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All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group

Forgive me for using a title that is actually a tweet, but this post is a tweet that turned out to be too long to be a tweet, so it is a mini-blog instead of a micro-blog, but not a sub-tweet.

Having recently rejoined the London Cycling Campaign, I now get their e-newsletter thing.  This week’s is a bit depressing, with the news that only 66 000 people have signed the Get Britain Cycling petition, which was started in April of this year, with support from the Times as part of its Cycle Safe   campaign.  The petition is also supported by all the major cycling organisations in the U.K..

I know I have signed, I’m pretty sure Anna has signed, and I had hoped that everyone I know that cycles in the U.K. has signed it, and everyone else that cycles in the U.K. regularly surely ought to have signed it too.  In which case, why so few signatures?  Is that really the level of support that cycling has amongst in its own constituency?  What chance do we have of making major changes to Britain’s transport policy if we can’t even get 100 000 signatures on this petition?

The text of petition follows:

We the undersigned call on the Prime Minister to pledge that the Government will implement the recommendations in the ‘Get Britain Cycling’ parliamentary report. The inquiry, chaired by a cross-party panel of MPs and peers, heard that promoting cycling as a healthy and affordable way to travel can tackle Britain’s obesity crisis, save millions from NHS budgets, boost the economy and reduce congestion on our roads and trains.  The inquiry’s 18 recommendations focus on reallocating investment, safer road design, lower speed limits, better training and strong political leadership. 

This will require cross-departmental consensus led from the Cabinet Office and Downing Street, not just from the Department for Transport.  In the Commons on February 22, 2012, the Prime Minister said of The Times’s ‘Cities Fit for Cycling’ campaign: “If we want to encourage the growth in cycling we’ve seen in recent years, we need to get behind campaigns like this.” 
Now is the time to act on those words.

Sign it.

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Image courtesy Hackney CyclistsHackney is now the cycling heart of London, as was shown by the 2011 census figures.  15% of Hackney residents now cycle to work, and car ownership is falling.  As always with demographic changes, there are myriad causes, as I suggested here.

But the fact that the Hackney borough group of the LCC has been so active in transport planning with the borough over the last 15 years is not just a correlation, it is causation.  As Danny Williams  (Cyclists in the City blog) says, it’s the bike-friendly policies, stupid.  Despite the Kerb Nerds insistence that the only way to increase numbers of people cycling is total segregation, and that all other policies are a waste of time, this increase in levels of cycling to around about where the Dutch and Danish were in the 70s has been achieved without great lengths of separated bike paths.

If you think I’m overstating the Kerb Nerds fervour, David Arditti came back from a trip to Copenhagen tweeting that: got to understand this: you need all to stick your Hierarchies of Provision, Quietways, Graeenways [sic], 20mph etc in the bin….Cause the solution is segregated cycle tracks on *all* main roads. That’s the only thing that gives you fun cycling for all.  UK politicians, don’t waste time, don’t bother with cycling at all if you are not interested in doing this. Over and out.

I think this is an extraordinarily blinkered view, especially the dismissal of 20 mph zones.  20 mph zones are important not just because they might encourage cyclists, but because, along with other policies like ‘Safe Routes to School’, they are accepted to have helped drive down child pedestrian fatalities in London.  So-called Vehicular Cyclists such as myself are often dismissed by the Kerb Nerds as ‘advocating only for themselves’.  I don’t how considered David’s dismissal of 20 mph zones was, but it looks an awful lot like advocacy only for himself.

As Danny says in his piece for the Standard, Hackney’s policies have focused on making sure that every scheme – whether it’s a new building or an upgrade of an existing road – improves the public realm and sense of place, not just focussing on providing separated cycle paths along all main roads.  And before we go any further, I agree that there remains a lot to do in Hackney.  I live right by the A10 Kingsland Road, on which 3 cyclists have been killed in the last 10 years.  This road desperately needs some redesigning, but not just for cyclists, for pedestrians as well.

But despite all that remains to be done, no-one can deny that Hackney Cyclists have achieved great things, and are way ahead of every other London borough.  Should you wish to Hackneyise your own borough or town, you could do worse than attend the 2nd Annual Hackney Cycling Conference, June 6th.

The following is from the Hackney Cycling Campaign:


2013 is set to be a landmark year in the UK for cycling.

High-profile media attention and campaigns, ambitious policy statements and proposed funding for London and the recent All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group report from the Get Britain Cycling inquiry have created political momentum that suggests now is the time for ambitious improvements and initiatives to encourage an increase in the number of people riding bikes.

But big questions remain about how best to achieve these changes. For example, how to translate public support for cycling as an abstract idea into support for local schemes, how to design for cycling and other kerb-side needs, and how to deal with emerging problems as the number of cyclists goes up, like conflict with pedestrians in areas of high cycle traffic.

The Hackney Cycling Conference seeks to further the debate on these issues and more by bringing together politicians, professionals, academics and campaigners from across the many disciplines and sectors that are involved in influencing an increase in cycling in the UK.

Confirmed speakers include

Andrew Gilligan, London Cycling Commissioner; Prof. Phil Goodwin, University of the West of England and author of the APPCG report ‘Get Britain Cycling’; Dr Adrian Davis, Public Health and Transport consultant at Bristol City Council

The conference is on 6th June.  Tickets etc can be found here.

In Mayor’s Question Time, May 2012, there was the following exchange:

Andrew Boff (AM)  Mr Mayor, could you ensure, along with your commitment to the key  principles of the Go Dutch campaign that London cyclists learn to obey the rule of the road as  much as they do in Holland?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  … …I love  cycling; I believe in it.  But I do think that it is — look at the statistics before you cackulate in the corner, look at the statistics of the proportion of cycling Killed or Seriously Injured (KSI) who unfortunately had just committed an infraction or were in the processes of committing an  infraction at the time they had the accident.  It is very, very sad reading.

Andrew Boff (AM):  …I do think you are completely right, I think that there is an ecosystem on the streets and everybody understands that people have to obey the law and they have to obey the rules, otherwise they forfeit sympathy and I do think it  very important that people should be aware of the high proportion, I have seen a figure I think of 62%, of cycling KSIs that are associated with some infraction by the cyclist themselves of the rules of the road, and that is very sad.  Thank you, Mr Mayor.

The clear implication of the exchange is that the majority of cyclists killed or seriously injured (where is not specified, so it’s not entirely clear whether Boff ‘n’ Boris refer to London or the U.K.), were contravening the law (or possibly the Highway Code, as ‘infraction’ does not necessarily mean violating laws), and therefore in some way to blame for their own subsequent injury or death, because they were breaking the rules of the road, which are there to keep everyone safe, as the cliché has it. Andrew Boff specifically mentions red-light jumping (RLJ) immediately before, so I don’t think I’m putting words in his mouth if I say that he is implying that a lot of KSI cyclists were running lights and this was a cause of their collision.

(As an aside, Boris uses the word ‘cackulate’ in the exchange, for which word there is the following definition:  cackulating, the process of producing laughable statistics.)

This implication caused wide-spread uproar amongst cycling organisations, not least because no one recognised the number.  By no means have I spent my working life looking at KSI stats and reports on the causes of same, but I have seen a few, and all the ones I have seen suggest that the exact opposite is true, that the cyclist, in general, was blameless, and the motorist was at fault, in a majority of collisions between motor vehicle and bicycles.

The London Cycling Campaign published the following: the Mayor’s claim is strongly at odds with previous data, which shows that when adult (aged over 24) cyclists were involved in serious collisions between 2005-07, the motorist was most likely at fault in around two-thirds of cases, in their rebuttal of the statements, which also contains some fairly good sources for the numbers they quote, i.e. the Transport Research Labratory and Transport for London itself.  There was also this analysis of available data by Full Fact Check, which concluded that there weren’t the numbers to say either way, but that it looked as though it was the other way round.

At the time, everyone blamed Boris, because Boris has form when it comes to making up road traffic casualty statistics.  At the time of the 2008 mayoral election he famously described the bendy buses as ‘cyclist-killing’, and claimed that they were a menace on the roads. The latter claim was disputed, and the former was refuted.  I do worry when a senior elected official appears to be making his mind up based on anecdotal evidence, i.e. what he sees and using his ‘common sense’, as opposed to making up his mind after seeing expert analysis of actual evidence.

Eventually Jenny Jones got the following retraction from the Mayor:

Mayoral statement on cycling safety

Question No: 2450 / 2012
Jenny Jones
It has been several months since you asked Transport for London to ‘look at’ whether there was any evidence for your statement that two thirds of cycling collisions are the result of cyclists not obeying the rules of the road. What is Transport for London’s answer and will you now give a public correction?
Written response from the Mayor
I asked Transport for London to look into a statistic that I was told about during my election campaign. Its own statistics and research suggest this is not the case in London and I am pleased to be able to set the record straight on this.

Boris does seem to have rowed back on this, and given that we’re all still trying to digest the latest weighty bit of policy-making on cycle infrastructure I’ll say no more about Boris, and turn to Andrew Boff.
Andrew Boff is the original source for the 62% figure in the dialogue, not Boris, Boris just agrees with him, as seems clear from the transcript of May 2012 MQT.  When the story was bouncing around, I did feel a little sorry for Boris’ press people and others in his office who had to deal with this farrago, because, by rights, it was down to Andrew Boff to sort it out, as far as I could tell.
Today The Times carried an article about the very same topic, albeit using numbers from Westminster, not the whole of London:

More than two thirds of all crashes between drivers and cyclists in Central London are the fault of the motorist, research indicates.  The City of Westminster Council found that drivers were to blame for 68 per cent of collisions between cyclists and motor vehicles in the borough in the past 12 months.

This jogged my memory of the original exchange in MQT, and my feeling that Andrew Boff was really to blame for the row, so I decided to tweet Andrew Boff and see what he had to say:
Bill Chidley
You said the exact opposite @AndrewBoff MT @allpartycycling Crashes involving bikes in London mostly driver’s fault thetimes.co.uk/tto/public/c… …
 
Andrew Boff 
 ???
Bill Chidley
MQT May 2012 you said “62% cycling KSIs are associated with some infraction by the cyclist” london.gov.uk/moderngov/doc…
Andrew Boff@BillBuffalo
My personal experience of cycling makes that not an unbelievable figure… it is far from “fault” however.
Bill Chidley
so where did “62%” come from? Or just a number you pulled out of thin air?
Andrew Boff
I’ll have to look back on the notes.

I am happy to see that he is back-pedalling on the ‘fault’ thing, but I think he’s being disingenuous: you can’t mention RLJ cyclists in one breath, and in the next breath talk about KSI stats showing that cyclists were committing an ‘infraction’ at the time of the collision without a connection being made.  In my view, he was doing what the police officer was doing the other week: cracking down on RLJing cyclists because lorries run over cyclists, i.e. totally misrepresenting the reality of road traffic casualties in London.
Andrew Boff used to be the Mayor’s Ambassador for Championing Cycling in London.  I am slightly shocked that he could be careless about such numbers.  I get statistics wrong all the time.  Lots of people do.  But most of us aren’t in receipt of public funds to sift evidence and come to decisions based on that evidence.

I was delighted, overjoyed to see what seemed like immediate action after the publication of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group’s report, ‘Get Britain Cycling’.  In the wake of the report’s publication, the Roads Minister appeared to signal national government’s willingness to tackle the HGV problem saying that the government could not let lorries continue to run over cyclists.

The action was a sweep of HGVs by the Met Police’s lorry unit, checking for vehicle defects and illegal driving, as reported by the Standard, which also published an editorial calling for more action to protect cyclist from lorries.

Keen students of the HGV / cyclist issue will remember that Jenny Jones MLA and Boris Johnson, Mayor of London had the following exchange in October 2009:

Jenny Jones: Could you confirm the number of HGVs stopped by police in London for each year since 2000, the proportion that were found to be driving illegally, any breakdown of offences and the proportion that were stopped by specialist traffic police?

Answer from the Mayor: The MPS did not, until 2008, keep a record of the number of HGVs that were stopped. In 2008/09 3,000 vehicles were stopped (all types including lightweight vans). Of these 1329 were ‘trucks’ over 7.5 tonnes [note: vehicles over 7.5 tonnes are defined as HGVs]. Proportion found to be driving illegally: Offences were found in an average 80% of these vehicles.

At the time Boris suggested that the high proportion of offences found was down to diligent police-work, but however you dice the numbers, that is a lot of illegal lorries.  As was pointed out by nearly everyone with access to the numbers, lorries are 5% of traffic, and yet are responsible for over 50% of cycle fatalities in London, and in some years, closer to 100%.  Lorry drivers that have run over cyclists have been driving vehicles subsequently  found to have illegal defects, such as the Hanson HGV driver than ran over Lisa Pontecorvo, who had removed the mirror that might have, had he been looking in it, allowed him to see her.

And, by the way, despite the EU directive requiring that all HGVs / lorries registered since 2000 retro-fit the so-called ‘blind-spot’ mirror, there are still a lot of tipper trucks driving around without the mirrors fitted.  Whether this is because they were registered before 2000 or because they are simply breaching the law, I don’t know, but I saw 6 out of 8 tippers without the other morning.  I know that isn’t a sufficiently rigorous study, but they were all around Old Street and Clerkenwell Road in the morning, i.e. likely to be using one of London’s busiest cycling streets in the morning peak.  If the Mayor brings in a modified lorry ban, these vehicles would no longer be permitted.

I say all this to demonstrate how important it is that the law is enforced on the roads.  Manifest failures to enforce the law on the roads lead to public outrage, such as in the case of Stephen Perrin.  As has been widely reported all over the cycling web, the CPS and police failed to take any action after being presented with Mr Perrin’s video, which clearly shows an unprovoked and violent assault by a driver.

Almost every cyclist I know has either been subject to an identical or worse assault, or has witnessed one.  It is this wide-spread experience of violent behaviour on the roads, and the total failure to use legal remedies on this driver,  that lead to the hounding of the driver and his family.  I have to say that I have little sympathy for the driver, even if resorting to illegal and violent threats is inexcusable.   He should have been subject to exemplary punishment for his behaviour, precisely because it is so common, so that all road users were reminded that being on the road does not mean that the normal rules of common decency and behaviour are not totally abrogated, as many people appear to believe.

As I said elsewhere, the current penalty for running over a cyclist, either killing or inflicting what the police chillingly call ‘life-changing injuries’, is currently very slight.  Even where the police are able to prove negligence by the driver, the driver often receives a trivial administrative penalty and small fine.  The police are often hampered in these cases because the key witness is frequently deceased.  Generally the only person who sees what happens is the cyclist.  The driver wasn’t looking, (not didn’t see didn’t look) and by-standers only turn to look after the noise of the collision draws their attention.  But even so, the sentences seem extremely light.

To me, and to most cyclists, the sentences, often contextualised by the magistrate with the words ‘momentary inattention’ or some similar formulation, are a manifest failure of justice.

To tie red-light jumping by cyclists to lorries running over cyclists compounds that sense of injustice. This is what a policeman did at an operation to catch RLJing cyclists on City Road last week.  I totally accept that some members of the public view RLJing as a major problem requiring the urgent attention of the police.  I also totally accept that if you break the law, you should be prepared for the consequences.  I am not seeking to excuse cyclists that jump red lights, or argue that they should be shown leniency.  But I am saying that issuing a fixed penalty notice to a cyclist for jumping a red light with the words “we’re doing this because a cyclist got run over by a lorry last week” is grossly stupid and displays a near total ignorance of the reality of collisions between cyclists and lorries.

In numerous cases, too many to list (if you’re looking for examples, surf the contents page of Moving Target, and click on the ‘HGV’ section), the collision happened as both vehicles pulled away from a green light, i.e. the cyclist had waited for a red light to turn green, as required by law.  Reports suggest that this is exactly what Dr Giles did, to quote the most recent example.  Sebastian Lukomski definitely did.  They rarely, so rarely that it has happened perhaps once or twice in the last 20 years in London, are the result of the cyclist having run a light.

And don’t think that this ignorant policeman is an isolated example.  Policemen and women have often said something like ‘we have to scrape you off the road’ to me when chastising me for running a light, or riding the wrong way up a one way. (I used to be a bicycle messenger.  I got paid to get there quickly; obeying the law was discouraged by economic imperative).  I have the greatest respect for traffic police, who really do know what they are talking about, but no traffic cop has ever said this to me. It was always the police equivalent of white van man.

This ignorant behaviour extends to the higher reaches of the police force, as evidenced by the incredibly stupid use of Sebastian Lukomski’s crushed bicycle by the City Police in ‘education’ lectures given to RLJing cyclists instead of a fixed penalty.

I support the police.  I wrote to the Mayor when he tried to cut funding for lorry police. I support their initiatives to educate road users.  But when police make statements like this, they undermine respect for the badge, respect for the law and confound our already low expectations that justice will be done on the roads.

It is a measure of how far we have come that there is a cross party Parliamentary inquiry starting today called ‘Get Britain Cycling’. Even though cycling is still very much the choice of everyday transport of a very small minority, this is a significant improvement from when I first started working as a bicycle messenger in the 80s, when only a vanishingly small minority, a barely noticed few, cycled regularly.  It is no exaggeration to say that I knew everyone that cycled in north and east London by sight.

Cycling, and the concerns of cyclists, is taken much more seriously by everyone, whereas 20 years ago, we were barely even noticed.  Another measure of this is the list of cyclists killed in 2012, published on the Times Cycle Safe campaign page.  Up until relatively recently, the death of a cyclist was not covered by the mainstream media at all, ever.  For instance, the death of Edward Newstead, killed by a left-turning lorry on Oxford Street in 1992, received no attention, despite a press release from the LCC, and a large memorial ride organised by London bicycle messengers

When I started the Moving Target blog in 2005, it was still the case that the majority of cyclists killed passed without comment or even much notice in the media.  This is why I used to receive emails & texts about fatal collisions from witnesses or friends, because it was known that I would publish details, and give some context, particularly if the collision involved a lorry (aka HGV).  Now, if a cyclist is killed, it is reported at the very least in the local media, and often in the national media, as in the case of Dan Harris, killed by a bus near the Olympic Park in the summer.

This is not to suggest that people don’t talk a lot of bollocks about cycling.  I’m thinking of the Times, and its assertion that sensible shoes were important for safe cycling, or the constant chirrupping about whether cyclists should be using MP3 players, or the revolting ‘under the line’ comments that always get posted on media web-sites after the death of a cyclist is reported, sometimes by other cyclists.

Cycling is big news, and big politics, at least in London.  However, even though, depending on how it has been measured, and who measured it, cycling has increased by a factor 2, 3, 4 or 5, we are still only talking about an increase from the barely statistically significant (around 0.5% of all journeys in London in the late 80s) to solidly statistically significant, but cycling rates are still in single figures as a total of all journeys.  So even though there are a lot more people cycling than there were 20 years ago, cycling is still not the choice of the overwhelming majority of the population.

How to get Britain cycling? Well, I wouldn’t start from such a low base, given the choice.  One thing that isn’t often mentioned when we are advised that we need to ‘go Dutch’ or ‘Copenhagenise’, is that both these cities had cycling rates well above of where London is now, probably around 10% of all trips at the time when national & local policy was changed to emphasis and encourage cycling.

To be honest, I get a little fed up with the constant harping on about Copenhagen or Amsterdam.  Both of these cities are much, much smaller than London, and I’m not convinced that you can scale up effectively.  The demographics of Copenhagen in the 60s & 70s, when the push towards cycling started to happen are significantly different to London now.  The topography, geography and distances are different.  Integrated transport, e.g. allowing bikes to be carried on trains, is non-existent in peak times, and, in the case of the train compaines, not likely to change anytime soon.

Whilst there many technical solutions that can be adopted from elsewhere, I am not sure that a simple ‘Go Dutch’ approach is enough.  We need to be looking around for examples from urban areas that more closely match London, where cycling rates are significantly above the current national (or London) rate, but still in a large metropolis.  Fortunately, such a place does exist, and it is in a large metropolis, and hey, they even speak English.  Readers, that place is Hackney, where cycling rates are at around 10%.

If the committee is looking for evidence of how to successfully increase cycling to a significant minority from a statistically insignificant number of journeys, then it could do worse than call for Hackney Cyclists and the London Borough of Hackney.