This image of the ubiquitous urban Dutch roundabout with protected cycleway (and footway) taken from an excellent high up vantage point has been used on a number of cycle blogs, I believe originally from the LCC site. There are a few subtlties of the design, so I’ve taken a few moments to annotate it, as well as flip it left/right so that it’s more intuitive for a UK audience.
At the end of my last post about ‘dangerising’, I mused about why, despite the presence of many pedestrians – and speeches from pedestrian campaigners – at the Die In last Friday, nobody appeared to voice any concern that people might be put off walking by talk of the deaths and serious injuries of pedestrians, unlike the concern expressed about people potentially being put off cycling.
Of course part of this is due to the fact that the pedestrian aspect of the protest did not feature much in the news bulletins at the time; it just didn’t seem to get the same amount of coverage. It was a ‘cycling’ protest, as far as the superficial observer was concerned. Nevertheless, there were interviews with Tom Kearney and Nazan Fennell on BBC News, and the danger posed to pedestrians was a major element in the material and publicity surrounding the Die In. The list of people killed in recent years, read out by Living Streets campaigners, included both people walking and cycling at the time of their death.
Now it would be quite odd, I think, to worry that protests about pedestrian safety are ‘dangerising’ walking, and making it seem like something unsafe; to worry that people might be put off walking to the shops because of protests like Die Ins. Indeed I noticed that Copenhagenize linked – apparently approvingly – to a splash about pedestrian death and danger in New York, barely 24 hours after he had criticised the Die In for putting people off cycling. The headline of the New York Post article is ‘Don’t Walk’, with the text reading ‘Looking both ways isn’t nearly enough when crossing Big Apple streets’. Pointing out the dangers posed to people walking in cities, it seems, does not require any angst about whether others might be discouraged from walking at all.
The complete opposite is true of cycling, where every British campaign or protest that mentions danger is nearly always accompanied by nagging concerns and doubts about whether we are ‘putting people off’. This policy of avoiding the negative seems to have a long history in Britain. David Arditti remarked during a conversation with me on Monday that the Tour du Danger in 2011 was the first time in a long while that the risks and dangers associated with cycling were explicitly referenced in a campaign. Danger was, traditionally, something not to be mentioned. Ghost bikes should to be tidied away quickly in case people were put off - an idea that got me a bit annoyed before the Tour du Danger. Sunny optimism about how ‘you’re better off cycling than not cycling’ was the way forward, with the familiar tired story of how, despite the casualties and deaths being reported, you are statistically likely to live two years longer if you cycle.
I think a decisive break has been made with that kind of approach, probably because of a recognition that it wasn’t getting us anywhere, and also a greater understanding of the reasons why people don’t cycle. Statistics about how safe cycling is, objectively, are not persuasive when you are faced with road environments that feel threatening and hostile. As I argued in my previous post, campaigning that focuses on danger is at worst merely repeating the way most people already feel about cycling – they don’t want to do it, but would do it if it felt and looked safer.
This gets to the heart of why nobody is really concerned about pedestrian safety campaigns putting people off walking. Unlike cycling in Britain, walking is (with notable exceptions in rural areas) a subjectively safe activity. Pavements do go pretty much everywhere, from door to door, and your interactions with motor vehicles are carefully controlled. Indeed, it is in places where there aren’t pavements, particularly in rural areas, where walking can feel as unsafe as cycling, if not more so.
This is not to say the pedestrians aren’t exposed to actual danger, both with and without pavements – the deaths and injuries documented recently demonstrate this – it’s just that walking is not an activity where you actually feel threatened by motor vehicles, in a way you do while cycling. You can walk along roads and streets that are incredibly unpleasant to cycle along in relative comfort, without concern for your own safety.
There is of course inconvenience involved in walking, particularly when you encounter junctions, or where there simply aren’t facilities or conditions that allow you to cross the road where you want to. But the threat you feel while cycling is rarely present, even if pedestrian casualties are a serious problem in reality. As David Arditti has written -
People who get on bikes in traffic quickly realise they have no protection other than their own physical capabilities and wits. They discover that they are totally on their own. Nobody and nothing will protect them, not the Highway Code, not the police, not the Crown Prosecution Service, not the courts. And the roads are often designed to make things as dangerous as possible for them. This utterly uncontrolled, socially anomalous danger of cycling is what makes it unique as a legal activity. Being a pedestrian can sometimes have a similar character, but not for so long, as pedestrians are mostly segregated from traffic. Cycling, for a normal activity, that we would hope would be an everyday one, as opposed to a special one like mountaineering or skydiving, is tolerated by our society as uniquely dangerous.
When we talk about the lack of subjective safety while cycling, what we are really driving at is that cycling does not feel as safe as walking in Britain. People will continue to walk even in the wake of hypothetical campaigns that highlight and focus on the dangers people walking face, because as a day-to-day activity, it does not seem dangerous. The concern about putting people off cycling stems from this discrepancy; we are implicitly acknowledging that cycling is something that is fragile, that can easily be discarded as people switch to other modes because it just isn’t very attractive or pleasant. Walking is, by contrast, a much more robust mode.
One of the main functions of Dutch-style infrastructure is to address this issue. Cycling in the Netherlands feels as safe as walking does here, if not more so, because you are insulated from interactions with motor traffic in precisely the same way you are while walking on pavements. I think a useful test (but obviously not the only test) for whether you are providing a genuinely suitable cycling environment is to ask whether you would be willing to walk where you are expecting people to cycle. If the cycling environment corresponds to a walkable one, then you are enabling cycling for all.
It is this difference between the way cycling and walking currently feel in Britain that explains why ‘dangerising’ is such a concern about the former mode of transport, but not for the latter. The difference suggests that talking about danger really isn’t the problem; it’s the physical environment, and the way people respond to it.
Post updated to reflect points made by Jack Thurston that walking feels particularly unsafe in many rural areas
In the run up to my visit to Amsterdam three weeks ago, I read In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist by Pete Jordan. I always thought that my first reference of this excellent book would be in relation to my excellent trip. I was wrong.
After Amsterdam’s Three large-scale bike demonstrations in 1974, in the summers of 1975 and 1976 bike demos became annual events that drew ever bigger crowds – 3,000 participants in 1975, 4,000 in 1976. Then in June 1977, an even larger bike demo took place. Nine thousand Amsterdammers – including a great many senior citizens and families with children – rode on a route that originated on Beursplein and ended in Vondelpark. The dense procession of cyclists stretched for two thirds of a mile.
A flyer was distributed to the cyclists at the outset of the 1977 ride. The flyer outlined the planned route and also advised how to handle anyone irritated by the demonstrations “Avoid getting into a wrangle with motorists. You don’t need to come to blows with loudmouths. There are already enough [traffic] casualties. Maybe, due to your dignified demeanour, they’ll join us next time – on a bike”. A number of obstructed motorists did bombard the cyclists with abuse. “Bastards!” shouted one motorist. “Tonight you’ll be asking for a ride again!”
A feature of the 1977 demo was a carefully coordinated stop on Museumplein, where thousands of cyclists lay down with their bikes to commemorate the 3,000 traffic fatalities suffered annually in Holland. After a moment of silence and a short eulogy, the cyclists then arose and rang thousands of bicycle bells. Then they “cycled for their lives” to the closing festivities in Vondelpark”
The above image is from the events just described and in the sublime film ‘How the Dutch got their Cycle Paths’ by Mark Wagenbuur. I had the pleasure of riding through the newly reopened bicycle path through the newly refurbished Rijksmuseum with my not so reopened or refurbished host, Marc van Woudenberg. I was already familiar with the post war years of struggle in Amsterdam and the Netherlands generally and as I coasted through this glorious piece of infrastructure looking out across Museumplein it felt deeply fulfilling that such protest and anger were not in vain. However, my experiences will have to wait.
Let’s fast forward to London, November 2013.
To say it had been a macabre month for the nations capital city would be reckless understatement. In the space of two weeks, six cyclists had lost their lives taking the death toll in London up to 14.
Although an initial vigil was held at Bow Roundabout organised by London Cycling Campaign following yet another tragedy involving a left turning HGV, sadly events even overtook that resulting in a ‘Die-In’ vigil, organised outside the headquarters of TfL by a new ‘grass roots’ campaign called Stop the Killing of Cyclists, I assume based on Stop de Kindermoord (‘Stop the Child Murders’). By the way, here is an excellent BBC World Service Podcast on how the 1973 Dutch grassroots movement got underway.
The demands [in London] are as follows:
1.The Mayor and Boroughs to spend at least the same per person on cycling provision as The Netherlands (the UK spends about £1.25 per person – the Netherlands spends about £33 per person)
2. A ban on vehicles whose drivers cannot see adjacent road-users.
3. A full London-wide segregated network to be built urgently
It got some coverage from news channels and all involved thought it to be a great success. The picture above was actually taken from the point of view of the TfL offices so it much have looked quite dramatic.
All stirring stuff.
I was therefore a little bit taken unawares when Mikael Colville-Andersen, leading bicycle and urbanism advocate, writer of Copenhagenize and direct influence for me founding the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain started writing the following tweets:
Lack of intelligent, modern advocacy is just another reason why London and UK languish in the basement of the urban cycling league.
8:03pm · 29 Nov 13
In the UK today, a couple thousand people convinced tens of thousands of their fellow citizens never to ride a bicycle again. Well done.
9:36pm · 29 Nov 13
Sub-cultural peacocking – based on protest styles hailing from early 70s – are hopefully ineffective in 2013.
9:41pm · 29 Nov 13
If you look at the two photos, you will notice that, in the Amsterdam picture, not one of the protesters is wearing a helmet, or anything reflective – just ordinary people wanting to get around by bicycle, highlighting the carnage occurring on Dutch roads affecting every citizen at the time whether they rode a bicycle or not as well as taking a stand against the city of Amsterdam being smashed up further to make more space for the motor car.
The more recent photo, of London, tells a different story. Tragic, emotive and thought provoking but for different reasons – it shows what happens when private and commercial motor vehicle dependence continues for a further 40 years unchecked at the expense of everything else from transport equality to social inclusion to health. Those that remain within the Church of Cycling become increasingly radicalised from the rest of society – a society that thinks nothing is wrong in terms of safety because the UK has an alright road safety record from the inside of a motor car and would even see cyclist and pedestrian injury and death as collateral damage in the name of ‘progress’. To the vast majority outside the world of cycle campaigning, the scene outside the TfL headquarters was of an out group, many in the expected uniform of hi visibility jackets, helmets and lycra easily picked out by car headlamp or a journalists camera flash. That picture of London allows cycling commissioners such as Andrew Gilligan to dismiss the protesters and make them look as radical as, say for example, the Republican Tea Party.
But that doesn’t make Andrew Gilligan right, and I have to respectfully agree to disagree with Mikael Colville-Andersen. In fact, had I still been living in London, I would have attended the event myself.
This is because we come onto yet another battleground in the wonderful, trippy wasteland of British bicycle advocacy – ‘Dangerising’. Apparently, by drawing attention to the fact that six people have died in two weeks and the death toll has already matched the previous year, it is in some way going to make cycling look dangerous, and put people off. It also, apparently, undermines the hard work that Boris Johnson, Andrew Gilligan and TfL have been putting in. Statistically, it may be a safe activity, but that only paints part of the picture.
I used to cycle to work every day in my younger years from Morden in deepest, darkest South London, to Camden Town – to be more precise, less than 50 metres from where a young woman faced ‘life changing’ injuries after being hit by an HGV last October. My commute took in such gems as the multi-lane gyratory at Vauxhall Cross. At the time it was an adventure. But I was a fit[ish], confident[ish] young male. Now I am a father and watching the age of 40 fade as it waves me slowly goodbye from the harbour edge, the thought of carrying out the same commute fills me with horror. The thought of carrying out the same ride with my 3 and a half year old boy doesn’t fill me with anything because it simply won’t happen. When I unfold my Brompton at Victoria Station to head to a meeting, I do it with the same look these days as a pensioner being cajoled onto a ride at Alton Towers, being told to stop whining as it won’t last long and might be quite fun. The facilities provided for cycling in London [and the rest of the UK] are the infrastructure equivalent of the riddles and jokes one finds in a box of Christmas crackers. Whenever I see tourists on Boris Bikes at Parliament Square and Embankment (a UNESCO World Heritage Site, no less), they are always on the pavement and for good reason. If they wanted the level of subjective danger presented to them on the roads, they might as well have holidayed in Syria. This is because any plans for the future are anchored to the past - the incessant need to push as much motorised traffic through a given area under the deluded belief that it means prosperity and individuality.
The people that participated in the Die-In last Friday probably had better things to do on a Friday evening and there are better ways of campaigning but it has all come down to this. Desperate times call for desperate measures. If many were wearing cycle clothing and body armour with all the reflective bits, it is because the prevailing conditions have made them do so. These are people that have had to look grateful for every poorly designed, underfunded and compromised facility that has been set before them, and then take the flak when they ignore them. 40 years of neglect at the transport table has resulted in that photograph taken from the TfL offices. Most importantly, the remainder of people in the UK regard cycling as a dangerous activity regardless of protests like this.
If things are ever going to move forward, there needs to be greater liaison with elderly groups, disabled groups, pedestrian groups and even, dare I say it, motoring groups. They need to be shown examples of what does work, and why. This goes way beyond ‘space for cycling’ but creating more liveable neighbourhoods and quality networks for all. Otherwise bicycle advocacy will continue to be framed and then discarded with ease.
The subject of ‘dangerisation’ – the idea that we are discouraging people who might be tempted cycle in London from doing so by talking about danger and safety – is back on the agenda, following the ‘Die In’ outside TfL headquarters and a poll from the BBC, and the responses to both.
I think it is important, first of all, to remember what has actually put danger on the agenda. It wasn’t bloggers and campaigners suddenly deciding to talk about it. It was a series of deaths and serious injuries in a short space of time. It’s impossible to keep that kind of story out of the news, and to a large extent anything campaigners have been saying and doing after it made the front pages of newspapers and the headlines on TV is pretty irrelevant. Asking campaigns, specifically, to moderate the message – as it appears Andrew Gilligan is doing – is largely pointless, because our reach with the general public is pretty much non-existent (I wish it were otherwise, but it’s probably true). The general public has heard about cycling death and injury in the last month not from campaigners, but from the newspapers, the radio and from TV – they haven’t discovered this story from the London Cycling Campaign, and other campaigns (I think the one exception here is the ‘Die In’, about which more below). And it’s not reasonable to expect media outlets to not report or investigate this sequences of deaths.
I did short interviews with both ITV News, and with BBC London’s Tom Edwards, who asked me for comment during that sequence of deaths. I couldn’t reasonably say that cycling in London was fine, because it plainly isn’t. It is unnecessarily hazardous, and we know the reasons why, and have done for some time – I tried to put those reasons across in the interviews. I tried to explain, in particular, how we have junctions with large motor vehicles turning left, and people on bikes moving ahead, and the reasons why collisions occur. It would not have made much sense for me to talk about anything else.
Did this surge of media interest in cycling and cycling danger put anyone off cycling in London, who might have been on the cusp of doing so? It may have done so, but I’d argue that the effect is so superficial it should not even be a matter of concern. It’s tempting to imagine, if you are an optimistic cycle campaigner or official responsible for increasing cycling levels, that there is some huge cohort of the population that just needs a small bit of persuasion to start cycling, just a little nudge to get them onto two wheels. But the reality is that the people watching the news, or reading newspapers – ordinary Londoners who in the main would not even dream of cycling on London’s roads – have already firmly made their minds up about the attractiveness of cycling in this city. London, like most cities in Britain, is divided between the tiny percentage of people who are happy to cycle within it, and the huge majority who won’t even consider it.
At the same time, that tiny percentage of people who do already ride in London are not likely to be affected much by media reporting. If they were put off by danger, and talk about danger, well, frankly, they wouldn’t be cycling in London at all in the first place. In the main, they probably know the issues, and the dangers posed by HGVs. The fact that cyclists get killed and seriously injured is not news to people who cycle in London. It’s entirely reasonable to suppose that a solid majority of the people who already ride in London are not going to give up their bicycles on the basis of media reporting and campaigning on this issue.
Now it may be the case – hypothetically – that discussing the dangers of cycling may dip cycling levels in London down a few tenths of a percent, if perhaps as many as ten percent of all the trips made in London by bike are simply abandoned. (We have a poll, commissioned by the BBC, which purports to show some abandonment of cycling following the recent deaths, but the question appears to be vaguely phrased, and doesn’t actually ask why people have stopped cycling – it may be due to the onset of cold weather).
I don’t think such a degree of cycling abandonment is at all likely, because as I’ve just argued, people cycling in London are familiar with danger already, and reporting about what they already know is not likely to change their minds. But in the context of where we should be aiming – double digit cycling levels – and the policies that are required to take us there, even this kind of ‘worst case scenario’ is completely trivial. We should focus on sorting the roads out, and making them safe and attractive to cycle on, for anyone – concerns about scaring people off should rightly pale into insignificance if these changes are happening.
From acquaintances, people do not give up cycling because of media reporting – they give it up because of a bad incident, or a series of bad incidents, that they experienced themselves directly. Or they simply find other modes of transport relatively more attractive, and choose them instead. Concerning ourselves over how media reporting and campaigning frames the issue of danger is an irrelevance, when set against the broader picture of how pleasant cycling actually is.
This brings me to the ‘Die In’, which was a (limited) media event, and which, it has been argued, presented cycling as dangerous to the general public – something that wouldn’t have happened if the event hadn’t taken place. One of the most forceful critics appeared to be Copenhagenize, who wrote
Everything – absolutely everything – that tells people that cycling is dangerous is the stupidest form of advocacy.
In the UK today, a couple thousand people convinced tens of thousands of their fellow citizens never to ride a bicycle again. Well done.
Well, frankly, I think that’s a ludicrously overblown statement. The idea that tens of thousands of Britons will never ride a bicycle again because of one protest is deeply silly, especially when we consider the actual, documented barriers to cycling uptake in Britain. Now of course perception of danger is a serious obstacle – if not the most serious obstacle – but that perception has not appeared out of thin air. It is grounded in the reality of the way Britain’s roads and streets look and feel to the people who walk (and indeed drive) along them.
It has not arisen from protests about the way the roads and streets are hostile for cycling, for the simple reason that people can already see for themselves that roads and streets are hostile for cycling. This is why – for the most part – they don’t ride bicycles on them. Protests like the Die In are, at the very worst, only confirming what people already believe, and just as importantly, the absence of Die Ins won’t change anyone’s mind about the attractiveness of cycling – we cannot market the unmarketable.
It is interesting to note that a significant part of the Die In was devoted to the issue of pedestrian safety, with several speakers, including Tom Kearney and Nazan Fennell, relating the consequences of death and serious injury while walking. Tom was hit by a bus on Oxford Street, and left in a coma with serious injuries. Nazan’s daughter Hope was killed by an HGV while crossing the road with her bicycle. Pedestrian safety is a serious issue, with pedestrians being killed or seriously injured in large numbers in London. It is entirely appropriate that the protest focused on this issue alongside that of cycling safety, because I think walking and cycling should have a great deal in common, and the way in which people walking and cycling are exposed to danger is very similar.
Crucially, however, I haven’t seen anyone complain that the Die In ‘dangerised’ walking, and discouraged people from walking.
This might be partially explained by the fact that the walking aspect of the protest was not really covered by the media, at least as much as the cycling aspect was. But the absence of concern about ‘dangerising’ of walking is probably more likely due to the fact that walking is a more robust mode, and cycling is currently inherently fragile. Everybody walks every day, and does so without real concern for their safety (despite the fact that danger is posed to pedestrians). By contrast, the danger experienced while cycling is subjectively much more real, and apparent. These issues – the difference between walking and cycling safety, and why we get concerned about dangerising cycling, but not about dangerising walking – are something I am going to explore in my next post.
My last post argues in favour of the potential benefits from traffic policing, but that – unlike the apparent bias underlying Operation Safeway – it needs to be done differently. The key point is to prioritise law and rule breaking done by those with greater potential to endanger other road users. Otherwise the bias, which is not so much against law breaking cyclists as in favour of law and rule breaking motorists, will continue. So here are some ideas:
Some of these areas are related specifically to cycling, but others have a more general relevance – which should make them more attractive. Some are referring specifically to law breaking, whereas others refer to infringements of the Highway Code only – although this can be mentioned in the kind of roadside talks the MPS has been having with cyclists about issues such as hi-vis wearing which are not legal requirements.
According to Baroness Jenny Jones MLA: “The Met now take over 40,000 uninsured vehicles off the road every year, but a 2008 estimate by the vehicle insurers body, thought there were 400,000 uninsured vehicles in London alone. “
“By 2011, around 68 people were still being injured or killed every week in collisions involving hit and runs.(failing to stop/report:RD) One of my big concerns about hit and runs is the way that it disproportionately impacts on cyclists and pedestrians. In 2010, cyclists accounted for nearly a fifth of casualties arising from hit and runs even though they account for only 2% of trips on our roads.”
A crack down using ANPR technology could push this a lot further and be popular among motorists who don’t like being hit by uninsured drivers. A crack down would also lead to more revenue from an increase in payment of Vehicle Excise Duty which would justify extra policing in this area.
On the downside, this is just dealing with an extreme minority an taking attention away from the majority responsible for most driver law and rule breaking. It can also back up the common prejudice that third party insurance paid by motorists (at least at 100%) is fulfilling a responsibility rather than insuring against responsibility.2. Other extreme bad behaviours
Motorists who can’t see where they are going (recently one in three drivers in Poole failed an eyesight test) ; drive under the influence of drugs and drink; have Alzheimer’s or other debilitating medical conditions; while banned etc., etc.
The same proviso as in 1 above applies – these are just iceberg tips of illegal driving. But maybe the Police would get more respect if, for example, they tackle drivers who can’t see before advising cyclists (and presumably pedestrians) to wear hi-vis without any legal or evidence base.
There are issues about how to identify offenders, but my experience is that they are revealed during routine legally justified stops by officers. And if there are problems in locating such individuals, they need to be resolved.3. Lorries
On the first day of the operation 20 HGVs were stopped and 60 offences were found to be committed, including vehicles in dangerous condition and drivers who had been working too long. About 30,000 HGVs are in use in London every day. Is it reasonable to suggest that a few hundred or so are stopped every day? Every time there are crack downs on illegal HGVs high levels of infractions seem to be revealed. The threat of being delayed, let alone losing drivers, should focus the minds of operators. Perhaps this is why the prospect of law enforcement in this area turns some of them into victim-blamers.4 . Speeding
I won’t give a specific reference here. Suffice it to say that approximately 60% of drivers admit to breaking sped limits, and the proportions exceeding 30 mph vary from about 35% to 50% at the times when lack of congestion allows them to break this law. With 20 mph areas becoming prevalent in London, and with constant debate with the MPS about gaining compliance, this is surely a key area where resources could be deployed – for the benefit of pedestrians as well as cyclists5. Close proximity issues
Here is a bit of evidence. If you read the 2008 Cycle Safety Action Plan you can see this kind of evidence.
Pages16-17: Conflict type 2: Close proximity collision between cyclist and vehicle Collisions arising from a close proximity collision between cyclist and vehicle caused 37% (121) of serious injuries and 47% (7) of deaths of cyclists. all seven of the fatalities involved a goods vehicle. This category includes the following manoeuvres (listed by frequency of cyclist killed or seriously injured):
o Cycle and other vehicle travelling alongside each other (12%)
o Other vehicle turns left across the path of cycle (9%)
o Other vehicle changes lane to the left across the path of cycle (3%)
o Cycle and other vehicle collide when both turning left (2%)
o Other vehicle starts off or pulls out into path of bicycle (2%)
o Other vehicle changes lane to right across path of cycle (1%)
o Cycle performs overtaking manoeuvre into path of right turning vehicle (1%)
o Cycle changes lane to right/left across path of other vehicle (<1% each)
This analysis reveals one of the key complaints from cyclists: drivers constantly overtake without giving enough room. Some of this can be solved by segregation, but since this is not going to be on most roads in London ( and would take a while to install anyway even if desired) there is clearly scope for addressing the issue.
“give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car (see Rules 211 to 213 and 214 to 215).”. Lengthy discussion with MPS officers indicate that there are problems in addressing this without specific distances given, but there is apparently precedent with regard to cyclist “wobble-room” being required when overtaking.
Is it really too much to expect some sort of police activity in this key area when officers have been giving (nmisguided) advice to cyclists on helmets etc. in Operation Safeway?
To be addressed by highway engineering and good quality cycle training: but opening doors without looking will still be a rule breaking threat to motorcyclists and cyclists. Section 42 of Road Traffic Act 1988 states that a person who fails to comply with the Regulations is guilty of an offence. In this case, the Regulations are Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986, IS 1986 No.1078, reg 105, “No person shall open or cause or permit to be opened any door of a motor vehicle or trailer on a road so as to cause injury or danger to any person”.7. Failing to obey ATS (Red Light Jumping)
Not just cyclists. See the interesting discussion on motorists doing this here.8. Post collision investigation
Our colleagues in RoadPeace and the CTC have long argued that there is a serious problem with inadequate post-collision investigation involving injured cyclists and pedestrians.9. Car Crashes?
Here’s a radical one. How about investigating car crashes? One or more drivers is likely to have been breaking rules or laws in order to crash. The vast majority of collisions do not require reporting to the police because they do not involve reported injury – but that doesn’t mean that they don’t involve rule or law infractions. More activity here?10. Do not restrict policing to locations where collisions have occurred.
Proper assessments of danger are going to involve looking at places where people may have not been hurt or killed. By restricting policing to in this case to areas where they have a large proportion of endangering behaviour is missed out. This may be partly why a high proportion of the Fixed Penalty Notices (some 35%) have been given to cyclists.
Obviously speeding motorists are not going to be caught at heavily congested locations in inner London in the rush hour. That doesn’t mean that speeding is not a general safety problem. Indeed it may well be a particular problem for cyclists in 20 mph zones or in outer London where cycling levels are low. Just because there are few cyclists out there – often precisely because of their perceptions of danger from motorists – does not mean that this and other forms of motorist law- breaking are not problems.11. Not from a fixed position.
Use bodies like the (enlarged and changed) Cycle Task Force more to police from within the traffic.12. More of it. A lot more.
As Baroness Jones has pointed out, traffic policing has been massively diminished over the last couple of decades. It needs to have its levels reinstated – but it has to be targeted in the right areas.Institutionalised discrimination?
From the unfortunate comments by the Metropolitan Police commissioner and other cases the approach of the MPS to traffic policing has – correctly in my view – not met with a good response from cyclists. Nor has it from those of us concerned with the wellbeing of cyclists and pedestrians as part of a programme of having safe roads for all in London.
The term “institutionalised discrimination” has been used. For those of us who have been brought up in local authorities and elsewhere in public service, the equal opportunities approaches used to address discrimination in so many areas do, I believe, have relevance here.
The point is precisely that this is not about personal malevolence or bigotry. Indeed, discussing these issues in terms of background beliefs should actually assist our discussions with the police into how a productive approach to traffic policing can be developed.
The police services have made absolutely fundamental changes in their attitudes to women, disability etc. over the last couple of decades. Many police officers are passionately committed towards reducing danger at source. Is it too much to ask that the MPS (and other forces) accept that they may have a culture which impedes progress by being improperly biased away from dealing with rule and law breaking behaviour which endangers others?
Hopefully this piece can help us all towards a more satisfactory traffic policing programme.
After a spate of cyclist deaths in London, cyclist safety is on the national agenda. For some, getting cyclist safety in the public eye is inherently good – we’re not so sure. The key issue is, after all, to do the right things for the safety of cyclists. Last week we were told that there is a “new zero-tolerance approach” with a “huge escalation” in policing involving “stopping lorries and cars and where there is unsafe driving they will be taken off the road.”
But is a blitz on unsafe driving – under what is called “Operation Safeway” in London – actually happening? We don’t think so. So what exactly is going on?Some Background: Andrew Gilligan’s response to the spate of cyclist deaths
Cycling Commissioner Andrew Gilligan has responded to the reaction to the spate of cyclist deaths in London in an intelligent and well-argued piece :
(a) Fundamental re-engineering of HGVs. There should be no gaps between the body of the vehicle and the ground that pedestrians or cyclists can easily be pulled into. This is particularly relevant for construction lorries, industrial equipment allowed onto streets full of pedestrians and cyclists in a way no other type of device would be. Even more fundamental, the drivers should be able to detect any pedestrians or cyclists close to their vehicle, on all sides.
(b) Law enforcement with regard to numerous types of law infringement.
(c) Appropriate sentencing, using black boxes on vehicles and based on deterring rule- and law-breaking drivers and freight operators.
(d) Highway engineering
are of more importance, both for cyclists and – don’t forget – pedestrians:
2. The spate of deaths does not necessarily indicate that conditions in London have got worse. “In the first half of 2013, only three cyclists died in London – one every two months. In the recent spate, it was every two days. Are these same streets 30 times more dangerous than just a few months ago?” Exactly.
3. The rate of reported Serious Injuries is no worse than ten years ago. And SIs are a more reliable statistical indicator in London than deaths. That rate does appear to have got worse over the last few years, but it’s too early to say if this is a short- or long-term trend.
4. “The chief executive of the London Cycling Campaign wrote last week: “We want to know when the dying will stop.” Well, we can, and we do, promise to improve safety. But we cannot, and do not, promise to eliminate cyclist deaths. If that is the test the cycling lobby sets us, we, and every large city on Earth, will fail.” Good point. It is vital to measure cycling safety in a way which is different from the present convention of totting up the total number of cycling deaths. Gilligan is absolutely correct to argue for a careful way of discussing cyclist safety. Working out alternative measures of safety has been a key commitment of RDRF since our inception.
5. “I fear the furore is aiding those who say we shouldn’t encourage cycling. I’m afraid it’s scaring cyclists away.” Unlike some of the new wave of bloggers, I disagree that highlighting each incident will help us move towards reducing danger. These bursts of attention can easily be reduced to victim-blaming and false “solutions” to the problems of the safety of cyclists and others on the road.
6. “…we can’t simply slap in panic changes”. Exactly. Although this does rather contradict what seems to be happening with the policing “blitz”. (And by the way, what is supposed to “make cyclists safer at the expense of other people’s safety.”?)Some more background: Unfortunate comments by the Mayor
For some of the bloggers, the problem is essentially one of the Mayor not installing the right infrastructure, or not doing it quickly enough – points which Gilligan has made a reasoned response to.
What I think we need to look at now – with London Cycling Campaign organising a mass “die–in” today - at the end of the first week of “Operation Safeway”, is to ask some questions about the attitudes underlying traffic policing. Whatever kind of infrastructure is in place for cyclists, there will still be danger on the roads for them and other road users. The Police are a key part of the apparatus charged with responsibility for safety on the road. Their approach – and understanding what it is and how it links in with the rest of the “road safety” establishment – is absolutely key to achieving safe roads for all.
Traffic policing: Are we all in it together?
After the latest apparent problem with London’s traffic policing (a quota supposedly being set for arresting errant cyclists) British Cycling policy advisor, Chris Boardman, said that the police should be concentrating their efforts on larger vehicles.
“If you don’t have the resources to prosecute everyone who breaks the law, then it makes sense to start with the people who can cause the most harm and work down from there.”
“The bigger and heavier the vehicle you have got, the more damage you are going to do. I certainly would not let law-breaking cyclists off the hook, but they wouldn’t be top of my list.”
That pretty much sums up what a civilised approach to traffic law enforcement should be. But that is not what it has been. As we have continually pointed out , the approach taken has been to attempt to neutralise the difference between endangering others and being endangered. As with numerous “Share the Road” campaigns, there is a tendency to slot into appeasing the prejudices of those who are endangering cyclists and others. For a good current example and critique go here:Evidence
A crucial theme in “road safety” ideology is that programmes – such as law enforcement – are based on evidence. Let’s have a look at what has been happening so far in London:
According to Chief-Superintendent Glyn Jones, who is in charge of the current operation, “If you’re going to cycle in London, wear a helmet, wear high-vis, make sure your bike has the right lights, don’t wear headphones and obey the rules of the road. That way you will be a lot safer.”
The first four of these recommendations either have no or minimal evidence to back up the assertion that you will be “safer” (only one is required by law) as follows:
Headphones: no research has been done;
Lights: legally required but – according to analysis of STATS 19 reporting forms, the last annual Borough reports I looked at had the relevant code (506) as implicated in under 1% of cyclist casualties. (STATS 19 forms in London are completed by officers the Metropolitan Police).
“Rules of the road” is vague, and presumably refers to red light running – although even this seems to be implicated in a small minority of cyclist casualties. There is evidence which was gathered for the Mayor’s Cycle Safety Action Plan – which in a former role I had a part in contributing to – and it is not referred to as a base for policing in the “blitz” we are supposed to be having. There is no reference to acquiring confidence from assertiveness learned in good quality cycle training: perhaps the Met is not interested in having more of such people on the road?But should we be surprised?
If we were to follow such evidence we would be referring mainly to what motorists get up to, and risk offending the sensibilities of the Great British Motorists (or at least what these are feared to be – the reality may indicate that law enforcement would go down quite well with many motorists). Discussing this matter with traffic police officers I have been told that, as the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Robert Mark said: “Policing must be by consent” – which in this context means going along with the prejudices of those who are far more likely to endanger others than cyclists are, namely ordinary motorists.
And it is ordinary motorists who are committing most of the rule and law infractions on the road. While an extreme minority of rogue law-breakers are far worse than the average motorist, and far more likely to be involved in collisions, they are just that – a minority. This leaves us with a problem: as John Adams and others have argued, the nature of human risk-taking is such that there are always problems with road safety interventions unless there is a background cultural change. Actually having an effect on danger from motorists will require more than a “blitz”, however well targeted it is.
However, my suggestion is that part of getting the cultural change required could well involve law enforcement. It is just that it has to be properly targeted – at those most likely to endanger others, and for the benefit of safety for cyclists and other road users endangered by rule- and law-breaking. The next post gives some ideas as to what that policing could be.
I thought I’d do a quick rough-and-ready analysis of the Licensed Taxi Driver’s Association videos that are doing the rounds today, which purport to show that people on bikes are serial lawbreakers.
Their analysis is based on two separate hour-long videos, one filmed in Camden, the other in Hackney. I obviously haven’t had time to sit through two hours of video, so I’ve just focused on the first fifteen minutes of the Hackney one. I will extend the analysis if anyone wants me to – the results probably won’t be very different, although the sample sizes will be larger, and make the result more statistically significant. Patterns of motor vehicle compliance will emerge which haven’t done so in this instance due to the small sample size.
My method is a direct copy of Chester Cycling’s own analysis of junctions in Manchester last year; go to his excellent post if you want more detail on the approach taken.
Here are my results, from the first fifteen minutes of the LTDA video.
Clearly, the picture is very different once we start to look at compliance relative to the opportunity to commit an infraction. Huge numbers of people on bikes had the ability or option to jump lights once they arrived at them – about 36% of all the cyclists in the first fifteen minutes of the video. This is obviously not true for the drivers of motor vehicles, most of whom simply did not have the opportunity to commit an infraction, because they are in a queue. Only 5 car drivers, for instance, had an opportunity to drive through the junction on a red signal, so it is not surprising that none did. This is a very small sample size.
It’s also worth noting that bicycles are, by far, the majority vehicle on the road at this particular junction, around 62% of all vehicles in this fifteen minute section of the video. Inevitably law-breaking is going to be more obvious when you are the majority road user.
When you also consider that signals are only necessary for motor traffic – pedestrians and cyclists are quite happy mingling through junctions without traffic signals – the fact that so many people, either on foot or on bike, are held at signals for the benefit of the minority road users is really quite unjust.
However, if we are looking simply at stop line/ASL compliance, cyclists are actually the best behaved out of all groups, expressed as a percentage of opportunity. Just 26% of those who had the opportunity to cross the stop line did so; there was far worse compliance with the ASL line by motorists, particularly motorcycles, 83% of whom entered the ASL when they could do so. Car drivers, HGVs and vans fared no better.
The bad news is that around 20% of those cyclists who had the opportunity to progress through the junction did so – this is the ‘full’ red light jump. I’ll leave you to watch the video to see how hazardous this is at this particular location. But based on this data, motorcyclists are actually worse – a third progressed through the junction with the signals on red (with the caveat, again, that this is a very small sample size).
Red light jumping also seemed to be a ‘copycat’ behaviour; if the ASL already had 3 or 4 people stopped in it, then it seemed to be the case that most other cyclists would stop. Conversely, slipping ahead through the junction seemed to occur more when others were already doing it.
Finally, this analysis does not include ‘amber gambling’, which seemed to occur on nearly every phase of the first fifteen minutes, irrespective of mode – this is something drivers and cyclists indulge in alike. There is a particularly bad example by an ambulance driver at 11:55 – this does not show up in this table, unlike the far less hazardous creeping across the junction by cyclists under a red signal. Only pure red-light jumping is included here, regardless of the actual potential for harm.
Make of this what you will – I thought I’d just add the broader statistical picture to the silly headlines.
I’ve run out of time to do the post I’d intended this week (tomorrow I travel to Bavaria to take part in what looks like a very stimulating Active Mobility workshop), so will instead simply note that a debate between David Dansky, head of training and development at Cycle Training UK, and me is today published on the Mobile Lives Forum (a site well worth checking out in its own right). David and I discuss why urban cycling matters, how it can best be encouraged, and differences in encouraging cycling between urban and suburban areas. (We were given tight word limits, which is why our responses are so brief.) On the same site there’s a video-conference with the sociologist Rachel Aldred from Westminster University exploring London’s ‘bicycle revolution’, so if you feel so inclined you can get a real sociological cycling fix!
Read my discussion with David (who has consistently been among the most interested, thoughtful and respectful respondents to the (somewhat contentious) Understanding Walking and Cycling research with which I was involved) here.
If you tuned into BBC Radio Gloucestershire early on Thursday morning, you might have heard the presenter discussing cycling safety.
Here’s a thought, and a suggestion, we haven’t heard before.
Something we haven’t heard before? What’s that then? Surely something fresh, thoughtful and considered on the subject of cycling as a mode of transport?
Cyclists – should you be forced to use the network of cycle paths and lanes in Gloucestershire?
Oh. Right. Not a new suggestion at all – just the same old rubbish that appears with tiresome regularity on local radio.
Eight deaths of cyclists recently, six in London, two in Bristol – a guy called Robin Carey has this thought. He’s campaigned for their use for years. He’s now challenging both his MP, Martin Horwood, and Gloucestershire Highways, to improve safety, and make the use of cycle lanes compulsory.
Wow. That’s respectful. Using deaths – deaths! - of people as a superficial basis for dragging up some local bloke’s pet peeve.
None of these recent deaths had anything to do with a failure to use cycle paths, so this is a bit like using a series of recent rapes as a trigger for asking a local man his opinions about what women are wearing, and how they should keep safe. But on we go.
[Robin Carey] says too many riders are ignoring the signs and the dedicated cycle routes, making the current system a complete waste of taxpayers’ money.
There are, of course, no signs mandating use of off-carriageway routes in the UK. As for ‘dedicated cycle routes’… well, we’re about to see the example in question. Here’s Robin Carey himself -
Landsdown Road [in Cheltenham] is very narrow there, there’s just enough space for two cars, let alone a cyclist. And then you’ve got the junction with Shelburne Road, and there’s a conflict between car and cyclist there.
One time I was coming out of Shelburne Road, turning left towards Gloucester, and nearly had a collision with a car coming the other way, because he was overtaking a cyclist.
Mr Carey turned left out of a side road, apparently without checking to see if it was appropriate to do so, and that the road was clear, without a vehicle on the side of the road he was entering. Somehow, this is the person on the bike’s fault (the overtaking driver also appears to have violated Highway Code rule 167).
This is the location.
The DJ addresses the audience.
Let me know as a motorist what you’ve seen, what you’ve observed. Do you agree? Should a cyclist stay in the lane, and actually be penalised if they come out of it? Robin says unless matters are improved, more people will be seriously hurt or killed. He’s now hoping by really getting this on the agenda, things can be improved.
Notice here that people will be ‘seriously hurt or killed’ by their temerity to come out of a cycle ‘lane’ (a generous term for what is clearly a pavement with a stripe on it) not ‘seriously hurt or killed’ by inattentive drivers. Robin Carey again -
I would like Martin Horwood to discuss with the Department for Transport the changing of the law so that the use of cycle paths where provided are compulsory. It seems to make sense, both from the taxpayers’ money point of view, and from cyclists’ point of view, and from the motorists’ point of view. I got angry because it’s not just the cyclists that get hurt, the driver… If I was involved in an accident with a cyclist who was very badly injured or killed, I get traumatised as well. I would have to live that for the rest of my life.
Yes, he really did say that.
There are clues already, but if we scoot up the road a little, we can see why the cyclist in question in this incident might not have chosen to use the ‘dedicated cycle path’, built at taxpayers’ expense.
Yes, that’s three separate signalised crossings, just to get across the junction.
Is it really any wonder he chose to use the road, even if it meant running the risk of traumatising poor Mr Carey by getting himself killed? The use of this rubbish ‘path’ ‘makes sense’ to Robin Carey, presumably only the grounds that the person on the bike would be out of his way. Sod his comfort and convenience.
This is, of course, local radio, the home of the ill-informed opinion, but BBC Radio Gloucestershire actually used this as a feature item. Mr Carey didn’t ring up spontaneously – his drivel was pre-recorded, and then used as the basis for a supposedly sensible discussion about cycling safety. It’s utter bollocks. Just a moment’s thought or reflection would establish why anyone would choose not to use a ‘dedicated cycle path’. People aren’t wilfully choosing to put themselves in harm’s way; they are making a rational choice on the basis of the relative inconvenience of using awful pedestrian-specific multiple crossings that make crossing a simple junction take several minutes. If it was good enough, they would use it automatically. People do not cycle in the road in the Netherlands where cycle facilities are provided, because those facilities are good. It’s that simple.
What is most troubling is that this is probably about par for the course for a good deal of the British media, who in the wake of a tragic series of deaths (repeat – deaths) have chosen not to inform themselves about the issues, about the causes of death and serious injury, and about how they can be prevented, but instead to carry on churning out the same patronising and hostile rubbish on the subject, and chosen to do so at a greater volume. Here’s just one other example – also on BBC local radio – documented by Kats Dekker.
Indeed, this same story in Cheltenham was also covered by the local paper, where the journalist responsible for writing it described it as a ‘hot topic’. No, I’m sorry, the ‘hot topic’ is people being seriously injured or killed, not because they refuse to cycle on pavements like a pedestrian, but because of seriously flawed road design, lax safety standards, and putting people into conflict with large and heavy vehicles. Stop crowbarring in your petty ill-informed vendettas into what should be a real debate about how to make cycling a safe and viable mode of transport for all. It’s grossly offensive.
Thanks to @beztweets for spotting this