bicycle lanes & paths

Dr. Robert Davis and the remains of a City Hall buffetI went to the ‘Cyclists and the Law’ panel discussion at City Hall the other night.  It was a little disconcerting to find myself back in the cycle-campaigning fold, however slight my current association to any cycle-campaign group is.  I wasn’t surprised to see that Dr. Robert Davis is still well capable of clearing any buffet put before him, but I was pleasantly surprised to see some new faces in the otherwise familiar crowd of old friends.  The formal outcome of the evening I’ll leave for another post. (Updated: a fairly complete account of the proceedings was forwarded by Jenny Jones’ office.)  I wanted to put down some opinions and impressions.

Andrew Gilligan is very impressive.  I was initially very sceptical of his new calling, viewing his appointment as ‘cycling tsar’ (his ironic title) as a crony sinecure, and doubting his ability to make real changes, but I was very wrong.  He appears to have mastered the brief (get more people cycling), and is committed to evidence-based policy, as opposed to anecdotal subjective stuff, such as we have seen from Boris before.  As was said in our chat on the Bike Show, I estimate that this is because Boris was genuinely dismayed by how badly he was received in the cycling hustings before the last election, and realises that he has to do something serious and substantial if he is not, in the words of Sonia Purnell, to be seen to have failed London’s cyclists.  I was especially struck by the fact that Jenny Jones of the Green Party, who was chairing the discussion, was pretty fulsome in her praise of him, and Jenny is usually very selective in her use of praise.

People use statistics in a very slap-dash way, even people from a well-educated and well-briefed audience such as this.  One chap got up and said that no cyclists get killed in Paris, which is a big load of pony, complete and utter rubbish.  He used the 2011 ‘Paris 0 London 16’ canard, which I discussed in one of my first posts.  He also seemed totally unaware that 5 cyclists were reported killed in Ville de Paris in 2012 (remember that Ville de Paris is much, much smaller jurisdiction than Greater London, roughly equivalent to Zone 1).  From this I deduce that he got the numbers from the media reports last year about the garbled Paris numbers, which shows the danger of taking statistics from secondary sources, and not looking a bit harder to find out what the real story is.

I find it totally reprehensible that people use whatever dodgy number comes to hand to make a case, no matter how unreliable the number may turn out to be.

Detective Chief Superindent Wilson also used what I thought was a questionable metric to support his assertion that UK traffic police have nothing to learn from their continental counterparts about reducing road death and injury.  The metric was road deaths per head of population.  He had the UK (I think it was UK, but may have been England & Wales) at 31 per million, Germany at 49 & France at 61.   I’d like to see this number correlated against average vehicle speed, modal share, total distance travelled at the very least for a like-by-like comparison.  The number by itself is far too crude a measure to tell us anything very much.

I read somewhere (apologies for lack of source!) that France has 5 times the length of road as the UK, which seems plausible, as France is much, much bigger topographically.  With roughly the same number of vehicles, this is likely to mean much higher average speeds, which in turn is likely to lead to increased injury and death.  This is not the result of the UK’s authorities doing anything particularly clever, just the natural outcome of having congested roads on which it is not often possible to go very fast.

20 miles per hour speed limits are really important.  David Arditti thinks they are virtually irrelevant, as he has again said, to the goal of achieving mass-cycling (no need to call me ‘Chidley’, David, you can just call me ‘Bill’), but Wednesday night showed me that if you are interested in getting more people cycling, you need to support 20 mph limits.  All the walking organisations, and especially those representing special interest groups like Guide Dogs, are passionate supporters of 20 mph limits.

Darren Johnson, chair of the London Assembly, who said during the evening that there was a growing cross-party consensus in the Assembly forming behind the ‘cycling agenda’ isn’t a cyclist.  He doesn’t  use a car at all, as far as I know, but, like most Londoners, uses public transport to get around.  He is very, very concerned that the pro-cyclist agenda does not impede or impinge in any way on pedestrians and public transport users.

Clerkenwell Road looking west towards St John StreetAt some point, bicycle lanes will start to interfere with buses, if a segregated and safe bicycle path is built alongside every main road, as David Arditti is pressing for.  When the narrow width of some of London’s main roads is raised as a potential obstacle, the ‘Go Dutch’ answer is to lose a motor-carriageway, making the road 2-way for cyclists, but one way for motor traffic, and diverting the other carriageway to some other street.  As I said before, this is likely to be necessary on parts of Clerkenwell Road.  This will inevitably mean diverting buses around a longer route.  Given that the Bus must always get through, to borrow a phrase from the 1920s, at least as far as TfL seems to be concerned, this is likely to be a sticking point, and not a minor one either.  To push major alterations to the London transport network such as this through will require lots of political will and support.  Given that cycling is in a single figure minority, it will require the help of other groups apart from cyclists, such as those representing pedestrian interests.  It is therefore very, very unwise to go around saying that 20 mph limits are irrelevant or unimportant to cyclist’s interests.

The Cycle Task Force nick a lot of cyclists.  I was shocked by the numbers, really shocked.  The breakdown was 50% motor-vehicles, 26% HGV & PSVs and 24% cyclists, which seems an awful lot of cyclists, given how little injury is caused by bicycles.

I’m not suggesting that London cyclists are paragons of law-abiding road-users.  In fact, I have argued elsewhere that because the laws of the road manifestly do NOT protect law-abiding cyclists, it makes no sense to obey the law, because the laws aren’t there to keep cyclists safe, they are there to make motorists life easier.  On reflection, however, there may be something in these numbers that is really interesting.  The share may actually be yet another indicator of how many of the vehicles in central London are bicycles.  That is probably a number for someone with a very big brain, like Geography Jim, over at Drawing Rings blog to crunch.

It’s not a great idea to suggest to a bunch of hardened cycle-campaigners that they should be wearing helmets.  Kevin O’Sullivan of Levene’s solicitors suggested that it might be, and he was lucky to escape with his life.  There were howls, full-throated wails, of protest at this.  Top marks for courage, zero marks for wisdom.

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.

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.

As Easy As Riding A Bike is at it again – being really binary. He presents two equally possible and plausible courses of action as an either / or, a yes / no.  We are offered a choice of roads engineered to be safer for all road users, or a ban on the most dangerous category of vehicle from the roads at times when they are most likely to come into conflict with soft road-users (lorries kill pedestrians too).  We can’t have both, we must pick one or the other.

This is the conclusion that you might draw from reading his post Conflict between lorries and bicycles.

He writes in the aftermath of 3 serious crashes that have involved bicycles and large vehicles in the last month in London.  One (involving Dr. Katherine Giles) has been national front page news, one seems to have been largely forgotten (probably because the rider was neither female nor riding a Boris bike, nor had he been run over by a lorry, although the difference in effect of being crushed under the wheels of a coach, as opposed to a lorry seems very slight), and one made local headlines.  It doesn’t always lead if it bleeds.

This would be nice, wouldn't it?Yes, it would. Oh sorry, I was trying really hard not fall into the trap of asking a question and then answering it.He makes the case that unless we reengineer the roads so that these conflicts between lorries and cyclists are less likely to occur, then ‘human error’ and ‘mistakes’, as he calls them, will continue to lead to the deaths of cyclists. The kind of re-engineering that he is talking about is fairly comprehensive, viewed from the perspective of a London cyclist.  There is no junction in London, no cycle facility in this city, that I know of, that matches what AEARAB posits.  And it does look much safer, absolutely no question about it.

Let’s consider the the road on which one of these crashes happened, Old Street / Clerkenwell Road / Theobald’s Road. This is one of the main east – west axes for cycle commuters coming in from Hackney and other parts of east London. There have been at least 6 fatalities resulting from collisions between cyclists and lorries on this route in the last 10 years or so, and I know of at least another 2 in the 10 years before.  It’s getting on for a real black spot (or line, as it is nearly 2 miles long).

Clerkenwell Road, looking west from junction of Goswell Road.To make the whole of the Old Street – Clerkenwell – Theobald’s safe in the way that is described would require re-engineering at least 10 junctions and probably making Clerkenwell Road between Goswell Road and St John Street one way for motor traffic.   I’m not totally sure, but to my untrained eye this stretch would not accomodate separated bike paths, 2 footways (road engineer speak for pavements) and 2 carriageways of motor traffic. The bridge at Farringdon Road junction is also likely to be  similarly too narrow.

Where the road is not wide enough to accomodate 2 footways, 2 separated bike paths and 2 carriageways for motor traffic, one of the 2 motor carriageways has to go, and the road will then be one way for motor traffic, including buses.  To make this whole road safe for cyclists to use, this is what will need to happen.  As we know, there is no point making a road safe for cyclists right up until the point where they could really use some separation and then removing it, i.e. the big junction where lots of vehicles are turning.  Female cyclists have been killed at both ends of the narrow section of Clerkenwell Road, and at least one cyclist has been killed on or very near to the Farringdon Road junction, all by lorries, at least 2 by tippers.

Something else to think about in respect of this road is that it goes through 3 different boroughs, Hackney, Islington and Camden, which is an additional complication for whoever is planning the overhaul of this major cycling route.  I say all this not to discourage, but merely to highlight the size of the task.

AEARAB presents an alternative method of keeping lorries and cyclists away from each other, and then dismisses in the same sentence:

One way of achieving this would be a lorry ban at peak hours, which has been mooted, but this doesn’t seem to me to be particularly likely, or workable.

Personally, as a long-time advocate of a lorry ban, I wouldn’t say I have been mooting it, I would say that I have been demanding it, and I like to think that I have become increasingly stridently as the death toll has mounted.

There are a couple of different configurations of lorry ban – one is a total ban in commuting time,  I would suggest 0700 – 1000 definitely, and maybe 1500 – 1900, one is a modified ban on lorries that don’t have the right kit to be driven safely (mirrors, proximity alarms, ‘cycle-aware’ drivers).

A morning peak hour ban would work well because the overwhelming majority, let’s say at least 90%, of London lorry deaths happen in the morning rush hour from 0700 – 1000. 0 lorries on the road equals 0 cyclists killed by lorries. Think of it as another way of achieving separation in time and space between bicycles and lorries, only without all the raised kerbs and fancy coloured lights.

There’s some question about political opposition to such a ban, but if another young, bright, intelligent woman goes under the wheels of a lorry whilst the ban is being considered, given the backing of the Times and the Standard (for which, thanks!), any such opposition will melt away, in my opinion.  And there is no reason to think that in the next 12 months, whilst a ban is being considered, a young, bright, successful woman will not go under the wheels of a tipper lorry.  In fact, it’s a virtual certainty.

I’m sure it wouldn’t take long, with the political will, to enact the legislation to enable a rush hour ban.  It could happen in a matter of weeks: no more tipper lorries in London in the morning rush hour.  Imagine that.

I’m not going to get all black or white, yes or no on you and present this as an either or, or dismiss the likelihood of Old Street / Clerkenwell Road getting the reworking it badly needs, because I want to see it happen and believe that it can, and I also believe that we can have both a commitment to building better streets for people and a commitment to keep lorries off the streets when most people are using them, but I am going to say that I am disappointed by this latest manifestation of bicycling binary.