People drive around in dark coloured cars. There’s no stigma if you happen to use a car that’s black, or dark blue, or dark grey. It’s normal.
Likewise people walk around in dark clothes without even thinking about it. Campaigns to get pedestrians (i.e. people) to wear hi-visibility clothing will always fail, because donning special uniforms just to walk about is frankly absurd.
Yet the common refrain is that anyone cycling around in ordinary clothing is ‘invisible’. This ‘invisibility’ opinion was even voiced, yesterday, by the Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, Meg Hillier – enthusiastically endorsing Robert Goodwill’s call for people to wear hi-viz clothing.
It’s highly unlikely that Hillier would argue that too many pedestrians are ‘invisible’ simply because they aren’t wearing special safety jackets. We expect to be able to cross roads, and to use zebra crossings, wearing the clothes we wear on a daily basis, and we expect to be seen, by other people walking or cycling about, or driving about. Likewise it’s unlikely she would argue that dark cars are ‘invisible’ because they aren’t dayglo yellow, or because they don’t have reflective strips plastered all over them.
What the ‘invisibility’ claim amounts to, therefore, is an assertion that anyone riding a bike should make some kind of special effort to be seen, an effort above what we expect people walking or driving to make. But why? What is is special about riding a bike, compared to walking about or driving, that necessitates this extra effort?
Certainly you could argue that people cycling are vulnerable, not having the extra protection afforded by the metal cage that surrounds car occupants – but precisely the same is true of pedestrians, who are struck with appalling regularity by people driving cars.
You might – alternatively – argue that a person on a bike is less visible than a (dark) car. But is this really true? There is the notorious problem of ‘look, but failed to see’ – this is where drivers look, but simply don’t perceive someone on a bike, or a motorbike, because they failed to fit into the template of objects the driver is expecting to look for.
And there is good evidence to suggest that making the objects people fail to see more ‘conspicuous’ has no effect on whether they would fail to continue to see them in future. Here, for instance, is an intriguing study which suggests police vehicles parked at the side of roads shouldn’t use their lights – and should park sideways – to make them appear less like a moving vehicle, and more like a stationary one.
results suggest that ‘looked but failed to see’ accidents may arise not because the parked vehicle is difficult to see, but for more cognitive reasons, such as vigilance failure, or possession by the driver of a `false hypothesis’ about the road conditions ahead. An emergency vehicle parked in the direction of travel, with only its blue lights flashing, may encourage drivers to believe that the vehicle is moving rather than stationary. Parking at an angle in the road, and avoiding the use of blue lights alone while parked, are two steps that drivers of parked emergency vehicles should consider taking in order to alert approaching drivers to the fact that a stationary vehicle is ahead.
The issue is one of perception, not of ‘visibility’ – making things more ‘visible’, even a police car, simply won’t work. Likewise a Department for Transport study found that ‘failure to see’ errors occur more frequently during the day –
suggesting that they derive from failures of attention, perception and cognition, rather than being of sensory origin.
In other words, drivers are simply not looking for things they are not expecting – the actual conspicuity of the object they fail to see is immaterial. We shouldn’t therefore expect these particular kinds of problems to be resolved by making people more yellow, or more reflective, because drivers will still be looking past them, looking for different things. (Genuine solutions to these kinds of problems should involve reducing the visual and task load on drivers).
If someone is actually looking, then, is someone on a bike any less visible than a car that is equivalently dark?
To me, at least, the people cycling on the right – even with the fairly weak lights on the London hire bikes – are effectively just as ‘visible’ as the dark car on the left.
And modern Dutch bikes (and presumably many other types of cycles) come equipped with a range of lights and reflective elements that push their ‘visibility’ higher than that of a car. My bike has reflective sidewall tyres.
Viewed from the rear, it has a white mudguard, two rear reflectors, as well as a rear light, and the standard orange pedal reflectors.
And the front obviously has a bright white light, surrounded by a reflector. Note also how the reflective sidewall tyres stand out in this shot, as well as the pedal reflectors.
All of this equipment is built into the bike; the lights are powered by a dynamo, so they’re on as soon as I start moving, and stay on for around five minutes when I’m stationary, thanks to a capacitor. The lights themselves actually have a sensor which means they come on automatically when it gets a bit gloomy, but I personally have the lights ‘on’ permanently, because it doesn’t cost me anything in perceptible effort pushing the dynamo.
How much of a difference is a dayglo jacket going to make on top of all this built-in visibility? I’d suggest next to none. If a driver doesn’t seem me with all this equipment, he or she just isn’t going to see me, full stop, and I’m not going to engage in a pointless arms race in an attempt to change that, any more than I would paint my car yellow, or add reflective strips to it, in an attempt to stop people crashing into it, or don a ‘pedestrian safety jacket’ to use a zebra crossing. We just don’t do this, and for good reason – there’s a reasonable baseline expectation of visibility, and one that should obviously be applied to anyone riding a bike in precisely the same way.
For what it’s worth, I’m fully in favour of the kind of equipment my bike has being ‘standard issue’ because it doesn’t add any difficulty or inconvenience to everyday life. It’s part of the bike, and I don’t even have to think about it – I don’t need to bring any equipment with me, because the bike does the job for me. But wearing special clothing to counter spurious accusations of ‘invisibility’? That’s just bullshit, frankly.
Of course what the whole “cyclists should wear hi-viz” amounts to is another form of victim blaming, in that if I get knocked off my bike at night due to an inattentive driver then it’s clearly NOT a failing of the driver but mine as I’m not wearing a bright enough jacket.
FWIW I’ve been cycle commuting for the last 9 years and during that time I’ve worn many jackets from “proper” hi-viz, through to a rather ninja like lightweight black windstopper and previously a similar designed one in yellow. I’ve also had blue and current one is a rather nice shade of light green/turquoise and guess what? From what I can tell I still get a pretty much equal chance of being SMIDSY’d regardless of what I wear and at night I even have a fairly bright Lezyne light on (which I have been told was “too bright” as I rode through a park once, can’t bloody win it seems…..).
What I would say on the subject of visibility is that I quite like the Reflect 360 jackets as they really do highlight nicely, however only when light is shining on them (my LED based lights make riders ahead, like road signs, light up like a beacon from much further away then you’d imagine!) however as with other reflective technology they are only really effective if shining a light at them so may not help in a side on/vehicle emerging from side road type situation.
Off topic, but your Lezyne light probably IS too bright for use in a park. The LED directly exposed to the viewer is a poor design from a dazzle perspective since the viewer sees the LED element directly, which is horrible. For the same reason, the exposed filament on a car main-beam headlight is very unpleasant, whereas on dipped-beam the onlooker only sees secondary reflections.
German law states that bike lights must not expose the filament/LED to the onlooker and they don’t dazzle. You can buy German spec Busch and Mueller ones in the UK. If you were to stand in front of your light in the dark you would probably say it was too bright, point it at the floor in the park and get a bell if people are ignoring you.
Its something I have real beef with because it leads folk on bikes into the same bullying aggressive behaviour that they hate in the drivers of cars.
Fully agree with the OP. My employer tells me that PPE is the last line of defence and cannot be relied upon for safety. Safety comes from system design, not PPE. Why this attitude is not used on the road is odd. But it probably comes down to the fact that transport and our streets are highly politicised… logic goes out the window at this point.
I do have it angled down so I hopefully don’t dazzle oncoming riders or pedestrians. Especially since I’ve adapted my route this last year to use some more shared use paths through other parks but appreciate the point made. I just find it amusing that it can be a case of “Damned if we do, damned if we don’t”. I’ve also had words with drivers before as they’ve had no lights on at night and lose count of how many drivers I see with failed single lights.
That last one is just ridiculous. I’ve never seen so many broken lights as since I’ve moved to the UK.
Hopefully one day ‘cyclists should wear hi-viz if they don’t want to be hit’ will be regarded with the same disdain as ‘women shouldn’t wear revealing clothes if they don’t want to be raped’.
That is a vital point. It is primarily the driver-side headlamp that causes retroreflective material to glow in the eye of the beholder. The passenger-side lamp does far less because it is too far off-axis unless the rider is too far away to be in the beam of a dipped headlamp.
The people most likely to “not see” you are drunks, who can forget to switch the lights on, and unroadworthy drivers who don’t bother to maintain their cars and may have a defective headlamp on one side. The very people you most want to see you better are the least likely to do so.
Whether walking or riding, I wear pale clothes at night. I chose pale colours for the cars I owned as well. In urban areas street lighting is often the most important means of illuminating you and neither retroreflective nor fluourescent surfaces help at all in that context.
As a rough approximation in our conditions here, your retroreflectors show up to about 150 metres in good conditions. Your lights show you up at double that distance and streetlight can also show you up at that distance. Each will depend on conditions and sometimes one will be far better than the other.
Perception beyond about 300 metres is not really helpful and may even be a disadvantage. That is about the maximum distance at which drivers may need to start planning their overtaking manoevre or making other allowance for your presence. If you are visible far beyond the range at which they can react to you, they are likely to blank you out of their consciousness and this blanking may persist until you are quite close.
Modern pale-green fluourescent is alright at night, but only because it is pale. The fluourescence adds nothing to its conspicuity where there is no ultraviolet to illuminate it.
I should mention, however, that fluorescent materials can appear bright for a while after sunset because a lot of the Sun’s UV light is intercepted by the Ozone layer and re-emitted as lower-energy (less damaging) UV wavelengths. The Sun is still shining on the upper atmosphere for some time after it sets at ground level. This will confuse some people (including some ill-informed politicians and bureaucrats) into thinking that fluorescent material glows in the dark or under artificial light.
I should add that pale clothing enables you to be seen as a person, rather than just a point or two of light, so judging your relative speed, position and direction of travel is far easier for other road users. It also makes the process of communicating with them far easier.
I got a Proviz switch for Christmas and to be honest I remain to be convinced. Far too reliant on an external light source.
“For what it’s worth, I’m fully in favour of the kind of equipment my bike has being ‘standard issue’ because it doesn’t add any difficulty or inconvenience to everyday life. It’s part of the bike, and I don’t even have to think about it – I don’t need to bring any equipment with me, because the bike does the job for me.”
Exactly as it is for those buying (and driving) motor cars. It’s not like you buy a car and then have to buy lights and reflectors and fit them, or wear special clothes to be seen by other road users.
I blame car headlights.
When I ride a bike or walk round my city, pedestrians & cyclists are very visible to me.
When I drive I’m looking at an area that is relatively bright & well lit, I imagine my eyes adjust to observe objects in that area well and anything outside the cone of my headlights is then rendered ‘invisible’.
This is exacerbated when the lights of an oncoming car dazzle me & my eyes to adjust again, rendering objects in-between into silhouettes.
In urban areas with street lighting, I think cars should drive with only sidelights on. This would allow other users to see them & not be dazzled, allow their drivers to see people in normal clothes and would, hopefully, have the added effect of reducing speeds.
this is a good point…and one i agree with wholeheartedly..people and bike riders can never hope to compete for being seen when there is a mess of very bright lights moving quickly about the roadways (especially in the wet) however well lit they are.
+1 to this. There’s also the fact that car headlights have been getting more powerful for many years now, meaning that anything that isn’t lit by them is relatively darker. It’s an arms race that mere humans can’t compete in, unless you’re prepared to dress up like a lighthouse. Wearing hi-viz would only benefit you once in the driver’s headlights, by which point it may be too late.
The highway code says drivers must use sidelights at night and must “use headlights at night, except on a road which has lit street lighting” (113); must not “use any lights in a way which would dazzle or cause discomfort to other road users, including pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders” (114) and should “use dipped headlights, or dim-dip if fitted, at night in built-up areas and in dull daytime weather, to ensure that you can be seen” (115) https://www.gov.uk/guidance/the-highway-code/general-rules-techniques-and-advice-for-all-drivers-and-riders-103-to-158
Typically clear as mud then!
Maybe not as clear as it could be but the intent is good. Here in Australia car drivers are required to have the headlamps on at night, even in the inner city. I am not sure that it helps them see better but the glare can certainly make it more difficult for other people to judge their position, speed and direction.
It can be about putting the street lighting into the right places, instead of blanketing the entire street in uniform light some jurisdictions intentionally brighten (some times by a lot) pedestrian crossings, traffic lights, junctions, etc to reinforce the additional attention needed in those areas.
How wonderful to hear that from someone else.
Our railway stations, as one instance, are so intensly lit that long sections of the bikepath along the railway line seem to be in prpfound darkness although the level of ambient light is quite sufficient in other places. Except on moonless nights out of town, it is more the relative than the absolute level of light that determines how well we can see.
We can see far better at a low but even level of light than in bright but strongly contrasting light.
I’m so glad you’ve written about this! I couldn’t agree more. It’s just another one of those bits of recycled rhetoric that people love churning out, without really thinking it through properly.
As usual I can’t say much more than I agree (but probably couldn’t write about it so calmly ‘cos it annoys me too much!).
Only quibble would be that it seems to me that there is in fact an increasing pressure on pedestrians to wear this stuff as well – in particular large groups of children out for whatever reason seem to often be clad in the stuff.
I did kind of touch on that, by mentioning campaigns to get pedestrians to wear it (in the opening paragraphs) – and to repeat the point I made there, these campaigns will fail because it will involve essentially abolishing ordinary clothes for day-to-day activities. Which is insane!
A big exception to that failure (regarding pedestrians) is runners. There’s a huge market for hi-vis, flashing armbands, etc for running. And all the groups I’ve run with (in urban areas) have strongly advised that members wear hi-vis and even lights for their own safety.
Is this just that runners (like cyclists) are faster moving than someone walking, and therefore less likely to be anticipated? Or that runners are more likely to throw ourselves stupidly into the road?
What concerns me the most is that Meg Hillier is the Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group wtf!
Whilst agreeing in principle with all that was said here, I did come across a guy the other day when I was driving and he had on some kind of jacket that made his whole torso glow brilliant white like some kind of apparition. I literally saw him “from miles away” (OK, maybe 1/2 a mile). Maybe that was because how he appeared did not fit in with my brain’s concept of what I ought to see on the road ahead?
Probably one of the relatively new breed of fully retro-reflective jackets, like the pro-viz:
I think they’re smarter than the gaudy grubby yellow-green thing (with retro-reflective patches) which I wear, and brighter at night (assuming the viewer is shining a light from the same direction).
I also agree with the article that people shouldn’t have to dress like Christmas trees, but the roads aren’t going to change overnight, my considered opinion (as a cyclist, pedestrian, driver and father) is that hi-vis does make me more visible in low light, and in the I’m sure we all want to get home safe at night. (also my jacket is waterproof, cheap from lidl, has a long enough back to cover my belt gap, and big air vents where I stash my gloves, etc.
Good post. I cover the same issues in Chapter 9 of my book downloadable here http://rdrf.org.uk/death-on-the-streets-cars-and-the-mythology-of-road-safety/ .
I would argue that this pressure is not “just” victim-blaming, but part of the process of offloading responsibility away from drivers to watch out – as such it is part of the problem of a “SMIDSY” attitude, leading to more danger for cyclists and pedestrians.
What I would dispute is (1)
the point you make that this stress on hi-viz is for cyclists only. Pedestrians do have a recommendation to wear hi-viz in the Highway Code, and the “road safety” industry actively promotes this in rural areas in Northern Ireland for daytime use, for example, as well as for children in winter in the evenings in the UK generally.
While I like the fit-and-forget dynamo system on MY Continental style town bike, the same arguments about cyclists being “invisible” when unlit in the dark apply to some extent. I’m not saying it’s OK to cycle lightless in the dark – pedestrians deserve a front light and you ought to go with the legal requirements – but as the actual reason for collisions, well, I dunno.
“Pedestrians do have a recommendation to wear hi-viz in the Highway Code, and the “road safety” industry actively promotes this in rural areas in Northern Ireland for daytime use, for example, as well as for children in winter in the evenings in the UK generally”
Agree with that, though it is normally in particular contexts.
To be clear, if we really meant that pedestrians should wear hi viz, then every single driver would need it once they had parked up.
My experience of “road safety” committees is that they are utterly dominated by citizens who suppose that anyone who does not drive is a dangerous subversivbe or certifiably insane. It’s the kind of body that attracts paranoid fanatics and anyone who is not can feel very unwelcome.
I think the last point you made is good. When we hear calls for pedestrians to wear high-viz I think they really mean “walkers” and “runners” and other weirdos like that. If you were to suggest that everyone should pull on their high-viz before they get out of the car so they aren’t invisible while they run in to the shop for a minute you’d be told that’s totally different.
Certainly that’s what I get told when I suggest if cyclists were legally required to wear high-viz it would make sense for cars to be required to have high-viz panels like the emergency services vehicles.
Personally I think calls for pedestrians (which of course doesn’t include motorists who are temporarily on foot) to wear high-viz are unlikely to ever result in a legal requirement but, like the same calls for cyclists, will result in a general attitude that if you don’t wear it you are endangering yourself and motorists shouldn’t be obliged to watch out for pedestrians who can’t be bothered to even deck themselves out in special walking clothing.
Usually pedestrians are not on the road – one exception is ‘rural areas’.
There is a relevant case which almost tested whether not wearing hi-viz was ‘contributory negligence’.
A driver who failed to see a 13-year-old girl against oncoming headlights hit her causing serious injuries. Churchill, the insurer of the driver who hit her, was given leave to appeal the decision in the High Court that she had no ‘contributory negligence’.
I believe the appeal succeeded un-contested. Her needs were immediate, so her parents did not want legal delays, or to risk losing the whole payment if the appeal were upheld (?). IIRC they settled for a 90% payment – can’t find the final judgement – Churchill’s website ?
It’s a pity the appeal succeeded – does that weaken the High Court judgement as a precedent ?
Found it – http://goo.gl/jzEq2O – her solicitors
“no option but accept the offer because they fear being left with nothing if they appeal and lose”
Just read that case. The motorist was doing 50 mph in what was apparently a pitch-black lane with no streetlights, and the **judge** said that this “…was too fast for such a road in darkness.” And yet the insurers *still* won their appeal, saying that the girl should have worn hi viz and was therefore contributarily negligent. Terrible.
“I’m fully in favour of the kind of equipment my bike has being ‘standard issue’ because it doesn’t add any difficulty or inconvenience to everyday life”…
Perfectly fine if your bike is simply a road hack mode of transport. But those ain’t going to work on a mountain bike when you leave the woods and ride home. The tyres and bike will be covered in mud top to bottom and anything reflective hidden. And a mud guard like that just can’t work off road, it’d clog up within minutes and literally lock the wheels up, as would dynamos.
And it’s totally impractical to suggest cleaning the bike down before riding on the road. It can take half a Camelbak and freezing cold fingers to clean just your lights. Even a hose pipe doesn’t clean it up well without brush and soapy water, and most bikers don’t carry those!
Don’t be as blind to the different types of bike/rider and their differing needs as drivers are to bikes in general.
I cycle, motorcycle and drive on the road and personally in all three cases other cyclists and motorcyclists stand out more clearly to me when they’re wearing something hi-viz.
Maybe just one specific day wearing hi-vis in Mark’s 9 years of commuting is the reason he’s still alive to talk about them! Maybe not! But we’ll never know either way.
All the visibility theory in the world is great, but you only get one chance out there.
“All the visibility theory in the world is great, but you only get one chance out there.”
Does this mean you wear a hi-viz jacket when you walk around? And if not, why not?
Because when I’m on the footpath I’m a long way from traffic. When I’m on my bike I’m *in* the traffic, usually a foot or two from it, and it’s coming at me (usually!) from directly behind where I have no visibility of it!
I’m not being dictated to, I’m just choosing to do all I can to stay alive in the circumstances specific to me.
I think you’ve missed my point. The implication of ‘you only get one chance out there’ is that you should do everything in your power to make yourself as visible as possible – wearing hi-visibility clothing when walking is just one example of that, because while people use footways, they will inevitably have to cross side roads and main roads just to get anywhere at all, which means encounters with drivers.
But you don’t do that. You’ve made a judgement that that would be ridiculous. So your ‘you only get one chance’ philosophy is something you don’t adhere to yourself.
Nope, I got what you meant. The real implication I meant was that you should do everything in your power to make yourself as visible as possible for your own circumstancesand level of comfort. Since everybody else out there is out to kill you, why wouldn’t you?!!
Everybody has their own risk assessment to make to determine just how hi-viz they want to go in order to feel safe. You and I have made the same risk assessment for cycling on the road, we deem it a dangerous place to be, and you’re happy that your bike setup provides enough visibility given your circumstances. My bike doesn’t because it comes home plastered in sludge, so I need something else to help mitigate the same risk.
I’ve not made a judgement that hi-vis while walking during the day is ridiculous.
I’ve made a risk assessment that the likelihood of being mown down is very low, and therefore hi-vis isn’t required. At side roads and crossings the risk is marginally higher but I mitigate that risk by stopping, looking, listening, watching and choosing how and when to cross and therefore hi-vis isn’t required.
Interestingly, I would wear something higher vis when hiking or walking in the countryside at night. Higher risk, makes sense in the circumstances.
Wasn’t originally arguing with you, just pointing out some cyclists need more hi-vis or different types to mitigate similar levels of risk to others, based on their own circumstances.
While it may feel safer, the underlying statistics (which vary from country to country) have pedestrians and cyclists with similar rates of death per distance travelled or time spent in the activity.
I am perplexed by your having cars pass within a foot of you. That seems to me to be ridiculously risky.
It is hard to be definite about this because roads differ greatly in different places but on our roads and streets it is not difficult to persuade drivers to pass with more space than that, including waiting until they do have sufficient space to pass.
In the Netherlands you will find many people have multiple bikes, one for going into town, and if they like to do sportier activities, they’ll have a separate mountain or racing bike for that.
But even without the logistics of owning multiple bikes (and costs!) I feel like riding a muddied up bike after some fun in the woods is a small side-problem. By all means carry an attachable light for whenever you ride back after this. The rest of the time, when you’re just going for some shopping, you’ll love it when all you need is attached to the bike, where you don’t have to think about it (and where it doesn’t get stolen if you forget to take it with you).
I cannot read that witnout my head filling with memories of mountainbikers who use intense lighting without any means of dipping it for the safety and comfort of oncoming cyclists.
But it also fails to make much sense. If you need your road lighting (that is, the lights that don’t daxxle everyone around you) clean for the trip back on the road, cover it against the mud and slush until you are ready to ride the road. You can probably cover your taillight too because it is unlikely to be of any utility in off-road conditions.
In all the frequent exhortations to cyclists to wear hiviz I never hear (or read) any encouragement to drivers to observe paragraph 126 of the Highway Code.
“Stopping Distances. Drive at a speed that will allow you to stop well within the distance you can see to be clear. ”
This wording is repeated in para.154.
This advice is generally ignored by drivers, and I often find that drivers think that they cannot be expected to observe it. Why do people like Hillier fail to mention these paragraphs?
I think it’s generally interpreted as “Drive at a speed that you *think* will be clear if and only if vehicle x does this and vehicle y does that and bicycle z moves over a bit and child aa doesn’t step out”.
I think the reasoning might be something like ‘there was nothing there yesterday or the day before, and I’m in a hurry anyway’.
“For what it’s worth, I’m fully in favour of the kind of equipment my bike has being ‘standard issue’ because it doesn’t add any difficulty or inconvenience to everyday life. It’s part of the bike, and I don’t even have to think about it – I don’t need to bring any equipment with me, because the bike does the job for me.”
I sometimes wonder how few cars would have lights if we relied on drivers to remember to keep them charged and affix them for every journey. It’s common enough to see broken ones when they are attached.
Not to mention how few would bother with driver training if they didn’t have to pass a licence test.
Glad you posted about it. I recently left a request for an article just like this on BicycleDutch’s blog. It’s the bikes that need reflective materials, not the riders. That ought to be enough. It worked to prevent a lot of cycling deaths in the Netherlands. Especially the reflective tyres and rear reflector work great.
Great to read about this. It is really annoying to have to always be the ones to take the blame and have to change things. Hiviz clothes? ok, great for sports, but I ride my bicycle to the office. It’s ridiculous to blame me for not being visible enough and not blame the drivers that drive texting or on their phones who are actually not looking.
As a motorcycle cop said to me once: “I’m dressed head to toe in bloody hi-viz, I’m on a several hundred kilo of BMW decked out in more hi-viz with POLICE written on it, and still I’ve had several SMIDSYs”.
Unfortunately, the trend to more and more use of hi-viz elements affects the whole of society. For instance, although you say campaigns to make pedestrians wear hi-viz will fail because it is an absurdity, hi-viz jackets for pedestrians are now required by law on roads in some places. Similarly, cars and other motor vehicles across Europe (and in some other places such as parts of Canada and, I think, Australia) are required to have daytime running lights and/or daytime headlights. And then there’s France, where the law says you must put on a day-glo jacket if you get out of a broken down car on the motorway or, directly relevant here, if you cycle at night out of town.
Most of all, there’s workplaces, including the road and pavement…
And just to add, you surely must have heard people complaining about “road coloured” cars, ie grey, brown, black. I’ve even heard people – motorists – say they should be banned!
A survey was done in Australia which reckoned that the “high risk” colours (compared to white, and in daylight houirs) were Black, Blue, Grey, Green, Red, and Silver. So, pretty much every colour except for white. So – in the interests of road safety – why are manufacturers allowed to paint cars different colours? Surely all motor vehicles should be white (possibly with hi-viz highlighting)??
I would support much of what you blog, and as someone in the emergency services, I have seen all manner of oddities in my career, and more hi-vis than you can shake a stick at. The main thrust of how we can make cycling safer is a combination of attitude change and cycle tracks. Why do we want to segregate cyclists from motorists? Because on average, once we get behind a wheel, regardless of whether we cycle or not, we can become, at times, stupid, lazy, arrogant, ignorant and downright dangerous. If you are the model driver, you may stop reading now. I like to think I’m considerate on the road but I’ve seen my fair share of daft cycling behaviour too. Separating us from motorists makes sense, and as ianxreed rightly points out, when we’re mixing it with cars and trucks, we don’t have the protection of the pavement. So when I see cyclists out all dressed in black I really have to wonder what’s going on under that helmet. I get the arguments that are made here, and I find them fascinating, and there is some truth in them all. I also think there is a danger of cycling becoming slightly elitist in attitude and creating for ourselves the very rod we would accuse other road users of wielding. Don’t get me wrong. I love cycling. Everyone should cycle. Cycles lanes should be built with every road. And much more should be done to change attitudes, largely of those who would, on occasion, run us over (and claim afterwards they didn’t see us). But unless we are willing to make some concessions ourselves, then we may found ourselves left out in the cold. I have plenty of hi-viz cycling gear, and I wear it all the time. I have no idea if it has saved my life, but to paraphrase a certain terrorist organisation, ‘we (the cyclist) have to be lucky all the time…’
“I also think there is a danger of cycling becoming slightly elitist in attitude and creating for ourselves the very rod we would accuse other road users of wielding. ”
Opposing hi-viz is actually a part of trying to democratise cycling. If you need special clothing and equipment, beyond the bike, to cycle, you increase costs. If you have special clothing that people don’t otherwise wear doing normal activities, you make cycling something weird for enthusiasts, rather than something everyone does.
Hi-viz is part of the culture that makes cycling a minority activity. In places with high levels of cycling, far fewer wear hi viz and helmets. And that’s not just places with separate infra: you’ll see far less hi viz and fewer helmets in Cambridge, where nearly 60% of the adult population cycles regularly, than places where 5% do.
Completely with you. Visibility should be an attribute of the bike, not of the rider. Bright/strobing lights are much more eye catching than a blend-into-all-the-other-high-viz jacket and they are cheaper too. If the bike also has good mudguards and decent gears there’s no need for any special sporty clothes at all.
Well, yes, I guess what we are really saying visibility is good, so whether that’s hi-viz or lights, so be it (on a slightly pedantic tangent, hi-viz don’t generally get nicked off your bike, nor do they run out of batteries). I use both. Also, once cycling becomes the norm and not the exception, there is clearly going to be safety in numbers, and also a commensurate attitude change from the driving community. So hence Cambridge. It’s all good. We’re on the same side here. I wouldn’t walk up the main street to post a letter with a hi-viz jacket on. But I wouldn’t walk home late down a dark country road without, ideally, a hi-viz and a torch. I wouldn’t class hi-viz as in any way special clothing. Feck, it’s not like we don’t have enough stuff to buy when we hit the bike shop 😉
‘should’ be an attribute of the bike – I see no logic there. It ‘could’ be an attribute of the bike. The body of the cyclist is a large area, it’s higher up, and it’s worth making it visible
Being higher up means it’s above where motorists will be looking (for other motor vehicles) and it’s already visible anyway, unless you’re suggesting that there are loads of invisible people cycling around? I’m not seeing your logic either.
I am normally in general agreement with your blog and find your views on urban design and the light it sheds on the social and political situation cyclists find themselves in.
However – there are a number of points you make in your post on “invisibility” where you seem to slip in to the loose language, warped logic and overstatement typical of the many people you commonly write against.
You make the point (like many cycling activists of my acquaintance) that if cyclists need to wear hi-viz so should pedestrians and see this as an argument for cycling in “normal” clothes.
Well, up to a point lord copper…….but pedestrians might want to consider hi-viz it if they wish to cross the road without looking or walk to their destination along the carriageway which is actually where cyclists actually interact with traffic. For example i spend some evenings when on remote country holidays, walking back from pubs (if I’ve not got my bike). although i,d love there to be no cars in the world the fact is there are and dark windy lanes are where we might meet and i don’t want to get squished to make a point about my wish for a car free world. I choose to wear hi-viz and carry a torch in this situation – because i don’t want to be a martyr to a campaign for “safer” road driving. Im not thereby condoning bad driving but accepting that even a good safe driver might hit me in these circumstances. Drivers generally have their headlights on. I dont think they do it because they condone reckless speeders at night – they just wish to reduce their risk of an accident. And so i increase my conspicuity to reduce my risk similarly.
So you could have settled for making a point about libertarianism and cyclists’ right to wear what they like but you dont – you try to show that they are irrational for adopting measures that in truth are actually very likely to reduce their risk.
Which leads me to pont out that you confuse conspicuity with visibility. Easily done but there is an important difference – visibility is a measure of the degree to which something can be seen (cyclists, cars, the Tardis when it lands) whilst conspicuity is a measure of the degree to which an object comes to the attention of the observer. So i agree, no amount of yellow will make a visible thing more visible but is is by definition more conspicuous and measurably so in much research. your statements to the contrary are therefore illogical.
For example – I know high conspicuity clothing works because when i drive (i only cycle for leisure and community and sometimes need to go over the dark side (sorry) for practical reasons like transporting my drum kit) cyclists with hi-viz jackets do come to my attention more readily especially in low sun or bad weather or very busy traffic situations when they are in fact sometimes for all intents and purposes, virtually invisible. I agree this is rare but my feeling is i dont know when i am inconspicuous to someone else so why take that chance?
you appear to think hi-viz materials work too as you are quite happy with all your reflectors and other accoutrements – you didnt fit them but only because they come fitted as a result of legislation surely a shocking threat to liberty or a reasonable low cost way to increase their use?. I agree that we shouldn’t criminalise cyclists for what they wear but its only a matter of degree. we are criminalised for not using lights arent we? Or do you think lights are “bullshit” too and therefore an unjustified infringement of our liberty?
You imply that cyclists are as visible (and presumably you are implying, as conspicuous, see above) as cars but this is clearly not true. They are not as visible as they are quite a bit smaller less noisy etc but they are also not as conspicuous as they are not as dangerous. Our brains are designed (yes even yours not just car drivers) to respond appropriately to perceived threats. Again, i am not making a value judgement just pointing out that not only can i see lorries better than cars i am normally more aware of them because, as a cyclist, i know they are more dangerous and they automatically get more of my attention whether i like it or not. So an averagely safe and responsible car driver, having to concentrate on multi-lane roads with lots of vehicles and potential conflicts will prioritise cars over cyclists at a preconscious level . Its because we have turned roads into car dominated spaces that this is a problem. Until that changes, it is at least rational for cyclists to even up the conspicuity odds with hi-viz jackets (a fiver for a class three jacket to pop over any type of clothing – not stylish but then its a road not a catwalk).
So do i think that if i wear my hi-viz jacket all the time i will never get hit? No but it reduces my risk to a level i personally find acceptable which lights on their own dont, in my opinion. The reason that i dont think i am perfectly safe is that i have only reduced my risk to a level i am happy with considering when and where i am cycling, not eliminated it altogether. I cycle in heavy traffic at peak times on a daily basis in all weathers in one of the countries’ most car dependent cities – Nottingham (don’t believe the council hype – thus ain’t Copenhagen i can tell you).
So why might i still get hit and why does research suggest that hi-viz wearers are in fact not safer on real roads? Because though my conspicuity has increased i have also put myself in places where there is still some residual risk (like turning right across a commuter dual carriage route into the city as i do everyday). I have a right to do so but must also account for other humans and their primate brains. If my route was all on cycle paths i might not bother but i have made a decision (based mainly on my experience of driving mind you) that lights and a muddy pedal reflector or two aren’t sufficient. This is known as risk compensation. Its why safety gear doesn’t eliminate risk but that is not the same as saying your safety gear is fine but mine is a spineless capitulation to petrol-heads and that it is an outrage that anyone should even suggest such a thing. To be fair risk compensation upsets everyone especially safety researchers and campaigners as it undermines some but not all of their work.
So what am i on about? Well,
its not a “pointless arms race” – its my judgement and assuming that you are consistent in your stated reasoning and don’t wear “special clothing” to go skiing or scuba diving or parachuting, then i might be entitled to think my judgement is superior to yours – but i wouldn’t bother to write a blog to point it out to you.So let me go back to enjoying your blog and its passionate but rational reasoning for trying to improve the lot of our fellow cyclists by sensible measures – personally I’m pinning my hopes on self-driving cars and saying goodbye to all the Toads of Toad Hall once and for all.
You’ve just written about 100 words more than the OP, albeit without illustrations, so how have you not written “a blog to point it out to you”?
Whatever, I interpret the key summary of the OP’s last paragraph rather differently: “But wearing special clothing to counter spurious accusations of ‘invisibility’? That’s just bullshit, frankly”? Isn’t it the “spurious accusations of” and the use of the same as an excuse made by politicians to not properly improve things for riders that is at issue here, not an argument over selection of the most suitable types of kit? So sure, pick your Christmas tree decorations as you see fit, but if you don’t complain that you don’t like to have to do that, don’t expect the politicians to change things for your benefit.
In a nutshell, yes. People can wear whatever they want to wear. I’m not arguing against personal choice. The issue for me is actually being blamed or victimised for having the temerity to venture out onto streets in urban areas in ordinary clothing.
The thing that really surprises me is how clean you’ve managed to keep your sidewall reflectors! The key thing could be that, as far as I can judge from the photo, you do not have rim brakes.
Conspicuity is not the end of it.
What is needed is not just to be seen or noticed, but to elicit an appropriate response from other road users. In that context, visibility and conspicuity are often grossly overdone (such as intense lights and fluourescent jackets that may be visible for distance far in excess of what is needed, but at the expense of helping other road users to judge your distance, relative speed, the space you need, and your intentions.
It is not simply that we should not be forced to wear “high visibility” clothing, but that the thinking behind such clothing is actually misguided.
It is easy to read too much into one’s perceptions of other groups of people but I felt in Amsterdam that riders consciously avoided outdoing each other in their on-road visibility. Their thinking was that motorists should get used to looking out for normally-dressed cyclists and that each of them was playing a small part in this educational process.
I would suggest that anyone seeking to mock that thinking might consider whether their own country is as safe for cycling at night as it is in The Netherlands.
It is important to allow for context. I do keep a retroreflective vest in my touring kit in case I need to ride a high-speed road at night or in other conditions of limited visibility, but do not wear such things in any normal conditions.
“Attitudes towards motorists killing cyclists is separate from whether you separate traffic”
In my opinion those attitudes aren’t likely to change radically because they represent human nature. Out-groups rarely get justice from those with more power. Its precisely for that reason that we need separated traffic, as drivers are never going to behave significantly better, whether behind the wheel or when on juries, as long as they are the ‘mainstream’ group. Not because they are drivers but because they are human beings.
You invoked ‘culture’ before, I’m saying this is more than local culture, its in the nature of human beings, the same phenomena is seen across cultures and across different domains.
Rather than trying to throw the book at drivers when they screw up (which juries won’t go for anyway, though they do do it to a degree in the US, with no great improvement in driver behaviour) the only sustainable answer is to save drivers from themselves, by making it physically impossible for them to screw up too catastrophically.
“One of the achievements here that I neglected to mention earlier was to have the default urban speed limit lowered from 60 km/h to 50 km/h throughout Australia. We worked hard towards 40 km/h but did not achieve it this time. It has made a heck of a difference across the whole country. Arterial roads remain 60 km/h but all local roads, unless specifically signed, have a maximum of 50 km/h now.”
They are lowering (some) speed limits here, but it doesn’t have much effect because they aren’t enforced. I _think_ the road I referred to has a 60 mph limit, but according to the automatic speed-reporting sign, cars often hit 70 on that stretch, and clearly exceed that on other parts.
Elsewhere you spoke of not putting cycle lanes on roads that are too narrow for them – I’d say that if the road is too narrow for cycle lanes it may well be too narrow for motorised traffic (and most roads here have parking on both sides, regardless of how narrow the road is, even taking up the pavements if necessary). So one possibility is to close that road to motorised traffic, certainly to through-traffic.
Drivers are still a mainstream group in The Netherlands yet they do behave a great deal better than those in many other places.
In soime of our suburbs, and some of our towns, drivers generally drive far better than in others.
Lowering of speed limits, with more enforcement, has changed the perception of what are reasonable speeds and normal speeds on roads seem to be 10 – 15 km/h lower than they were a couple of decades ago.
“Human nature” is largely a social construct. People tend to live up to expectations of them and pessimism about supposedly-immutable “human nature” pull expectations down to a very low level.
Ah, the Dutch driver-saint myth! It was debunked on this very blog just last April: https://aseasyasridingabike.wordpress.com/2015/04/14/dutch-attitudes/ – or if you prefer, you can read Mr Hembrow’s debunking from 2010 at http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2010/07/do-people-cycle-in-netherlands-because.html
I have lived in The Netherlands and my comment is from personal experience.
““Human nature” is largely a social construct.”
And what is it that does the social-constructing?
Being determines consciousness, but people’s way of thinking depends on their material reality mediated through evolved human nature. As long as the material reality of our road design forces drivers and cyclists to share with no physical constraints on the power of the former, drivers will tend to behave as bullies.
And I don’t see that Dutch drivers behave any better than, say, those in the UK. They just aren’t in situations where they can do as much damage or subject to environments that incentivize them to behave badly.
“Assuming that you are consistent in your stated reasoning and don’t wear “special clothing” to go skiing or scuba diving or parachuting”
Who in the world uses scuba-diving, parachuting or skiing as their main means of utility transport around a city?
That you chose those examples of slightly dangerous minority sports as an example of something comparable to ‘cycling to the shops’ says a lot about the fundamental weakness in your argument.
[I bracket out the possibility that in some cold counties cross-country skiing, at least, might actually constitute a normal means of transport! It doesn’t here!]
Skiing, scuba diving and parachuting are perhaps not brilliant examples. The primary purpose of the clothing in each case is to keep you warm-enough. The discussion here is not about whether cyclists wear warm clothes in cold conditions.
And how often is the “invisible” comment made at precisely the time a driver or passenger actually SEES the “invisible” cyclist?
At that point the observer notices that the cyclist is not all lit up like a Christmas tree and comments on how hard they are to see despite the fact that they HAVE actually just seen them.
If you live in the Netherlands or Denmark, where cyclists are in so high numbers everywhere, every car driver will expect them because almost every car driver is also a cyclist there. Besides that, in these countries cyclists usually have their own, safe and separated cycle paths. No problem there to wear all black in the dark as they usually do not mix with cars. But if I have to share the roads with cars, i have no problem to wear some reflective material _in the dark_ together with normal lights at my bike. But of course, it will not help at all if the car drivers are distracted because they watch on their smartphone or they also underestimate my speed. That is why i want to have separated cycle paths everywhere, it is the only way to make cycling as safe as possible.
Except even in the Netherlands, most cyclists have to ride on or at least ride across roads with cars sometimes. Reject hi viz, the new Yellow Star jacket. At least lights let us see too. Yes to more cycle tracks.
Even in the Netherlands.
This will seem philosophical pedantry but it is vital to understanding people’s behaviour with respect to “safety clothing”, “safe cycling” and every other aspect of safety.
We cannot eliminate risk, we can only raise or reduce it. Nobody does things as safely as *possible*. We work at whatever level we believe reduces the risks to a level we see as acceptable.
If people need to divert 100 metres to a controlled crossing of a busy road, a lot will rather risk crossing where their path meets the road. They are balancing their time with the risk.
This is entirely logical. To divert takes up a certain proportion of your life that you cannot then use for other purposes. The direct crossing risks shortening your life. At some point, we feel that the risk of abrupt shortening balances the actual immediate loss. The choice will vary widely from person to person but it is important to realise that it is a valid choice for a person to make with their own life.
The “Road Safety” lobby use the line of minimising risk to reduce the freedom of movement of cyclists and pedestrians and to demand extra space for roads. It is not intellectually honest.
There may be a conflict of pleasure and safety, too. People are prepared to take considerable risks for pleasure, as is well-evidenced by high-risk recreations such as downhill skiiing, football, and a lot else.
Riding a bike is a pleasure. Riding with fluorescent clothing reduces that pleasure on many levels, not merely that the stuff gives me migraines when constantly in my peripheral vision. I would need to be convinced that it made a major difference to risk before I would choose to wear it (except on high-speed roads, particularly in conditions of low daylight visibility).
That’s in addition to the reservations about it I have expressed elsewhere.
It is worth pointing out that we should avoid making “traffic-calming” structures that simply increase the required skill, the relative risk – hence the enjoyment – for a motorist going fast through an area. Bumps generally work far better than chicanes, for instance.
As it happens, I 100% agree with what you say here.
But I would argue the _same thing_ applies to the obligation to use vehicular cycling techniques. I just don’t see why you think there’s a significant difference.
When faced with the requirement to maintain constant (tiring) vigilence and perfect a technical skill, just as much as with the requirement to carry masses of special equipment (whether high viz or a helmet with a mirror) people decide to instead just walk, take the bus, or get a car – where they can just get on with their lives without all that kerfuffle just to stay alive.
Vehicular cycling appears to me to be just the non-concrete equivalent of high-viz and helmet. Its a mental burden rather than a physical one. But its just as off-putting to most.
If people are driving a car we can reasonably expect that drive in a vehicular manner.
If you are running you need to concentrate a great deal more than a walker does on avoiding collisions. You cannot blunder along as you *might* get away with walking. Even there, walking on a busy footpath without paying attention is likely to get you into quite a bit of bother.
On a bike you are riding faster than most runners so you pay more attention still.
If you are driving or riding a road, you need to pay attention. If you cannot be bothered paying attention, don’t ride the road. Just wait the eternity it will take to have all your road system segregated.
If you cboose to live in a city, you need to pay attention to others around you. On the road that includes people in cars. Where is the problem in learning to ride according to the conditions? Do you expect to ride mountain trails without learning to shift your weight and to be in the right gear or to use your brakes appropriately?
Locally we have the choice of riding the arterial road or taking the shared bicycle/pedestrian path along the railway line. The shared path is full of people who think that they do not have to pay attention and they make it so unpleasant that many pedestrians take long ways around to avoid being terrorised by them. Those who show most concern at being bullied by motorists seem to have the least compunction about bullying pedestrians and slower riders.
Your arguments still don’t quite work.
“On a bike you are riding faster than most runners so you pay more attention still.”
Except that the hazards faced by someone on a bike are NOT about their “running into someone”. They are about someone with far more mass and momentum either running into them or abruptly pulling out in front of them.
You just seem to consistently refuse to grasp that the problem is not equal and symmetrical – its one side that creates the danger and one side that suffers from it.
“If people are driving a car we can reasonably expect that drive in a vehicular manner.”
Except, ironically, society does NOT expect car-drivers to drive in what you call a ‘vehicular manner’. It accepts excuses for running into someone from behind such as ‘the sun was in my eyes’ and ‘my unborn baby kicked’. Drivers are not expected to drive in a vehicular manner.
“Do you expect to ride mountain trails without learning to shift your weight and to be in the right gear or to use your brakes appropriately?”
So now cars are a natural phenomena, like mountains and gravity?
“If you are driving or riding a road, you need to pay attention. If you cannot be bothered paying attention, don’t ride the road.”
But carry on subsidising the costs caused by all the drivers who drive in the road (with or without paying attention)?
As it happens I increasingly don’t ride in the road, as most other people don’t. That’s the problem.
What I tend to do instead is walk on the pavement (except that pavement is increasingly blocked with parked cars, and walking times extended by long waits to cross roads.)
“Just wait the eternity it will take to have all your road system segregated. ”
This is missing the point. Its not about whether I personally ride on the road, its that I want a large proportion of the cars OFF of many of the roads. And better cycle infrastructure (along with better public transport – buses are generally rendered useless by the volume of car traffic) is the only way I can see to achieve that.
It’s worth clarifying what you want, how you are going to achieve that, and what you are going to do in the meantime.
As I recall, you have already said that you have no cycle infrastructure where you are. We do have some, and I have been part of achieving some of it. You cannot just wave a wand and suddenly have a diffferent system and different attitudes.
“The shared path is full of people who think that they do not have to pay attention and they make it so unpleasant that many pedestrians take long ways around to avoid being terrorised by them. Those who show most concern at being bullied by motorists seem to have the least compunction about bullying pedestrians and slower riders.” Like heck. The problems on shared paths are usually caused by wannabe racers who see it as a place where they can time-trial full gas, having heard idiots say “If you cannot be bothered paying attention, don’t ride the road” and reversing that to conclude that because they’re not on a road then they don’t need to pay attention!
As well as that, the other way people deal with the “If you cannot be bothered paying attention, don’t ride the road” VC attitude is by driving it instead – and no, they don’t feel they need to pay attention as much driving the road because they’re safe in a car with airbags and what-have-you. It’ll probably be some bystander walking or cycling who gets hurt due to the motorist’s inattention.
I really don’t understand this behaviour of VC fans. Is there ANY upside for cycling by telling people not to ride? All you’re doing is putting more bad cyclists onto greenways and more bad motorists onto highways.
Achieving change is about getting things done, not dogma. Your attitude to vehicular cycling is downright dogmatic.
People such as John Forrester, who pioneered the use of the concept, do tend to a dogmatic view that vehicular cycling can substitute for actually doing any actual infrastructural provision for cycling, but that is not everyone’s take on it.
If you do have to ride in traffic without any provision for cycling, those techniques give you the best chances of survival and enjoyment. If the conditions are really bad, the experience will still be unpleasant and dangerous, but it will be less so than if you don’t pay attention or ride appropriately to the conditions.
Roads vary greatly in their cycleability. Some roads are a delight to ride despite heavy traffic (partly because that slows the cars). But we certainly do have roads I will not ride, and I tend to make trips across the suburbs on paths (now that the paths have been made reasonably direct, which took a couple of decades). Getting out early on Sunday is a delight, however, because one can ride far further, faster and more directly using the roads that are only lightly-trafficked at that time.
You may ride as a vehicle and still wish for, and work towards, reducing car use, separating traffic, lowering traffic speeds, increasing enforcement. improving education and any number of other things.
Data from here a few years ago pointed to around 70% of bicycle crashes being single-person crashes. Although cars were involved in most of the small number of fatal crashes, they were responsible for a minority of the large number of non-fatal crashes. When riding a bike you do need to pay attention, whether there are cars about or not.
I am not sure how you feel you are disagreeing with me about the bikepath. At peak times, most riders on it become wannabes and it takes an assertive attitude – very like that of vehicular cycling – to actually be able to walk the path safely.
Just as an aside, I took a look at the report on the death of James Stephenson and am feeling stunned. For such a road to have a 70 mph limit is utterly flummoxing. We do have problem roads but they pale into insignificance against that kind of abuse.
No “defensive cycling” or “vehicular cycling” is going to be enough on that kind of road and separation is the only reasonable strategy because you cannot widen the road to give cyclists any kind of reasonable space.
Most of our roads are profoundly different to that. Lots more space and far lower speeds, to begin with. Separation is only sometimes the best use of available funding here.
Come off it: I’ve driven sections of interstate highway in the US which are similar to that (two lane, no shoulder, wide median) which have 65-75mph limits. The main difference is that cycling is completely banned from those and there’s often no alternative cycle route.
The A3 involved in https://beyondthekerbcasebook.wordpress.com/2015/01/01/james-stephenson/ looks like a road that has been upgraded without cycling provision and the sickening thing is that cyclists could loop left to use “The Canadian Memorial Underpass” to reach the side road on the north side (leading to Rectory Lane) but it appears to have been fenced off for some reason and I can’t find any mention whether it’s open to cycling (possibly not as it’s only gravel). A minimal safety solution would appear to be to open that underpass to cycling and rebuild the north side footway west of that crossing as a cycle track – I doubt it is used as a footway much.
(Just to clarify after I reread that, that was an “even in America, land where the automobile is king” point, not saying you’re in America!)
We do have narrow roads with only the generic open-road limit of 100 km/h, but they tend to be lightly-trafficked and with space to the sides that one can ride if motor vehicles are coming from both directions at once.
The only roads we have with 110 km/h limits (close to 70 mph) are multi-lane freeways or tollways with emergency lanes of around 4 m wide. Outside of the metropolitan area, cyclists are allowed to ride the emergency lanes.
That’s not to say that our roads are all good, but they have been improved a lot over the past few decades. Particularly, more narrow rural secondary roads have sealed verges that are ridable with reasonable safety and enjoyment.
At the same time, more of our lost railway lines have become rail trails in recent time, reducing the need to ride highways. The metropolitan bike/pedestrian trails that largely follow creeks and rivers have also been linked and improved a great deal. As an aside, the metropolitan area of Melbourne is somewhere well over 2500 sq km, so there is a considerable length of bikeways.
As well, we are still able to carry our bikes on trains, both suburban and “regional”.
The last two points, sadly, largely do not apply outside of Victoria altnough New South Wales has (only in the past year) finally allowed rail trails and already has a couple of significant length, and it does sealed verges well.
The key point to make is that the system is not ideal but there has been considerable improvement over the past three decades, at least in part due to constant advocacy by cycling groups and local communities. It’s a mixture of on- and off-road, but some roads are good-enough riding that the off-road alternative is not everyone’s preference.
“It’s worth clarifying what you want, how you are going to achieve that, and what you are going to do in the meantime.
As I recall, you have already said that you have no cycle infrastructure where you are. ”
We have some, but very little, and most of it is rubbish (and I agree entirely that crap infrastructure is usually worse than none at all).
An individual can do very little.
All I can do is (a) hold out and refuse to ever drive if I can possibly avoid it, (b) argue with bad drivers, particularly those who illegally park in front of me on the very pavement I’m trying to walk on and (c) try and look at cycling/transport policies when deciding who to vote for. And go on the occasional ‘space for cycling’ protest.
I personally think the best hope is simply that people will have to face the reality that London and the SE of England is too crowded (and getting more so, London’s population now being the highest its ever been and growing fast) and there simply isn’t room for all these cars (which have also been getting physically larger, perhaps partly as a result of a driver-safety arms-race).
I think that’s partly what has caused the small increase in cycling we have seen – a recognition of the fact that public transport is completely overloaded and the roads are full.
I would hope that the sheer physical contraint of lack of space is going to eventually oblige people to face reality. It becomes increasingly ridiculous to argue there’s no space for cycle infrastructure while pretending there is space for such a space-inefficient form of transport as the private car.
Plus even drivers quite like to be able to breath.
Outside the SE, or outside the bigger cities,I don’t know what the answer is, but perhaps a ‘trickle-down’ effect might actually work for once, if we can create an example of sane transport policy even closer than the Netherlands.
The great jest is that motorists dream of freedom and wish there were less traffic. It’s a pity such dreams are difficult to tackle logically. The motor industry has been more skillful than we have at tapping into people’s emotions.
To me, driving is like imprisonment now, particularly in traffic. I cannot move, cannot completely ignore it, but also cannot simply leave the car. I am condemned to wait as long as it takes. It seems to me that we could be making more of that theme.
But driving seems to me to be powerfully addictive, and we might make more of that, too. It felt like an immoral pleasure for years before I was able to get rid of the car. It seems to me that a lot of other people feel the same, judging from the particular eagerness of the overwhelming number of people driving only as far as our local supermarket who are obsessed with proving that they can drive there much faster than someone could ride there, The people driving further are seldom as obsessed with overtaking cyclists on our local street network, nor as irritated when you catch up. I sense that they feel that the car is a better choice than a bicycle for a longer trip, so they don’t have to prove anything. (I may not agree with their judgement but don’t doubt that they believe it)
I did enjoy cab driving and loved driving buses, but that was because the driving was largely public transport. Taxis fills the gaps of geography and time that fixed public transport can never do completely. Motor vehicles certainly have their uses if we can tackle the overuse, misuse and abuse of them.
Related, but different: I’m a wheelchair user ( and a handcycle user incidentally). As a wheelchair pedestrian I get the comment all the time, “your are so dark, you should have lights and a hi viz vest on!”. Yet I am crossing the road from the sidewalk like any other pedestrian. Sometimes it is another pedestrian making this inane comment, to which I reply “where is your hi viz vest and lights?” So something about a piece of equipment that is not a car, and not your walking legs, makes peoples brains go to sleep.
In my town, which is Hamburg, wearing of hiviz is inreasing. Yellow-green alarm-vests. I tried it once, but it felt wrong to me. Not my clothes, not my style.
Nevertheless, I think everything is okay that helps people on the bike instead of in the car. Let it be either alarm-vests or parrot-lycra. Why not.
Wearing hiviz shows that people are aware of the danger that cyclists have to deal with. The more the people wearing hiviz the more the danger. It is a sign that demands better road-design.
I think there are many cases where not the conspicuity is adressed by wearing hiviz but the motorists behaviour. It is some sort of non verbal communication: “I know I am to be seen. But I don’t want to be seen only. I want to be respected.” By showing your fear it should be the motorists answer to deal properly with your fear, e.g. by keeping larger distances to you (civilized circumstances given).
Second. I missed one point in the case of conspicuity. It is the point of selective attention.
A study in Germany “Abbiegende Pkw und Lkw vs geraudeausfahrende Radfahrer” (Turning Pkws and HGVs vs straightforward cyclists) shows that espially in mixed traffic accidents of the type “left turning motorists against cyclists” are very likely (Please not: It is right hand traffic!).
Because this study was made to campaign for mixed traffic, they had no answer (“This is in need for more research”)
But it is obviously a thing of selective attention. To turn left the motorist has to cross the oncoming traffic. He has to concentrate heavily on the oncoming cars because they are a real danger to him that claims most of his concentration. The result is that in such situations and spaces (where motorists have to concentrate on cars) it is very likely that they will lose their sight of cyclists (and pedestrians).
I see that as underlining the folly of relying on passive devices for interaction.
That is, our goal is communication with the driver to ensure that they react appropriately. It is important to confirm that the motorist has seen us, not merely to assume that the brighter the clothes we are wearing, the more likely they are to see us.
Whether we are noticed, and how we are reacted to in traffic depends a great deal on how we ride. If you shrink from traffic, keeping out of the way, you are likely not to be noticed fully, and very unlikely to be treated as a proper part of the traffic.
Motorists are often looking for some sign that you have noticed them and many cyclists are oblivious ot that. It applies especially to motorists wondering if to overtake on narrow rural roads, but also anywhere clearance is tight.
I see cyclists in hi-vis as primarily those with little understanding of the traffic environment, those expecting everyone else to look out for them but not returning that respect, and treat them with caution. Largely the same people who dazzle you at night with their bright lights aimed straight at eye level.
I agree with Guy-Ernest Debord who wrote in the Situationist Theses on Traffic (1959):
“ 2. Commuting time, as Le Corbusier rightly noted, is a surplus labor which correspondingly reduces the amount of “free” time.
3. We must replace travel as an adjunct to work with travel as a pleasure.”
You are not right. There is not only interaction between that driver and me as a cyclist. The driver has to deal with a lot more. It may be some kind of a narcissistic hurt especially to male cyclists but for motorists they are sometimes less important. Important is first what could outcome as a danger. That’s normal behaviour for humans not to say for all creatures. (Selective attention). That is the First Law of Traffic. And therefore benign cycle-traffic needs to be separated from dangerous motor-traffic.
“I see cyclists in hi-vis as primarily those with little understanding of the traffic environment,…”
I see hi-vis at all kinds of cyclists. It’s very normal. Wether it is parrot-lycra on those who are fighting to control the lane or alarm-vests on those who don’t want to fight cars with their bare bodies. Really no difference in hi-viz.
I have driven large and heavy vehicles, as well as taxis and small cars, and bicycles.
Your primary misconception is to suppose that size is the major determinant of your capacity to gain people’s attention and to be accorded appropriate space and right of way. Size is one factor but attitude and clarity of intention are generally far more effective. The size of a vehicle can even be a disadvantage in communication and negotiation because control is slower and more cumbersome.
If you regard traffic as a fight, perhaps your approach is the problem. Traffic is primarily a social flow, not a confrontation. It’s people in those cars, trying to go places, same as you are trying to go places on your bike. There can be problems of misunderstanding, and sometimes of incompetence, but generally it is people simply being people and they respond to usual social techniques and skills.
That is far easier when speeds limits are low-enough that there is not a dramatic difference between speeds of cycling and driving, and road design makes a big difference. Whether with or without specific accommodation for bikes, there does need to be space that can be shared.
There are some berks and bullies in cars, of course. Same as there are on bikes and on foot, but the same sorts of responses work against bullies in cars as work face-to-face.
Of course motorists are dealing with more than just one cyclist, but with every other person out there, whether a cyclist, a motorist or a person walking across the road, there is a social negotiation happening.
Funny you should mention narcissism because that is my opinion of all the “Look-at-me” bourgeoisie in their skintight “cycle clothing”, Hi-vis jackets and overly-bright lights at night. That is the antithesis of the interaction I am writing about.
On the other subject of your response, it sounds as if Le Corbusier is at the root of some of the most devastatingly ill-informed costings that have inflicted on us so many hideously expensive freeway, tollway and by-pass projects. Travel time is not a cost until it exceeds about half an hour either way. Below that it is, arguably, a benefit. As Marchetti demonstrated, people tend towards a commuting time of around half an hour either way and will tend to extend their journey or use a slower means of travel if the travel time is much below that. The journey time seems to act as an adjustment period between work and home.
Sounds like more ‘shared space’ foolishness to me, I’m afraid.
“Traffic is primarily a social flow, not a confrontation”
Where is your evidence for this assertion? How come this ‘social flow’ results in significant numbers of deaths and serious injuries every year? Is that typical of ‘social flows’?
“It’s people in those cars, trying to go places, same as you are trying to go places on your bike. ”
Except that they are people in large, high-kineitic-energy armoured metal boxes – so not really the same as me on my bike at all, in fact. Why have you erased that distinction?
“There can be problems of misunderstanding, and sometimes of incompetence, but generally it is people simply being people and they respond to usual social techniques and skills. ”
And people being people, they tend to fall back on ‘might is right’ in the absence of any other constraints. That’s what people do. And the costs of those ‘problems of misunderstanding and incompetence’ tend to fall overwhelmingly on those outside the armoured metal boxes.
“There are some berks and bullies in cars, of course. Same as there are on bikes and on foot, but the same sorts of responses work against bullies in cars as work face-to-face. ”
But the berks and bullies in cars can kill you . That’s a bit of a difference, no?
And, no, the same sort of responses don’t work when someone is armed with a weapon.
I’m tired of this libertarian nonsense. Its in bad faith, just as it is in the domain of economics.
You can go on about ‘negotiation’ till you are blue in the face, but as I walk, yet alone cycle, about the city I experience for myself the obvious reality that such negotiation is not really possible in the face of substantial imbalances of power (i.e. they know they can kill me and I can’t kill them).
And speed limits are all very well, but as they are never enforced they don’t much help.
I have no idea what you are trying to say with the bourgeoisie and lycra stuff. I never wear it myself (nor high-viz – I resent the implicit victim-blaming and the arms-race effect) but I don’t care at all if others do, each to their own. Lets have lycra cyclists, Goth cyclists, suited cyclists and Hijabi cyclists, the more variety the better. But most of all, I want fewer cars in my city.
But I have rarely encountered anyone more obviously part of the bourgeoisie than the shared-space crowd!
“but with every other person out there, whether a cyclist, a motorist or a person walking across the road, there is a social negotiation happening.”
A friend of mine got mugged at gunpoint in the US once, I guess you’d say that was a ‘social negotiation’. Its just that as with dealing with people driving cars, it was on slightly unequal terms.
“Whether we are noticed, and how we are reacted to in traffic depends a great deal on how we ride. If you shrink from traffic, keeping out of the way, you are likely not to be noticed fully, and very unlikely to be treated as a proper part of the traffic.”
This just reads as victim-blaming. Its the attitude that has most people deciding not to cycle at all.
In any case, it doesn’t work. The main issue in whether we are noticed is whether the driver is looking where they are going (rather than texting, or eating breakfast).
Interesting though that here you sound like a vehicular-cyclist, a slightly different group to the shared-space advocates. I don’t agree with either of you, though. I just want a city less dominated by cars.
I think you missed the point about active and passive approaches to being seen and noticed.
If you trust your jacket to ensure you are seen, you just may have a problem with people who are texting or otherwise not paying attention. Being noticed is interactive and that means that checking that you have been noticed is a core element of it.
It seems certain, as well, that you have not ridden in civilised places where traffic speeds and road design do make sharing of the road realistic. Not many English cities of my experience.
To deride sharing road space is cloud-cuckoo stuff. Unless a country is as compact as The Netherlands, and prepared to devote Netherlands-level funding to cycling infrastructure, most cycling for the forthcoming fifty or one hundred years will be on roads. A few favoured areas – primarily inner-urban swinging electorates – will get separated cycle paths while the rest of the state or country gets nothing at all.
Then you get what Australia has. Increasing numbers of cyclists, certainly, but not increasing at anything close to the rate of the population increase. The rate of cycling per capita is dropping off relatively fast and is at barely-measurable levels in a lot of the new outer suburbs with their high-speed roads and population densities that make separated cycling infrastructure infeasibly expensive per person.
Whether you want to regard traffic as a fight or as negotiation and social flow is up to you, but if you want it to be a fight, you lose.
That sounds an awful lot like the same anti-Dutch-style arguments from http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2011/02/all-those-myths-and-excuses-in-one-post.html so I’ll just leave you to read Mr Hembrow’s rebuttals and say only that it is possible not to force cycles to share congested quasi-motorways, if only we give cycling its fair share of space.
What Australia appears to have is a political culture that simply hates all form of active travel. To the extent of constantly imposing ridiculous laws to try and stamp it out.
And I live in SE England – which is, in fact, just as ‘compact’ as the Netherlands, so I have no clue what your point is there. And, yes, we need to devote a lot more funding to cycle infrastructure (not hard as currently we devote almost nothing) but also to pedestrians and public transport. And a lot less to the private car, because, frankly, there just isn’t room for so many of them.
The idea that you can just ride along with strobe lights and hi-vis vest, instead of actually keeping a lookout for whether other people have seen you seems very much like walking of riding out as soon as a traffic light changes, without checking that the traffic has actually stopped. Drivers cannot do that but you suppose that cyclists should?
You seem to be pushing a line that people on bikes in cities should be able to do what they want without having to look out for anyone else.
If you live in a city you are in constant interaction and negotiation with other people, whether on the road, the footpath or the bike track.
This is nonsense on stilts.
I don’t care about the ‘high viz vest’, personally I don’t wear one. But as for ‘keeping a lookout whether others have seen you’ – you think that’s enough? That will ‘keep you safe’? And you also think that’s somehow equivalent to riding out without checking traffic has stopped? No, that’s equivalent to drivers ‘keeping a lookout whether cyclists have seen them’ – which they don’t tend to do (they will also often ride out without checking traffic has stopped, if that traffic isn’t made up of motorised vehicles).
So you are accepting that cyclists have to accept a far greater burden of awareness work than drivers do, and then you wonder why people don’t cycle? And it doesn’t even work anyway, cf the number of cases of cyclists being fully ‘defensive’ and still getting run down from behind.
The reality is most people don’t want to have to travel in constant fear of their lives. Its stressful and tiring.
Yes, people on bikes in cities should, to a large degree, be able to do what they want without having to risk being killed by someone else. Why is that such an outrageous idea for you? (And pedestrians also deserve the same right).,
And again, there’s that weasel word ‘negotiation’. Lets have some negotiation on equal terms, please, I don’t like negotiating when they are armed and I’m not.
“Vehicular cycling” is riding according to the conditions as they are, rather than dreaming of how it could be different. You seem to see it as a religious doctrine that must be anathematised.
Of course a primary point is that the motorist is watching. That’s why you monitor whether they have seen you and react accordingly, rather than trusting to jackets or lights, or to wishing you weren’t there.
The “view from the Bikepath” comments are of limited value because, although he alludes to a lot of data, he cites little or none specifically. It is worth pointing out that any data comparing The Netherlands with anywhere else does need to take culture into account.
Not a “propensity to cycling”, which is largely contrary to reality (Australians were cycling in great numbers across great distances before any but wealthy Dutch were cycling, snd even those wealthy folk were largely cycling in parks, rather than on roads).
From very young, children in NL learn how to share space: in the playground, on the footpath, the bikepath and the road. The attitudes to law and society are very different to many other places: Dutch people tend to hold their politicians in respect that is very different to Australia and the US, at least. There is also a widespread respect for law as the framework for helping people to live better together: something that is held as of primary importance. These things make the whole traffic system work better and more safely and any benefit of cycle paths is addtional to that.
However even in The Netherlands it took some time to demonstrate that cycle paths were actually safer. A study in Delft around 1988 was the first to show a clear result.
Poor cycle facilities do not increase safety, altnough they may create an illusion of it. If you want to plan effectively for cycling, you need to do a lot of prioritisation of risk types and risky locations, and quality planning of how to address them economically. For social equity, you need to work out how you are going to do these things for the whole populatlon at an acceptable cost and in a reasonable time frame. It doesn’t just happen, even if you have the funding and the best of intentions.
Meanwhile, learn to ride safely on the road.
I don’t ‘want’ it to be a fight, it _is_ a fight, that’s why people get killed and injured. I’ve yet to see a ‘negotiation’ that resulted in death or the loss of a limb. You want it to continue to be one, I want the combatants to be clearly separated.
I already know how to ride slightly-less-dangerously on the road (its not truly possible to ‘ride safely’ with drivers and roads as they currently are, as numerous defensive cyclists have discovered). However I increasingly find the least stressful thing is to leave the bike behind and walk on the pavement instead.
I’m bemused at the way you resort to special pleading to explain away the Dutch reality. Its ‘culture’, of course it is. And culture is fixed and eternal, the Netherlands was never any different, and nothing can be done to challenge the status quo, ever, right?
Fundamentally I just don’t see what the point is in evangelising vehicular cycling in the way you are doing (as opposed to giving a few words of advice to someone new to the roads who isn’t sure how to deal with things – chances are they’ll try VC for a bit and then put the bike away anyway).
People don’t want to do it. They just choose to drive or use public transport instead.
So what’s the point?
Michael, you chose to vilify “vehicular cycling”, seemingly without much understanding of it. It was easy to suspect that you had only read one-liners by other people criticiising it. I have written a sentence to explain its context, and you talk of my evangelising.
As for keeping a proper lookout and checking that you have been seen I am suggesting that cyclists should be as aware as drivers have to be, not that they should be doing a whole lot more. A great many riders do a lot less; many not even bothering with any form of rearview mirror.
And before anyone starts on being able to look around easily, etc. etc., that is in the same category as the fixie riders who claim that they can stop on the pedals as fast as someone with two brakes. Stages of the Tour de France have been lost through riders glancing back, and you are just not even that good at it.
In my experience most drivers do check that cyclists have seen them before overtaking on narrow roads and wait for you to glance back or otherwise show that you know they are there.
Now I wonder if you could explain and evidence these many people riding “fully defensively and still being run down from behind”. Having spoken with people who had the job of investigating such crashes, I am aware how difficult it is to ascertain, post-crash, precisely how the rider was riding. It is also clearly evident that your meaning of “fully defensively” may differ markedly from mine so it might help to explain it.
You also tell me that where you come from, nothing is spent on provision for bicycles. That suggests that you should be looking very carefully at where money is spent because you could easily blow any imaginable budget in a very short time and achieve almost nothing. Be careful not to confuse your dreams with infrastructure planning. It is particularly at that very low starting level that you may get the greatest improvement per Pound spent by ensuring that roads are made safer for riding.
“Meanwhile, learn to ride safely on the road.” You said that, and asked for examples of people run down from behind while cycling defensively.
I don’t know what the traffic is like where you are. A couple of days ago one driver started a ‘left hook’, drew up alongside me at a junction, started to turn, but then decided against it and waited till I was clear. Then a driver in the oncoming lane started to pull across my path to turn into a side road. I yelled, she saw me, and stopped about two feet before running into my side. Then another driver in a line of parked cars started pulling out when I was alongside. Again, I yelled and she saw me and stopped. These incidents all happened within about twenty minutes. There was no collision and the only damage was to my confidence. I cycled home on the pavement.
This standard of driving would not be acceptable however I was riding, but all through the ride I was keeping watch on traffic and riding clear of parked cars and out in the lane. Each time I saw the incident develop but had no time to influence the outcome except by yelling. On other occasions I have been struck from behind while riding out in the lane specifically to deter overtakes at that point in the road. Once because I left just enough room for the driver to think he could squeeze through, and once because the driver (probably) deliberately came close but misjudged it (he had a clear lane adjacent that he could have used).
My view is that the idea that ‘vehicular’ or ‘defensive’ cycling will ensure safety is nonsense. But I’m ready to learn. Do you think you could have avoided those incidents?
“I am suggesting that cyclists should be as aware as drivers have to be, ”
But drivers _don’t_ have to be very aware, because they are safely protected in an armoured metal box!
. That’s the point that you seem to have missed. They don’t have to be aware, and therefore they aren’t. That’s why they text and eat bowls of cereal behind the wheel.
“many not even bothering with any form of rearview mirror. ”
Almost no cyclists use a rear view mirror, because they are pretty useless items on a bike, far more distracting than useful.
As for taking primary and all the rest of it – not long ago, for example, I was ‘taking primary’ to pass a long row of parked cars and stay out of the doorzone. Cars were coming the other way in the other lane in a constant stream. Then a motorcyclist came roaring up behind at maybe 40+mph, swore at me, and overtook me anyway, squeezing between me and the oncoming traffic, leaving maybe two inches to spare from my handlebars (this was on a road with a 30mph limit).
Taking primary simply doesn’t work very well, because a significant proportion of motorists will try and overtake anyway (and if they can’t they will shout and sound their horn, and even, on rare occasions, as happened to someone I know, get out at the next lights and attempt to physically attack you for ‘getting in the way’).
Drivers simply don’t understand why you are ‘in the way’. They mostly expect you to be in the gutter or the doorzone, and being in front of an angry motorist is not pleasant.
Vehicular cycling might be better than nothing, but its not good enough to persuade more than a small number (overwhelmingly young and able-bodied) to cycle, that’s my point.
I don’t want advice how to ‘keep safe’ (by accepting constant stress), I want major changes to our transport culture that will get people out of their cars and make my city a much more liveable place
I’m also not hugely confident in these ‘accident investigators’, Generally when it involves a cyclist being killed there’s only one side of the story that gets told. The cases of Michael Mason and Daniel Squires, for example, don’t fill me with confidence that the truth will be established.
Edit – ‘Daniel Squire”
Simple answer is that I don’t know because I don’t know clearly what the roads are like that you are riding.
Mixed traffic simply cannot work well on some roads and your responses seem likely to be the best in the circumstances.
Lane widths and traffic speeds play critical roles in the safety and practicality of sharing road space.
My point is not that we should leave roads alone and only learn to cope with them, biut that improving the cycleability of roads is likely to be the most practical and cost-effective means of improving the usability of the network, particularly when you are working from a low starting point.
One of our guiding principles has been that if there is not room for a bikelane on a roadway a bikelane will be too narrow and be worse than useless. That is, motorists will tend to ride closer than if there were no lane.
However if the road, or at least the kerbside lane, is wide-enough, the marginal improvement from painting a bike lane may be relatively small.
We spent some time persuading the road authority to aim for traffic lanes narrower than 3 metres or wider than 3.5, so a cyclist could either clearly be sharing the lane or have room for the motorists to overtake with enough clearance. At relatively low cost, this can improve cycling a little throughout the entire network.
We also got access to the emergency lanes of all rural freeways and highways. Not the most pleasant of riding but relatively safe having a lane of around 4m width to ride in. Longer term it will be wonderful when we can get bikepaths and quiet routes to parallel those roads but meantime it means we have access to a number of places that were inaccessible to bikes. That is not urban cycling but it is the same basic principle of systemic improvement before trying to fund (and find space for) specific separated facilities.
If money is short (and isn’t it always?) spare the money you might spend on a few isolated stretches of bikelane for defining cyclist-motor vehicle movement at slip lanes, intersections and other stress points over a much bigger area.
On roads too narrrow to be shared, drop the speed limit (introducing traffic-calming architecture to make that work) and paint it as a sharrow; a shared space.
We do have separate bike paths and bike lanes in places. The bike paths (done by the parks and water authority) tend to be excellent but of greater use recreationally than for utility riding.
Separated lanes are done by the road authority for the most part, and are done poorly. They (and Bicycle Network, which purports to represent cyclists) boast about achievement in cycling facilites by total length built, rather than what the lanes achieve. This means that the lines tend to go in where they are easiest to paint, rather than where they are most needed. It’s a lot of paint and not much help.
There are also the display lanes. Those they hubristically call “Copenhagen Lanes”. These are built at high cost, separating the cyclists from the traffic paralleling them but placing them at a disadvantage to, and in greater danger from, traffic coming in from side streets and vehicles turning across their path at intersections. With 10 cm-high kerbs both sides, the lanes also imprison the cyclist, often making overtaking quite unsafe. Those fairly short lanes come to an end and the cyclist is faced with conditions for the rest of their commute that are every bit as trying as ever they were because the money was blown in the short “separated” facility.
Fight for better roads for cycling, certainly, but complete separation is seldom the best use of scarce funds, particularly when starting from a low level.
Michael, I hope you don’t regard a rearview mirror as a distraction when driving a car or truck. To me it saves me from the distraction of having to look away from the motorists in front to see what is behind.
The time it takes even a champion cyclist to look back over his or her shoulder is more than the time it takes for someone to open a car door in your path or for a car to dart out from a sidestreet.
A helmet-mounted mirror works best for me but less so in countries where people ride on the wrong side of the road. Most people are right-eye dominant so a helmet mirror generally works far better on the right side of the head, hence the left side of the road.
It is worth mentioning that I did not use one in the Netherlands and did not feel the need for one. The traffic was far more predictable and the road architecture meant that there were fewer conflict points, even where you were riding on the road.
In reference to your jibe about culture never changing, you will learn a lot about why Dutch cycle planning works so well by reading Russell Shorto’s book “Amsterdam: a history of the world’s most livable city”. Some fundamentals of culture do change very slowly.
Regarding cyclists being hit despite doing nothing wrong, I had a list of links to such stories (notable for the panopoly of excuses drivers can legally use for not seeing what’s in front of them), but I don’t see the point getting into arguments about the details.. but one I would point at is
…it wasn’t either driver’s fault, apparently, but there’s no reason to presume it was the victim’s, so the conclusion must be that deciding to cycle on that road at all is accepting the possibility of random death from someone riding into the back of you at 70mph.
What ‘vehicular’ technique would have avoided that one?
That is particularly close to home as a road I had to cycle on regularly has, at night, traffic hitting 70mph or more through choke points past pedestrian islands and round parked cars. How do I ‘negotiate’ with someone coming up behind me at that sort of speed on a very narrow road in the dark?
It’s also the the same road I once saw two cars doing 50mph each have a head-on negotiation right in front of me, owing to one veering wildly all over the road (drunk or mobile-phone user was my guess). And countless other occasions of seeing the aftermath of such crashes.
And there’s no other usable route, which is why I now walk that journey.
The other thing about that linked story is that it does seem to illustrate what we presumably do agree on, which is the worse-than-nothing nature of poor quality cycle lanes, some of which seem to be almost death traps.
” I hope you don’t regard a rearview mirror as a distraction when driving a car or truck.”
I don’t drive a car or a truck, and I hope to avoid ever doing so. I’m waiting for this ‘driving’ fad to blow over, you see 🙂
Seriously, when I was born only 1 in 7 households in this country had a car. I don’t accept the situation we now have where cars completely dominate our environment, particularly in cities where there isn’t really room for them. You say that cultural change is slow, but I’ve seen the culture change fairly rapidly (cf the plummeting rates of children travelling to school by anything other than car), I have to hope it can change back, because this just isn’t sustainable, and it only continues because we continue to subsidise driving.
pm=michael using a different browser!
If you have cars regularly travelling at 70 mph you have a severe problem for other drivers, pedestrians, people living in nearby houses and even people riding on a bike lane or path beside the road.
One of the achievements here that I neglected to mention earlier was to have the default urban speed limit lowered from 60 km/h to 50 km/h throughout Australia. We worked hard towards 40 km/h but did not achieve it this time. It has made a heck of a difference across the whole country. Arterial roads remain 60 km/h but all local roads, unless specifically signed, have a maximum of 50 km/h now.
It is worth looking at the Dutch approach on this one. They don’t rule out bike lanes on roads, or shared-traffic zones, but they place strict limits on the speeds allowable in each kind of zone. We have a small number of shared motor, bicycle and pedestrian zones in inner Melbourne – very much like a traditional Spanish street – but the speed limit is just 8 km/h and motorists and cyclists must give way to pedestrians. They work quite well because the numbers of pedestrians mean that the motorists are under heavy pressure to behave.
It gets back to priorities. When you start installing separated facilities you aim first for the places that need it most, such as high-speed roads. That may sound like basic logic but tends to be ignored when people are trying to segregate as much traffic as they can. That haste tends to lead to doing the easy bits first and accumulating big numbers for distances built, but deferring the tricky – but usually more necessary – squeeze points, intersections, slip lanes and other difficulties.
Attitudes towards motorists killing cyclists is separate from whether you separate traffic. If you do not address those kind of attitudes you will not get sufficient funding, enough space, or adequate planning of any separated facilities. Proper planning and proper facilities start with the will to make the infrastructure work.
What a load of VCBS. I’ll reply to the mirror nonsense because I’m a motorist and Michael isn’t: “I hope you don’t regard a rearview mirror as a distraction when driving a car or truck. To me it saves me from the distraction of having to look away from the motorists in front to see what is behind.”
Errr, no, you should still look over your shoulder when needed, even if you’ve got mirrors. In the UK and Canada driving tests at least, you should fail if you don’t – and I’m surprised if that’s not true in many other countries.
“The time it takes even a champion cyclist to look back over his or her shoulder is more than the time it takes for someone to open a car door in your path or for a car to dart out from a sidestreet.” – Firstly, “champion cyclists” deliberately take risks and ride very close together for various reasons, so aren’t a good standard. Secondly, you shouldn’t be riding in the car door zone or close enough to the mouth of a side street for a car to dart out in less time than it takes to look behind – and I think even VC advocates usually tell you that.
Other than that, I think it’s worth remembering that only two of the most common cyclist-involved collision types are really avoidable by the cyclist – dooring and the cyclist disobeying a give-way – while motorists are generally at sole fault for the remainder: left-hook, right-cross, T-bone and sideswipes.
Yes, there are times you need to look over your shoulder, particularly when letting people know that you know they are waiting to overtake, but there are many times when you are better using a mirror. That is why motor vehicles have at least two of them. They are there to be used.
It is seldom possible to ride completely outside the opening-door zone. Some doors open very wide. You still need to be aware of them, particularly in strong tailwind conditons that can catch a door and blow it open very wide and very quickly.
If a car is already edging out onto the road, whether you are looking at the driver or not can determine whether the driver drives out. Look away a moment and they can be in your path, probably stopped and blocking the path you had mapped out for the next few seconds. Your glancing in the mirror does not take your gaze completely away – indeed is unlikely the motorist will even see you glance away.
It doesn’t matter whether you approve of cycle racing or not, high-level racers will generally be a heck of a lot better than the average rider at looking behind quicly.
But the reality is that few cyclists look over their shoulder at all often.
“It is seldom possible to ride completely outside the opening-door zone.” I think that’s backwards and it’s seldom NECESSARY to ride in the door zone – only on a narrow street where someone’s parked blocking it for motorists. Otherwise, pull out, even if it means waiting for a gap in oncoming traffic – motorists behind will have to wait anyway, so you’re not delaying them.
“It doesn’t matter whether you approve of cycle racing or not, high-level racers will generally be a heck of a lot better than the average rider at looking behind quicly.” – Yes, but they’re also riding far far closer to a lot of riders than anyone who isn’t racing. It simply doesn’t matter that it takes me longer to glance behind because I’m not close enough to someone to collide in that short time.
Your later comment about being ‘flummoxed’ that in the UK we have roads with speed limits of up to 70mph and no separate provision for cycling seem to go some way to explaining the differences of opinion here. Here, it is common for the only route to be one of these fast, unlit roads. ‘Communication’ with the drivers hurtling up behind you at a closing speed of 50+mph is extremely limited (!), so hi viz is not narcissism. Clearly hi viz is not enough; roads like this are simply too dangerous.
I did mention earlier that I do generally carry a fluorescent jacket for when I do need to ride high-speed roads, but that is a strong exception to the roads I choose to ride.
As also mentioned earlier, the Dutch have some useful guidelines on shared space and on-road lanes, based primarily on speed differences and traffic densities. They are systematic about such things, rather than dogmatic.
There are many aspects of the Dutch recommendations that don’t translate well everywhere else, but the planning recommendations are exceptionally good for conditions in The Netherlands and deserve close study.
A particular problem I encountered in Wales (UK) was that the “A” roads followed the flat valleys but the minor roads scrambled up and down very steep hillsides. I was not in the least tempted to ride the A roads and there were some real charms to those hilly secondary roads – not least the wild strawberries – but I was dismayed by the discrimination against non-motorised traffic.
“I think everything is okay that helps people on the bike instead of in the car. Let it be either alarm-vests or parrot-lycra. Why not”
Why not? Because it doesn’t help? The onus should be on those promoting the expensive (in terms of public health, more than purchase price, in this case) intervention to demonstrate efficacy. That hasn’t been done for hi-viz and it’s hard to see why wearing yellow in a world where yellow is common (the fields of daffodils blooming now will be replaced by things like tulips, rapeseed/canola, sunflowers, corn, wheat and straw stubble as the year progresses) could be easier to see than a good solid black or an unnatural hi-contrast pattern.
Okay. (Sorry, I shame me so for my English 🙂 )
It is not my point wether hi-viz is making cycling safer or not. I personally don’t see any advantage for myself (More exactly: The disadvantage is higher for me. The look, you know.)
But I am not the one to critizise hi-viz. When people do feel safer by wearing hi-viz and this difference in their (perceived) safety allow them to cycle, then the hi-viz does a good job.
Doing everything for your safety as a cyclist and to take even perhaps (who knows really?) useless measures seems reasonable to me in environments of much motor traffic.
“When people do feel safer by wearing hi-viz and this difference in their (perceived) safety allow them to cycle, then the hi-viz does a good job.”
But if hi-viz did that, allowed people to cycle, it would have done so by now. But it hasn’t, hardly anyone in this country uses a bike as their prime means of transport. So that theory seems to have been disproved already.
The other point is, there’s a difference between the interests of the individual, in deciding whether to wear high-viz or not, and that of the wider group. It might seem a worthwhile thing for an individual, but when everyone wears high-viz, the result is likely to be no different from nobody wearing it, as drivers will just pay less attention accordingly.
Which means I wouldn’t complain at an individual for choosing to wear it, but I’m absolutely against promoting it for all.
I can fully agree with your last sentence.
“But if hi-viz did that, allowed people to cycle, it would have done so by now. But it hasn’t, hardly anyone in this country uses a bike as their prime means of transport. So that theory seems to have been disproved already.”
I don’t see any prove because there is a difference between cycling on the one hand and using cycling as a prime mean of transport on the other. Even Rome wasn’t built in one day. I think there is not much that is harder to change than cultural behaviour of both individuals and society.
I admire your blogs and your discussion very much. Very distinguished and very reasonable. Here in Germany cycle politics and the vast majority of cycle blogs are strictly the other way round. Cycling advocates, government, the one and only cycle union (ADFC), all political parties including the Greens, the (car industry sponsored) “traffic safety” organisations, communes and cities, everyone want you to “share the road”, for “safety reasons” (“On the carriageways cyclists are better to be seen”).
For example: Berlin’s cycle union (ADFC) wants the government to hire “special units” and law enforcements forces to force cyclists into “sharing the road”.
Whilst in all developed countries not only cycling advocates but even official transport politics at least try to make a turn away from VC, Germany is adopting it.
I guess in 10 -15 years GB will have overtook Germany in terms of everyday bicycle use.
I have read Katja Leyendecker’s piece “How cycle bloggers shifted mountains” at CEoGB.
She is right. The bloggers did and they do a very good job.
But she forgot one important point. The national car industry of GB has lost very much of it’s importance and therefore of it’s political influence. That loss has a great share in making the door wide open for a new culture in urban traffic. The underlying economic scheme has changed in GB. Using cars as the prime means of urban transport is both highly expensive and highly inefficient to the national economy. In the long term it is acceptable only if the revenues of building and selling cars do good for national economy. And not do good mainly for Germany’s or Japan’s economy.
It is a shame if ADFC really has lost its way so much that it is vehicularist.
‘pedestrians’ who spend a lot of time in the road (e.g. refuse workers/police/maintenance workers) do wear hi viz, and that’s for very sound reasons.
Shoppers etc. should spend most time off the road, they’d be well advised to keep a look out when crossing a road, because road users only look out for them as the last line of defence, pedestrians are not meant to walk on the road in conflict with road users. Zebra crossings you mention, that is one particular special case, therefore they are very clearly marked – you wouldn’t build one that is black with no lights on it.
In this country (Australia) pedestrian crossings are usually marked in white on the road, with signs of black on yellow; not fluorescent colours.
“Hi-viz” customarily applies to fluorescent clothing with large amounts of retroreflective material.
I will usually wear and recommend something pale and white, (or mid-spectrum if coloured), for riding or walking, especially at night, but that is quite another level from “hi-viz” clothing.
The overuse of overly-conspicuous materials disadvantages all those who are simply dressed sensibly for the conditions. It is a kind of arms race and when everyone is using it all the time, it loses all its value in special conditions because ‘hi-viz” does not show up against a background of ‘hi-viz”
My own experience with roadsigns indicates that ‘hi-viz’ signs are visible from huge distances, far before they have any value as a warning, but the glare of them prevents their being read or understood until far closer than it is possible to read the same sign in simple black on yellow or white.
As with flashing lights on bikes, “hi-viz” increases the distance at which initial perception happens, at the expense of necessary information at distances at which it is needed (writing and graphics on signs, and for the cyclist their relative speed, precise location, trajectory, acceleration/decelleration and any signals they may be giving)
That’s fair food for thought. Did you know that the European Union did actually become worried about the lack of daytime visibility of cars (dark coloured or otherwise), and has in fact instructed that all new models are to be designed with daylight running lights as a standard feature, I believe meaning that all cars will have lights on them at all times. Just to point out that there are bodies musing over the visibility of cars.
I think it’s a standard feature but not something that English motorists have to use yet and I hope it never is. Some vehicle manufacturers make it very hard to turn off those daytime lights and opt out of the lighting arms race, though. With mine, I just have to remember to switch them off before moving the car.
Unfortunately, they’ve been here for a few years:
Daytime running lights (DRLs) come on automatically whenever a vehicle’s engine is started. They substantially increase the visibility of cars and other vehicles.
car with lights onIn many countries, headlights are compulsory only in the dark. But DRLs are designed to be on during the day too. Their job isn’t to help the driver see the road but to help other road users see the vehicle. Daytime running lights consume just 25-30% of the energy needed to power a conventional dipped headlight.
From 2011 onwards, DLRs will be mandatory for all new cars and small delivery vans in the EU. Trucks and buses will follow in August 2012. Existing vehicles will not have to be retrofitted. Currently, 17 EU countries already have some form of DRL legislation.
I know but the last time I checked (a few months ago), the regulations still permitted the vehicle to have a way to switch them off and for the motorist to switch them off.
Really? I admit I haven’t checked the actual regulations but I thought the whole point was that they could not be turned off except by turning off the ignition. There could be an exception in the regs or maybe it’s a UK exemption, but in any case I don’t think most people driving cars with DRLs know about it. Perhaps it deserves to be better publicised…