The problematic philosophy of ‘shared use’ footways

An old post from Joe Dunkley that resurfaced yesterday in the wake of some comments about Christopher Chope – a former transport minister in the Thatcher government and helmet law enthusiast – has prompted me to reflect on some of the intrinsic problems with ‘shared use’ footways.

The history of ‘shared use’ is itself rather murky, as that post from Joe Dunckley explains.

I understand the “cycle tracks” — that is, crappy shared pavements — that [the Thatcher government] introduced in the 1980 Highways Act were not intended to encourage and enable cycling, but to improve road safety by getting cyclists out of harm’s way while the poor things saved up to buy a car of their own.

This is a good explanation of the background assumption behind the Act – namely, an assumption that cycling was an insignificant mode of transport, one that would either remain insignificant, or disappear completely. The intention of this 1980 Act – which allowed footways to be converted to ‘shared use’ – was clearly not to improve conditions for walking and cycling. Instead it rested on the belief that cycling was so negligible it didn’t deserve its own space, and could just be ‘added’ to the walking environment, presumably until it vanished out of existence.

Of course this brings us to the basic problem with ‘shared use’. It’s a design philosophy that is based around an assumption that cycling is, and will remain, a tiny mode of transport.

‘Shared use’ isn’t future-proof. Anywhere it is implemented in urban areas, in preference to designing for cycling in a space separated from walking (be that cycleways, or low-motor traffic streets) amounts to a prediction that negligible, current, cycling levels will remain negligible.

And indeed, it’s largely a self-fulfilling prophecy. The inconvenience of using shared use footways, coupled with the conflict with people walking that results, serves to actually suppress cycling levels – a point made in this post from New Zealand.

Shared paths are The Hunger Games of urban transport. Pedestrians and cyclists are thrown together in a hostile environment to fight over the breadcrumbs left by cars and see who survives. They are effectively a self-sabotaging form of infrastructure. The more popular shared paths become the worse the level of service gets for both modes, which then undermines uptake.

There’s – quite literally – no space for growth in cycling on shared use footways. To illustrate this, we can look at environments where cycling was formerly accommodated on a shared use footway, but now has its own space. For instance, on Lower Thames Street.

There ins’t a huge number of pedestrians walking here, but combining the current levels of cycle traffic – greatly increased following the construction of CS3 – and the current levels of walking on that footway would clearly be a recipe for enormous conflict. Only with sufficiently wide, separated space for each of these modes will we see any growth in cycling. ‘Shared use’, in an urban context, is self-suppressing.

In choosing to employ ‘shared use’, highway engineers and planners are assuming that cycling will remain a tiny mode of transport. It represents a continuation of that 1980s belief that cycling wasn’t worth bothering with, and indeed that 1980s hope that it actually disappears. Cycling needs its own space if suppressed demand for it is to be unlocked – ‘shared use’ certainly isn’t that space.

Posted in shared use, Transport policy | 5 Comments

Removing separation between walking and cycling does not reduce conflict

The Royal Parks agency in London has a bit of an issue with cycling. The actions it takes – whether it’s adding cobbled speed humps to popular cycling routes in Hyde Park, or attempting to remove a popular cycle route from that same park, or chasing after a cycle taxi service – give the impression of an organisation that views cycling as something a bit… undesirable. For the Royal Parks, cycling is a problem to be managed, rather than an opportunity, and it appears to be actively trying to discourage it.

What’s even more unfortunate is that the policies the Royal Parks are implementing to manage this ‘problem’ are actually making the Parks worse for everyone, whether they are cycling or not.

A sensible strategy for managing cycling on the existing routes in Hyde Park would be to separate walking and cycling from each other, and to give each mode plenty of space, so they are not coming into conflict with one another. Indeed, we can see this policy working well on a number of routes in and around Hyde Park, already.

We can see it on South Carriage Drive, where the new cycle ‘Superhighway’ runs alongside a footway.

Here people can walk and cycle, without getting in each other’s way. They have their own clear, distinct space.

Likewise on West Carriage Drive, where the same ‘Superhighway’ runs in parallel to walking provision.

People walking on the left; people cycling on the right. People walking can do so at leisure, knowing that anyone cycling will not be anywhere near them.

The situation is similar on Rotten Row, with separate walking and cycling space.

This is the route that the Royal Parks want to ban cycling on, following the construction of the ‘Superhighway’, but the evidence suggests – as in the photograph – that this is still a popular route for cycling, despite that new route.

There isn’t a great deal of conflict between walking and cycling here, but if there is, it should be addressed by creating wider, separate space for each mode, not by banning cycling altogether (which at the very least creates issues for people who use cycles as a mobility aid, depriving them of access).

We also see separation of walking and cycling on the (newly widened) Constitution Hill route.

Formerly, cycling and walking were crammed together (albeit separated by markings) on the path to the right. With the new path on the left, both modes have adequate space, and do not come into conflict with each other.

It’s notable that despite absolutely minimal distinction between these two paths, either in terms of signs, or markings (perhaps a deliberate Royal Parks policy), people are naturally opting to walk where other people are walking, and to cycle where other people are cycling. In other words, the natural choice of human beings is to avoid conflict, and to seek out space that is being used by people that are travelling in a similar way to them.

Yet the policy on the Broad Walk in Hyde Park stands directly in opposition to the way people naturally behave, and what they actually want. This path used to have a painted cycle route on one side of it – dating back to the 1980s – with a solid white line, and intermittent cycle symbols.

Broad Walk – image via Streetview

Far from perfect, certainly, but enough to make it reasonably clear to users that cycling and walking should be expected to use distinct parts of this path. If you are walking on the right hand side, you should be able to do so in peace, free from interactions with faster-moving people who are cycling.

All this has been undone, however, as a result of the Royal Parks’ misguided interventions. The distinction between walking and cycling has been removed, and on the remains of the cycle path, ‘Pedestrian Priority’ symbols have been added.

The result – an entirely predictable result – is that people are now cycling across the entire width of the Broad Walk.

By removing distinction between walking and cycling, the Royal Parks have converted what used to be cycle-free walking space into a space that has people cycling in it, entirely innocently.

Presumably the Royal Parks’ intention, with these measures, was to make walking more pleasant, by attempting to ‘control’ cycling. But, in my view, the exact opposite has been achieved. By removing distinctions between walking and cycling, they have created paths where pedestrians are having to deal with people cycling around them, in unpredictable ways. It’s surely the exact opposite of what anyone walking here would actually want.

I dearly hope the Royal Parks start paying attention to how cycling is designed for in some of the photographs at the start of this post; with wide paths, clearly separated from walking, to remove conflict. It simply doesn’t make sense to push the two modes together.

Posted in Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Punishment

A few days ago, I was descending a hill towards a t-junction – a hill steep enough for me to be cycling at over 20mph. I could see a queue of ten or so cars already waiting at the junction ahead of me, waiting to join the busy main road – a habitual queue at this particular junction. Just as I begin to think about applying the brakes as the tail-end of the queue approaches, a dark, large BMW SUV appears on my right hand side. I shake my head slightly at this pointless overtake, and tuck in behind it. But before I even have a chance to dwell on this irritating bit of driving, another car appears on my right hand side – a grey-ish VW Golf this time – and as well as being pointless, this overtake is actually dangerous, into overcoming traffic, so close that the driver is forced to chop sharply back to the left, before immediately applying the brakes to join the queue.

This kind of behaviour is so familiar, it even has a name, and an abbreviation – Must Get In Front, or MGIF, tunnel-vision on the part of drivers who feel they simply have to overtake regardless of the road context, and despite the fact the overtake actually serves no purpose at all.

Naturally enough, a matter of seconds later, I am sailing past these drivers on their right, filtering to the front of the queue. I slow slightly as I pass the driver of the Golf’s open window – a driver who turns out be a young man – to say ‘well, that was pointless.’ I know that comments like this are rarely constructive, and so it proved in this case. Almost without missing a beat, the driver yelled after me

‘You should be wearing a helmet!’

By this point I was approaching the main road, some distance away, and the stupidity of the comment really didn’t suggest it was worthwhile ‘engaging’ further. I went merrily on my way, dwelling on the thought process behind such an outburst, and a response I could have made. As is always the way, the perfect response arrived a few minutes later, on a quiet lane a mile away.

‘Oh? So you care about my safety?’

Laden with sarcasm, because of course this driver didn’t care about my safety – if he did, he wouldn’t have engaged in a lunatic piece of driving that put him, the oncoming driver and most of all me in danger, yet gained him absolutely nothing at all. So why did he tell me to wear a helmet?

Because I was in his way. Because he was fuming about me, and because he was angry at me, and when you don’t like someone and what they’re doing – in this case, riding a bike on a road, in front of a driver who wants to ‘make progress’ – you look for reasons to object to them, and what they are doing. A lack of helmet was the most obviously objectionable thing about me.

Doubtless if I had been wearing a helmet, this driver would have told me to ‘pay road tax’, or to have a number plate, or to wear a bright yellow tabard. But none of these demands is actually about safety. It’s about punishing people cycling around, in the hope that they’ll get out the way, or go away completely. However much safety equipment I wear, however much tax I pay, however trained and competent I am – even if I’m displaying a massive identification plate with my name and address on my back – I will still be a source of irritation, and people will still look for that next restriction or rule to lumber me with, in the hope that I eventually disappear.

I was already coming to this conclusion – this post was already half-formed in my drafts the day after this incident – when the deluge of reaction to the Charlie Alliston case arrived. Note that this prosecution hinged fairly straightforwardly on the absence of a front brake. The prosecution case was that (rightly or wrongly) Alliston would have been to avoid the collision with a front brake. But the absence of a front brake is something which is already illegal, and will remain illegal. There’s no need to pass a new law requiring the riders of fixed wheel bikes to have a front brake, because… that law already exists.

So, to put it charitably, this doesn’t immediately strike me as fertile ground for launching a whole series of new restrictions and rules on cycling. Yet that has been the reaction from many quarters, an unseemly pile-on to legislate against ‘them’ (and it is always ‘them’, never ‘us’). In the words of CityCyclists – opportunistic grandstanding.

Whether it’s compulsory training, compulsory insurance, compulsory hi-viz jackets, or compulsory helmets, the Alliston case has been the trigger for an outpouring of of grievance, all aimed at punishing cycling in general.

To be clear, this isn’t about safety at all. There has been no indication that any of these things would have prevented the fatal collision last year – instead they rest on a stereotype that cycling is ‘out of control’ and that, by loading it with restrictions, it can somehow be brought back under control, or better yet, restricted out of existence.

Although he is perhaps the most extreme example of this mindset, it’s instructive to look at the writings of Nick ‘Mr Loophole’ Freeman in the wake of the Alliston case.

 

 

Freeman has – consciously or otherwise – given the game away here in his choice of words. If we look up ‘epidemic’ we find –

Ah.

It’s therefore no surprise that if we examine Freeman’s witterings, they all involve loading restrictions onto cycling; restrictions that have absolutely nothing to do with the Alliston case.

Mr Freeman said due to widespread initiatives aimed at getting people out of their cars and using other forms of transport – coupled with rising fuel costs – there needs to be a change in legislation for cyclists.

In addition to abiding by all traffic signals, he said it should be made law for all cyclists to wear helmets and hi-visibility clothing.

Note that this is explicitly (and bizarrely) framed as a trade off – ‘my fuel costs are rising, therefore you should be punished too’. If we apply this to any other mode of transport the ludicrousness is transparent. Perhaps due to the rising cost of bus fares, there needs to be change in the law for motorists – that in addition to abiding by all traffic signals [hello ‘Mr Loophole’] it should be made law for all motorists to wear five-point safety harness and to coat their cars in hi-viz panelling.

These calls for ‘legislation’ make sense only in these terms – it’s an attempt to penalise someone else’s mode of transport, a mode of transport that is a source of resentment and jealousy (indeed, it’s notable that banning people from cycling past stationary traffic frequently crops up in these kinds of calls for legislation). It’s the crab mentality writ large – my mode of transport is frustrating, so your mode of transport should be too. Your mode of transport is increasingly taking up road space used by my mode of transport, so if we make it more onerous and unpleasant, that might even up the scales.

Just need to add some compulsory insurance, compulsory training, compulsory helmets and compulsory hi-viz jackets to even things up

These calls for legislation aren’t about safety at all. They’re about resentment and punishment, punishing a mode of transport that is unorthodox, that gets in the way of other modes of transport and is in conflict with them. We should see those calls for what they are.

Posted in Uncategorized | 39 Comments

The makings of a successful cycle street

The ‘cycle street’ concept is a familiar one to cycle campaigners – a street where, it is claimed, cycling has priority, and ‘cars are guests’, sometimes with added rules about ‘no overtaking’.

I think it’s easy for British campaigners to get excited about ‘cycle streets’ primarily because the concept corresponds largely to existing cycling behaviour on busy British roads. Wouldn’t it be great – they might think – to cycle along this road without drivers attempting to overtake, and with those drivers knowing that they are ‘guests’ on it.

But the most successful ‘cycle streets’ don’t have any of these kinds of rules. The key ingredient is simply ensuring that the street in question isn’t a through-route for motor traffic. Markings, rules and signs are largely superfluous – indeed unnecessary – when this key condition is met. In fact they often aren’t even ‘cycle streets’ in any formal sense.

This is Buitenwatersloot in Delft.

It’s a busy route in and out of the city centre, running westwards from it. From this photo it might look like a ‘cycle street’, but it is in fact just an ordinary Dutch street, with no specific road design – just a blank asphalt surface – and with no ‘cycle street’ related signs.

All we have here is a sign telling drivers it is a dead end after 200m, and telling people cycling it isn’t a dead end for them. It isn’t a dead end for buses either – there is a bus gate, which forms the barrier for private motor traffic after 200m.

Drivers can obviously still use this street – there’s one doing so in this photograph below – but they will only be accessing properties along it, and on the handful of side streets, not going anywhere else.

This road is just part of a small ‘cell’ for driving, shown in red, while forming a direct route for cycling in an east-west direction. The green arrows also show that this cell is permeable for cycling to the south.

This street forms a high-quality cycling environment not because of any road markings, signs, or instructions to drivers, but because it will only ever have very small numbers of drivers using it. It might be nice to mark this street as a ‘cycle street’, but it’s not necessary.

And indeed we should be wary of emphasising markings, signs or instructions to drivers, because they are very easy to implement without changing anything else. It’s very tempting for highway authorities to stick up signs and splash down some paint without addressing through-traffic problems (hello the Quietway programme). ‘Cycle streets’ and ‘Quietways’ can be created with signs and paint, but in reality, it’s the through-traffic issue alone that defines whether ‘cycle streets’ are comfortable, safe and attractive cycling environments.

Posted in Uncategorized | 14 Comments

Fighting over scraps

This week, it’s evidently the turn of ‘the joggists’ to be the folk devil in the media, helpfully standing in for ‘the cyclists’ who traditionally take on this popular and coveted role.

One isolated incident, in which a man committed what appears to be an unnecessary and unprovoked assault, has proven fertile territory for journalists and opinion columnists to veer off into stereotypes and ludicrous commentary, in much the same way they do following an incident involving someone on a bike. (It’s perhaps no surprise that it’s some familiar faces making precisely same kinds of arguments).

There was rich competition for the most absurd take, but a strong contender surely has to be Sky’s Adam Boulton, who weighed in with this gem –

With an inevitable dig at cyclists

Closely followed by Julie Bindel, who, on Radio 4’s Today Programme, implied that jogging on pavements in cities should be banned entirely, again with an inevitable dig at cyclists –

Webb: Julie Bindel, what’s your solution?

Bindel: Running tracks are great. I like watching runners on tracks, it makes me feel envious about how fit they are.

Webb: What, ban jogging on the pavements?

Bindel: Jogging on the pavements… It’s very different in the city, I think, to runners I’ve seen in the countryside, and of course not all runners are aggressive. But when people are out walking and somebody’s coming at you, at a speed, and showing their clear irritation that you’re in their way, it’s not right. It’s exactly like pedestrians on the pavement when cyclists decide that they’re going to take their bicycle off the road, where they should be. So I think that runners should have their designated spots, and we should give priority to that, and that we shouldn’t be pushed out of the way under any circumstances.

And finally Michelle Hanson, with an extended whinge about joggers in general –

Most joggers do seem mad keen to jog in a straight line and not stop for anyone or anything… most joggers tend to look rather miserable and tormented, as if beset by personal problems, which perhaps stops them from giving a toss about the other people passing by.

Oh, with an inevitable dig at cyclists too, before rambling on about how apparently ill-mannered we are on pavements nowadays, getting in each other’s way.

Not one of these opinions actually engages specifically with the incident in question. They’ve just used that incident as an opportunity to veer off into a moan about joggers in general, crowbarring in cycling at the same time for good measure.

And worse than that, they all deal in the easy currency of blaming individuals for conflict on our streets, rather than examining why people are coming into conflict in the first place, and how we might stop that conflict from occurring at all. (This is a familiar theme, as you might expect…)

A clue is provided in one of the Radio 4 ‘vox pops’ in the piece preceding the interview with Bindel, as a man describes how a jogger annoyed him –

There was a lorry parked on the pavement, and they were digging up the pavement, and there was only a narrow strip. And he kept running towards me. I’m visually impaired, registered blind. He bumped me. But he came off worse. I shoved him back.

The easy option is of course to blame the jogger. But hang on a second. The pavement is being dug up. There’s also a lorry parked on it. Human beings only left with a narrow strip. Would these two people have even collided in the first place if we didn’t treat pedestrians with such contempt?

Bloody joggists running directly towards me, no manners. It’s obviously their attitude that’s the problem, not minuscule pavements.

Might it be the case that joggers are annoying not because of who they are – some inevitable ‘joggist’ tendency – but because pavements are desperately narrow?

And by the same token, might it equally be the case that cyclists are annoying not because of who they are – insert some guff here about ‘lycra louts’, or ‘smug, or ‘self-righteous’ – but because cycling is legalised on these pavements by councils unwilling to reallocate road space, and happy for cycling and walking to come into conflict as a result?

Legal cycling

Or because hostile roads leave ordinary people withnowhere else to go?

Illegal cycling

In reality, all this bickering about cyclists and joggers being annoying and ill-mannered is spectacular point-missing. It’s utterly ludicrous to say that cycling and jogging ‘doesn’t fit’ in our cities and towns. You could only arrive at that conclusion if you think tiny pavements and roads without any cycling infrastructure are somehow god-given and immutable, rather than the product of decades of car-centric planning. Jogging and cycling can obviously fit in cities, and the only reason they come into conflict with walking is because of a failure to give appropriate space to these modes of transport.

How annoying would joggers be in the entirely pedestrianised city centre of ‘s-Hertogenbosch?

Complaining about joggers and cyclists amounts to nothing more than fighting over tiny scraps, the crumbs from the feast on the table. If you’re coming into conflict with them, try looking at the tiny pavement you’re forced to share with them, rather than instinctively stereotyping them.

Just for once, just for once, I’d like to see some engagement with these issues, some constructive criticism of the way our urban environment engenders conflict between human beings, rather than just lazy criticism of them.

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Tackling some Westway misconceptions

The routing of the extension of Superhighway 3 along the Westway has now been formally cancelled, as reported by Ross Lydall, confirming what had already appeared to be a certainty as long ago as last year.

The news has been greeted with the re-hashing of some misconceptions about that Westway route. Given this bit of (potential) cycling infrastructure is now destined to never appear, there is an element of ‘flogging a dead horse’ in tackling those misconceptions – but despite the cancellation, I think it’s valuable to look at them in turn, because they have relevance for cycling infrastructure in general. So here we go.

‘Cycling on the Westway would be unpleasant’

The Westway is undeniably a very busy road, and cycling in close proximity to dense flows of motor traffic on an overpass sounds, at face value, like a pretty unpromising experience. Indeed, the initial visualisations for this route were problematic, with people cycling on this section of CS3 separated from motor traffic by an armco barrier, and nothing else.

But later visualisations – and indeed design details – showed that the separation would be much more substantial, consisting of a concrete base and glass noise screen.

From the cross-section design detail, this barrier would have been higher than the height of someone cycling, as described in this post from last year, by Alex Ingram.

As it happens, I have some experience of cycling along an almost directly analogous cycle path – a relatively exposed cycleway, on a bridge over the Waal river, beside a very busy road, with precisely this kind of barrier between me and motor traffic.

I can report that it was definitely not an unpleasant or horrible experience. You are certainly aware of motor vehicles (including HGVs) whizzing towards you on the other side of the screen, and can hear them, but the noise is enormously reduced. You are essentially insulated from them, and I was free to enjoy the views across the river to the city of Nijmegen as I pedalled across. If the Westway route had been built like this, then it would have been absolutely fine, at least in terms of separation from motor traffic – certainly much more pleasant than, to take an example, the existing separation on CS3 along Upper Thames Street and Blackfriars Underpass.

A related criticism of the Westway route is that it would be socially unsafe due to the length of route without any entry or exit points – just under 2 miles between Westbourne Terrace and Wood Lane, all on the overpass. Again, the bridge shown in the above photograph is almost directly analogous, running for 2.7 km without any entry or exit points, with the exception of one pedestrian step access point, to a man-made island in the middle of the river.

I am, of course, a man, so not best placed to judge social safety, but on the times I’ve cycle across this bridge – including late in the evening, as in the photograph, it was far from my mind. The bridge was relatively busy with people cycling in both directions, and I suspect the same would be true for the Westway cycle route, had it ever been built. Given the total lack of safe routes into and out of central London from the north-west of the city, it would have been in demand, and I doubt it would have felt as isolated (and therefore as unsafe) as critics have implied.

‘The Westway isn’t the best route for CS3’

This is a slightly better objection – if we want to enable people to cycle from the Lancaster Gate area north of Hyde Park, over to White City, then surely there must be a better route – one on the surface – compared to sticking people up on a 1960s flyover?

Indeed, I’m inclined to agree – I would in all likelihood prefer to cycle on a genuine high-quality, Dutch-style cycleway (of the quality of CS3 and CS6) through Kensington and Chelsea. Likewise, I’m sure Transport for London were inclined to agree too – so why did this route end up on the Westway in the first place?

The simple answer is that the ‘Westway route’ runs entirely along roads controlled by Transport for London. They would therefore have had control over implementation, and wouldn’t be at the mercy of recalcitrant boroughs and their potential objections. The Westway route was chosen specifically because it allowed the cycleway to completely bypass the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and roads controlled by that borough.

For context we should recall that Superhighway 9 – also running west, but on RBKC roads, has been completely canned in that borough because the council objected to protected cycleways of any form running along Kensington High Street. This doesn’t inspire confidence for any potential East-West superhighway route running through Kensington and Chelsea on borough-controlled roads, and largely explains why TfL opted to take an easier path and avoid the borough completely. This is confirmed by Andrew Gilligan.

Now, of course, it turns out that the newly-proposed alternative to the ‘Westway route’ is precisely on those RBKC roads – past Notting Hill Gate (where a recent ‘vision’ consultation failed to consider cycling altogether) and down Holland Park Avenue, before heading across the Shepherd’s Bush gyratory and up Wood Lane.

It is entirely possible that a high-quality scheme can be delivered along this route – these are, for the most part, very wide roads – but the history of RBKC and cycling infrastructure doesn’t do much to foster optimism.

The other problem with this objection – that the Westway isn’t the best route – is that the Westway clearly shouldn’t be the only ‘route’ in this part of London. Discussing where ‘the route’ should go misses the point that enabling cycling involves delivering networks, not just isolated routes from A to B. To that extent, the Westway should be just one route among many. All the main roads in this part of London should also have cycling infrastructure on them, and we shouldn’t be forced to choose between them. Putting a cycle route on the Westway doesn’t mean giving up on all other roads in the area. It should complement other ways of getting around this area, not be the sole way of doing so, and should therefore be considered on its own merits.

For instance, for people who live in and around White City, and who might want to head east towards Regents Park, Euston, and Bloomsbury, the Westway would obviously be a useful cycle route (and likewise for people heading in the opposite direction).

The new proposed ‘Superhighway’ route would be rather less convenient for these kids of trips, taking people south towards Shepherds Bush, before leaving this new ‘Superhighway’ route at a point of their choosing to head north again. There also remains the awkward question of what happens to people cycling north from Lancaster Gate on the existing stub of CS3, who will now arrive at a motorway-style junction with nowhere else to go.

So in answer to the objection that ‘the Westway isn’t the best route’, perhaps the best answer is that ‘the Westway should simply be one route among many, not the sole route’.

Or, given it isn’t going to be built now, would have been one route among many.

‘The Westway should be torn down, not have a cycleway put on it’

Maybe it should – it’s a ridiculous stub of motorway-centric planning, one of the small bits that actually ended up being built in central London. But as ‘tearing down’ doesn’t appear to be on the cards any time soon, the most immediate short-term choice is not between tearing the Westway down and keeping it up, it’s between having a Westway as it is now, or a Westway with less capacity for motor traffic and a useful cycle route on it.

Or, at least, that would have been the choice. In any case, the notion that putting a cycle route on the Westway is ‘bad’ because the Westway shouldn’t even exist in the first place is, frankly, deeply silly. (If anything, putting a cycle route on the Westway would partially strengthen a case for removal, by permanently reducing traffic capacity on it).

‘This was a route driven by ego, not by practicalities’

This is an objection that is almost entirely addressed by the ‘route-based’ point above.

The East-West Superhighway didn’t end up on the Westway because of ‘ego’, but because it was a route of last resort. While it did generate headlines, partly because of the symbolism of putting cycling infrastructure on central London’s most car-centric piece of infrastructure, this was actually the path of least resistance, the one least likely to generate difficulties and opposition. Indeed, almost the complete opposite of an ego-driven choice. By contrast, attempting to create a high-quality cycleway route on roads controlled by the London borough that – until now – has proven extremely hostile to high-quality cycleways on main roads is, on the face of it, extremely impractical.


I remain hopeful, of course, and I would absolutely love to see excellent cycling infrastructure come to fruition along these roads in Kensington and Chelsea (and in Hammersmith and Fulham). The Westway, however, would have formed a useful route in its own right, and could already have been under construction, in parallel to any proposed plans for roads in these boroughs.

Posted in London, Superhighways, Transport for London | 10 Comments

A curious kind of safety

Recently I found myself digging for some statistics on the relative risks of modes of transport in Britain. It turns out that (according to Department for Transport statistics) cycling is approximately twice as ‘dangerous’ as walking, if we are looking at the casualty rate per distance travelled.

Table RAS30070, showing relative risks of different forms of transport, based on NTS data

I use ‘dangerous’ in inverted commas because neither walking or cycling are, by themselves, intrinsically dangerous modes of transport – the risk involved comes almost entirely from exposure to motor traffic, rather than from just walking or cycling about in isolation.

Of course, by this metric, cycling (and walking) are both considerably more ‘dangerous’ than being a car driver, but to a large extent that’s because – to illustrate – it takes a very long time to walk 100 miles, and relatively little time to drive that distance. In the time it takes you to walk 100 miles, you will be exposed to many, many more hazards and dangers than you would be in the time it takes you to drive it. So it’s probably better to express the casualty rate as a function of time, rather than of distance, because then it would show more how much risk you were exposed to over that fixed period. In doing so we would find that being a car driver is less obviously ‘safe’ relative to walking and cycling, if we were considering casualty rates by time spent travelling – but the DfT doesn’t measure casualties like this.

However, whichever measure we choose to use, these statistics are still a very misleading measure of actual safety.

Why? Because they fail to account for the fact that the vast majority of the population simply won’t be cycling anywhere near Britain’s roads. They are too intimidating, hostile and dangerous for most of the population to even consider using cycling as a mode of transport. The ‘safety’ of cycling in Britain is therefore of a particularly curious form; much of it simply results from the fact that our roads are simply too terrifying for most people to cycle on. Our cycling safety statistics don’t account for the fact that the most dangerous roads and streets – which will in many cases be useful routes for ordinary journeys – are complete no-go areas for cycling. Nor do they account for the fact that what cycling that is taking place in Britain is heavily skewed away from children and the elderly in particular, both groups that are more vulnerable in different ways. Children are inexperienced, less able to judge speeds and distances, more likely to make mistakes, while the elderly are less able to react and avoid collisions, and more prone to suffering injury when they occur.

If we had a ‘neutral’ distribution of cycling, across all age ranges, combined with all these people cycling on the most direct routes – be that busy urban roads, or fast intra-urban routes, then our cycling casualty statistics would be appalling.

What would our cycle safety statistics look like if young children, and elderly people, were cycling on our busiest roads, mixing with motor traffic?

We can frame this another way. Let’s imagine a town with a bus service. All the buses in this town are fitted with shiny wooden bench seats, so well polished that they’re extremely slippery, and hard to stay seated on as the bus goes around sharp corners. There aren’t any seatbelts. And while these buses do have roofs to keep the sun and rain off…

… they don’t have any sides.

Obviously a tricky prospect, what with those slippery bench seats with no seat belts, and the twisty roads in the town.

For some reason, it turns out that only a very small number of people are prepared to use the town’s buses as they zoom around, from stop to stop. Maybe that’s because at least once a year someone gets killed or seriously injured as they fly sideways off the bus as it negotiates a corner. In any case, the elderly – who find it hard to cling onto the bus seats, to balance their weight and brace themselves – simply don’t get the bus. They use other modes of transport.

Likewise children – who most likely aren’t very aware of the risks of these kinds of buses, and find it hard to concentrate and stay focused on staying on the bus at all times – are also a rarity on the buses. Sadly, despite all the town’s primary schools offering free Busability lessons – including Busability Level 3! – only a handful of parents are prepared to let their children take the bus.

If our public transport was like this – too dangerous a prospect for most people to even consider using – I doubt we would even begin to think it was ‘safe’, or even use language like ‘statistically safe’. We wouldn’t be convinced that buses are safe to use, even if statistics showed that bus passengers were only slightly more likely to die than car drivers. We would say that that is a ridiculous metric, because so many potential bus passengers are simply too scared to use that mode of transport in the first place.

It doesn’t even have to be public transport. We could imagine a different town, one where all the pedestrian crossings only gave people walking a couple of seconds to cross the road, before motor traffic started speeding through again. Footways are also intermittent, giving up at random, forcing people to walk out into streams of heavy motor traffic.

Once again, as with the bus example, it turns out that in this town, only a small, fit and able minority are actually able to walk anywhere, those people who can sprint across the road in the short amount of time allocated to them, and are prepared to negotiate with motor traffic. Everyone else – again, most likely the elderly, people with disabilities, children – will either stay at home, or get ferried around by other modes of transport. Walking is simply too dangerous an option for them.

Under these circumstances, would we say that walking in the town is ‘safe’?

But I think the situation with cycling in Britain is almost directly analogous. We have a mode of transport that simply isn’t viable for most people – not for any intrinsic reason, but because of hostile conditions. Cycling in Britain is the equivalent of the bus that you’ll slide off of if you don’t keep paying attention, or have the strength and ability to cling onto. It’s the pedestrian crossing that only the fastest and the fittest are able to use (and even then with some degree of risk). And because these hostile conditions have existed for a very long time now – since the advent of mass motoring – we’ve grown extraordinarily complacent about them. Danger and risk are seen as almost innate elements of making journeys by bike. Yet if we introduced the level of hazard and risk involved in cycling for ordinary journeys in Britain onto public transport – the kind of hazard and risk that simply prevented most people from even using public transport in the first place – there would be a justifiable outcry.

This outcry is almost entirely absent when it comes to cycling because we’ve become completely accustomed to our road network being totally unfit for ordinary people to use. We even acknowledge this when we boast about a mere eight miles of ‘family-friendly’ cycling conditions, for just one day. 

By direct implication, the other 364 days of the year, and the near totality of the capital’s road network, is entirely family-hostile.

Perhaps cycling is ‘safe’, but it’s certainly a very curious kind of safety.

Posted in Uncategorized | 34 Comments

London’s enormous cycling potential

Back in 2010, Transport for London published an Analysis of Cycling Potential. – an assessment of many trips could be cycled by Londoners, but weren’t being cycled now. It was quite a conservative analysis (as will be described below) but even so it found that 4.3 million trips per day were potentially cyclable by Londoners, which amounted to 23% of all trips, and 35% of all trips by ‘mechanised modes’ (cars, taxis or public transport).

Now that report has been updated, released in March this year with a less restrictive assessment of what kinds of trips can’t be cycled. This new report has found that 8.17 million daily trips could be cycled by Londoners – that’s 41% of all trips, and 62% of all trips  made by motorised modes.

It should also be noted that this figure doesn’t include those trips that are already cycled, and those trips that are currently being walked.

On the left we see the total number of daily trips made by Londoners; the red bars are ‘deducted’ from that total, and are formed of ‘already cycled’ trips, trips that are walked, and some 5 million trips made by mechanised modes that, according to this analysis, can’t be cycled.

How has this 8.17 million figure been arrived at? It’s worth looking first at which trips were excluded under the 2010 analysis.

Significantly, any night-time trip was completely excluded, as was any trip by a person with a disability, any person under five or over 64, and any trips longer than about 5 miles, or that involved a heavy or bulky load, or any trip that took 20% longer to travel by cycle than by the previous mode.

Quite properly, these filters have been completely changed for the 2016 analysis; those changes account for the enormous increase in the number of potentially cyclable trips.

Notably –

  • The ‘encumbrance’ filter has been adjusted – bulky or heavy loads can now be cycled, with only ‘heavy work equipment’ or pushchairs excluded.
  • The ‘trip length’ filter stays the same, but has been increased from 8km to 10km for commuting trips
  • The ‘journey time’ filter has been removed altogether, mainly on the grounds that cycling journey time is reliable, so the potential extra time required to cycle can be deducted.
  • The age filter has been adapted to be distance-based; age no longer excludes trips altogether, but there is a recognition that older and younger people will not be so willing or able to cycle longer distances. It’s notable that trips by under 5s are still completely excluded though.
  • The ‘time of travel’ filter has been removed completely – trips at any time of day should properly be cyclable.
  • Likewise the ‘disability’ filter has also been removed completely – disability should not be a barrier to cycling.
  • Finally, a ‘trip chaining’ filter has been added– to include cycle stages forming part of longer trips.

There’s an acknowledgement these filters may still actually underestimate potential, particularly the distance filter. But it’s worth observing that the majority of ‘potentially cyclable’ trips are not very long, in any case.

Screen Shot 2017-07-20 at 13.58.35.jpgMore than half (55%) of all potentially cyclable trips are less than 3km (1.9 miles). 80% are less than 5km (3 miles), which the analysis says could be cycled in less than 20 minutes by most people. This amounts to 6.47 million trips, which is a third of all the trips Londoners make. To repeat, these figures don’t even include all the walking trips Londoners make; add those in and we find that 64% of all trips Londoners make are either already walked, or could be easily cycled in twenty minutes. London might be a large city, but a large proportion of the trips its residents make are relatively short and easily walkable and cyclable.

But what does all this ‘potential’ amount to in practice? What difference could it make? There’s a good amount of detail in the report on where ‘potentially cyclable’ trips are being made, who is making them, and how they are making them.

 

58% of these potential trips are trips that are currently made by car – this is 4.7 million daily trips, or around a quarter of all the trips Londoners make every day.

The rest is mainly composed of bus trips – 29% of the potentially cyclable trips are made by bus. The report also looks at these modes from the opposite perspective – how many trips by each mode are potentially cyclable.

A full two-thirds of all car trips Londoners make are potentially cyclable under the terms of this analysis – there is clearly enormous scope for reducing the amount of pollution, congestion, and improving public health, across the capital, provided cycling is designed and planned for, to enable these trips. In addition over 80% of current bus trips are cyclable. Given that 40% of London bus trips are completely free for the user – that is to say, subsidised – there is clear potential for reducing both costs and pressure on the London bus network too.

How about where these potentially cyclable trips are located? The report reveals, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the most potential is in outer London. 54.7% of all the ‘potentially cyclable’ trips are made within outer London.

But there are still enormous numbers of trips within inner London alone – 24.4% of all the potentially cyclable trips. There are well over a million daily trips by private motor traffic in inner London that could be cycled, and the report also notes that

While the overall number of potentially cyclable trips across central London and parts of inner London is lower than in outer London, there is a high density of trips in these areas. Combined with the number of potentially cyclable stages, this shows why interventions in the heart of the city are important to increase cycling.

To give some indication of the importance of inner London, even if we just look at Westminster alone, there are 600,000 daily trips that either start or end in that borough that could potentially be cycled.

While inner London does perform slightly better than outer London in terms of cycling modal share, only 9% of potentially cyclable trips in inner London are actually being cycled – the figure is, of course, even worse for outer London (4%). Given the recent controversy over the desperately poor new Five Ways proposal, it’s worth flagging here that Croydon has 400,000 potentially cyclable trips by residents that aren’t being cycled at the moment – the largest potential of any London borough.

 

Finally, it’s worth looking at what kinds of trips would potentially be cycled, and who would be making them.

The report shows that the vast majority of potentially cyclable trips would actually be cycled by females.

This isn’t actually all that surprising, given that it aligns with the kind of cycling share we see in countries where cycling isn’t suppressed by conditions, like the Netherlands, where trips by women outnumber those by men. As for ages, this graph also shows that around one-quarter of all potentially cyclable trips are by those under 16 or over 65. The number of potentially cyclable trips by children under 16 is approximately double the number of all trips currently cycled in London.

Cycling potential is evenly distributed across ethnicity, age, gender and income – for instance, it almost exactly aligns with the current ethnic profile of London. In other words, the report shows clearly that ‘cycling’ is not something that is intrinsically limited to any particular age, gender, ethnicity or class – it is only limited by current conditions. Unlocking this enormous potential has to involve tackling these conditions, because

The most significant barrier to realising this potential is that most cyclable trips are made by people that do not cycle at all

The kinds of trips that could potentially be cycled would also be much more evenly distributed by purpose.

As can be seen from this graph, commuting is disproportionately represented among current cycling trips – a full 28% of all trips. But under potentially cyclable trips, the figure drops to 17%, just 1 in 6 of all trips. This is why we need to move on from just catering for commuting trips, and developing networks that work for all types of trips. To take just one example, 82% of all trips for education purposes are potentially cyclable.

Indeed, the report notes that

Much of the potential identified is different to current cycling behaviour – only 2.54 million of the potentially cyclable trips are similar to current cycling trips

In other words, the kinds of ordinary day-to-day trips that are seen in Dutch towns and cities are grossly underrepresented in London.

Now of course not all of these 8.17 million trips – or 41% of total London trips – will necessarily end up actually being cycled, even if London does have a Dutch-quality comprehensive network built across it overnight. This study is only a measure of potential, and even if a trip is potentially cyclable, people may opt to use other modes of transport. So this won’t translate directly into a 41% mode share.

However, there are strong reasons for thinking that London could have a mode share approaching this kind of figure. For one thing, in addition to these 8.17 million trips, there are 1.55 million ‘stages’ (parts of trips) that could be cycled as part of a longer journey by other modes. These are mostly made by bus or underground. That’s a total of 9.71 million trips and stages that could potentially be cycled. Secondly, as already mentioned, this report also (quite rightly) excludes walking trips, but it’s reasonable to assume that a reasonable amount of longer walking trips would be transferred to cycling. And finally, these figures only cover Londoner residents – they don’t cover people who travel into London – so again will likely underestimate cycling potential, particularly in inner London.

In summary, this is a fascinating report that deserves to have a serious influence on transport policy in London, and indeed across urban areas in the United Kingdom, which are of course much more car-dominated than London. If there is such enormous potential in a city that has relatively low car share (at least compared to the rest of the UK), then it is surely even greater in other UK urban areas. Indeed, the potential for the largest shifts away from driving is already acknowledged to be greater away from London.

I’ve only covered some of the highlights here, so it’s worth digging into this report yourself!

Posted in Cycling policy, Infrastructure, London, Transport for London | 17 Comments

Squeezing out walking and cycling for a few extra car parking spaces – local planning in action

Why do we want people to walk and cycle for short trips, instead of driving? One of the main reasons, of course, is public health. If we cycled as much as the Dutch and the Danes in urban areas, figures typically suggest we would trim tens of billions of pounds off the NHS budget over just two decades. Physical inactivity is a huge economic burden.

We can attempt to encourage people to exercise more, and to do more physical activity, by providing facilities that people can use to play sport, or to engage in leisure activity. But the best way to increase physical activity is simply to build it into everyday life – to make walking and cycling obvious choices for ordinary day-to-day trips. Physical activity then doesn’t require any ‘extra’ effort or planning on the part of individuals; it will happen without people even thinking about it.

Kids cycling home from an event in Amsterdam’s Westerpark. This is physical activity; but for these people it’s just everyday life.

Unfortunately this kind of strategic planning is almost entirely absent when we look at how transport decisions are actually made on the ground in Britain. We talk about boosting physical activity and getting people to exercise, but then we go right ahead and put walking and cycling last in our transport planning.

There’s an excellent example of this awful kind of decision-making brewing in Horsham, where the council is planning to expand the amount of car parking at (ironically enough) the town’s leisure centre – Pavilions in the Park – at the expense of walking and cycling, and trees and green space.

The leisure centre is located almost exactly in the centre of the town, on the edge of the town’s park – so it is, theoretically, in an ideal spot for people to walk and cycle to. Most of the town, and its tens of thousands of residents, are within just one mile of it.

Circle showing 1 mile radius from the town’s leisure centre (courtesy of freemaptools)

There is already a fairly large car park in front of the leisure centre, with 208 spaces. The council wants to add 30 or so car parking spaces to the site, while (quite literally) squeezing out walking and cycling access to the centre from the north in order to do so.

At present, there is a fairly attractive pedestrian path that runs directly towards the leisure centre from the main road. It is in the middle of the car park, but you are effectively screened from it by hedges, trees, and planting. There are zebra crossings to give you priority as you enter the site.

Looking towards the leisure centre, in the distance, from the main road. This path is the wide, direct pedestrian access.

The main element of the new plan is essentially to sacrifice this path altogether to add in extra parking spaces, along with the removal of trees and green space at the margins – again, to squeeze in more car parking. A path will still remain, but it will be just 1.2 metres wide (yes, 1.2 metres), and unpleasantly sandwiched between two rows of car parking.

The new path, running roughly horizontally across this diagram, sandwiched between car parking.

As you can see inn the diagram above, the path is explicitly the width of three tactile paving slabs, a Scrooge-like degree of consideration for pedestrian comfort, convenience and safety.

This narrow width will be compromised further by street lighting and inevitable ‘overhanging’ of the path by parked cars. I’m grateful to a member of the Horsham District Cycle Forum for supplying these photos, below, of overhanging parking in the current car park, illustrating just how much a 1.2m path would be narrowed by parking on both sides.

If anyone manages to make it down this narrow corridor between dozens of parked cars on either side, they will then have wiggle through this insulting little maze (still only 1.2 metres wide) around some more car parking, before they finally arrive at the leisure centre.

Compare this path with the existing pedestrian path, which is direct, wide, and attractive at this point – a good piece of public space, albeit one that sits in the middle of a car park.

This bit of public realm will be replaced by extra car parking spaces. This circular space is just about visible to the right on the plans above, obliterated by new parking and asphalt.

Yet this is going to be torn up and replaced with the tiny, circuitous narrow path shown above, all for the sake of squeezing in a handful of extra car parking spaces. In an attempt at justification, it is claimed that the existing central path is little used, but

  • a) no evidence has been presented that that is the case, nor does it sit with my experience, or that of people I know, and
  • b) this is, and will be, the only pedestrian access to the leisure centre from the main road. Justifying desperately low-quality provision on this basis amounts to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In short, walking is treated with complete contempt in these plans – the background assumption seems to be everybody drives to this leisure centre, and will be driving to it, and therefore won’t even bother using this bit of path. Likewise, it appears to be assumed that very few people will walk and cycle here to the centre, and those peasants that are willing to do so will just have to lump it – either walk among the cars in the car park, or wiggle along this very poor, narrow route.

As for cycling, it isn’t strictly permitted on the existing path, and will be utterly impractical on the tiny new path, so again the assumption seems to be that people will have to cycle with the cars, just as they are expected to walk with them. I only managed to pop out to take photos for about five minutes yesterday afternoon, but there were plenty of families and young children cycling to the leisure centre after school either on the existing path, or on pavements.

A child cycling to the centre on the path that will be sacrificed for car parking

A father and daughter cycling to the leisure centre on the pavement. These people exist already and their needs should be catered for, not ignored.

This may or may not be legal, but they are obviously expressing a preference for cycling away from the car park. Forcing people with young children to cycle on the road through the car park will clearly reduce the numbers of people willing to cycle to the leisure centre. A serious disincentive to active travel – all to accommodate more car parking.

The final obstacle is that, as the plan involves adding automatic barriers for drivers on entry and exit, anyone cycling will have negotiate a narrow bypass, again only a metre or so wide, and shared with motorbike users.

The cycle and motorbike entry and exit channel, indicated by the arrow.

From the scale of these plans, this bit of path will be approximately 1.5m wide, clearly not sufficient for two-way flow. And note that, while this channel is desperately narrow, it sits alongside two exit barriers for motor traffic (in red). An extra exit has been added, with cycling squeezed (just like walking), to allow motorists to make a quick getaway.

These kinds of plans completely undo any public health benefit accruing from the leisure facilities on the site.

Sensible, joined-up planning to improve public health, to reduce congestion and pollution, to make our towns better places to live, should obviously involve planning safe and attractive routes for walking and cycling as a first priority, with space for motoring accommodated around those prioritised walking and cycling routes. Yet here the complete opposite is planned. An already large car park is set to be expanded further, pushing walking and cycling to the margins, removing any incentive people might have had to make healthy transport choices to visit the centre.

These plans are so bad that even the fairly car-centric county council, West Sussex, has flagged up both the awful design of the pedestrian access to the centre –

There is also the matter of the footpath leading through the centre of the site. This is the only segregated pedestrian access from Hurst Road into the site. At present this is generous in terms of width (over 3 metres). The proposed route however is 1.2 metres wide with pinch points due to lighting columns. A width to allow two way movements and the needs of all users should be used.

… and the narrow width (and poor design) of the cycle bypass –

Cyclists/motorcyclists would effectively have to give way to traffic emerging behind them. The narrow width would also make two way movements through this very difficult.

Councils that voice commitments to strategic planning and environmental priorities cannot be taken seriously when they are simultaneously producing awful schemes like this one, plans that stand in direct contravention of local, county and national planning policy.

This scheme simply has to be binned.

UPDATE

I’ve spotted that the council officer has attempted to justify the tiny 1.2m width of the proposed path on the following basis –

In the Department of Transport document Manual for Streets, it states there is no minimum width for footways however it does give guidance on widths for users. The width of this raised footway was considered against its car park location and use, and allows for all types of users from single person to a person being guided, persons who wish to pass, users with prams, disabled persons and wheelchairs users.

Department of Transport document Manual for Streets, although it states there is no minimum width for footways, gives the following guidance:-

  •  Person with a walking stick – 750mm
  • A wheelchair – 900mm
  • Person with a child side by side – 1200mm

The government Inclusive Mobility document gives a guidance width of:

  • Person with a walking stick requires 750mm width of path
  • Person with a walking aid (frame) requires 750mm width of path
  • A wheelchair as 700mm wide or allowing for elbows 900mm width
  • Blind person with cane or assistance dog requires 1100mm width of path
  • A visually impaired person who is being guided requires 1200mm width of path

Taking these in turn, if we actually look at Manual for Streets, the widths given aren’t the minimum requirements, just the actual dimensions of the users in question.

Note that the 1.5m width of two people walking side-by-side with a pushchair has been (deliberately?) omitted from the officer’s summary of Manual for Streets. Probably a bit embarrassing to admit that your path can’t accommodate two parents pushing their child in a pushchair.

What Manual for Streets actually says is

There is no maximum width for footways. In lightly used streets (such as those with a purely residential function), the minimum unobstructed width for pedestrians should generally be 2 m.

Note – ‘unobstructed’. The proposed 1.2m path will be obstructed by both lighting columns and overhanging parked cars. This passage also directly contradicts the officer’s assertion that Manual for Streets ‘states there is no minimum width for footways’.

As for the ‘Inclusive Mobility’ document, we again find that the officer has selectively omitted a key detail (in bold) –

Someone who does not use a walking aid can manage to walk along a passage way less than 700mm wide, but just using a walking stick requires greater width than this; a minimum of 750mm. A person who uses two sticks or crutches, or a walking frame needs a minimum of 900mm, a blind person using a long cane or with an assistance dog needs 1100mm. A visually impaired person who is being guided needs a width of 1200mm. A wheelchair user and an ambulant person side-by-side need 1500mm width.

And here is the passage from Inclusive Mobility on minimum path widths that the officer has failed to quote –

A clear width of 2000mm allows two wheelchairs to pass one another comfortably. This should be regarded as the minimum under normal circumstances. Where this is not possible because of physical constraints 1500mm could be regarded as the minimum acceptable under most circumstances, giving sufficient space for a wheelchair user and a walker to pass one another.

Given that there are no ‘physical constraints’ here whatsoever – the path is already 3m wide and is only being narrowed in the first place to accommodate more car parking – it is totally unjustifiable to narrow the path below 2m.

Posted in Car dependence, Horsham, Horsham District Council, Infrastructure, Parking, Town planning, Walking, West Sussex County Council | 15 Comments

Who is to blame

As soon as this video went viral earlier this week, it was clear it would only be a matter of time before it was picked up by tabloid newspapers, with an equally inevitable and predictable framing of the incident.

That is to say, the standard ‘who is to blame’ format.

So, so predictable

Naturally, this involves inviting readers to pass judgement on one of the parties involved, which in practice amounts to a two minutes hate on the people cycling.

Now clearly mistakes are made by the people in the video. It isn’t sensible to position yourself here.

It isn’t sensible to maintain that position, right in front of the HGV, through the junction.

It certainly isn’t sensible to drive such a large vehicle assuming that there isn’t anyone in that kind of position.

But this is all very banal. Focusing on the personal failings of the people in the video means spectacularly missing the point. Minor mistakes should not result in the scene shown in the photograph above – a person very close to death, or at the very least serious injury.

I don’t think either the man cycling, or the man behind the wheel of the HGV, are ‘to blame’ here, in any meaningful sense. The driver in the cab is clearly having to deal with motor traffic on his right hand side, as the two queuing lanes going ahead merge on the far side of the junction. Meanwhile, the (well-known) dreadfully limited direct visibility from the driver’s position means it is far too easy for him to fail to spot multiple human beings immediately in front of his vehicle. There isn’t even a mirror that would have revealed them indirectly.

The driver literally had no idea the man was there until the collision occurred.

Meanwhile the man on the bike clearly makes what, in hindsight, is a bad decision. But it’s a bad decisions that is actively encouraged by the way we paint our roads. We put painted lanes by the kerb on the run up to junctions. We paint Advanced Stop Lines in front of HGVs. It’s entirely natural, therefore, to expect human beings to cycle up to the front of a junction, both because that’s instinctive, and also because the way we paint roads promotes this kind of behaviour.

Now it turns out that this junction didn’t have an Advanced Stop Line. But how are you supposed to know that when you are approaching it?

By the time you arrive at the junction, it is too late, and you, and several other people, are effectively trapped in an extremely dangerous position, with the best option probably being to bail out onto the pavement, or to jump the lights.

Is that really something we can expect people to do? It seems to me to be as unlikely as expecting HGV drivers to never fail to spot human beings in close proximity to their vehicles. We have a dangerous situation, created by design.

So who is actually ‘to blame’ here?

It’s not the individuals – it’s the system. A system that thinks it’s acceptable to mix human beings and enormous vehicles with very limited visibility, and hopes that nobody makes a minor mistake. There simply isn’t any excuse for designing roads that create situations like the one in the photograph above. Those people should be separated from that HGV entirely at this kind of junction.

If that isn’t possible, then HGVs of this scale simply shouldn’t be permitted to use that junction. We have graphic evidence of just how dangerous it is to combine human beings and HGVs in that space.

So we know what the solutions are. Every time an incident like this happens and we blame the individuals concerned for making mistakes, rather than the system that means those mistakes are inevitable and lethal, we will fail to prevent incidents like this from happening again. It has to stop.

Posted in Uncategorized | 36 Comments