Archive

Tag Archives: statistics

British Cycling have been annoying me for the last couple of months. First, they invented a new version of the empty phrase cycle-friendly or (apologies to the guys at the Times, who have done great work) cycle-safe. The BC approved version is 'cycle-proofing'. It's supposed to mean making roads safe for cyclists to use.

Using a non-specific suffix such as -friendly or -proofing generally doesn't signify anything apart from good intentions. Sometimes, as in the case of Google Maps beta bicycle thing, it can be seriously misleading, as Gmaps appear to be using the prescence of a marked bike or bus lane as an indication that the road in question is suitable for cyclists, meaning that Upper and Lower Thames Street were designated cycle-friendly. Likewise, I think cycle-proofing sounds like bike-wash, the cycle advocacy equivalent of green-wash. You see? It's so easy to make up meaningless but interesting-sounding labels.

I don't understand why British Cycling doesn't call a spade a spade and say exactly what it means. If BC is in favour of protected bicycle lanes, 2 phase traffic lights at junctions and so forth why not say exactly that? Surely BC doesn't think that Advanced Stop Lines and other painted surfaces are anything except an awkward and unsafe halfway house? Why not use a widely accepted shorthand that encapsulates the whole protected lane, re-engineered junction package like 'Go Dutch' or 'Space For Cycling'? Why reinvent the wheel, thus muddying the advocacy waters? Suspicious and cynical cyclists like myself might be tempted to see this as a turf grab by BC, keen to expand into new areas now that the Olympic tap is no longer spouting money with the same force as before.

Then I read BC's 2 year old report on the cycling economy: 'Gross Cycling Product', trumpeted by BC as the first attempt to quantify the contribution of cycling to the wealth of the nation. Guess what? Deliveries by bicycle (or tricycle) feature absolutely nowhere. It's as if the writers of the report have never been to central London, or, indeed, any major city anywhere in the world. I'm not going to suggest that couriers and other bicycle delivery people are a huge source of income for the national purse, but I would suggest that they are far from insignificant. I shouldn't take this oversight personally, but hey, I used to be a bicycle courier, so I do.

And there's helmets. Here's what British Cycling has to say (taken from the page 'Safety Points' on the BC website):

British Cycling asserts that the wearing of a correctly fitted hard shell helmet conforming to a recognised safety standard is recommended for all of its non-competitive events. British Cycling also strongly recommends the use of such a helmet whilst cycling at all other times, whilst recognising the right of each individual to choose whether or not to accept this recommendation.

Helmets are the subject of much debate, most of which is anecdotal (i.e. highly subjective and virtually impossible to verify – “my helmet saved my life”), and lot of which is emotional (e.g. the recent appeal by the father of Ryan Smith, a teenager left in a coma after a collision). I don't want to get into it too much. I said more or less what I think about helmets over here, and as a recent edition of More Or Less pointed out, not enough research has been done. However, there is good evidence that in jurisdictions where helmet use is compulsory that cycling rates have fallen after compulsion. It is also the case that use or non-use of a helmet is increasingly becoming a modifier used in legal proceedings to determine 'contributory negligence' by the cyclist, even in cases where the cyclist bore no responsibility for the collision that caused the injuries suffered by the cyclists.

We have all enjoyed the interventions of Bradley Wiggins & Laura Trott in this area, but it's worth pointing out that both Wiggins & Trott are very much the creations of British Cycling, have been nurtured and developed by structures put into place by British Cycling and the downside of enjoying the glorification reflected from their respective medals is having to accept responsibility for the stupid things that they say, especially when what they said was only a paraphrase of British Cycling policy.

Lastly, there's Eastway. It's long enough since the Eastway Cycle Circuit was bulldozed that a lot of Londoners will associate Eastway with a miserable road running across Hackney Marshes, through one of the most hostile and confusing road junctions in all of London, scene of the death of a cyclist during the Olympics, run over by an Olympic bus. But for older sporting London cyclists Eastway means a green oasis of cycle sport, built in the 1970s, and used pretty much 7 days a week through the summer for road-racing, mountain-biking (Eastway was the original venue for the Beastway races), time-trialling, BMX and cyclo-cross.

Eastway Cycle Circuit was sacrificed by British Cycling on the Olympic altar, depriving London cycling of its best equipped venue for nearly 10 years. The organisation of the replacement facility, Hog Hill, was less than stream-lined, but hey, it was all worth it because we (London's sporting cyclists) are getting back a world-class sporting facility blah blah blah. I won't be the first to point out that cycling is getting back a lot less land than was taken away. Ok, there's a velodrome there as well, ok, ok. But the size of the site is much, much smaller.

But how are we going to get to the Velopark, or whatever it's called? This is something that doesn't seem to have been considered very much, or at all, by British Cycling. Maybe they just assumed that people would do what they do when going to bike races elsewhere in the country, that is put their bikes and their kit in or on their car and drive.

We have heard so much about the attention to detail of British Cycling, the 'marginal gains'. BC was apparently consulted about the velodrome at every step of the design and construction. To give one well-reported instance, there had been modifications to the design of the entrances to the velodrome to keep the ambient air temperature inside the building as warm as possible to facilitate quick times. Chris Hoy purred when the velodrome was presented to the public.

I first started using Eastway Cycle Circuit before the M11 link road was built. I rode from Hackney. At that time, Eastway, the road that I used to access the cycle circuit, was pretty busy, and the right turn across 3 lanes of traffic was… well, it was a right turn across 3 lanes of fast moving traffic, albeit at a signalled junction. Not something to look forward to, but not something I couldn't handle, what with being able to ride reasonably quick and also a 'professional' road-user.

Since then, the link road has been built, which has added a motorway intersection into the mix. This ramped up the speeds, and made the westbound turn off Eastway towards Hackney even more fun than it had been before. The Olympic Park has added an extra dimension of confusion to the road layout, which undoubtedly contributed to the death of Dan Harris. If I, an experienced cyclist who has been riding in London since the age of 2, gets confused by the road layout around the Velopark (or whatever it is called), what must it be like for less experienced cyclists?

I don't use the A13 for anything really, so I can't really comment on how dangerous, relatively, the Eastway / A12 (M) / Olympic Park / Westfield interchange is compared to the notorious Barking interchange, or what the KSI numbers are. But I will say that it was pretty inappropriate for cycling before the M11 was built, and has only got worse and worse since. It has always been a road that I rode along as quickly as possible to minimise my exposure to the conditions.

I asked British Cycling if they had any input at all into the roads around the Velopark. This is their reply:

As far as I know, we didn't have any input into the route but we have heard the criticisms. My colleague in the Campaigns team has suggested that you contact the London Cycling Campaign on this. Hope this is helpful.

In other words, they didn't raise the issue of whether people would cycle to the Velodrome, and how safe it might be for them to do that. This doesn't surprise me, as I have always found cycle sport to be a pastime for people with cars.

I don't want to labour the point, but BC is trying to get more kids into cycling. The Velopark is virtually in Hackney. Hackney has very, very low rates of car ownership. It therefore follows that Hackney kids, if they aren't going to get the bus or walk, aren't going to get driven, so are likely to cycle to the Velopark. Honestly, I wouldn't want anyone's kids to have to negotiate the roads around the Velopark.

At the Hackney Cycling Conference Andrew Gilligan said, in reference to the Mayor's (and TfL's) support of sporting cycling events, something like: I view the relationship of events like the Tour de France to everyday cycling as similar to the relationship of the Bluebell Railway to Eurostar. (Apologies to Mr Gilligan if I have mangled his metaphor). British Cycling's flagship facility in London is the Velopark. As it is, the Velopark could not be more isolated from the attempts of other interested parties (councils, TfL, the Mayor's Office, London Cycling Campaign etc etc) to build mass cycling in London. The Velopark is therefore the perfect illustration of the truth of Mr Gilligan's aphorism.

If British Cycling wants a suggestion from a former member, former user of Eastway, London cyclist, I would shut up about 'cycle-proofing', get a grip on your athletes and stop them from blurting out nonsense, and do something to sort out safe routes for cyclists around the Velopark.

 

Advertisements

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’?

I’m not a trained statistician, nor do I hold any transport policy qualifications.  However, I became interested in the numbers of cyclists killed in London after 1992, when Edward Newstead, a working cycle courier, was killed by a left-turning HGV on Oxford Street.  I did some campaigning on the issue of HGV killing cyclists, and to cut a long story short, I ended up in a working group with the Mayor’s Office, TfL, Roadpeace & London Cycling Campaign.

As part of that process, we looked at a lot of numbers. Some of the numbers that we looked at were even leaked and then misrepresented in the media. One thing I have learned, not just from that process, but through reading and listening to the likes of Tim Harford (More Or Less is essential listening for everyone, in my opinion), and other people that use statistics critically, is that when producing raw numbers, particularly road casualty numbers, it is really, really important to give some sort of context, and, the most crucial part, that if you do present seperately collected stats side-by-side, you must compare like with like, otherwise grossly inaccurate conclusions can, and will, be drawn.

For instance, if there is almost no use of powered two-wheelers (scooters and motor-bikes, also known as P2W), then you would expect the numbers of deaths and serious injuries (sometimes called Killed & Seriously Injured, or KSI) to be very low, perhaps even zero.  If this is reported as ‘no motor-cyclists were killed in Carville last year’ without also adding ‘but almost no motorcycles or scooters sold or ridden in Carville last year’, the potential exists for turning a non-story into a very big deal, with the officials of cities that have high rates of P2W KSI being asked by scooter clubs, ‘well, why is Scooterville so dangerous? Why can’t we be more like Carville, the safest place on earth for scooter riders?’  There then might follow questions from the media following up the enquiries of the scooter clubs, questions asked by members of Scooterville’s legislature etc etc, and the general impression given by the fuss is that Carville is somehow safer, whereas Scooterville’s streets are a charnel house of hot, twisted metal and broken limbs, into which no sane rider would venture, which is totally incorrect assumption, not supported by the evidence misrepresented by a not-like-for-like comparison between Carville and Scooterville.

So why am I concocting parables? I have seen various references to an astonishing reported fall in cycling fatalities in Paris.  The Times quoted city officials as saying: “the number of [cycling] deaths [in Ville de Paris] fell from six in 2009 to none last year (2011).”  The Mairie de Paris has some numbers on its web-site for cyclistes décès (that is, cyclists killed) between 2008 and 2010, as follows: 2, 5, 5, 6, 2 (no number given for 2011).  London’s numbers for the same period are: 19, 15, 13, 13, 10.  Looking at these numbers, it would be easy to come up with a headline such as London cyclists more than 8 times likely to be killed than in Paris!  (19, the number for London in 2008, divided by 2, the number reported for Paris).  I have also seen the numbers quoted as London 16, Paris 0 (there were 16 cyclists killed in London last year).

My initial reaction to seeing the numbers was that the reported numbers were wrong.  It seemed implausible that Paris, a city which is still trying to build up a culture of utility cycling (as opposed to cycle sport), should be so much safer than London.  Then I went to Paris over the summer, and I became even more convinced that the numbers were wrong.  Paris has some cycling infrastructure, but not all that much, and is certainly not light-years ahead of London.  Paris also really doesn’t have that many more cyclists than London, based on what I saw.  I would guess that London actually has more regular cyclists than Paris.  I would also say that Paris streets and traffic are about as hostile as London’s to cyclists, if anything, more hostile.  Which is not to say that Paris is all that dangerous for cyclists.

It’s difficult for me to be objective about danger to cyclists in cities, as I was a bicycle messenger for many years, and was (and still am) quite comfortable tackling Hyde Park Corner at speed, or any other street for that matter.  The only place that I ever felt threatened was the Upper Thames Street tunnel.  I used it because it was the quickest way to get from the City to the West End, but I wouldn’t now use it at all, as it’s unpleasant, and, in my opinion, just about the most dangerous road in central London.

Anyway, I didn’t find Paris all that scary (not even La Place de La Concorde, but, like I said above, I am quite happy riding around Hyde Park Corner), but compared to, say, Copenhagen, it’s clearly not as comfortable to cycle in.  By the way, while we’re talking about Copenhagen, let me say here that comparing Copenhagen with London just doesn’t fly.  Copenhagen is not comparable with London.  It is a much, much smaller city.  You can ride across it in less than an hour.  I’m not suggesting that there aren’t lessons to be learned from Copenhagen, but London should be compared with cities of the same size, i.e. metropolises, not small cities. (Copenhagen has a population of under 2 million; London has a population of 8 million, by the most conservative estimate.)

The very long and slightly shorter of it is that, in my opinion, London and Paris offer a fairly similar level of hazard to cyclists.

So, piqued by my own observations, I couldn’t let the number 0 go, after having actually ridden in Paris for a few days.  I emailed a couple of people, including Charlie Lloyd at the LCC, who has done a lot of work on KSI numbers, and knows his stuff.  According to Charlie, the Ville de Paris, from which these numbers are reported, is less than the size of TfL’s Zone 2.  The numbers reported for cycling deaths in Paris are taken from a much, much smaller area, and therefore not really comparing like with like.

So what is the like-for-like comparison?  In the last year, 2 cyclists have been killed in a similar-sized zone to Ville de Paris in central London, according to Charlie, who keeps track of such things. This means that a similar number of cyclists were killed in this area of London as in the Ville de Paris 2009 & 2010.

Also, no-one seems to have to hand the numbers for total km travelled by all cyclists in Ville de Paris.  The number wouldn’t be all that useful for a direct comparison with London, but you could at least get the km / fatality number for a rough comparison, which would be far more useful than simply quoting raw fatality numbers, which in any case, aren’t even directly comparable.

Paris 0 London 16?  Match referred to statisticians for further enquiries.