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photo by Selim KoryckiI see from some of the tweets from the Guardian Live cycling event that Andrew Gilligan thinks that campaigning for lorries to be banned from London, is an ‘unnecessary distraction’.  This is presumably on the grounds that we, the cycling community, have such limited resources that we can only effectively focus on one thing at a time, and at this time, that focus should be on improving the cycle network.  The lack of progress on the Quietways, when compared with the Cycle Superhighways, could probably be cited as evidence of this.

Obviously, given my campaigning background, I completely & viscerally disagree with this.

It is perfectly possible to successfully put energy into both making lorries safer, and building a comprehensive network of cycle lanes, as has been shown by the London Cycling Campaign in the 2012 London elections.  And, in my view, it is helpful, tactically, to keep pushing for a lorry ban, in exactly the same way as Andrew Gilligan initially proposed taking two lanes from motor traffic on the Embankment – he told us on Monday at the LCC Policy Forum seminar that he always intended to give one lane back, in order to appear to have listened to objections and compromised.  Push for a total ban, and then relent, and allow lorries with a direct vision cab to use London’s roads.

And for all those of you that say than banning big lorries from London is wildly impractical, Paris operates a day-time lorry ban (ok, the actual nature of the ban is a little opaque, but read this primer by Kieron Yates if you want to know more).  And Mary Beard confirmed that Julius Caesar instituted a similar ban on heavy goods vehicles in Rome, which was never repealed (ok, I’m pretty sure that Caesar didn’t have the safety of Roman citizens uppermost when he did it, but still, it’s a fun fact, isn’t it?)  I’m also disappointed to hear cycle-campaigners, who, for years & years, have listened increasingly impatiently to people saying that it was impossible to build a segregated cycle-lane network in London – the streets were too narrow, it would cause too much congestion, it would cost too much money, no-one would use it etc, etc, say that a London lorry ban is unrealistic, impossible, impractical etc, etc.

In my experience, it’s only when, to paraphrase Che Guevara, you start being unreasonable and demand the impossible, that people start to take you seriously.  And there is no better proof of this than in the lorry campaign.  Apologies if you have heard or read all this before, but it was only when I wrote to Ken Livingston and all the other candidates for Mayor of London in 2004 demanding a day-time lorry ban that serious action began on the problem of lorries killing cyclists in London.  Don’t take my word for it, ask Alastair Hanton, a long-standing LCC campaigner.  He said this to me on more than one occasion.

After all, a great deal of pressure was successfully applied, rightly, to the Mayor of London by cycling advocates using media coverage of cyclist lorry deaths, media coverage which would not have existed if it wasn’t for the continuing campaigning efforts of the LCC, Roadpeace and others.  As has been proven in the Netherlands, Denmark & Germany, well engineered cycle lanes will help to significantly reduce injury and fatalities from collisions with lorries, by making junctions safer (almost all serious collisions occur at junctions), but will NOT eliminate them.  In my view, to pretend otherwise is wrong.

Sorry, Mr Gilligan, under Boris’ leadership you have achieved great things, but on this you are wrong.

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I started blogging here about a year ago, and one of the first posts was about the Paris 0 deaths stat.  This stat has turned out to be what Tim Harford and the More or Less production team call a ‘zombie statistic’, a number whose significance is either false, or grossly misinterpreted, but keeps coming rising from the dead, metaphorical hands outstretched to grasp reality and pull it back down into the miasma of half-truth and phoney assertions.  My friend, colleague and fellow Moving Target contributer, Jon Day used it in a blog on the LRB site in July just past.

Anyway, in a guest post, I asked Kieron Yates, possibly the original source of the offending statistic, and former Paris resident, to clarify.

He writes:

About eighteen months ago I was living in Paris and tweeted that there had been no cycle deaths in the city during the year 2011. It was a tweet that was picked up and retweeted by various London cycling campaigners and used to highlight how much it is possible to reduce urban cycling casualties. A 140 character tweet, however, does not provide much space for context. Since I was happy at the time to see the figure being used to take to task the willingness of politicians to make serious changes to transport infrastructure, I let the matter lie.

I later did a piece with Jack Thurston on The Bike Show about cycling in Paris and this statistic came up again. I was able to clarify that, although the statistic is correct, it is not a simple case of comparing like with like. Most importantly, the figure of zero deaths in 2011 relates solely to the Ville de Paris, which is the inner heart of Paris. It is the area enclosed by the city’s périphérique ring road: an area slightly smaller than that covered by London Transport’s zones one and two. Recent statistics for the Ville de Paris show that the highest number of cycling fatalities was in 2009, when six cyclists died, a figure which possibly points to cycling in Paris being no safer than in central London. Typically, however the numbers are lower and average out at four cycling deaths a year. If one wants to draw wider comparisons between Paris and London with regard to cycle safety it is worth looking at accident statistics for the greater Paris area. The Ile de France is a largely urban agglomeration with a population larger than Greater London and occupying a larger area (12,012k m² compared to 1572 km²), here the number of cycling fatalities for 2011 and 2012 were 10 and 17 respectively.

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Some campaigners used the zero deaths statistic to highlight the importance of investment in infrastructure. It is true that the Ville de Paris has invested and continues to invest in cycling infrastructure but I personally do not believe that it possesses much that is greatly superior to what is available in London. There are segregated lanes in some places for the use of cycles, buses and taxis but they are not widespread and it is more usual to see streets with no segregation or a simple painted cycle lane. To me it seemed as though the best infrastructure was most visible in the places tourists tended to visit: around the Marais and the first arrondissement, Montmartre and eighteenth arrondissement. Elsewhere cycling infrastructure is often lot worse: I regularly left the city via the roundabout at the end of Avenue Foch in the sixteenth where, as with many other big intersections in Paris, traffic arrived unpredictably from every angle showing little consideration to the presence of cyclists.

When I was pushed to think of a reason for the French statistics the major difference that came to my mind was the relative invisibility of large goods vehicles on the streets of Paris during daylight hours.

HGV’s haven’t been banned from the Ville de Paris, there are however rules on when HGV’s can enter Paris. If a lorry has a surface area greater than 43m² it can’t enter Paris at all. If a vehicle is between 43m² and 29m² it can enter the city between 10pm and 7am. If it is less than 29m² entry is restricted to between 10pm and 5pm, in other words only excluded between 5pm and 10pm. Vehicles below 29m² using clean fuels have no restrictions as do car transporters which are generally very busy restocking car hire businesses.

As an example of how this may work in London, I used to work at Waitrose in Marylebone High Street and their deliveries would, due to the size of the loading bay, have been on lorries less 29m². So, under the Paris regime, this branch of Waitrose would have been able to receive deliveries between 10 pm and 5 pm. Investment in cleaner LPG lorries would mean that this particular supermarket would have been able to re-stock at anytime of day or night. Current London road freight regulations mean that these vehicles can only deliver between 7am and 9pm, the period when London roads are most congested.

My experience was that due to the unpredictability of traffic entering London, lorries would frequently arrive at the branch before 7am and wait outside the store with engine running to maintain refrigeration. This would disturb residents who lived in the flats above. The alternatives were to get the lorry onto the loading bay, which could be equally noisy, or make it wait on Marylebone Road. In Paris hauliers and larger storeowners have addressed the problem of noise pollution by introducing quieter refrigeration for delivery vehicles and by making night-time deliveries quieter in general. The investment is worthwhile as it is to their advantage to make deliveries at the least congested time of day. The Ville de Paris itself has entered into the spirit of quieter deliveries and collections by replacing its fleet of dustbin wagons with newer models running on liquid petroleum gas; these lorries also have a new lower cab design, easing access for operatives and improving all round visibility.

One factor that makes this change in delivery handling possible is the huge difference in retail, particularly food retail, in Paris and London. Parisian supermarkets are generally smaller than their British counterparts: equivalent in size to the convenience stores of the big UK supermarkets. Where I lived in the west of Paris I had at least five supermarkets and four street markets within a kilometre of home. I’m now living in Lewisham and have two large supermarkets and one street market within a kilometre. Generally in London it is the consumer who pays in time for the final part of the journey from supermarket to the kitchen.

Further cultural difference between the two cities is seen in the construction industry. Within the Ville de Paris building regulations are very strict. Most buildings get re-fitted and re-purposed rather than bulldozed and redeveloped. During my time in Paris at the end of the street where we lived there was a large apartment block. This block was converted into office space over a period of 18 months. I only saw large delivery vehicles in the early mornings.

Small flat bed trucks, the kind local councils in the UK use for collecting old fridges and mattresses, removed most waste material. If I did see skip lorries around the site, the driver was always accompanied by a banksman whilst maneuvering on the public streets and the lorries themselves bore the logo and certification of Bureau Veritas an independent auditor of standards and compliance.

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Paris has been working on a reduction in use of large goods vehicles since 2006 with the aim of cutting pollution. Aside from the changes mentioned above other innovations include the use of electric tri-porteurs to transport small deliveries. Indeed one company has gone as far as arranging collections by barge from a depot on the outskirts of Paris, sorting deliveries on the barge as it makes its way to the centre of the city and then using tri-porteurs to deliver over the final kilometre. Elsewhere specially adapted tram carriages have been used for making deliveries overnight along the length of the newly developed tram system in eastern Paris.

It is hard to make direct comparisons between London and Paris when it comes to cycling fatalities. A common sense part of me wants to believe that by ridding its streets, at peak commuting hours, of what have been identified as the most hazardous vehicles to cyclists, Paris has to a degree reduced its level of cyclist fatalities. The true picture is less clear however and cycle fatalities as a consequence of poor HGV maneuvering still occur.  What is clear to me is that with vision and commitment it is possible to successfully alter the way our cities are serviced. The benefits of this change in Paris are a sustainable future, which makes full use of a city’s wider infrastructure allowing it to grow whilst retaining its unique character. If these changes introduced to cut pollution have resulted in fewer cycling fatalities then that has to be welcomed. For me what was most noticeable in the City of Light was how much more of the roads and space around them was visible in the relative absence of large goods vehicles.

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.