Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Speed Cameras Cause Accidents?

The Daily Mail reports some very bogus-looking research on speed cameras.

This is based on a survey of 1532 drivers, and those drivers have blamed speed cameras for 1% of accidents. So this isn't trained accident investigators, or even police filling in a STATS19 form at the scene. This is (to some extent) people blaming anything but themselves for the consequences of their speeding. But anyway, apparently people drive erratically, brake suddenly and look at their speedometers when confronted by a speed camera. Curiously enough, it doesn't report the accidents that have been prevented by the fact that people slow down for speed cameras. Not that I would ever accuse the Mail of selective reporting or bias.

When driving, you have to monitor your instruments, your mirrors and the environment constantly. So the idea that when confronted by a speed camera you suddenly ignore the environment to concentrate exclusively on your speedometer is pretty strange. However, it is credible that people brake suddenly, and this could cause an accident. However, unless two cars are both considerably exceeding the speed limit and one is 'tailgating' the other, it is unlikely that the accident will be serious.

So what's the solution? Half the problem is that speed cameras are so obvious. If they were less detectable,  the problem of  sudden reactions to them would be lessened.

There's a very good case to be made for average speed cameras, because there is no need to react suddenly to an average speed camera: it allows you to slow down gradually without getting nicked. They have the additional advantage that people can't slow down for the camera and speed up again immediately afterwards.

The Coalition's approach to road safety doesn't involve either of these alternatives: its solution is to get rid of all speed cameras. Given that speed cameras are known to work (see my previous post), this is a little worrying, especially as they don't seem to have a Plan B.

My current theory is that the Coalition is trying to kill off some of the population by a combination of making the roads more dangerous, discouraging active travel and spending less on public health. However, they need to be more targeted: they need to kill off people who work in the public sector and the unemployed. They've not quite figured out how to do that yet.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Top Cop Attacks Speeding Middle-Classes

In an interview with the Telegraph, Julie Spence, the outgoing Cambridgeshire police, claims that "driving without care or consideration for other road users is probably among the worst kind of anti-social behaviour" but that "drivers consider speeding as acceptable". To be fair to the poor old middle-classes, I don't think this is a middle-class problem. People from right acrosss the social spectrum are just as guilty.

The report claims that "Exceeding the speed limit or going too fast for conditions was reported as a factor in 4,187 deaths and serious injuries in 2009, according to the Department for Transport." The key word here is 'reported'.
What happens at the scene of a crash is the police officer(s) attending compiles a STATS19 report listing the factors that contributed to an accident. However, this list is only the factors that are known about.
From STATS20 (the guidelines for completing the STATS19 form):

"5.3 The Contributory Factors reflect the Reporting Officer's opinion at the time of reporting and are not necessarily the result of extensive investigation. Furthermore, it is recognised that subsequent
enquiries could lead to the reporting officer changing his opinion. This is not a problem.
5.4 Factors should be identified on the basis of evidence rather than guesses about what may have
happened. This evidence can come from various sources such as witness statements, vehicle and
site inspections. It can be of variable quality, which is the reason for recording the assessment of the
reliability of the Contributory Factors."

Oftentimes, the speed of the vehicles involved isn't known. The 'delta' speed at impact (the speed two vehicles were travelling relative to each other) can be estimated by the damage to each vehicle, but that does not tell you what happened immediately before the crash. If a vehicle was travelling at 80MPH, it may have braked without leaving any skidmarks. In a rear-end collision, the 'delta' may have been 30MPH, but it may be difficult to establish whether the two vehicles were travelling at 40 MPH and 60 MPH respectively, or at 60 MPH and 80 MPH respectively. Motorists will often lie about their speed if they were speeding, and their may be no witnesses to contradict their account. Even where there are witnesses, they may have had a very short time to assess the speeds, and may not be able to do so with any accuracy.
In very serious accidents forensic methods may be used, but quite often the priority is to clear the road and get traffic moving again. According to RoadPeace, "The Department for Transport
estimates that the current resources allocated to a fatal road crash investigation amount to
£1600, and £220 for a serious injury road crash." Clearly, there's not much evidence that can be gathered for £220.
So although excessive or illegal speed is reported as a factor in a bit over 10% of crashes, the number of crashes in which excessive speed was a factor is likely to be far higher.

Speed is actually a factor in 100% of crashes. At lower speeds, you have more time to react, and your speed at impact is lower so the severity of damage and injuries is massively reduced. It really is delusional to pretend that speed doesn't kill, or that speeding is not reckless endangerment.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Sleepless Nights in Central London

Mayfair residents attempted to stop the installation of a cycle hire docking station near his Mayfair home, arguing that it would "lead to additional noise and traffic congestion". They failed, so are no doubt suffering sleepless nights and tumbling house prices due to the blight this metal monstrosities bring to the area. I shall be phoning round the local estate agents hoping to pick up a cheap crash-pad.

However, things could be worse. They could live in a really chavvy neighbourhood like Kensington, which is blighted by antisocial behaviour. No, really. Apparently Harrods has been attracting the wrong sort of playboy, and the "night-time peace is being shattered by the super-rich racing their sports cars through the streets". Fines for speeding and other driving offences are of course no deterrent to the super-rich, and the Council claim to have no jurisdiction over noise nuisance on the highway. The police claim to be "monitoring drivers of sports cars in the area and carrying out spot checks to ensure they have the correct documentation and that their vehicles are road legal". Isn't this kind of thing what ASBOs were invented for? I guess they only apply to youths on council estates.

Maybe the residents of Kensington should tell Philip Hammond that there should be a war on anti-social motoring?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Cycling on Footpaths

Quite an authoritative-looking article giving chapter and verse on exactly what is, and isn't allowed on footpaths, and the difference between a footpath and a footway...

An excerpt:

On 1st August 1999, new legislation came into force to allow a fixed penalty notice to be served on anyone who is guilty of cycling on a footway. However the Home Office issued guidance on how the new legislation should be applied, indicating that they should only be used where a cyclist is riding in a manner that may endanger others. At the time Home Office Minister Paul Boateng issued a letter stating that:
"The introduction of the fixed penalty is not aimed at responsible cyclists who sometimes feel obliged to use the pavement out of fear of traffic and who show consideration to other pavement users when doing so. Chief police officers, who are responsible for enforcement, acknowledge that many cyclists, particularly children and young people, are afraid to cycle on the road, sensitivity and careful use of police discretion is required."
Almost identical advice has since been issued by the Home Office with regards the use of fixed penalty notices by 'Community Support Officers' and wardens. 

So there you go. In the Home Office's view, pavement cycling as such is not exactly in the same league as murder, as some would have us believe.

Bizarre Road Rage Attack

Reported in the Standard. A motorist hit a cyclist outside a house, a scuffle ensued and the motorist said he'd come back and shoot the cyclist. As good as his word, he came back later with a gun and firebombed the house he'd seen the cyclist leaving.

The cyclist did not live at the house, and luckily the householders and their children escaped unharmed.

It's a fortunately not-too-tragic story about a criminal firebombing a house. Because there is a cyclist involved, you'd expect the forum trolls to have posted their usual anti-cyclist nonsense, like they did in this tragic death where no blame was attached to the cyclist. Unusually, they seem to be concentrating on the racial group of the perpetrator. Maybe that tells us something about these people?

Police Cyclists

A slighly old but good article about police using bicycles from the Standard.

I'd always thought that cycle-mounted police made a lot of sense. In a car you are somewhat isolated from your surroundings. On a bike, you're a lot more connected to your environment: you see and hear a lot more, and you're a lot more connected to the local population. It's a lot easier to flag down a cyclist than a police car. People get a sense of security from police 'walking the beat' because they're approachable; this must also be the case for police on bikes, but a bike is a lot more mobile.

As the article says, a cycle is also a faster way of getting around central London than a car, and there's a lot fewer places you cannot go.

Cycles are also a lot cheaper to buy and run than cars. With the looming spending cuts, maybe police will increase the number of cycle-mounted officers? I hope so because then maybe the police will start to better understand what cyclists have to put up with from other road users, and start to enforce traffic law from that perspective. Maybe motorists will start to give me a bit more room and consideration, especially if I can figure out how to look more like the cop in the picture.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Barclays Cycle Hire - Another Update

A quick scoot around at lunchtime today revealed only three bikes at the docking station nearest Charing Cross (Craven Street). Tales I'm hearing is that the scheme is taking off among commuters. A day's access fee is £1 (or less if you buy weekly or yearly access) and a 30-minute ride is free. Two peak Zone 1 singles (Oyster price) are £3.60, so the difference is £2.60. That's quite a saving over a day. Compounded up over a year, that would be a saving of £819 based on 48 weeks travel and yearly access. Wow. You could buy quite a decent bike with that.

There's always a market for cheaper travel, so I wouldn't be at all surprised if we start to see starvation or overflow problems. Within a short distance of Charing Cross, we have William IV Street (36 docks), Craven Street (23 docks) and Whitehall Place (46 docks). That's 105 docks in total. Around 120,000 journeys are made into or out of Charing Cross Station every day. Only one in a thousand of those would need to involve a hire bike to exceed the local hire system capacity.
Maybe Boris could get the unemployed to cycle the bikes to and from Charing Cross to balance the supply?

Prejudice and Cyclists

Prejudice is a (usually negative) preconceived belief, opinion, or judgment made without recourse to reason drawing typically instead upon received information or upon instinctual preference: any unreasonable attitude that is unusually resistant to rational influence.

Everyone has generalizations, because in life we have to make quick decisions based on limited available information and on our previous experiences. We rely on stereotypes to predict how people are likely to behave. Generalizations give us a certain security, a more or less reliable frame of reference.

But there comes a point beyond which generalizations become prejudice. This happens when you start to judge a group by the behaviour of its worst members. You collect anecdotes that reinforce your generalization and ignore those that don't. You dehumanize the group. You project opinions or attitudes such as superiority, aggression, selfishness, dishonesty or criminality on the group as a whole. You ignore or justify injustices or discrimination against the group, while resenting its privileges. You blame the group for its misfortunes. You criticise the way they look, the way they dress. You believe any misbehaviour of some member of the group means that all the rights and privileges of the group are automatically forfeit.

Anyone who is a member of a minority group will likely be familiar with this, and with the problems that prejudice causes. Cyclists probably have as many prejudices as anyone else, but like any minority group, they're particularly vulnerable to prejudices once they get established in the media and among less enlightened members of the population. You don't have to hang around the internet for long before you see it.

The good thing about cycling is that when you get off your bike and get changed, you're a regular person again. You're a husband/wife/partner, father/mother, son/daughter, worker, business person, customer, friend. In short, you're human again. The prejudiced can't get you any more.

Has anyone seen Norman Baker?

Norman Baker is under-secretary of State for Transport, with responsibility for

  • Walking and Cycling
  • Accessibility and Equalities
  • Alternatives to travel
  • Light rail and trams
  • Parking
  • Traffic management
Got that? We know he cycles, but that's about it. Google 'Norman Baker cycling' and you get pretty close to nothing at all. No plans, no policies, no commitments, no nothing. Contrast that with the daily news feed from the Coalition about other policy areas, and it seems pretty clear not only that cycling isn't a priority for the Coalition, it isn't even a priority for the Minister for Cycling.
Come on Norman. Say something!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

National Travel Survey - Cycling Up?

The CTC say that the National Travel Survey shows cycling has grown to the 'highest level in decades'.

Well, this blog may not be politically correct, but I like to think it is at least numerate.

From the Survey, in terms of the number of trips, cycle use has been in steady decline since 1995. Between 2008 and 2009 it went down, and the longer-term trend is definitely down, on any reasonable interpretation.

Now let's look at distance travelled. The total distance travelled by cycle per person has gone up. See the following statistics for miles cycled per person per year:
95-97 : 43
98-00 : 40
02 : 36
03 : 37
04 : 39
05 : 36
06 : 39
07 : 40
08 : 42
09 : 46

So the number of miles cycled seems to have dipped to a low between 2002 and 2005, and then risen. It's a little higher than the 1995 number, but not by much.
Next you have to ask the question: is this a long-term upward trend, or is it a blip on a long-term downward trend? We know that recessions are good for cycling, so you could interpret the recent rise as economically-determined. And the CTC acknowledge this. Another possible factor is the boom in cycling as a sport. I don't have any figures, but I see a lot more road bikes in the shops and on the roads than I used to.

However, I still maintain that as a transport option there are three causal factors behind any increase in cycling levels, and they boil down to the alternatives getting worse. Public transport overcrowding, unreliability and fare rises, fear of terrorism outweighing fear of motorists, and the congestion charge making motoring expensive.
So it'll be interesting to see if the new age of austerity results in cycling being promoted by fare rises and disinvestment in public transport, or suppressed by non-enforcement of road traffic law and lack of investment in infrastructure.

Attempted murder?

I don't like to post too many of these stories but this was a particularly sickening injustice.

A motorist deliberately ran down a cyclist. You would think anyone who deliberately assaulted another person using a large, deadly machine, left the scene and attempted to pervert the course of justice would be charged with attempted murder. But not in the UK - just dangerous driving.

The fact that his deliberate actions came to light was simply as a result of his being generally a thoroughly despicable person, and his past actions and enemies (including his own mother) metaphorically and literally testified against him. So he got his karmic reward. Or did he? 33 months jail, for someone who has a previous conviction for leaving the scene of a crash? For deliberately inflicting life-threatening injuries from which the victim will never recover? With early release, this low-life will be killing again pretty soon.

So proving death by dangerous driving was easy in this case, even if justice wasn't done. If the perpetrator had been more calculating, he would have realised that 'sorry mate I didn't see you' or  'sorry mate I fainted' or even 'it was the spider's fault' is a valid defence in British courts. It's almost impossible to prove that a cyclist was deliberately hit, or even to prove dangerous driving, because the law is weighted so decisively against the victim. It's strange how in recent years with offences such as terrorism and knife crime, which result in far fewer victims than road crime, the Government has felt free to infringe civil liberties and lower the thresholds and standards for detection and conviction. Meanwhile, in the world of motoring, the opposite is happening. The safeguards against lawbreaking are being rolled back with the Government's war against the speed camera. If you're hit by a motorist, you're nothing more than collateral damage.
The right of the driver to do as he or she pleases seems to be the most unassailable, most fundamental right of all.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Olympic VIP Lanes

Olympic 'fat cats' (or should that be slim, well-conditioned cats?) are to get their own priority traffic lanes in London for the 2012 Olympics. I wonder if cyclists will be banned from these lanes?

Reported in the Standard, Steve McNamara, spokesman for the Licensed Taxi Driver's Association said "This will cause chaos on the streets and what will it do to pollution levels?"

Sadly, Steve seems to have forgotten a couple of basic facts:
1) Black cabs are responsible for 40% of London's ground-level pollution. The black cab is one of the most polluting vehicles on the road, in terms of particulate, NOX and CO2 emissions. So if these VIP lanes reduce the number of cab journeys, it will be good news for pollution levels.
2) London's streets are pretty much chaos a lot of the time anyway, and it's no thanks to the large number of unnecessary cab journeys.

As I've said before, I have nothing against cab drivers. Taxis are an essential part of the transport system, just not in the huge numbers we have today. Black cabs account for a good 70% of traffic in central London, and a lot of cab journeys could easily and quickly be undertaken by public transport. Many people take a taxi simply because it's the lazy option. They don't have to do any thinking, and their company picks up part of the bill. The other part of the bill is picked up by Londoners, who pay the price of living in a congested, polluted and dangerous city.

I'll be an interesting excercise in finding out whether the city can cope with a reduction in the amount of roadspace given over to general motor traffic. My prediction is that anyone who is sensible and can avoid London roads will do so. People will have to think more carefully about their travel plans, which is no bad thing, but business will likely continue pretty much as usual.

Barclays Cycle Hire - Update

There are various reports of 'teething problems' with London's cycle hire scheme.
The bikes seem OK if rather heavy, but the docking stations and billing system seem to be responsible for a lot of issues. The docking stations, you would have thought, would have been debugged given that they've been used in the Canadian scheme. It is clear that the whole system has not been adequately tested.

The online map finally has the docking stations marked however.

Another thing that is missing is the users. I saw just one hirer today. Now, I don't want to be a glass-half-empty person, but I couldn't help noticing the docking stations are, erm, rather full. TfL are reporting 6000 trips per day. I suppose that could be accounted for by 3000 commuters making 2 trips each per day, which would seem quite feasible. The quiet start won't have been helped by the short period of time (1 week before launch) that was allowed for registration, and no doubt rental numbers will ramp up considerably once casual users are allowed to hire bikes.

The docking stations themselves are rather tucked away. As I noted in a previous post, it's possible to walk some way without seeing a docking station.
You would expect to see them at places like outside Charing Cross Station, Embankment Station, Trafalgar Square, St James's Park, but they're not. There are docking stations quite close to Charing Cross (at Craven St) and Embankment (at Northumberland Avenue), but they don't advertise themselves - you can walk out of any entrance to said station and not know they're there. It's as if the powers that be didn't want to despoil Trafalgar Square or St James's Park with docking stations - as if they're not despoiled by the huge volumes of traffic thundering around.

The most offputting thing must be the almost total lack of cycling facilities. From Northumberland Avenue docking station, you would most likely cycle up Northumberland Avenue or along Victoria Embankment. Both options are pretty unpalatable: heavy traffic and fast-moving where it's not congested, with no cycle lanes.  There's no real alternative along the backstreets. Look below at the picture of the Wellington Street docking station, and you'll see a cycle lane. Don't be fooled though, it's only about 20 yards long. At the south end you have the Aldwych and Waterloo Bridge, perhaps the least cycle-friendly location in London. At the north end you have the usual warren of one-way streets with no exceptions for cyclists, and rat-running cabs and vans trying to avoid the main road congestion. I'm still convinced that the Cycle Hire scheme is a Good Thing, and the system glitches are only temporary. It has the potential to introduce lots of people to cycling in London. However, the main reason people don't cycle is safety/traffic fears. If Boris doesn't do something to address the obvious road danger that permeates even what should be the quiet back streets of the capital, that potential will never be realized.

 Above: Wellington Street. A couple of helpful cycle-hire officials were standing by to assist and answer the dumb-ass questions of passers-by.

Above: Rather full docking station at Craven Street. You'll notice that ironically cycling is not permitted here, which is why the law-abiding cyclist is walking his (non-hire) bike.

Above: A rather full Northumberland Avenue docking station...