Friday, January 29, 2010

3feet2pass petition rejected

According to this report, a petition asking for a law requiring motorists to allow at least 3 feet when overtaking a cyclist has been rejected by 10 Downing Street.

Frankly, I was never overly impressed by this petition. 3 feet is not actually much roadspace. Other countries have laws that require at least 1.5 metres (5 1/2 feet). Also, the context is crucial. I would not like to be overtaken by a 38-tonne truck at 60 MPH that allowed me only 3 feet, or even 5 1/2 feet, but a slowly, carefully-driven car on a narrow lane might be a different matter.

But passing distance is just one of a myriad of different areas where the Highway Code, and the law and justice system in general, fails to protect cyclists and fails to act against bad driving. Why is it (usually) legal to park in a cycle lane? Why is it (usually) legal for a motor to enter a cycle lane? Why is it almost impossible to get a conviction or even a prosecution for dangerous driving, and why are the penalties in many cases so risible? Why is there no general duty of care assumed for motorists?

Downing Street's view is that the Highway Code, and the law, is adequate. Well sorry Gordon but it isn't, which is why 2500+ people die on the roads each year, 95% of them due to driver error. If drivers knew the chances of getting caught for bad driving where higher, or even simply that if caught they would face a lengthy ban, it might focus their minds on the road and away from their mobile phones. Instead, we're stuck with wishy-washy ambiguous laws that do little to protect the public. It is time the Government - and indeed all parties - woke up to the fact that if they are serious about encouraging active modes of travel (walking and cycling) and getting people out of their cars, the law as it stands is woefully inadequate and out of step with the times.

We need another petition. A more ambitious one this time.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

School Travel Grants

Did you know that your school can get a grant of over £5000 in support of a school travel plan? This money can be used to encourage kids to walk or cycle to school. Because we all know the dangers of the school run (obesity, road danger etc.).

The only catch is, the money can ONLY be spent within the school premises. Most schools are not served by quality segregated cycle infrastructure (certainly not in Merton), which is where the real need is, and it is the perceived danger of roads clogged with school mums in a hurry to drop their fat, unfit offspring off at school, that is the main barrier to getting more kids cycling to school.

So WHY is the government (via Sustrans) spending SO MUCH taxpayers cash on ANYTHING BUT fixing the real problem???

If kids had decent cycle paths to take them to school, then more kids would cycle to school. Which means less school-run traffic...hence less road danger, less pollution, less congestion, less obesity...for goodness sakes, it's not rocket science!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Recluttering - or Barriers to Cycling

Following on from my previous post about 'De-Cluttering', you're probably wondering where all those railings that Merton Council have removed from the Town Centre and Morden Road have gone, right?

Well I've found them. There is a little known clause in the Merton Cycle Design Standards that states:
'if not otherwise obstructed by parked cars, 'Dismount' signs, bollards, bus shelters etc., every cycle path shall have a metal barrier every 100 metres'.

You think I'm joking?

Take a right turn from Dorset Road onto the cycle path leading towards Old Merton Park:

Carry on 20 metres to the tram track.

You can't just cross the tram track; the Council have arranged railings forcing you around a tight, blind corner into the path of whatever foot or cycle traffic is coming your way. You're then badly placed to look both ways to check if there are any trams far so good, then another couple of tight turns to negotiate...and another 50 metres before you have another metal barrier...

A quick shimmy through some bollards and you're out onto Melbourne Road. Another 100 metres or so and...'ve guessed it, another barrier, this time a 'triple'. There's yet another one 25 metres further down the path.

Now obviously, these barriers have an extremely important purpose. They force cyclists and pedestrians into a narrow corridor, so they get in each others' way.

No, I'm being cynical. You can't have people cycling at speed approaching a junction, because they might kill a pedestrian. But wait. By that logic, all road junctions would have similar obstacles to restrict car speed. But don't worry, cars aren't anywhere near as dangerous as cycles. Cars only kill 2500 people a year, whereas cycles kill at least 2 people a year. Merton Council needs to get people off their bikes and into cars, so they need to make cycling slow and unpleasant, by putting in as many barriers on cycle paths as they can.

Railings - De-cluttering?

Merton Council's coffers are cluttered with too much taxpayers' cash, so they're spending it on 'de-cluttering'.

De-cluttering - that's the latest trendy thing in street-design circles. It basically means removing railings, and other 'unnecessary' street furniture. Now the theory goes that railings encourage drivers to regard the road as their own, with incursions from pedestrians only permitted at certain places. Removing railings should 'create uncertainty' and encourage drivers to be more aware of pedestrians. You'll have seen railings removed from Morden Road and in Wimbledon Town Centre. You'll notice in the Town Centre, a lot of bikes used to be locked to the railings, so the Council have had to replace the railings with Sheffield stands. You'll also notice that Sheffield stands are rather similar to railings.
I'm just an ignorant council-tax payer, so I rather miss the point of this. The street is still pretty choked with traffic most of the time, going faster than the 20MPH limit, they've not put in any trees or flowerbeds, the same light-controlled pedestrian crossings are what's the point, other than giving someone at the Council something to do that burns through a pile of cash?

Now while removing the railings in the Town Centre is pointless, removing them from Morden Road is downright dangerous. The pavements are very narrow along Morden Road, traffic is very heavy and speeds are generally quite high. There are no pedestrian crossings for a good mile. It's also a notorious accident blackspot. I've personally witnessed 4 accidents including one where a car mounted the pavement and hit a lamppost. Now, if they wanted to remove the railings, lower traffic speeds and volumes, widen the pavement, put in a proper cycle/bus lane it would make sense, but no, they are doing nothing about road danger, and removing the only thing that prevents another car from mounting the pavement. And spending taxpayers' money doing it! It's no wonder drivers regard Morden Road as their own - that's because it continues to be their own, and removing a couple of railings ain't gonna change that!

Dorset Road - A Rat Run

Dorset Road is a pleasant, wide residential road in the heart of the Merton Park area of Wimbledon. It is lined with magnificent mature plane trees on either side. It forms part of the local cycle network. Children can cycle safely along it on their way to Rutlish and Merton Park Primary schools, along the well-maintained, segregated cycle path.

Even if you have never been to SW19, you will have spotted that last sentence was a lie. There is no segregated cycle path. Despite the fact that Dorset Road is part of the cycle network, and despite the fact that most properties along Dorset Road have off-street parking so there is little demand for parking spaces, and despite the fact that the road is well wide enough to accomodate a cycle path.

Instead of a cycle path, there is, well, nothing. In fact, it's rather worse than nothing. There is a 20 MPH speed limit, but the 'speed cushions' do nothing to calm vehicle speeds, and the road is a well-known rat-run that the council have done nothing about.

As you can see below, the road width and lack of proper speed humps and parked cars just shouts 'put your foot down!' to rat-runners:

Once up to speed, motorists tend to align their vehicles between the speed cushions for the most comfortable ride. The result is that in a gap between parked cars with a nearby speed cushion such as the one below, you can expect cars coming towards you in the middle of the road, rather than on the correct, safe line:

For cyclists, the cut-through speed cushions offer pretty much the worst of all possible worlds:

1. They do little to reduce speed of motor traffic.
2. They tend to funnel all traffic into a certain corridor in the road.
3. They focus the driver's (and also the cyclist's) attention on what line (s)he has to take to avoid the speed cushions, rather than what is the safest line, and distracts their attention from other road users and pedestrians.
4. They tend to force the cyclist into the cut-through, where they are more likely to come into conflict with other traffic.
5. The cut-throughs are not a safe distance from parked cars. In other words, in taking a path into the cut-through, you are at risk of getting 'doored' or hitting a pedestrian stepping out from behind a car or van.
6. They are dangerous, particularly in the wet. If you strike the corner or side of the hump at the wrong angle, this can cause a wobble or a skid. In other words, if you initially take a line into a cut-through, but are forced by oncoming traffic to alter your line , the steep sides of the hump present a hazard.

So why is the council not making Dorset Road a safe, pleasant place to walk and cycle? Because they are too busy 'de-cluttering'. Of course, they won't be removing advertising hoardings or parking spaces, because they're not 'clutter'.

So Dorset Road will remain a cycle route that you wouldn't want to cycle.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Biking Boroughs

So there is this new initiative from Boris called Biking Boroughs. Under the Livingstone administration, cycling funding was somewhat ring-fenced, but the new arrangements mean that boroughs have more freedom and could in theory spend more, or less, or nothing at all on cycling.

The first step in the programme was that boroughs had to apply to become Biking Boroughs. 12 of these boroughs, Barking and Dagenham, Bexley, Brent, Bromley, Croydon, Ealing, Haringey, Havering, Hillingdon, Kingston, Merton and Redbridge, have been given £25K each to fund a 'study' to identify how to improve cycling provision.

My reaction to this is: firstly, £25K is a fair amount of money especially multiplied by 12. Do we really need studies to tell us what we already know is wrong with cycling in London?

Secondly, it seems unlikely the the Councils will pay someone to tell them what a crap job they've done in the past and what a pile of money they have to spend in the future to fix the mess they've created. It's more likely that the studies will say how marvellous cycling is and recommend just enough projects to use up the budget they've previously allocated. And the projects won't piss of local residents or cause motorists to be inconvenienced in any way. Everyone gets to keep their job or get re-elected and it's champagne all round.

No! If we're serious about cycling, we need less bureaucracy, not more. Too many projects get mired in the planning process and end up compromised by non-cycling interest groups. You end up with cycle lanes that are advisory (not mandatory), too narrow and where parking is allowed. You get cycle paths that effectively go from nowhere and to nowhere. In planning terms, it is easier to build a new runway at Heathrow, or a nuclear power station, than a cycle route worthy of the name. If City Hall and the government are serious, there needs to be a London-wide strategy that will deliver a proper network of attractive, safe cycle infrastructure that takes people where they want to go. There needs to be a mandate to do this and there needs to be a way to cut through the planning bureaucracy to deliver it without endless public enquiries. There needs to be the authority to reallocate roadspace, put in traffic control and parking measures, do whatever needs to be done.

The thing is, it can be done. Because of Boris's manifesto pledge to deliver the Cycle Superhighways, Wansworth borough are pulling out all the stops to solve in 12 months what were previously considered insoluble problems. Because they know if they screw up and delay the launch of the first Superhighway, Boris will kick their sorry butts from here to Timbuktu. Compare and contrast this attitude with the 10-year struggle to get cycling permitted over Wandsworth Common, involving 2 public enquiries. I'll bog about that later.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Free Money for Cycling

Free money for cycling?

According to the report, "Any community group or organisation can apply for funding from the Community Cycling Fund for London, which can be spent on bicycles, training and other necessities to promote cycling in your neighbourhood".

Sounds good huh?

Two problems with this.

First problem. LCC is administering this grant. The money comes variously either from the government (such as TfL), or organizations with close links to the government (National Lottery). This subverts the LCC's ability to campaign against government policy, because the government can use the (implied, unstated) threat of withdrawal of funds as a stick to keep LCC in line. You gotta know who your daddy is. Particularly as some active LCC folks are involved in the bike industry and benefit directly or indirectly from these funds. In other words, there is a conflict of interest being generated.
Now I am not for a moment saying there is anything corrupt going on, or questioning the good intentions or integrity of anyone involved. I am just pointing out the political landscape of the situation.
You can draw parallels with the situation at Sustrans, as documented here and here. For that matter, the same situation exists at CTC. Is it a coincidence that LCC and CTC unite in their strategy of pretending that everything in the garden is rosy, and we just need a bit of training to get more people on bikes or subsidise bikes, do a bit of marketing showing happy people cycling and then the safety-in-numbers effect will magically make the roads safe? The only people who seem to be pointing out the parlous state of cycling infrastructure and the dangers to cyclists are bloggers like that whingeing Waltham Forest bloke .

Which leads into the second problem. Training without attractive, safe, continuous infrastructure that enables people to cycle to where they want to go - the shops, library, swimming pool, for example - won't result in more people cycling. At least, the effect won't last long.

Changing people's habits is very, very difficult. It seems to me obvious that if you want people to leave their cars at home and use their bikes more, you need to make cycling very attractive. You need to make motoring unattractive too, but that is politically difficult to do.

The real danger with the 'marketing over substance' approach is this:

1. You get a bunch of new cyclists cycling.
2. They discover that the attractive cycle routes where they live don't actually go anywhere much before they soon turn into unattractive normal roads, with lots of traffic.
3. They have one or two near misses.
4. They quit cycling.
5. They tell other people how scary it is.

Does that sound unduly pessimistic?

Well, I've been keeping a diary for the last three months or so of my near misses. I've had about a dozen in that time. Now I like to think that, as an experienced cyclist who knows London road conditions pretty well, and has in the past driven vans and ridden motorcycles, I have a pretty good idea of what to expect out there. I've had the training and the experience to anticipate and avoid dangerous situations like passing up the inside of lorries. Also, I deliberately avoid busy roads and tune my routes for safety rather than speed. I don't think I scare easily. What I mean by a near miss is, a situation where a driver has done something obviously dangerous/illegal and physically threatening. Cut me up, pulled out in front of me, passed very close to me. The kind of thing that would really scare a novice cyclist. So, again, a dozen near misses in three months - is that enough to put a novice off cycling?

Maybe I'm just unlucky.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Bike Club

Bike Club has launched. This is a package of training, incentives, competitions and freebies to try to get more kids cycling.

But there is no new infrastructure, and no requirement on government or local authorities to provide any.

The fundamental reason that kids don't cycle is, it is perceived as dangerous. That's because, in large measure, it is dangerous.

I live in the middle of the London Borough of Merton in a relatively quiet residential neighbourhood, where a lot of families live. Exactly the kind of place where kids should be able to cycle safely. But there are no safe cycle routes to, well, pretty much anywhere. To get to the town centre, either of the two local swimming pools, the library, Wimbledon Common, even the local schools, there are no cycle routes worthy of the name. What cycle routes there are, are simply blue signs. No mandatory cycle lanes, no segregated cycle lanes, no cycle paths. There are one or two sections of shared footpath, but to get to them you need to go on roads. Many of the roads are relatively quiet, the area has a 20MPH limit and some speed humps. But the 20 MPH limit is not enforced and there enough busy roads where traffic volumes and speeds are high enough for it to be dangerous. There are too many junctions that are dangerous. Most drivers are careful and considerate when there are kids on bikes around. But there are enough speeding idiots on hand-held mobile phones to spoil the party.

In other words, no-one at Merton Council has sat down and thought about where people would cycle to, and provide proper routes that are, and appear to be, safe. That's why kids don't cycle. They've got nowhere to cycle to. And until that changes, all the training and marketing in the world won't be worth diddly-squat.

The really sad thing is, there is quite a lot of road space that could be turned into decent cycle infrastructure without needing to fight with residents. Many houses have driveways and garages, so the demand for onroad parking is not as great as it is in many neighbourhoods. But the council has been through Labour and Tory hands, and very little changes. I can't think of much that's new in the last ten years in terms of cycle infrastructure worthy of the name.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Tax Payers' Alliance Favour Tax and Public Spending

Oh yes, another TPA story. This is like shooting fish in a barrel.

In this article, the author asserts (in response to Theresa Villiers' pledge that a future Conservative government would not fund any new fixed speed cameras) that "the shadow transport minister could have been bolder and committed a future Conservative government to investing in improved road infrastructure. Studies indicate improved road standards would cut fatal and serious accidents by 20 per cent, as well as providing a platform for Britain to return to economic growth."

You may or may not be surprised to learn that the 'studies' referred to point to a document from the Road Users Alliance. Sponsored by Shell Bitumen (no conflict of interest there then) . It's not a study of road safety, it is a general study of roads with the overall message that we need more of them. You might expect to see citations to respected road safety organizations, but there aren't any, and the 'safety' chapter is a few paragraphs that say better roads = fewer accidents. Come on TPA, how are you going to convince anybody if you can't be bothered to do your research?

There's not a chance in hell that the TPA or the Road Users Alliance will get their way, given the certainty of savage cuts in public spending, and the fact that the parties have committed to preserving spending on sexy things like schools and the NHS. Roads is one area where if less public money were spent, things might actually improve...

Tax Payers Alliance Opposes Lack of Taxes

I couldn't resist this one. Apparently, the right-wing libertarian group - no, sorry, the "independent grassroots campaign for lower taxes" oppose a scheme that enables people not to pay tax.

They claim that Ashford Borough Council's implementation of the Cycle to Work Scheme "is wasting thousands of pounds of taxpayers money buying bicycles and accessories for council staff to urge them to 'go green' ".

Do they completely misunderstand the scheme? The scheme, in a nutshell, enables employees to buy a bike without paying tax on it. The people who would be paying the taxes, in this case the employees, aren't. You would have thought that the TPA, which claims to be "campaigning for lower taxes" would love this kind of thing. But in reality, they are not anti-tax, but pro-car (see my other posts here and here).

Now, it could be argued that a reduction in taxes in one area equals a compensating increase in another area. But the TPA can't argue that, because considering the side-effects of cutting taxes would destroy a lot of their other arguments for lower taxes.

Highways Agency overstates benefits of new roads

According to the Campaign for Better Transport, the Highways Agency get it wrong when it comes to assessing the benefits of new roads.

This can hardly come as a surprise, as building roads is what the Highways Agency does for a living. Why would they recommend building fewer roads, and do themselves out of a job?

It looks like a classic case of putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop. And the amounts of taxpayers' money at stake are truly eye-watering. £8.3 bn spend on roads in 2008. That's so eye-watering that you would expect the Taxpayers' Alliance to take an interest in the report. And they do, but incredibly, they have a go at putting reverse spin on it, saying in effect that more traffic is a good thing, that personal transport represents the best value. Now, you can conceive of a right-wing libertarian argument in favour of road-building that ignores the social, health and environmental consequences of increasing numbers of roads and car-dependency, but from an organization that purports to be "campaigning for lower taxes" and supposedly will "criticise all examples of wasteful and unnecessary spending" it seems a little surprising. Rather than rubbishing the report for being written by "anti-car fanatics" you might have expected a little more concern about the system for ensuring the taxpayer gets value for their huge amounts of money. You might be forgiven for thinking that the TPA is less of a brave steward of the taxpayer against government profligacy, and more of a right-wing libertarian pressure group!

In any case, the right wing long ago lost the argument about predict-and-provide roadbuilding, partly because so many people on the right saw the damage that more roads and the inevitable consequence - more traffic - were inflicting on their quiet rural villages, on traditional life, on village post-offices, local shops and communities, on road safety, on the countryside, on of the nice things about environmental campaigns is they often unite people from across the political spectrum. Maybe some of the TPA's Tory party supporters should have a quiet word...

Meanwhile, back in the world of cycling, we have piffling amounts of money being spent on cycle infrastructure projects compared to the Highways Agency budget, but in a lot of cases, even this is largely wasted on substandard schemes that deliver very little benefit in terms of encouraging cycling or making cycling safer and more pleasant. The result being that the schemes end up being re-drafted and re-worked, so you have close to double the design, consultation and implementation costs.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Kennington Oval - LCN Route 3

If you are a cyclist, Kennington Oval is a mess. An unclear, illogical and downright dangerous mess. It is far and away the most dangerous point of my 11-mile commute, and I am amazed and concerned that nothing has been done to address the cycle facilities here, given that it is part of a busy LCN 3 cycle route. It's worth pointing out that children both walk and cycle to school along this route.

What am I on about?

Travelling northbound on Route 3, you emerge from Meadow Road into a housing estate and then out at a toucan crossing. Firstly, the pavement at the toucan crossing is nowhere near wide enough to accommodate both pedestrians and cyclists. Secondly, the toucan crossing is illogical, because there is no apparent right of way on the north side along the pavement for cycles. So why have a toucan crossing that goes nowhere? Is there in fact a right of way that is not signed? Most cyclists turn left into the bus lane, which gives rise to a second problem. It is necessary to turn right into the north part of Kennington Oval. This is extremely dangerous because a) there is no right-turn lane, and b) a stationary bicycle waiting to turn right at this point is not readily visible to motor vehicles in either lane because of the curve of the (very busy) road.

In the opposite direction, cycling south, you emerge from Vauxhall Street and turn right into Kennington Oval. At this point there are parked cars on both sides of the road which obscure the visibility of cyclists. Next, you turn left. There is a short cycle path on the pavement at this point, and this emerges onto the main carriageway. To turn right towards Meadow Road, it is necessary to get in the right-hand lane and wait at the toucan crossing to turn right. This is extremely dangerous as a) there is no right-turn lane; b) because it is not a road junction drivers may not expect stationary cycles in the middle of the road; c) a stationary bicycle waiting to turn right at this point is not readily visible to motor vehicles in either lane because of the curve of the road; d) if there are pedestrians and/or cycles waiting at the crossing (or indeed using the pavement) they may obstruct a right-turn (I personally witnessed a collision due to this). The alternative is to stay in the bus lane and mount the pavement to the left at the toucan crossing. However, the pavement is narrow at this point and if there are pedestrians at the crossing it may not be possible to mount the pavement (again, it's not clear if this is even legal).

So you might be wondering why nothing has been done about this. Maybe the local authority were unaware? No - they've been trying to find a solution for 7 years, apparently, but anything they do will have an impact on traffic flows at Vauxhall Cross so is opposed by TfL. They're hopeful they may be able to widen the pavement on Harleyford Road by the Oval, but even that's not a done deal because it would mean eliminating a short stretch of bus lane, so will be opposed by London Buses. And it only addresses one of the problems.

So there you have London cycling in a nutshell - even on the busiest cycle routes, cycling is lowest priority, behind every other mode of transport.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sorry mate - I didn't see you

The picture in this article says it all, pretty much. The motorist, an 'elderly lady' had not bothered to clear any snow from her vehicle, except for a postage-stamp-sized hole cleared by her windscreen wipers before they gave up the unequal struggle. If this doesn't constitute dangerous driving, I don't know what does. I don't care how old she is, if you drive a car you have a duty of care, and if you don't have the wherewithall to exercise that duty, you shouldn't be on the road.

But this is just an extreme example of what you'll see on any frosty morning. Some motorists are just in too much of a hurry to get on with their important journeys to spend a minute clearing their car windows of ice. I'm sure as a cyclist I am not alone in having had near misses with drivers who haven't got a clue what's going on around them because they can't see. If there is something wrong with your eyes, you are not allowed to drive. So why do the police not take action against motorists who, through a concious act of negligence, cannot see where they are going?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

No justice...

A driver 'may have fainted at the wheel' when she killed a cyclist.

Driver Tracy Johnson "had been talking on her mobile phone minutes before the impact but said she could not recall the crash".


So let's look at this in a little more detail. If she had never experienced a faint before, the chances of her experiencing her first one at this precise point in time are pretty slim. If she had experienced such a faint before, this is clearly a medical condition that makes her unfit to drive, and should have been notified to the DVLA and her insurance company.

What is really worrying is that, according to the reports, no doctor has demonstrated that she has any predisposition to fainting, or has any abnormality that would cause it, or has any history of it, or has since reproduced it. In other words, this is pure supposition, based on no evidence whatsoever. She is reported to have 'possibly fainted'. Well anything is possible I suppose. What is also possible is that a well-organized and imaginative legal team has cooked up this excuse. I look forward to it being used in the future by other mobile-phone using distracted drivers.

So the message is clear. If you hit a cyclist, be careful to act like you're not in control of the vehicle (which shouldn't be hard), just plough on for a few yards and hit something solid (not too solid now, you don't want to hurt yourself) and stagger out saying "What happened?"

Monday, January 11, 2010

Raynes Park Death Not Caused by Cyclist

You might be surprised to learn, after the recent media concern over pavement cycling and red-light jumping zombie cyclists, and the concern of some Raynes Park residents about sharing the pavement with cycles, that this latest tragedy was caused not by a cyclist but by a driver.

Yet I've not seen any clamour in the local or national press to clamp down on this kind of thing.

It's not even clear what happened, and because the wheels of justice turn slowly, and because there are far too many deaths on the road for one to make headlines, we may not find out for some time, if ever.

The victim, Miles McLean, was hit at the junction of Amity Grove and Coombe Lane, in the middle of the day. This is as simple a junction as you could imagine. Amity Grove is no-entry, so the jeep that killed him must presumably have been coming down Amity Grove towards Coombe Lane, in the full knowledge that there was likely to be pedestrians crossing the road, who would have had right of way. Now I'm not going to speculate any further, but what strikes me as doubly tragic is the frequency of road deaths like this one (there are around 7 every day, and about ten times that number of serious injuries), and how no-one other than a few low-profile charities like RoadPeace seem to regard this as anything other than an immutable fact of life.

Well I don't agree.

I think that the majority of those road deaths are caused by dangerous driving. I'm not talking about malicious killing sprees by crazed individuals, but about the low-level dangerous driving that you will see if you stand on a kerb for a few minutes. Using mobile phones whilst driving, speeding, general inattentiveness/being distracted, failure to give way at junctions, jumping red lights, not slowing down when rounding blind bends. Many drivers indulge in some or all of the above behaviours all their driving careers. They have quite a few near misses, and the odd 'accident', plus a few speeding tickets. In short, they get away with the kind of behaviour that sooner or later will kill someone. If the chances of getting caught and the consequences of getting caught were more severe, these drivers might think more carefully about their behaviour. But today, even if you kill someone, you can still walk free from court.

What needs to happen is the apparently minor infractions that amount to dangerous driving need to be prosecuted, and the penalties need to act as a deterrent. A £60 fine is not even a tank of petrol these days. Shall we say for example a £1000 fine and a month ban for a first offence, and a bigger fine and a year's ban for a second offence? This would have many beneficial effects: 1) it would make drivers think carefully about their driving (and the things they do whilst driving); 2) it would get dangerous drivers off the road; 3) less drivers = less CO2; 4) it could raise revenue; 5) safer roads would encourage cycling, and cyclists would be safer, with all-round health benefits. Sounds like a no-brainer.

So back to my headline. Why is it that the media get so hot and bothered about a problem (pavement cycling) that kills approximately 3 people every 10 years, but does not campaign about a problem (dangerous driving) that kills approximately ten THOUSAND times that number? I really, really, don't get it...

Advance Stop Lines

The point of an Advance Stop Line is to give an area for cycles at a light-controlled junction at the front of the waiting queue of traffic. This is for safety reasons: it makes cycles more visible and less likely to be vulnerable to dangerous overtakes.

For example, here's one in Trafalgar Square:

And another one:

One more here:

Now the observant reader may have noticed a pattern emerging. I didn't have to wait long to take these pictures. In fact I would have had to wait a while to get a picture of the ASL without a motor vehicle in ito. Failing to observe the stop line is an endorsable offence with a £60 penalty. So there's £420 worth of fines just in these pictures. Trafalgar Square is a very busy and dangerous junction, a gyratory system with multiple lanes and exits. Exactly the kind of junction where ASLs are needed, especially given the relatively high volume of cycle traffic going through it. But I've never seen the police enforcing the ASLs here - even though catching offenders here would be like shooting fish in a barrel. I have seen a police car encroaching over the ASL however.

Kingston Road cycle lane, Raynes Park

Cycling from Wimbledon to Raynes Park, the cycle route is a very mixed bag. From the town centre, you can follow the back roads down to Merton Hall Road, and from there a pleasant off-road section awaits with a segregated cycle path. This then emerges at Kingston Road at the junction with Lower Downs Road. This is where the problems start.
There is a cycle lane on either side of Kingston Road, but it is advisory only and fairly narrow. Advisory lanes are pretty much useless because they afford no legal or physical protection to the cyclist. Because the lane is too narrow, cyclists are encouraged to ride in the gutter, which is the wrong place to be in terms of safety. There are a number of sideroads, and for each of these you should be positioning yourself towards the centre of the road so you have good visibility into the sideroad, and also so you give any vehicles that may emerge from the sideroad a wide berth. By the kerb is absolutely the wrong place to be. There is an increasing amount of opinion that advisory lanes do more harm than good, because motorists tend to assume that cyclists belong in the cycle lane (however narrow) and pass too close to them.

The next problem is that the cycle lane goes through (not around) a number of parking bays. The original idea of these bays was presumably so that businesses along Kingston Road have legal parking outside for visitors loading, so the bays are restricted to short waiting time. In practice, most of the bays are parked in most of the time. In other words, the cycle lane for practical purposes ceases to exist at this point. If you were stupid enough to be in the cycle lane before this point in the first place, you now need to turn out into the middle of the main traffic lane to avoid the parked vehicles. See the picture below, taken on a Tuesday in the middle of the day, showing the westbound cycle lane completely blocked with vehicles for a considerable distance.

Of course, you or I could have predicted that if you create parking bays, people will park in them, thus rendering the cycle lane useless. The fact that the bays are there in the first place is typical of the kind of political fudge that we see time and time again in Merton. There are plentiful sideroads nearby that could be used for parking by local businesses for most purposes, but why risk an outcry when you could allow parking in the cycle lane? The paradox, which seems to have escaped the business lobby, is that a car-centric culture is bad for local businesses. Why shop locally when you can get in the car and go to the Savacentre or Tescos, or to Kingston? If more people cycled, some of these businesses would likely benefit. But people don't cycle, partly because cycle lanes are often opposed by the business lobby. But I'm getting off topic here.

Next problem: you'll notice there is only a single yellow line, so outside peak hours parking is allowed in the cycle lane. Can someone tell me what use is a part-time cycle lane? Parking is allowed in this cycle lane on Sundays, which is when a lot of leisure cyclists might be using it. Not only is it allowed, worshippers at the church on the north side of the road eagerly take advantage of the free parking: you'll find that side of the road completely parked up with churchgoers' cars on a Sunday.

All this parking brings with it an attendant problem: traffic needs to cross the centreline of the road to avoid parked cars, and traffic on the opposite lane then needs to encroach into the cycle lane to avoid the oncoming traffic in the middle of the road. Alert, considerate drivers will anticipate this situation and slow down if there is a cyclist in the cycle lane, rather than pass too close, but guess what - not all drivers fall into this category. Once again, you're better off taking an assertive position in the middle of the main lane to try to avoid encouraging dangerous overtaking.

In summary, this 'cycle lane' ain't worth the paint used for the white lines. It's too narrow, it gives no legal or physical protection, it encourages cyclists to adopt a dangerous road position and it is in any case unusable much of the time because of legally and illegally parked vehicles .

So why waste council tax-payers' money on such a scheme? I suggest there are a few possible reasons:
1. The council has to at least make a show of having a cycle network in the borough. Anything with paint counts as cycle network miles, regardless of its utility.
2. To be fair to the Council, there is all sorts of red tape such as Traffic Management Orders that makes it very difficult to put in a proper cycle lane. So the end result tends to be what the rules make possible rather than what is useful or safe.
3. The council doesn't have the will to restrict parking, and even if it did, there is a lot of red tape to make it difficult to do.
4. The council doesn't really understand cycle safety. It doesn't realise that this facility is completely useless.