I’m aware that there is something of a London-centred bias in our posts. Nevertheless, what Transport for London does is of special interest to transport professionals and campaigners throughout the UK: while it is the Highway Authority for only a small minority of London’s roads, it has massive influence through its funding of Boroughs throughout London. With a dire record of (in)action on sustainable transport in the UK’s central Government, London is often where we have to look for potential progress.
So when TfL has peppered its current strategy “Safe London streets: Our approach” with references to danger reduction, and called its 2016 annual conference on March 4th “Tackling the Sources of Road Danger”, it’s time to take notice. Is TfL really moving from “road safety” towards reducing danger at source?Defining road danger
For those of us in the road danger reduction (RDR) movement, danger on the road comes from the (ab)use of motor vehicles. While there may well be obligations on pedestrians and cyclists, the source of road danger is the breaking of official rules and laws by the motorised. As well as rule/law-breaking, danger from motor traffic can also come from rule-obeying drivers: in case that seems unfair, remember that the official “road safety” industry has accommodated rule/law breaking by drivers through highway engineering (felling roadside trees, installing crash barriers; anti-skid and other highway treatments etc.) and vehicle engineering(crumple zones, roll bars, seat belts, air bags etc.).
In summary: creating “Safer Roads for All” means focusing on what drivers and motorcyclists get up to. The primary focus is protecting their potential victims from rule/law breaking, although there should be allowance for pedestrians and cyclists being able to make mistakes without being punished by injury or death. Necessary measures may involve highway or vehicle engineering, or law enforcement (backed up by education and publicity if necessary). Essentially we require a culture where safety on the road is discussed in terms of intolerance of endangering others, as part of a sustainable transport policy.
TfL’s definition of road danger.
TfL refer to “the five main sources of road danger”.
It is difficult to deny that these are driver behaviours which should be tackled. They are indeed examples of road danger, and tackling them would indeed be tackling danger at source. But, at the risk of appearing nit-picking, it is worth examining these as the specific priorities TfL has set itself. So:
Instead, “failure to comply with the laws of the roads” is restricted to cameras for red light offences, unsafe HGVs, and continuation of Operation Safeway – about which we have voiced our concerns here and in other posts.
Some problems What’s the problem? Measuring danger.
So what stops TfL from going for a full-blown RDR approach? How we actually measure danger is a key difference between Road Danger Reduction and traditional “Road Safety”. So far TfL is still basically restricting itself to working back from collisions. The question of how pedestrians and cyclists may avoid places precisely because of the levels of danger presented there is therefore missed out. We have discussed the need to measure danger differently, and would expect TfL to do more than just monitor KSIs or prosecutions.
To be fair, some TfL officers at the 2016 conference did mention the issue of perception of danger. But while TfL still highlights overall cyclist (and pedestrian) casualties rather than using exposure-based (“rate-based”) measures and targets their approach is fundamentally flawed, as explained here.
Why do casualty numbers change?
At the 2016 annual conference, Ben Plowden of TfL claimed that “we are making huge strides…in reducing casualties”. But we believe that casualty reduction occurs for reasons which are often nothing to do with official “road safety” interventions, a point made by John Adams among others.
For example, in 2014 there were 463 cyclist KSIs in London, and in 2015 385 – a decline by no less than 17%. This could be a temporary glitch with KSIs going up again in 2016, and in terms of a long-term decline this one year comparison may not seem so noteworthy. Nevertheless, there are grounds for speculation on the reasons for this decline – what happened in 2015? It is difficult to see any official intervention as responsible – none of the Cycle Superhighways had been completed, and it is difficult to identify any other change. Again, we have to consider spontaneous behavioural change by road users, not official “road safety” interventions.
A key element of the RDR approach is motor traffic reduction. There are some TfL publications that refer to a forecast (slightly) lower modal share for cars in London, but on the whole we would suggest that TfL is not embarked on such a path. Indeed at the March4th conference there was reference to “not waging war on the motorist”, which is normally code for tolerating or increasing the use of motor vehicles (along with “reconciling different demands” etc.).
Who endangers, hurts or kills whom?
A central element of the RDR project is highlighting the difference between danger to others and being endangered. The traditional “road safety” approach blurs the distinction, whereas we emphasise the point on moral and scientific grounds. As it happens, “Safe London Streets: Our approach” does focus on behaviours endangering others, which we welcome. Nevertheless, this issue could be highlighted more. In particular, more priority should be given to the biggest source of danger – careless driving (“driving without due care and attention”), with raised levels of traffic law enforcement.
“Safe London Streets: Our approach” is a step forward for Transport for London, putting it ahead of previous documents on safety on the road, and certainly ahead of other Highway Authorities. Hopefully this can be progressed into a full-blown Road Danger Reduction approach.
If you’re a regular reader of this site and well versed in the need for a sustainable transport policy based on reducing the car-centred status quo, you won’t necessarily gain much from reading this book. But for most people – and particularly the politicians supposedly representing them – who are not, this book is a timely and concise reminder of the main problems, and what is needed as an alternative.Where John Whitelegg’s “Mobility” is more of an in depth and general critique of the cult of going further and faster for the sake of it, Wolmar’s book focuses on the UK.
Wolmar concisely critiques the road-building dogma of decades of UK transport policy – although, as he puts it, this is more a default position than an actual thought-through policy. He refers to the famous quote by Nicholas Ridley as encapsulating the road building philosophy:
“ The private motorist…wants the chance to live a life that gives him (sic) a new dimension of freedom – freedom to go where he wants, when he wants, and for as long as he wants.”
To which one might add “and how he wants”, but otherwise how much has changed since the 1970s? Wolmar traces problems back to Buchanan in an uncompromising analysis of Traffic in Towns and the doctrine of “predict and provide”.
There is a neat review of technological fixes as supposed solutions to transport problems: Wolmar makes the basic point against technological determinism that :
“The starting point…must be to ask: if technology is the answer, what is the question? What are we trying to achieve? What, therefore, are the major transport problems that technology could and should be addressing?”
Indeed. Information technology can reduce the perceived need to travel to meetings, but encourage it by increasing connectivity.
I have a few differences of opinion with Wolmar. I think cost-benefit analysis is more problematic in the assessment of disbenefits than he suggests, and I think he lets John Prescott off too lightly. And on a minor point, the 1930s cycle tracks on the A4 were not “excellent”. But his main thrust is spot-on: placing the onus on politicians to get it right and concentrate on access rather than mobility:
“Any attempt at transformation needs to start with a recognition of our failings and a willingness to address them, as well as a key cultural change. That is probably the hardest bit.”
Again, indeed. Wolmar urges three principles to take us forward: firstly, we have to state what we think transport policy should be about. Secondly, we require demand management – for him this is essentially road user (motorist) charging and “soft measures. Finally he urges governmental change linking devolution with local governmental financial independence.
Getting across to the general public the idea that transport policy has to be re-framed with a full awareness of the negative effects of mobility for its own sake – and the need to control it – is vital. Wolmar’s book is an excellent start for the general reader – and for politicians who have so far been too scared to face up to their responsibilities in this area.
The letters pages of the transport professionals’ fortnightly, Local Transport Today, have recently carried an unprecedentedly long correspondence about the statistical analysis of the effects of speed cameras. We welcome in-depth statistical analysis of “road safety” interventions such as cameras. However, our take on how results should be interpreted – and indeed, what “works” actually means in the overall context of reducing road danger over time – is different from most of the participants. Here is our contribution to – and comments on – the debate: LTT 695
Here’s the latest update. For the main story see this account with a timeline and our latest on lorry safety here and here . The “Cyclists stay back” stickers seem to have disappeared from Fleet Operators Recognition Scheme (FORS) registered members’ vehicles. But there is still an obvious problem with stickers on the wrong kind of vehicle – those without “blind spots” such as smaller lorries, vans and cars – belonging to FORS registered members. This includes those registered as Gold in FORS, such as the London Boroughs of Brent and Camden, Murphy and Travis Perkins. Because of continuing concern Darren Johnson MLA asked the Mayor the following question:-
Inappropriate use of cyclist warning stickers
Question No: 2016/0621
Despite providing an assurance (2015/1512) that TfL had contacted operators signed up to its Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS) to stress that blind spot stickers should not be used on vehicles under 3.5 tonnes, I have been informed that many operators including gold standard operators are still doing this. Please set out what new measures TfL will take to promote the use of consistent signage by operators and stop the arbitrary use of these stickers from bringing FORS into disrepute.
…and received this answer Written response from the Mayor
Please see my response to MQ 2015/1512.
The Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS) standard requires fleet operators to fit approved blind spot warning signage to vehicles over 3.5 tonne gross vehicle weight, as these vehicles have larger blind spots. FORS guidance is that blind spot warning signage is not required on vehicles under 3.5 tonnes gross vehicle weight. This guidance is communicated to all FORS accredited operators via e-news bulletins, the FORS website and in FORS training and toolkits. This guidance is available online at http://www.fors-online.org.uk/cms/warning-signage/.
The FORS annual audit verifies that approved blind spot warning signage is fitted to vehicles over 3.5 tonne gross vehicle weight. Operators that use non-approved or badly placed stickers, or who fit signage to smaller vehicles, receive an action plan and are expected to address this prior to the next audit. (RDRF emphasis)
I believe this approach is reasonable and proportionate for operators that have blind spot warning signage fitted to smaller vehicles, and therefore does not bring FORS into disrepute
The implication is that operators like Murphy
and LB Camden
have either changed since these photos were taken (they might have – I haven’t checked recently) or have received “action plans” and are in the process of doing so. If that is the case, then we may be finally able to leave this sorry saga behind. However, my perception is that FORS have not managed to get members to follow advice laid down some time ago. And my suggestion is that there has had to be a lot of pressure from TfL’s danger reduction and cyclist stakeholders to get them this far.
So you may want to nudge FORS by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org
A recent contact led to: “Thank you for your email and informing us of these companies not displaying the correct signage. We will be contacting the companies and will make sure they are displaying the correct signage from now on. We do our best to ensure that all companies are displaying the correct signage. This is through our audits and our compliance checks. If you have any further queries do not hesitate to contact …”
So you can get results, and we’re happy to be of assistance to TfL/FORS.