In the wake of Mike Penning and Norman Baker’s bizarre and misleading comments about the respective safety of Dutch and British cyclists to the House of Commons Transport Committee on cycling safety in April, Jim Gleeson took a close look at how wrong those ministerial claims were, and also at the nature of the hazards posed to Dutch and British cyclists.
This latter post showed that while the fatality rate for cycling deaths not involving motor vehicles was approximately similar in both countries (i.e. single person accidents, or involving pedestrians), the rate of fatal collisions for cyclists with motor vehicles, per billion km cycled, is over eight times higher in the UK than in the Netherlands.
Lorries account, disproportionately, for a good number of those UK deaths – while forming only 5% of road traffic, they are involved in 16% of cycling deaths (source – The Times). This was a point raised on the 17th January this year by Roger Geffen of CTC, when he appeared before another House of Commons Transport Committee, which was discussing road safety. This was before the Times’ Cities Fit For Cycling Campaign had emerged, so lacked some of the attention later House of Commons debates on cycling achieved, particularly that involving the ministers.
In giving evidence, Geffen rightly pointed out the particular danger posed to UK cyclists by HGVs, noting that
Lorries are involved in around 20% of cyclist fatalities and over 50% of cyclist fatalists in London and probably also in other large cities.
Before going on to observe that
We should be looking at lorry routeing and how we can simply reduce the number of lorries on the roads in our major towns and cities. We should be looking at the monitoring of drivers. The driver who was goodness knows how far over the limit and talking on his mobile phone had a whole history that should have taken him off the road. How come he wasn’t? There is a whole load of health and safety management.
We have to look at what continental Europe does. What do cities with far higher levels of cycle use do? In Holland, a lorry driver would be surrounded by a lot more cyclists. What are the solutions that are working and still mean that their cyclists are safer? The Government have many roles to play in investigating a lot of different, possible solutions to lorry safety and monitoring their effectiveness. That is important too. All of these things need to be monitored because we do not really know what works.
Unfortunately the Dutch SWOV road safety data does not appear to give a breakdown for the involvement of lorries in cycling fatalities, so I cannot find a direct comparison for the UK figures. It is a reasonable presumption, however, that the rate of fatal collisions for Dutch cyclists involving HGVs is as proportionately low, compared to the UK, as the fatality rate for collisions involving motor vehicles as a whole – that is, eight times lower than in the UK. (There are good grounds, as we shall see in this post, for assuming it might be even lower).
Roger Geffen rightly points out the routing of lorries is a major issue – keep the lorries out of some areas of cities and towns, at certain times, and you immediately minimise the risk posed to cyclists by cutting down on the exposure.
However, the section of his comments I have highlighted is particularly interesting; Geffen claims that in the Netherlands, a lorry driver would be ‘surrounded’ by many more cyclists, presumably as a function of there being many more cyclists on Dutch roads. And yet Dutch cyclists are much safer than their UK counterparts – the implication seemingly being that Dutch lorry drivers are much better trained, or better behaved, despite being ‘surrounded’ by cyclists, or even that that ‘surrounding’ itself has some safety implication.
The comment is curious, because in my admittedly limited experience of cycling in the Netherlands – a few weeks, in total, and around two to three hundred miles – I don’t remember ever seeing a lorry ‘surrounded’ by cyclists, or indeed ever really mixing myself with lorries.
To see if this was just a trick my memory had played on me, or whether my impressions were correct, I decided, in an idle moment last week, to scour the hours and hours of footage, and hundred of photographs, I took on the Cycling Embassy three-day study trip to Assen and Groningen last year, to see just how and when we mixed – or didn’t mix – with lorries.
It was quite hard work, principally because there were very few lorries encountered during the trip, and also because they were quite often at some distance. My memory of not really interacting with lorries at all was a sound one.
The results are below, both stills from video, and some photographs. I have circled the HGVs because in some cases they are hard to spot.
In nearly every single instance of a lorry being spotted, I was cycling on separated infrastructure. This is not a coincidence; separated infrastructure is almost always provided on roads that lorries use regularly. The only example of a more ‘direct’ interaction with a lorry is in the third photograph, where the lorry was travelling along this road –
while I waited to cross from the left, by the building with the scaffolding – emerging from a ‘bicycle road’ to head across into a vehicle-restricted area.
To be clear, we did not spend our entire trip cycling on cycle paths – we used all kinds of streets and roads, visiting city centres, hospitals, industrial estates, schools, housing estates, woonerfs, and shopping centres. We did not manage to avoid lorries by sticking completely to cycle paths.
Crucially, those streets we used that did not have separated infrastructure, like these –
are unattractive or impossible to use as through-routes (except on foot, or bike, of course). If we had encountered a lorry in these places, it would only be because it was accessing a property on one of these streets, not because it was on its way to somewhere else.
On those routes that lorries do use – and where we did encounter them – cyclists are separated, either spatially or temporally. You can see the evidence of this in my photographs.
Cyclists do not ‘surround’ lorries in the Netherlands – quite the opposite. They are kept almost entirely apart. That might explain why Dutch cycling casualties are so low.
There are figures for cycling fatalities involving lorries in right hook incidents (the equivalent of left hook incidents in the UK). This report (in Dutch on page 2) by SWOV from fall 2011 states the figures for the first 10 years of the current century. Note that these are the figures for the entire country and there is of course a lot more cycling in the Netherlands.
2000 17; 2001 19; 2002 6; 2003 7; 2004 15; 2005 15; 2006 19; 2007 8; 2008 6; 2009 10; 2010 4.
To get this figure and especially the figure of injuries further down SWOV states the following:
“According to SWOV the ultimate solution to the right hook problems is to structurally separate cyclists from lorries. […] In the short term a solution can be found in separating cyclists and lorries on junctions in time and space.”
So “separate where that is not yet the case”. It means you are right to assume that there is indeed no truth in the suggestion that Dutch lorries are surrounded by more cyclists. Separation is the reason why the Dutch have fewer fatalities.
Absolutely right. The lack of conflict between vehicles and cyclists is the reason why cyclists are safe in the Netherlands, not because motor vehicles surrounded by cyclists suddenly become more safe.
When you look at a specific type of vehicle such as trucks then it becomes very obvious. Buses are another good example. It’s rare to share a road with a bus (though there are exceptions and this happens on some streets near the centre of Groningen).
More generally, as you’ve pointed out, you don’t share roads with through traffic.
I think the 8x figure is for serious accidents and fatalities ie the chance of being killed or seriously injured without a motor vehicle involved is much the same, but the chance of death or serious injury involving a motor vehicle is 8x higher here than in NL. Doesn’t change your basic point.
And while I could just about swallow the theoretical idea of cars surrounded by bikes behaving differently (though as your and others’ research indicates, that doesn’t look to be a significant factor), the idea of lorries being “surrounded” by bikes seems an odd one. We’re told lorry drivers can’t see bikes close to them, so if they were (thought they might be) perpetually surrounded by bikes they could never move. Even in NL. there must be some deliveries….
So basically, Roger was sticking to the “safety in numbers” argument? I’m still far from convinced about this – is it safety in numbers, or numbers from safety?
What is evident from your photos (and I’m assuming that you’ve not just selected the ones that show lories segregated) is that there’s a world of difference between the two countries. These only serve to emphasise how far we’ve got to go in the UK – thanks for taking the time to go through your hundreds of photos.
And it’s interesting that you have to point out to the (presumably) English speaking audience of your blog that separation is not the case 100% of the time, that there are streets in Assen where cyclists and motorised traffic share space. The logic behind this is shared in Germany – the busier the road, the more the need for separation, and conversely quiet streets require less. It is the fundamentals of safety-oriented thinking. Yet it eludes UK politicians and traffic planners alike, in a country perhaps more obsessed than any other with risk asessments and health and safety.
And David’s mention of buses is a timely reminder of one of the UK’s more remarkable infrastructure ideas, the shared bicycle and bus lane.
Thanks for doing that painstaking work of wading through the video material!
A few years ago whilst on holiday in NL we where cycling on the right hand side cycle path when a HGV went past us to our right indicating to turn right. I am almost 100% certain in a UK situation the lorry would have pulled across us but it this situation the HGV came to a complete standstill and waited until we had passed.
I agree with above its very rare to ever have to mix with lorries in NL but even when you do there is absolutely no intimidation.
The hardest part of any cycling holiday in NL is that moment you roll off the ferry in Harwich and the total shit that UK cyclists have to deal with is there straight away. I nearly always go through a phase of simply not wanting to ride my bike because of the continuous harassment cyclists have to put up with here.
This time next week should be in Loosdrecht, bring it on.
The only thing I would add to your admirable analysis was that, in the mornings after the rush, there would be lorries unloading at the bars and shops (I believe the efforts of the Cycling Embassy study tour to rehydrate after a long day looking at cycle tracks might have something to do with the number of Heineken lorries …) in the sort of street shown in your penultimate picture. Generally at this time there weren’t many people about and, as you say, the lorries weren’t en route to anywhere, but that was the one time I was even aware of them being around.
I have been cycling in Germany, Holland, Belgium and France for several years now. Of these, France is the least comfortable because it is much like UK. However, it is a pleasure the cycle in the others. I have never felt intimidated by the traffic, even when sharing the same road. In the cities, cycling is much more prevalent than in UK. As a result motorised traffic is far more used to cyclists than in UK and take much greater care around them. However, the main advantage is the extensive network of separate cycle tracks, complete with traffic lights and signposts. These are built at the same time and integrated into the road system. When new docks are built on the European rivers, cycle tracks are laid down at the same time as roads are. In UK we have so far to go that I think it will not happen in my lifetime.
Compare your pictures with my sons school run https://twitter.com/farnie/status/309227936492429312/photo/1
A friend of mine suggested that I was wrong to ask for a cycle path on this wonderfully wide path. She said that my 8 yr old son should be on the road being ‘part of the traffic’. I am still too cross to blog about it.
I have cycled extensively in Holland, Belgium, Germany and a bit in Denmark. There is no comparison with UK. In this country, motorists are at war with cyclists in the city and merely ignore them in the country. I have never felt safe cycling in UK and as a result, I tend to ride aggressively. I make sure I am right in front of them where they must see me. In contrast, I have never felt as safe as in the centre of Rotterdam or Hamburg. The cycle lanes keep cyclists separated from the traffic, even having their own traffic lights. Even when we have to share the road, it is clearly marked where we go. Motorists are very much more aware of cyclists. As a result, huge numbers of people cycle in these counties. They range from little old ladies right through to beautifully ‘dolled up’ young girls to ‘goths’ and everyone in between. In the grounds of inner-city schools, you will see hundreds of school children’s bikes. With very few exceptions, politicians in this country have no interest in cyclists and care even less. (unless they think they can get any votes out of it!)
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