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Dear Mr Johnson,

you may be aware that there was a hit & run in Stoke Newington on the evening of Wednesday 10th February, which resulted in serious injuries to the victim, Damien Doughty. He suffered what the doctor treating him described as a level four laceration to his liver. The most serious level is five. He is still in hospital, recuperating from his injuries, though thankfully his recovery seems to be progressing well.

According to Damien, the driver followed him after Damien had made unfavourable comments about her use of a mobile phone, which he says nearly caused her to collide with him. She then deliberately drove into him, causing the severe injuries to his person.

The case is being investigated by the Serious Collision Investigation Unit of the Metropolitan Police. Damien says that they are taking the incident very seriously, and are investigating diligently and carefully. I am sure that the police officers in charge of Damien’s case are doing everything they can to find the driver, and I have every confidence that they will determine the facts to the best of their ability.

I know that you will share in my feelings of shock and horror at the circumstances of Damien’s experience, assuming that his account is true. Without wishing to prejudge the case, I know that you will agree with me that no matter what Damien may or may not have said to the driver concerned, he, like every Londoner, or indeed any visitor to London, should be able to use the highways of the city without fear of being the subject of a potentially deadly, deliberate assault with a piece of heavy machinery.

I am sure that you will do everything to help the police to get to the bottom of this matter. Please do make sure that every effort is made to solve this case. I have worked in the same day courier industry for many years, first as a bicycle messenger, and subsequently as a controller (dispatcher) of couriers. I can assure you that incidents such as this, where drivers have used their vehicles as weapons after a few cross words, are depressingly frequent, and that many of my friends, colleagues and, indeed, myself have been the victims of this type of assault, though, fortunately, rarely with such terrible results.

I would also urge you, using your seat at the Cabinet table, to press for all such cases to be treated in the same way as would any assault with a deadly weapon would be, with commensurate penalties for those found guilty.

I would like to draw your attention to the death of Chicago bicycle messenger Thomas McBride, run over and killed by Carnell Fitzpatrick, who was driving a large car. A jury later determined that Carnell Fitzpatrick was guilty of murder, having considered the evidence that Fitzpatrick had chased McBride and deliberately run him over, again after a few cross words. Surely such incidents should be treated the same way in the UK?

Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter. I have every confidence that you will do everything in your power to help.

Deghri Messengers is a bike messenger service in Beirut. This means we deliver all kinds of stuff around the city using only bicycles and the power of our own bodies. It’s hard work and takes a special mix of fitness, passion for cycling, city orientation and pure guts.

 

some of the Deghri messengers taking a break from the road

Luckily we’re not on our own. There is an international community of bike messengers – professionals who work on their bikes every day to serve businesses in their respective cities. In the age of the internet, we can feel connected to this community by sharing news and advice online. However, nothing beats actually getting together with hundreds of messengers in one city, and this is what the ECMC (European Cycle Messenger Championship) is all about.

In the championships (this year from 3rd to 6th July in Stockholm, Sweden), messengers come together to hang out, exchange stories and most importantly to race! The goal is to be crowned the fastest messengers in and around Europe.

As a fairly new messenger service, it’s extremely valuable for us to attend the championship, meet other messengers and of course test our riding skills. What’s more, we will be representing Lebanon at this event, the most important in the bike messenger calendar in this part of the world.”

A lot more info on their Zoomal page.

 

NervesOfSteelFrom an article I wrote about my good friend Rebecca ‘Lambchop’ Reilly:

“I first heard about Rebecca Reilly sometime in 1995. I can’t remember where or from whom I heard the story. Perhaps it was Markus Cook, unofficial leader of the San Francisco Bicycle Messenger Association, who first told me of her. The tale was that there was a female messenger who was making a journey across the United States, visiting cities where there were messengers, living and working in each city in turn. And that she was writing a book, a collection of messenger experiences. She was reputed to be hard and fast. I was told that she was going to come to the 1995 Cycle Messenger World Championships in Toronto and win.”

Rebecca was a trail-blazer, a leader in the U.S. & international messenger community in the mid to late 90s.  She was crowned Fixed Gear Queen at the 1999 Cycle Messenger World Championships & received the Marcus Cook Award for Services to the International Messenger Community in the same year.  She was President of the District of Columbia Bicycle Courier Association in 2001.  In the same year she published ‘Nerves of Steel’, a unique & unprecedented study of bicycle couriers in the United States.

Emily Chappell, ‘That Messenger Chick’, recently traveled to the U.S., and whilst she was there met and interviewed Rebecca.  Emily then decided to bring Rebecca to England for short speaking tour, and LMNH East, 125–127 Mare St London E8 3RH, hosts the London leg this Saturday at 7pm.

Rebecca will be sharing her memories of her life as a courier, some of which will be guaranteed to appall, all of which will amaze and engage.  Expect frequent obscenity, laughter & tears, as ‘Lambchop’ recalls life before fakengers & fixies ruled the world.

The few remaining copies of ‘Nerves of Steel’, signed by Rebecca, will be available for purchase for £35 (the original print run was only 1000).    Although the event at LMNH is free to enter, guests will be encouraged to buy raffle tickets to defray costs.  The raffle prizes include some London Courier Emergency Fund goodies, a very fine Special Edition Brooks England B17 saddle and some wonderful cycling apparel by Swrve.

Rebecca Reilly is coming over to speak at Look Mum No Hands, Mare Street on 29th March. Emily Chappell interviewed her earlier this year.

Rebecca Reilly: Nerves of Steel, Heart of Gold
The legend of Rebecca Reilly has loomed large over my years as a courier. I’m perhaps more readily disposed than most to appoint heroes and role models – if I count up all the people who’ve inspired me over the years, it would stretch into the dozens, or perhaps even hundreds – but there’s always been something particularly compelling about Reilly. Perhaps it was her undisputed status as one of the pioneers of the courier scene. Perhaps it was her prominence as a woman in an industry still heavily dominated by men. Perhaps it was simply her elusiveness.

Read the full article on Moving Target

Memorial to Sebastian Lukomski, painted by London bicycle messengers

On 23rd Feb 2004, London bicycle messenger Sebastian Lukomski was run over at the junction of Lower Thames Street and Queen Street Place by a tipper lorry that was turning left into Queen Street Place from Lower Thames Street.  His death was, in my opinion, a watershed moment in London’s cycling politics.  It was one of the first London cycling fatalities to become a media event, thanks to 2 articles by journalist Graham Bowley, whose interest was sparked by the large crowd of London couriers who painted the road near the spot where Seb was killed.  Graham’s articles, published in the Financial Times weekend magazine and the Evening Standard, highlighted the dangers of construction lorries, and also an apparent lack of action by the Mayor’s office on the problem.

Ever since, cycling fatalities resulting from collisions with lorries have received much higher levels of attention from everyone than previously, when they received no attention whatsoever outside of the coroner’s court and the funeral of the deceased.  This attention has been translated by the London Cycling Campaign’s “space 4 cycling” campaign into political pressure for significant changes to the allocation of road space in London.  It has also led to considerable efforts by TfL, the LCC and others to reduce the specific dangers posed by lorries to people cycling in London.

However, as I have said elsewhere, even though progress has been made, there remains a great deal of potential hazard from lorries to people cycling in London, and nowhere is this more apparent than when examining the junction where Seb was killed.  In my opinion, it is one of the most dangerous junctions in central London because it is more or less a motorway, with very high volumes of through traffic, meeting a major cycling route, one of the Mayor’s Cycling Superhighways. Including Seb, 2 people have been killed by lorries whilst cycling in or near this junction in the last 10 years, and at least 2 more have been seriously injured.

After Seb’s death, an ASL was put in exactly the spot where Seb was run over, an extremely stupid change, in my opinion, given that the driver whose lorry ran over Seb would have seen Seb had he looked in his mirror.  The ASL and associated feeder lane encourages cyclists to come up on the left, and stop slightly in front of traffic, which is exactly where you do NOT want to be.

If you examine the pavement on the south east corner, you can see from the damage done by HGVs to the surface, which indicates the frequency and care with which left turns onto Southwark Bridge are made.  An ASL is not just inadequate in these circumstances, I would suggest that it is actually a hazard.

The junction has been reviewed and more changes have been proposed.  Those changes will do nothing, or very little, to lessen the dangers of the junction.  The ASL that I mentioned above is to be extended, for example.  I would suggest that without a 2 phase signal, which allows cyclists to move away a lot sooner than the rest of the traffic, the ASL, even extended, is overall negative for safety.

Andrew Gilligan said earlier this year that his message to planners was ‘do it adequately or don’t do it all’.  I would suggest that he, or someone from the Mayor’s office, needs to get involved in this review now before it goes any further.

There’s a lot more detail on Cyclist in the City blog, including diagrams, an itemisation and a link to allow responses to the consultation. Please do click through.

As I mentioned in a post on Moving Target, Nelson Vails made me proud to be a bicycle courier (or messenger, if you prefer). Even though I was never even as quarter as good of a bike rider as Nelson, he was what I aspired to be, he was an inspiration. He was part of the mystique of the NYC bicycle messenger scene, along with the comic Messenger 29, and the Independent Courier Association, which beat the evil Mayor Koch and his 1987 mid-town bike ban.

If you don't know, Nelson Vails was a New Yorker who could ride a bike really fast. Really, really fast. He rode the Trexlertown track, winning races, and worked as a bicycle messenger. In 1984 he won the silver medal in the Olympic Match Sprint. He went to be a keirin racer in Japan. (If you don't know what keirin racing is, it's similar to greyhound racing, in that it's a series of circuit races staged for the express purpose of gambling. For more information, see the excellent primer at Keirin, Berlin).

So it was with some delight that I read earlier on today that someone is making a documentary about Nelson Vails. But it's not fully funded yet. The film-makers are asking for $25000 in additional funding. Never mind watching the DVD of Monstertrack XVII or Line of Sight, why not pony up $5 to help get what should be a spine-tingling film onto the screen. For $25, you get a limited edition signed photo of Nelson Vails himself. That is a real piece of authentic New York City bicycle messenger history.

 

Beanbag photo shoot from Moving Target, 1989

Rob Penn writing in the Observer magazine today about the development of cycle fashion – rearranging the words 1980s Rapha Vulpine lycra lurid MAMIL stylish successful – has the following line: 'the “heroin-chic” cycle messenger sub-culture in the late 80s'.

Not really sure what he means. I thought heroin-chic was invented in 1990s, and that the 1980s was the era of power-dressing and busty super-models. Bicycle couriers or cycle messsengers are generally pretty skinny, although not always. Maybe I'm over-thinking this.

Perhaps he was an assiduous reader of Moving Target back then, and he is referring to occasional fashion shoots that Charlie Bayliss like to put in? Anyway, no further prompting needed – here's a Beanbag shoot from a 1989 issue of Moving Target. Ah, Beanbag.

A more innocent age, dear reader – before anyone had conceived of fakengers, hipsters, before most people had heard of fixies. The usual cliché is 'halcyon days', isn't it?

 

Quite a nice piece about a London bicycle courier (or messenger, if you prefer) avoiding the normal sensationalisation and clichés on BBC news – if you ignore the use of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Crosstown Traffic’.  Couple of quibbles: 80 – 100 miles a day? Back in the day, maybe some of the Metro riders were clocking this up, but not many.  Average mileage was/is more typically something around the 100k or less, i.e. 60 miles.  This number is not scientific, but is taken from my own measured mileage over a period of months, and compared with other riders measured mileages.  I doubt that the BBC’s numbers are more accurate.

Earnings are quoted at £200 – £600.  Again these are old numbers.  I don’t know where the BBC got them from.  As I said in this post on Moving Target in 2009 (since when earnings have gone down):

The only systematic survey of London bicycle messenger earnings was conducted by Ben Fincham in 2003, and published in the Sociological Review in 2006. The average earnings were given as £65/day, which is £325/week. I was on the road in the early 90s on one of the biggest circuits, Security Despatch, and I can tell you that it was rare that anyone made more than £500/week. Of course, there were a few guys doing a bit more than that at other companies, but there is no way that we ‘expected’ to make £1000. The best single day’s earnings at SD was around £125 in 1993.

Lower down in the article, the chief exec of City Sprint is quoted as saying that they charge £2 for WC1 – EC2. It’s not clear if that is what the rider gets paid, or whether that is what they charge the client. If it’s the latter, then I guess the rider might be taking £1.50 on the docket (which would be generous), which would mean 266 dockets a week to make £400, which hardly seems likely.

Anyway, whichever way you do the numbers, I would be very surprised if most guys in London were making, on average, more than £250/week at the moment. Which is around minimum wage BEFORE paying for equipment.

I reckon a more representative number would be £50 – £500, with the £500 being very much the outlier. £50 is probably more common, as there is a high turnover of novices who try it for a week or two, see what they are making and quit, to be replaced by more novices.

Another inaccuracy is the statement: because of the obvious risks couriers find it impossible to get life insurance.  This is not true.  The Combined Insurance Companies of America have been insuring couriers against injury, illness and death for at least 20 years.  The policies aren’t cheap, but they do exist.

Cyclist using a mobile: a major threat to public safety or a minor irritant easily avoided?I think it was Dr. Robert Davis, author of Death on the Streets, that said the following:

Complaining about cyclists jumping red lights is like complaining about queue-jumping in a bank whilst an armed robbery is taking place.

If it was someone else, my apologies for misattributing it, but it does sound like something Bob would say.

Disclaimer: I am actually a pretty law-abiding road-user these days, probably as law-abiding as anyone,  in any class of vehicle, on the road.  I used to be a bicycle courier (or messenger if you prefer), and if I obeyed the law, I lost money in earnings because I was slower than the other riders I was competing against for work who did not obey the law some or most of the time.

I guess my attitude now is that I really can’t be bothered to break the law if no-one is paying me to do it, but when I was a courier, it didn’t make sense to obey the law, everything else being equal.  I did try to be careful to respect the safety of other road users, particularly vulnerable ones.  Balanced against the economic imperative not to stop was the economic imperative not to get injured.  Nearly all couriers are classified as self-employed sub-contractors, and so do not receive pay when off work due to injury (or sickness).  In other words, if you rode like a crazy person, and crashed all the time, you wouldn’t make any money, because you would be on your back instead of on your bike.

I noted in this article that a courier had been stopped and ticketed by the Met for red light jumping (RLJing), and told that the police were cracking down on RLJing because a cyclist had recently been run over by a lorry.  This despite the fact that cyclists involved in collisions with lorries (HGVs) are almost always in compliance with the law at the time of the collision.  Another courier was stopped by the police, and given the option of attending a safety course instead of a fine.  The safety course was this week. It was a session in a lorry, observing the blind-spots.  The courier’s offence? Riding on the pavement.

As I said, I totally get that the police get more complaints about misbehaviour by cyclists than any thing else (including violent crime etc), so they need to be seen to do something; I also get that if you break the law, you should be prepared to accept the consequences, but I do find the association between anti-social behaviour and critical injury to cyclists by lorries really quite offensive.

There’s a lot of talk about ‘subjective safety’, notably by the kerb nerds, but also by cycling advocacy groups generally.  Subjective safety is what stops more people from riding, according to the surveys.  Subjective safety probably explains why a female friend found cycling in London too daunting, and now rides a motor scooter, despite the scooter being objectively more dangerous as a mode of transport than the bicycle.

Subjective safety explains why cyclists are far more concerned about being crashed into from behind whilst moving along in a straight line along a straight road, when in fact they are much more at risk when stationary, or moving off from stationary, at a junction.  Subjective safety explains why the public view cyclists as a major threat to public safety, when in fact cyclists are, almost without execption, an irritant, and that pedestrians are far more likely, by a factor of several hundred, to be killed whilst walking on the pavement (sidewalk for any N Americans) by a motor vehicle.

Subjective safety explains why, at the conclusion of a lengthy twitter debate about patronising advice given to female cyclists, someone tweeted:

Please – & I think it is more women doing it TAKE OUT THOSE F* EARPHONES. Too many die for music.

If you’re relying on hearing danger, as opposed to having a good look around you, I would suggest that you are likely to come a cropper whether you’re listening to bird-song or the latest offering from Motorhead.  Most headphones are totally inadequate in a competition with road-traffic noise, and some motor-vehicles are virtually silent, as are cyclists & pedestrians.  Cycling with head-phones does look dangerous, but objectively, it’s probably not any more dangerous than cycling without a hi-vis vest.

The RLJ debate comes up again and again and again, I have heard it raised by serious policy-makers at serious policy conferences, as if it were a proper threat to public order and health on the order of something like obesity, or alcohol abuse, when in fact, it is of little more concern than illegal parking.  So I welcomed these two items from the internet, the first a letter to the Montreal Gazzette, which I’ll reprint in full:

Re: “Cyclists must be made to obey rules” (Letter of the Day, May 6)

Elazar Gabay says “bicyclists have the same rights and duties as other drivers” then just a few sentences later complains that “at times they (bicyclists) occupy the entire lane …”.

Well, if they have the same rights, and motorists have the right to use the full lane, then shouldn’t bicyclists, too?

In fact, it doesn’t make sense that the exact same rules should apply to motorists and cyclists (and indeed it’s not the case). The difference in speed, mass and size means that sometimes they should be treated differently.

Everyone breaks whatever rules they think they can safely get away with. Motorists speed all the time; cyclists can’t because their vehicle can’t. Cyclists go against one-ways all the time; motorists can’t because their vehicle is too wide.

Where motorists think they see cyclists breaking so many rules, they are only seeing different rules being broken, due to physical differences between vehicle types. Motorists have long since internalized their own rule breaking as socially acceptable.

Cyclists are no more scofflaw than motorists.

Sean McBride

Montreal

The correspondent correctly, in my view, identifies that it is subjective safety that is the issue here.  Motorists do dangerous things in their vehicles, but this behaviour (speeding etc) has been normalised and is socially accepted, the way drink-driving was 30 years ago, whereas cyclists’ behaviour is unusual and doesn’t fall into social norms and so looks dangerous.

The second article is much longer and appears in Atlantic Cities, with the delightful title  Why We Should Never Fine Cyclists. It’s quite long, but worth a read.  The author goes much further than me, and to use Anna’s paraphrase, proposes that traffic lights are for traffic, not cyclists. A brief excerpt will give the flavour:

On balance, cyclists’ illegal behavior—like that of pedestrians—adds much, much more convenience to life than danger. Aggressive enforcement of traffic laws could upend the fragile system of incentives that leads thousands of people to undertake a long and sweaty commute each day.

Why should people riding 20-pound bicycles obey laws designed to regulate the conduct of 4,000-pound cars, to say nothing of accepting the same penalties? In terms of the damage we can cause and sustain in an accident, cyclists have more in common with pedestrians than cars and should be treated accordingly.

I know that there is a discourse about respect, recently advanced by a cycling writer that I respect, Ned Boulting, who got a bit backward when I pulled him up on it, more or less running that if we want to be taken seriously, we need to behave seriously, i.e. if we don’t stop running red lights and riding on the pavement, we won’t deserve to have decent provision.  This is total pony, and the argument doesn’t stand up to any examination.  Objectively a majority of motorists break the law relating to speed.

Since when did anyone get up and say ‘well, until the motorists stop speeding, we’re not going to build that new motorway, because they’ll only use it drive even faster than they are doing now’?