Friday, April 27, 2012

Big Ride

It's tomorrow. 11AM start at Park Lane. Don't forget, folks. See you there.


1. Cycling is Good. Fact.

2. Cycle Training Enables People to Cycle Safely. Fact.

Therefore, by the rules of Logic, investing money in Cycle Training is a Very Good Thing. Fact.

Or is it?

"More than 300,000 school children will learn to cycle safely, competently and confidently on the road over the next year, thanks to nearly £11m worth of government funding allocated today, Norman Baker has announced."

What on earth could be wrong with that? Well, the problem is that cycle training does not result in more cycling. We know this because there is no shortage of cycle training, but nationally cycling is flat-lining. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with cycling, or with cycle training. It is simply that cycle training does not create safety, it simply enables people to adapt to a dangerous environment. It's a bit like giving people a bullet-proof vest. Will they go on holiday to Afghanistan? Possibly, if they really love the country, or have a high tolerance of danger, but for most people simply being in a hostile environment is stressful, no matter how well prepared or protected you may be. Afghanistan, of course, is an extreme example, but even countries like Egypt and Morocco, which are in fact very safe for tourists, experience a downturn in holiday bookings as a result of one isolated incident. That's because people, like all animals, are easily scared, arising from their built-in instinct for survival. Perception of danger leads to stress, which leads to flight (or possibly fight).

Of the 300,000 school children trained next year, only about 2% will actually cycle to school. So with such an abysmal conversion rate, the cost of training works out at £2000 per child actually cycling. If they spent some money on infrastructure, a lot more kids would cycle, and adults for that matter. Not just this year, but for decades into the future. Then it would actually be worth training them.

The fact is that cycle training is an easy way of spending money on cycling, but it is not currently an effective way of spending money on cycling. In fact, it's downright wasteful. If you were investing £11M in education, and only 2% of your pupils succeeded, or £11M in job creation, and 98% of it was wasted, there would be an outcry. But cycling is something politicians need to be seen to be spending money on because it's A Good Thing. It doesn't seem to matter if it's as effective as backing a 3-legged donkey to win the Grand National.

What was David Cameron thinking when he appointed Mike Penning minister for road safety? He might as well have appointed Harold Shipman minister for the care of the elderly.

Penning's latest pronouncements are that cyclists won't be allowed to turn left on red anytime soon, because "it could result in motorists and other drivers attempting to follow their lead". So, in spite of successful trials elsewhere in the world, the justification is that this innovation, which could allow cyclists to escape the attention of left-turning HGVs, will be denied because some motorists might be so dozy as to follow a cyclist through a red light. So presumably these motorists are just as likely to follow a car or van through a red light? Or do something equally brainless and unobservant? Maybe, as minister for road safety, he should be getting those drivers off the roads?

But as far as Penning is concerned, things are just fine as they are. Penning says: "The reason that traffic light regulations have not dramatically changed over the years is that they do what it says on the tin, by keeping the roads safe." Not true. They keep motorists safe. They don't keep cyclists safe. Light-controlled junctions compress lots of accelerating traffic and cyclists going in multiple directions into a situation where they are bound to come into conflict.

But again, as far a cyclist safety is concerned, Penning doesn't see a problem. "the UK is safer than two countries where cycling is popular, Sweden and the Netherlands, with fewer cyclist fatalities per 100,000 people." It evidently hasn't occurred to Penning that a far greater proportion of people cycle in the Netherlands than in the UK, so it is a false comparison. A realistic comparison is the number of casualties per 100,000 trips, which is the usual metric, and one that does not flatter the UK, which is why Penning doesn't use it. Penning seemingly doesn't understand or care about the difference between safety and danger. If you allow something to become dangerous enough, no-one will do it, which is nearly where we are with cycling in the UK. That approach to road safety is an assault on personal freedoms - the freedom to walk or cycle without fear of illegal harassment or intimidation. Freedoms the Dutch take for granted.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Addison Lee

Addison Lee minicab drivers have been encouraged by their boss to drive in bus lanes. This is part of a long-running campaign to change the law to allow private hire vehicles access to bus lanes, which have been hitherto restricted to scheduled buses, and bikes. Oh, and black cabs. And motorcycles of course. Why not minicabs as well? And it's been suggested to allow electric and low-emission vehicles in as well. And what about commercial vehicles? Why hold up people who are trying to deliver goods, to keep the capital's economy going? Hey, the more the merrier! Why not get rid of bus lanes altogether?

It so happens that the Tories don't like bus lanes. They smack too much of Government interference in the rights of individuals. But the more sensible Conservatives realise that you cannot run a big city solely on libertarian ideology. The reason bus lanes exist is to speed up bus journeys, on the basis that a vehicle carrying 90-odd passengers should have priority over a vehicle carrying one passenger. Contrary to what some people think, bus lanes don't slow other traffic down significantly. Junctions are the bottlenecks on the road system, and having more general traffic lanes leading up to a junction doesn't increase its capacity. So if you get rid of bus lanes, bus passengers end up with longer journeys, but everyone else's journey stays pretty much the same. Except it doesn't, because if you make the bus service slower, more people will drive instead, so you end up with more congestion and slower journeys for everyone, and consequent costs for the economy. So everyone loses.

Unlike the Tories, TfL do like bus lanes. Leon Daniels was pretty quick out of the traps to condemn Addison Lee and threaten them with all sorts of unpleasantness if they dared cross into the sacred spaces. Compare and contrast with TfL's asleep-on-the-job performance on cycle safety.

Now minicab drivers do have a case. Why should black cabs have privileges that minicabs do not? It could be argued that black cabbies have to pass the Knowledge, are subject to more rules, and their vehicles have to pass more exacting inspections. But is the Knowledge really relevant in the age of satellite navigation? Why can't the same standards of driving and vehicle inspection be extended to the minicab trade?

 I don't know which way the legal challenge will go, but London roads cannot run effectively with a virtual free-for-all in bus lanes. In fact, if you look at the Strand on any weekday, the bus lane is at a standstill, because the majority of traffic in central London is black cabs. There is already a problem with too many vehicles in bus lanes. Perhaps Addison Lee winning their legal challenge would be a good thing, because TfL would finally have to face up to the fact that there is too much low-occupancy traffic (and I include all flavours of cab in that category) on parts of London's roads.

As CITC points out, this is not just about motor traffic, and the mainstream media, with the notable exception of The Times, have ignored this fact. Bus lanes provide a welcome refuge for cyclists. While there are some crap bus and black cab drivers, in general I find them better-than-average in terms of their consideration for cyclists. Sadly, I have to tell you that I've been close-passed by Addison-Lee vehicles on more than one occasion, and I know that I'm not alone. Having more drivers of a worse standard in bus lanes is not good news for cycling.

What could the Mayor do if Addison Lee's challenge succeeds? One possibility is to allow cabs to bid in an auction-style process for access to bus lanes. There would be a limited number of permits, but any qualifying cab driver would be allowed to bid. Qualification for the permit would include passing an advanced driving test, including cycle awareness, and could also include fitting of a telemetric 'black box' to monitor driving standards. Members of the public could be encouraged to report dangerous driving in bus lanes, with permits being withdrawn for offenders.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Load More Bollards

I really hate being an I-told-you-so. It gives me no pleasure whatever, trust me. But I warned the residents of Wimbledon about the dangerous bollards that leap out in front of your car with no warning. Unfortunately, this lady wasn't paying attention. Maybe she doesn't read my blog. Or maybe she rashly ignored my advice not to approach the bollard.

And it seems Councillor David Dean's appeal that "the council needed to remove the bollard, which protects pedestrians standing on a traffic island" has fallen on deaf ears. And now another bollard is responsible for attacking another vehicle. When will this carnage end?  And let's have less of the victim-blaming indulged in by a witness, who said "The people carrier drove too sharply and hit a pedestrian bollard".

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Night to Remember

It's the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Hundreds of people died in a tragedy that was caused by an obsession with transporting as many people as possible at too high a speed, with safety a secondary consideration. That led to changes to regulations to ensure that such unnecessary loss of life could not happen again, along with an international treaty for the safety of life at sea, which includes the clause "Every mariner must take account of all potential dangers to navigation, weather forecasts, tidal predictions, the competence of the crew, and all other relevant factors". More people die every year on Britain's roads than died in the Titanic, but there's no sign of safety taking precedence over speed, particularly in relation to us steerage-class passengers. Transport for London continue to steam full-speed-ahead to pack more vehicles through junctions with inadequate safety features, without regard to the potential dangers.

Continuing the nautical theme, the very naughty actions of that cheeky chap Trenton Olfield (TRENTON!!! JESUS CHRIST TRENTON!!!)  who swam into the path of the Oxford 'n' Cambridge Boat Race, has raised fears that protestors or terrorists, or as the Telegraph has it,  "lone idiots", could endanger Olympic athletes in the Marathon and the bike race. Well it may come as a surprise to some, but most road cyclists are quite familiar with "lone idiots" in motor vehicles endangering their safety, and it's a shame that the authorities don't show more concern for them when the cameras aren't rolling...