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When I mentioned that I had been to the 2nd Hackney Cycling Conference, people asked me if I had enjoyed it.  Enjoy isn’t the word.  There was too much information packed into the event for me to enjoy.

A couple of the speakers were way above my head.  Dr. Adrian Davis on Bristol’s ‘Public Health & Transport collaboration’ was too dense for me (Bruce Mcvean of Liveable London was kind enough to point me at Lucy Saunders’ presentation on the website, which is a lot more digestible).  I got the principle, outlined in Professor Harry Rutter‘s illuminating presentation, that the public health benefits of cycling far, far outweigh the risks, I just didn’t really grasp what Dr. Davis was saying.  I guess because I am neither a transport planner nor a public health professional it doesn’t really matter.

I also struggled with Keith Firth‘s presentation of the nuts and bolts of redesigning junctions for increased cycling.  He took us through the process of modelling movements within the junction. During his presentation Mark Treasure tweeted that he was amazed ‘that 5 bicycles are “equivalent” to 1 car in assessing capacity, regardless of number of people in that car’ for the purposes of modelling traffic flows, which shows that I wasn’t the only one who got confused.

A lot of people responded negatively to that tweet, but Keith was merely saying that a bike occupies a fifth of the space of a car, for modelling purposes, in the same way that a bus occupies 4 times the space of a car, no matter how many passengers are carried on the bus.  The much more interesting point that I took from Keith’s presentation was that pedestrian movements are not modelled at all.

I spoke to Keith afterwards, and he mentioned that microsimulations of traffic at junctions are incredibly computationally complex, and require a huge amount of calculating power, which is probably why they don’t model pedestrian movements as well.  As an aside, Keith said that Advanced Stop Lines should be 4 or 5 metres long.  I’m pretty sure I got this down right, as I had only had one or two beers by this time, and I wrote the number down.

If this is true, then there are a lot, a huge number, of sub-standard ASLs in London, which need to be widened or lengthened.  Islington Council or TfL, whoever is the responsible authority, can start with the ASLs on the junction of Goswell Road / Clerkenwell Road / Old Street.  I see that they are trialling the ‘trixi’ mirrors at this junction, finally, but it might be more useful to repaint the lines so that cyclists can get that little bit further forward, away from the lorries.  This would possibly take them out of the blind-spot.

Another thing I took from the conference, and this won’t be welcomed by some, is that whatever infrastructure is going to be put in to support cycling in London, it will not be allowed to inconvenience bus passengers or pedestrians.  This almost certainly means no diversion of bus routes to permit the installation of segregated tracks.  Andrew Gilligan made this clear, as did Peter Wright, who is the Senior Delivery Planning Manager at TfL.  As I have said before, the bus is king of the London roads.

This explains why Councillor Vincent Stops is so anti-tracks.  He made a remark to me which reveals how seriously he takes the prioritisation of the bus.  He talked to me of the bus network having lost 6% of capacity since Boris Johnson became Mayor, in terms that made it clear what a bad thing he thought it was, and that the bus network needs to be protected from increased depredation.  I’m not suggesting that Councillor Stops has a major say in Boris’ transport policies, far from it, but I am saying that whatever changes are proposed to the infrastructure, those representing the interests of pedestrians and bus passengers will need to be reassured that they will not be delayed, diverted or otherwise pushed to the margins.

There is a problem with the way that some people on bikes are using the canal.

I participated in a workshop on pedestrian / bicycle conflicts on Regent’s Canal, led by Dick Vincent (a.k.a. Towpath Ranger on Twitter) and Rosie Tharp of the Canal & River Trust.  They presented a shocking number about the speed that people cycle on the towpath.  Although the data was collected in Kensington & Chelsea, there is no reason to believe that speeds in Camden, Islington & Hackney are  substantially lower.  The 85th percentile speed is 13.8 mph. The equivalent number for London Fields bike path is 13.4 mph.  In other words, people are riding along the canal towpath, which is narrower by roughly half for large stretches, has pinch-points under the bridges, isn’t segregated, and has a body of water on one side, faster than they do in London Fields which is straight, smooth and segregated.  This is obvious completely wrong, and needs to stop.  I personally do not understand why anyone would want to cycle that fast in a space which so inappropriate for any kind of speed.

Dick Vincent said that it’s an inditement indictment of the state of the roads that people prefer to use the canal, but I think the resurfacing work, which has made the tow-path safer, has probably encouraged higher speeds as well.  The CRT have no intention of banning bikes, but clearly people are riding too fast along the towpath.  Developing a parallel network which is as convenient and safe as the towpath is clearly one answer, but the big problem is intersections with main roads.  If you use the canal, you don’t have to stop at the main roads, whereas I imagine that any parallel route would not be given priority at Kingsland Road or Queensbridge Road, to give examples in Hackney.

In the short term, behaviour has to change, though, as the speeds recorded are far too fast.  If you want to ride at more than 10 mph, you should really be using the road, not a narrow shared space that has a body of water running along side it.

Probably the presentation that I enjoyed the most was entitled ‘Principles of Permeability’, presented by Tyler Linton.  It was designed to show what Hackney has done, and should have been retitled ‘Bollard Porn’.  It was just one shiny bollard after another, which was somehow strangely calming and relaxing.  Maybe that was just me, though.

At the top of the show was Jules Pipe, Mayor of Hackney.  Hackney Council deserves praise for its approach, which, even if it is not pro-cycling as some would like, is unquestionably pro-people, particularly those people that do not have access to a private motor vehicle.  Jules Pipe’s speech, in my opinion, was not Hackney Council’s finest hour for one reason only.  The target, published elsewhere as well, given for cycling modal share in 2030/31 is 15%, or just over double the 2013/14 target, which is 7%.  Call me impatient, call me unreasonable but I think that is PUNY.  This target is easily achievable, but surely Hackney should be a lot more ambitious, and going for 25% at least?

And I’m going to end there.  There was a lot of great stuff at the conference, and these events are inspiring, but there still remains a lot to be done, if a place like Hackney believes that it needs 16 years to double cycling rates in the borough.

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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.

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.

This was Jorge Luis Borges analogy of the Falklands War.  It sprang to mind when I read a blog post on As Easy As Riding A Bike, entitled ‘No surrender’ – the damaging, enduring legacy of the 1930s in British cycle campaigning.  The writer, who normally offers well-informed, if somewhat over-lengthy, critique of current UK cycling policy, takes aim at the so-called ‘vehicular cyclists’, and seeks to apportion some considerable part of blame for the current pitiful state of cycling provision in this country on the CTC.  The thrust is more or less that the CTC has incompetent policy formulation written into its DNA, and draws on CTC policy documents from the 1930s to make a case.  The post flirts with the reductio ad Hitlerum logical fallacy popular with many amateur debaters,  saying: the Cyclists’ Touring Club was strongly in favour of motorway building; they sent a member on a delegation to Hitler’s Germany to look at autobahns.


It is a several thousand word treatise on what is wrong with the CTC, and how the CTC’s tactics, historically and currently, are undermining the efforts to get more people cycling.  

The proposition that because the CTC once espoused ‘bad’ policies, that the CTC is irrecoverably ‘broken’ as an organisation long after the main characters responsible for the policy (or policies) are dead is not really sustainable.  For instance, some years ago the London Cycling Campaign endorsed what many people, including myself, thought was a poorly conceived and executed campaign by TfL called ‘Share the Road’.  I was so disillusioned by the campaign that I resigned my membership and wrote a couple of vituperative blogs (which, I am sure, made no impact on the LCC!) about the campaign.  Afterwards I got involved in a disagreement with an LCC employee over their lack of public campaigning or even mention of HGV deaths that ended with the LCC employee using foul and abusive language in an email to me.

However, I have since rejoined the LCC because their campaigning on the HGV issue, piloted by Charlie Lloyd, is excellent and high-profile, and their other campaigns seem to be a lot less apologetic than they were 6 or 7 years ago, when they appeared to be very much the creature of TfL. Which shows that an organisation can change course quite dramatically.

A response by As Easy As Riding A Bike in the comments section of the post, replying to a suggestion that there might be other ways as well as segregation to get people cycling, citing Hackney, really got my goat.  The author dismissed Hackney as not all that significant because the 7% modal share (7% of all journeys by bike) is rather less than the author would expect, given Hackney’s demographics, i.e. lots of poor people and hipsters live in Hackney.  Oh yeah?  It’s still more than 3 times the average for London, so why so quick to dismiss?

At this point, I have to confess to being a ‘vehicular cyclist’.  A ‘vehicular cyclist’, according to the cant, is a cyclist who uses the existing road networks, and is against ‘segregation’, i.e. bike paths that are separated from the main road-way.  I sort of fit into this category, as I was a bicycle messenger for a number of years, and will ride in almost any prevailing road conditions.  I am against rubbish bike lanes , and view the majority of London’s cycling ‘facilities’ with disfavour.  I wrote an article for the Guardian’s bike blog about the bike lane on Clerkenwell Road saying that I thought it had made cycling on Clerkenwell Road more, not less, dangerous, and this on a road which has seen several cyclists killed in the last 20 years.

1992 flier promoting Moving TargetBut let me be clear – I am not against ‘segregation’.  I don’t enjoy sharing the road with motor vehicles.  I would much rather there were a lot less motor vehicles in London, as they are noisy, smelly, dangerous and are always getting in my way, which is why I distributed this poster (younger readers can think of it as a paper meme), calling for ‘universal discarmament’ in 1992.

My residence overlooks the canal in Hackney.  As well as being able to enjoy the antics of the water fowl, I can also observe how popular the tow-path is with cyclists.  Even on a snowy morning, such as many this winter, there are still people riding along it.  The reasons for the tow-path’s popularity are not hard to work out.  The tow-path doesn’t have cars on it, is direct and doesn’t have inconvenient give-ways or traffic lights.

Would I like to see cycling facilities that are like the tow-path, that is, direct & safe?  Yes, of course I would.  Do I want to see more cycling facilities like the one on the right, i.e. non-direct, not safe and not convenient?  No, especially not if they cost money, and allow whichever municipal body to trumpet their commitment to ‘making London a world-class cycling city’.  Do I think we are worse off with cycling facilities like these?  Yes, I do.  Is it fair to blame cycling facilities like this on the CTC’s Hiearchy of Provision, as AEARAB does? I think it’s a little perverse, and probably falls under Jack Thurston’s favourite aphorism ‘everyone hates cyclists – even other cyclists hate cyclists’.

Attacking cycle campaigning organisations is something that Freewheeler, the writer of Crap Cycling & Walking in Waltham Forest blog, also goes in for.  Freewheeler goes even further and on various different occasions accuses people like Roger Geffen of fiddling around the margins, and not being confrontational enough in challenging the car culture, and even betraying the cause.

I am not suggesting arson as the route to mass cycling but I do think that cyclists need to consider challenging the status quo in other ways than tea and biscuits at the Town Hall…  Non-violent direct action stunts are long overdue in British cycle campaigning.

That cycle campaigners have been too polite hitherto to be taken seriously is a quite laughable assertion when applied to Roger Geffen.  When I first met Roger, he was still at the London Cycling Campaign.  I had some dealings with him in the aftermath of the death of London cycle courier Edward Newstead.  Edward was killed in March 1992 by a left-turning lorry on the junction of Oxford Street and Holles Street.  He was the 5th bicycle messenger known to have died whilst working in London, but the first whose passing was marked in a meaningful way.

A flier (that’s a hand-bill for my north American readers) was passed amongst the courier community, announcing that a memorial ride would start from Marble Arch and go to the spot where Edward had been killed, i.e. we would all ride down Oxford Street.  The LCC heard of the ride and got in touch.  They wanted to help.

I met with Mark Paul Gasson, then the chair, and Roger Geffen, then the campaigns leader, and discussed what we should do.  I had to push back a little because I felt that a memorial ride wasn’t the correct back-drop for an overtly political campaign stunt, which is what Roger originally conceived of doing – banners, slogans etc.

Memorial ride for Edward Newstead, Oxford Street, 1992The memorial itself was not intended to be confrontational; we did, however, block Oxford Street completely for several minutes when we stopped and fixed a bouquet and sign near the spot where Edward was killed.  This prompted a bus driver, stationary and frustrated, to utter the memorable line: “you don’t know the grief you’re causing”.  As I wrote in this post, the action had little impact beyond those who were there, or read about it in Moving Target and the Daily Cyclist, but it felt important, significant, that we hadn’t just let Edward’s death pass unmarked.  Edward’s family afterwards expressed their thanks for our efforts.

At the time I saw it as an overtly political action, and said so.  The action didn’t need banners or slogans.  It was pretty clear to all on-lookers what was going on – cyclists staging a bike-in, because we were pissed off with the status quo.

Later on in the decade I came across Roger again at the M11 protests.  He had moved on from the LCC to real, proper Non Violent Direct Action.  The NVDAs in and around Wanstead, Leyton and Leytonstone were serious.  People got hurt.  At the time, I wasn’t totally au fait with the political philosophy behind NVDA, but it was very obvious that even very small scale NVDAs, routine stuff such as trying to stop lorries delivering supplies or removing spoil, almost always resulted in violent outcomes.

I saw one man, who had crawled underneath a big lorry to try and stop it, get crushed by a wheel.  Another had his arm held against a very hot exhaust manifold by security people to get him to release his grip on the underside of the lorry. Nearly everyone, including me, despite my fairly timid efforts, ended up covered in mud and the thick, cloying grease that covers all heavy machinery, and there was a lot of angry shouting, and considerable physical jeopardy for the protestors.  And this was at a relatively insignificant action, as nothing compared to what happened later at Claremont Road.

It was scary stuff, and, when I saw him, Roger was right at the heart of the action, utterly committed and fearless.  At the time, I remember thinking that Roger was a total head-banger, albeit in a hi-viz  jacket, wearing glasses and a mucky-looking pair of cords.  So I think I can be excused if I find the suggestion, implicit in the phrase tea and biscuits at the Town Hall, that Roger Geffen is a lap-dog who loves nothing better than cuddling up to the petrol-heads in charge of Britain’s roads totally wrong-headed and somewhat risible.  It’s even more laughable when considering that the M11 campaign took place entirely within Freewheeler’s patch, Waltham Forest.

I’m not accusing As Easy As Riding A Bike of being as polemical as Freewheeler, but I wonder why, at a time when the Mayor of London won’t even devote as much as 2% of his transport budget to cycling (surely not too much to expect, given a cycling modal share of 2% in London), and has recently appointed a journalist crony who happens to cycle, Andrew Gilligan, to the very well-paid post of Cycling Commissioner, bloggers are using up thousands of words on denigrating Roger Geffen and the CTC?   I’m not the most prolific blogger in the world, and a thousand words probably takes me a lot longer than Freewheeler and AEARAB, but this is surely hours spent on trashing CTC.

Which brings me back to the title.  I’m not all that familiar with the cycling politics or the politics of cycling in other countries – I guess it is human nature to feud – but for as long as there have been cycling organisations,  there have been feuds, whether we’re talking about the Clarion Clubs and the CTC, the NCU and the BLRC, hell, even the British Cycling Federation (precursor of British Cycling) was in a dreadful state 25 years ago, suffering regular allegations of corruption and incompetence.

But given the still pitiful state of cycling provision in this country, these arguments do make me think of two bald men fighting over a comb.

A report was published yesterday by the Transport Research Laboratory, the broad thrust of which is that the construction industry, despite the fact that their vehicles have been identified time and again as the number one threat to cyclists, have failed (with a few notable exceptions) to take effective action to reduce that threat.

INot photo-shopped, a real picture (Selim Korycki)t is now 19 years since the British Medical Journal published a report entitled Deaths of cyclists in London 1985-92: the hazards of road traffic’, which specifically addressed the problem of the disproportionate number of collisions between lorries (aka Heavy Goods Vehicles) and cyclists that resulted in a fatality.  By the way, isn’t it absurd that whenever these collisions are reported in the mainstream media, the driver is always described as ‘unhurt’ – of course the bloody driver was unhurt!  In the conclusion to report, there is the following:

a ban on heavy goods vehicles in urban areas should be considered.

Reading the numbers again, and some of the conclusions, some things jump out.  The absolute numbers of cyclists killed by collisions with lorries hasn’t really changed that much since 1985 -1992 (the period which the report was based on),  75 deaths in 8 years, or around 9 or so a year then, 8 or so a year now.  The report also notes that the higher proportion of women cyclists who die in accidents involving heavy goods vehicles in inner London cannot be explained satisfactorily. Same thing now.  It is a fact that women are well over-represented in the KSI numbers where the other vehicle was a lorry.

 

I am sick of writing and reading about London cyclists who have been killed by a collision with a lorry. I looked on the contents page of Moving Target, and started counting the number of articles that I wrote about the issue between 2005 & 2011, and stopped counting when I reached 40.  As I said in a previous post, I am delighted that the mainstream media has now picked up the story, and are demanding action.  However, I think they should be going further, and demanding, like the author of the BMJ article, like the London Bicycle Messenger Association did in 2004, a ban on lorries in central London daytime.

 

Memorial for Sebastian Lukomski, killed by a lorry on Upper Thames Street. Photo: Ben Brown

Putting it in economic terms, why should commercial road users be putting the costs (medical attention, police investigation etc) of their business onto the rest of us?  In a recent Freakonomics podcast, economist Steve Levitt said ‘there are few instances in our society where individuals are able to impose such large externalities on other individuals through their behaviour as on the roads.‘  Sure, all motorists are required by law to have 3rd party insurance, but this does not cover the costs of the emergency services etc, which are substantial, especially, as almost always happens where a fatality has resulted, there is an extensive police investigation.  Relatively speaking, there is little cost to the operator, or the operator’s employer, i.e. the organisation that is paying the operator to deliver whatever load the lorry is carrying, of a fatal collision. It is therefore not very surprising that, in a business in which margins are low, competition is high, and buyers are very price sensitive, that lorries still run over cyclists, as there is almost no economic penalty for doing so.

The threat of a daytime lorry ban, almost universally dismissed as unworkable, might serve to concentrate minds, given that it would carry considerably greater costs, especially in the construction sector.  I realise that there is currently a night-time ban on lorries in London, but this should be done away with.  This ban dates back to 1982, and I have no idea at all why it was brought in.  We want as many HGV movements at night as possible, surely?

 

And to those people who think that a daytime ban on HGVs is madness, I say, be reasonable, demand the impossible.

From Hackney Cyclists:

1st February: Cycling surges. Car ownership collapses.


Figures released from the 2011 Census this week reveal large increases in the number and proportion of London residents who use cycling as their main way to get to work. Across London as a whole, 4.3% now cycle to work, while the figure in inner London is 7%. Hackney has London’s highest proportion of people cycling to work, at 14.6% (or 15.5% if you exclude employed people who work from home).

Meanwhile car ownership is plummetting in inner London, and especially in Hackney, where the proportion of households which are car-free has risen to 64.6%, up from 56% in 2001, with just 170 motor vehicles per 1000 people, and about 4000 fewer cars owned overall, even though the population has increased by 44,000.

I’m not sure exactly what lessons can be learned from Hackney.  The difficulty with changes in behaviour is that it can be difficult to figure out what the causes are, unless credibly large surveys of road users are undertaken.  Without such surveys, what you have are correlations, rather than causes.

A tweeter suggested that the rise in cycling in London since 2000 was caused by the introduction of the Congestion Charge.  It is probable that the Con Charge was a cause, but equally I could suggest that, since the fixie craze started in the early noughties, this was a cause of the rise of cycling.  I’m not seriously suggesting that the increase in cycling in London is down to the availability of off the peg fixed wheel bicycles, and that Jan, owner of Brick Lane Bikes, and a former London bicycle courier, is a more important figure in the Hackneyisation of London than Ken Livingstone, but it is a fact that Hackney is the home turf of those pesky hipsters, whose preferred form of transport is the fixie.

I’d like to believe that the drop in car ownership and rise in cycling is caused by Hackney Council making it less economically attractive to own and operate a car, and thus more economically attractive to ride a bike, so Hackney residents have changed their behaviour over the last 20 years,  but it could also be that cycling-minded people have been attracted to come and live in Hackney, and petrol-heads have moved elsewhere, to places like Barnet, where they feel more welcome.

Either way, this is good news for Hackney, which has often been a source of bad news, so Hackney Council should be proud that it is getting something right, as seems pretty clear from these numbers.