and barriers to stop you crossing in the most natural place.
Walking and cycling are eradicated by this kind of design, just as they are in Horsham, where simply crossing the inner ring road into the town centre from the west means the use of four separate signalled controlled crossings.
In urban areas in Britain, it’s driving that has been given the most convenient and direct routes, without delay, diversion, interruption or inconvenience. It has been put up on the walkway, at the expense of walking and cycling, so it’s no surprise that it continues to dominate as a mode of transport, while walking dwindles and cycling remains essentially non-existent.
The steps need rearranging.
Two news items popped up almost simultaneously in my inbox recently. Each described a collision, but in a slightly different way. The first -
A LADY was taken to hospital after a man on a push bike crashed into her.
Police were called to the scene at Forder Hill, Cawsand at around 4.30pm this afternoon by ambulance staff.
A first responder – member of the community with advanced first aid training – was on the scene first followed by ambulance staff and police.
And the other -
A speeding driver has been told he must live with the consequences of his actions for the rest of his life after the tragic death of a popular roofer.
Cyclist Brent Jelley, 23, collided with a Ford Fiesta driven by Halstead resident Joshua Rumble, in Swan Street, Sible Hedingham on October 21, 2012.
Rewording the first article in the manner of the second, we get
A lady was taken to hospital after she collided with a push bike ridden by a man.
Which doesn’t sound like gibberish at all.
A piece of idiocy by the ASA has caused justified anger among cycling groups and others concerned with a civilised approach to danger on the road.
The RDRF objects to the ASA’s decision on the basis that:
1. It does not understand that the positioning of the cyclist is absolutely correct in terms of the advice given by Bikeability (National Standards) cycle training. RDRF committee member Ken Spence points out:
As an author of most of the Bikeability curriculum I can say that the cyclist in question is not cycling in the “middle” of the lane. She’s actually exactly where I would tell her to be in the circumstances. The road itself is an extremely wide single carriageway and the fact that the car can overtake her at a wide berth without crossing the central markings proves my point about her position. To be pedantic the middle of the lane in question would be considerably further out. She’s actually more in a secondary position given that there is a half metre drainage strip at the edge of the carriageway moving the effective running carriageway edge a half metre out. The ASA are quite wrong in their adjudication. A minimum of 0.5 metre does not mean exactly 0.5 metres.
2. Although the Highway Code at present recommends helmet wearing, there is a lack of evidence that this can reduce cyclist casualty (even cyclist head injury) rates. See the evidence on www.cyclehelmets.org.
3. If the ASA is going to oppose representation of anybody who is not apparently obeying all the recommendations of the Highway Code, it would have to ban advertisements featuring such behaviours as pedestrians walking about at night without hi-viz clothing.
4. Of course, the ASA could take note of the fact that typical driving tends to involve not just infringing Highway Code recommendations but the law, for example on breaking speed limits. The fact that this behaviour may not be explicit or even visible (as with driving when fatigued) does not excuse condoning such behaviour.
Taking this seriously would involve not just restricting a large proportion of all car advertisements, but representations of typical motor traffic in any advertising. Take a look at (and contribute to) the CTC’s site here.
We are not suggesting that most advertisements featuring examples of typical driver behaviour which may, or are likely, to be infringing the rules and recommendations of the Highway Code should be banned - too many would have to be restricted. But that would be more fruitful than focussing on supposedly rule or recommendation breaking behaviour by those much less likely to endanger others – even if the recommendation was based on sound evidence, which helmet wearing is not.
Organisations such as the CTC are writing to the ASA, you may wish to sign this petition on Change.org as well as contacting the ASA directly trough their complaints arbiter Sir Hayden Phillips whose receiving e-mail is email@example.com .
I am sure that if you have not already, you will soon be reading an account of the Advertising Standards Authority’s embarrassing adjudication on complaints made about Scotland’s “Nice Way Code” series of “won’t everyone just play nice on the roads?” adverts. Briefly, of all the things that the ASA could have picked up on in the Nice Way Code, the offending footage ruled to be irresponsible by the ASA are (a) showing a roughly realistic proportion of people riding bikes with and without helmets, and (b) showing somebody riding a bicycle more than 0.5 metres from the side of the road. Other people will give you the full story.
I’m not an expert on advertising regulation, but I guess the first ruling sets a precedent against any future advertising featuring helmetless cycling. Things like TfL’s Catch Up With The Bicycle campaign. A depressing but not entirely unpredictable result of the lazy fact-free assumption on helmets that seems to have put down deep roots in this country (and started growing the fearsome thorns of shouty emotional anecdote). The second ruling is the more interesting and hilarious of the two. This one effectively precludes any future advertising of the standard long-established government guidance on road positioning, as taught in the official “Bikeability” cycling proficiency training. Like the advertising TfL and the DfT (under the Think! brand) are currently running on buses and billboards in London and several other English cities. But again, others will have more time than me to explore the amusing implications of the decision.
No, I only really popped into the discussion to say one thing, in the spirit of the Nice Way Code: be nice.
Obviously someone at the ASA has made a spectacular cockup, and they deserve a day’s mockery and ridicule for such an achingly absurd, side-splittingly ludicrous joke of an assessment.
But, occasional slapstick stupidity aside, I’m sure the ASA are not bad people.
Clearly some junior adjudicator got out of his or her depth, read one document they didn’t entirely understand, and remained ignorant of the actual relevant research and guidance in the field. Sure, there should have been processes in place to prevent errors of such a preposterous magnitude from ever getting so far as publication, but I have no doubt that with the blunder now evident to all, the ASA will be working fast to fix the mistake, and will ensure all is put right before the DfT and TfL are forced to put their adverts on hold while more time and money is wasted formally challenging it.
I’m sure they’re good people, and I’m sure they’ll have this one under control in no time. So be nice to them.
By all means clog up their system with satirical reports intended to mock, and with serious test cases designed to force contradictions, but do be nice.
That’s the Nice Way Code, after all.
Scotland’s The Nice Way Code campaign got an almighty and justifiable thrashing from campaigners last year, particularly for its nonsensical advice, and notions of collective responsibility. However, with one judgement, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has managed to make me feel sorry for it.
Here’s a still from one of the Nice Way Code videos – ‘Think Horse’.
Fairly unexceptional, you might think.
Yet this particular scene apparently prompted five people to write in complaint to the ASA.
Five complainants challenged whether the ad was irresponsible and harmful, because it showed a cyclist without a helmet or any other safety attire, who was cycling down the middle of the road rather than one metre from the curb.
‘Irresponsible and harmful’.
This is complete guff, of course. At no point was the cyclist travelling ‘down the middle of the road’. ‘The middle of the road’ in these cases never refers to a precise location, more to the fact that someone is in someone else’s way, or slightly inconveniencing them. And the lack of safety attire or helmet is neither here nor there – these are not legal requirements.
Over and out, you might think. Complaints dismissed, chucked straight in the bin. Reasonable points about national guidance on how to cycle, the need to make cycling look ordinary and attractive, and the lack of legal requirements are commendably made by both Cycling Scotland and the advert’s producers. Indeed, Cycling Scotland point out that the making of the advert was actually supervised by one of Scotland’s most experienced cycling instructors.
But it seems the ASA know better, for they have UPHELD – UPHELD - this complaint. They write
The ad must not be broadcast again in its current form. We told Cycling Scotland that any future ads featuring cyclists should be shown wearing helmets and placed in the most suitable cycling position.
In more detail, particularly about what the ASA think is ‘the most suitable cycling position’ -
We understood that UK law did not require cyclists to wear helmets or cycle at least 0.5 metres from the kerb. However, under the Highway Code it was recommended as good practice for cyclists to wear helmets. Therefore, we considered that the scene featuring the cyclist on a road without wearing a helmet undermined the recommendations set out in the Highway Code. Furthermore, we were concerned that whilst the cyclist was more than 0.5 metres from the kerb, they appeared to be located more in the centre of the lane when the car behind overtook them and the car almost had to enter the right lane of traffic. Therefore, for those reasons we concluded the ad was socially irresponsible and likely to condone or encourage behaviour prejudicial to health and safety.
There is so much wrong with this it is impossible to know where to start. But just a couple of things leap out. The advert has essentially been banned because it contravenes recommendations in the Highway Code about helmets. Not rules – advice. The word used is ‘should’, not ‘must’. Here’s the relevant section -
This ruling opens the door to adverts being banned if the people cycling in them are not wearing ‘reflective clothing and/or accessories’. Even an advert featuring someone riding a bike in darkish clothes could be banned by the logic of this judgement – because you ‘should’ wear light-coloured clothing.
It also suggests that vast numbers of car adverts should be banned. Why? Rule 152.
You should drive slowly and carefully on streets where there are likely to be pedestrians, cyclists and parked cars.
You should drive slowly and carefully in urban areas. All those car adverts showing cars zipping around are toast, according to this judgement – at least they should be. Just one example.
Not especially slow and careful in areas where there are likely to be pedestrians. So I suggest people get busy and start filing complaints on the basis of this judgement.
If they were feeling mischievous, they could actually file complaints to the ASA about Department for Transport and Transport for London adverts suggesting cyclists ride centrally. Because, you know, that’s ‘socially irresponsible’ and might force a driver to even slightly enter a different lane, causing them to spontaneously combust. The ASA should be taking this seriously, and slapping down the DfT and TfL.
And the final silliness – look back at the still of the advert that’s the source of the complaint. There’s someone riding a bike, fairly slowly, without head protection, being overtaken by someone in an open-top car which can legally travel at 70mph, with his head fully exposed in the event of a crash.
Then ponder the absurdity of judging only the former activity as ‘irresponsible and harmful’.