Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dangerous Drivers locked up for Longer ?? "Dangerous drivers who seriously injure others should spend longer in jail, Justice Secretary Jack Straw announced today."

That's certainly the case, but it is certainly not the problem.

The problem is that dangerous drivers don't end up in jail in the first place. That's because it is extremely difficult to get a conviction on a charge of dangerous driving. Because it is difficult to get a conviction, there tend to be few prosecutions, and hence there is not much point in the police wasting their time trying to clamp down on dangerous driving. The underlying problem is, the way the law is drafted is very sloppy and the way the Highway Code is drafted is also sloppy.

"A person is regarded as ‘driving dangerously’ if: - The way they are driving falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver, and - It would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous."

It's pretty easy for a lawyer to run rings around this. What does 'falls far below' mean? What is a 'competent and careful driver'? What level of competence? How careful? Are most drivers careful? I would suggest not, given that most drivers exceed the speed limit (in the absence of speed cameras at least).

When sentencing, the judge has to take account of aggravating and mitigating factors. For example, as an aggravating factor, we have:

"A prolonged, persistent and deliberate course of very bad driving"

Now this is usually almost impossible to prove. All the police have to go on is a single incident. You will be very lucky to be able to find witnesses, and there's usually very little effort to find them, except where it's a fatal 'accident'.

As a mitigating factor, we have:
"The absence of previous convictions"

What the hell?? So we have a law that makes it all but impossible to get a conviction in the first place, and as a mitigating factor, we have the absence of previous convictions!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Raynes Park Cycle Lane

The Raynes Park Cycle Lane is a real mixed bag. There is a segregated path along Coombe Lane that is about as good a cycle lane as you will see in London. As you head into Raynes Park itself, the wheels kinda fall off. There's a marked cycle path on the pavement, but there is a bus shelter bang in the middle of it, and various other street furniture, turning it into a bit of an obstacle course. Take a look at

to see what I'm on about.

Then, as you approach the station, you have to dismount for no readily apparent reason, continue on foot through a tunnel under the railway and you're on a busy road with no cycle lane approaching a busy junction.

Now the good news is, Merton Countil are about to improve it. The route will now continue past the station on a widened footpath. There will be an improved crossing which will take you to a segregated off-road path by the railway.

Now the bad news. Come on, if you cycle in London you didn't think it would be that easy now did you?
1. There's a 'Dismount' section as you pass the station. Now the thing about 'Dismount' sections is, they are explicitly proscribed by the TfL London Cycle Design Standards. In other words, the standards call for 'Dismount' signs to be removed from existing routes and never used on new routes. There are no exceptions to this, other than where it would be impossible to cycle e.g. under a very low bridge.
So why on earth is there a 'Dismount' section on the new cycle path? Apparently (according to the Council) it is because the residents of Raynes Park suffer with inconsiderate cyclists riding along this particular section. Now, bear in mind this section is 'no cycling' at present, with a 'Dismount' sign. So how on earth is a 'Dismount' sign going to stop people who are currently ignoring the 'Dismount' sign? Beats me.
Now don't get me wrong. I am not a big fan of shared sections of pavement. To an extent I can understand people on foot being 'intimidated' by cyclists...I am actually rather intimidated by pedestrians, because they exhibit Brownian motion - they often have little awareness of what's going on around them, and they are prone to randomly change direction for no apparent reason. I would far rather there was a proper cycle path separate to the footway. But back to the 'Dismount' sign. If you drive, you won't see signs in the carriageway telling you to switch off your engine and get out of your car and push it for 100 yards. That's because it would be ridiculous. As ridiculous as a 'Dismount' sign is on a cycle path. The really corrosive thing about it is, it takes away your right to use your judgement as a responsible cyclist as to how to ride along a shared pavement. It is possible for pedestrians to co-exist with cyclists as long as each is aware of, and considerate toward, the other. Inconsiderate cyclists ignore 'Dismount' signs. Putting up signs won't stop them. 'Dismount' signs in this situation presupposes that all cyclists are irresponsible. That's not a good message to send out. That's why the Cycle Design Standards advise against these signs: they are inconvenient for cyclists and they don't work.

2. Oh yes, there's more bad news. The segregated off-road Railway Path that will go from Raynes Park to Wimbledon won't be ready for some time. The existing footpath is way too narrow to accomodate a cycle path. The footpath land was originally a fairly wide strip, but apparently, some residents have 'extended' their gardens onto this Council land, and because the Council did nothing about it, the land has been legally forfeited. It's a sort of middle-class squatter's rights. So the path can't be widened onto land that should belong to the Council. So instead, they are going to try to widen the path on the railway side, but this will involve all sorts of railway engineers' reports and assorted red tape. So don't expect to see it any time soon.

3. More bad news. This is not the first go the council has had to get this right. The Raynes Park cycle route was built back in the 1990s. In 2008 there was an attempt by the Council to sort out the mess at the Raynes Park end, but this scheme was rejected, because it involved felling trees and cost a lot of money. So this new scheme was cooked up. If instead they got it right first time, and spent more money on cycle infrastructure and less on re-drafting schemes and holding consultation exercises, we'd have a half-decent cycle network.

Next: the Kingston Road section.