Friday, November 11, 2011

TfL and Cyclist Safety

Sometimes it's best to keep quiet and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. So it is with TfL and cycling safety. No doubt in response to a stream of negative stories, they've countered with a press release that purports to show how with its "huge range of practical measures", TfL is really spoiling us. Unfortunately, the box of Ferrero Rocher is pretty much all gold PR foil.

"I implore cyclists to stay safe, don't stay next to a HGV," says Boris, although he's not telling HGV drivers not to stay next to cyclists.

"While every collision is regrettable, it is encouraging that the proportion of cycling collisions on TfL roads that result in fatal or serious injuries has declined since 2008, indicating that the severity of collisions is falling."

Statistics served with a lot of backspin, it could be argued, since the London cyclist KSI casualty rate has in fact been rising for a few years now.

Let's take a look at the "vast array of improvements" TfL boast about.

"Additional guidance for highway contractors is currently being produced by TfL on providing sufficient space for cyclists at roadworks. This new guidance will ensure better consideration is given to vulnerable road users while street works are taking place across London and forms a key part of the Mayors new Roadworks Pledge"

Space for "Cyclists Dismount" signs, I think he means. Let's hope this is a U-turn from TfL's attitude up until very, very recently: "It is necessary to request that cyclists dismount between the peak [hours] as our works at these times take in a greater proportion of the carriageway at these times. This narrows the space available for vehicles and cyclists to share beyond the point that can be safely accommodated. We ask that cyclists dismount in order to ensure that they can safely pass through the area affected."

 "A £100 million investment during 2010/11 in cycling schemes, which included a range of safety action such as the provision of cycle lanes"

Lanes that are often narrow and/or advisory, sprinkled with parked cars, and become "ghost" lanes or disappear altogether at the trickiest junctions, when you need them most.

"blind spot safety mirrors at key locations along the Barclays Cycle Superhighway" 

...which are necessary because TfL gave up on the  idea that the CSHs should be "safe and continuous" at those key locations.

"advance stop lines at traffic junctions across London"

Ah yes. The advance stop box. Like a box of cheap chocolates, it's very likely to contain something you don't want. Like the one after Admiralty Arch at the Trafalgar Square roundabout. Another of London's most dangerous junctions. Often the approach lane is blocked. If you can't get to the ASL you'll be stuck on the inside of vehicles that may 'left hook' you. Go round the outside and your chances aren't much better, and don't think you can rely on vehicles letting you back in the queue if the lights change when you're trying to filter. If instead you just wait in the queue, there'll likely be someone behind you who'll be trying to overtake just at the most hazardous point. Even if you can get to the advance stop box, there is a good chance the box will contain a taxi or a car or both. All of which makes the advice that "Cyclists should take a visible position well in front or well behind a vehicle at traffic lights" seem rather Marie-Antoinette.

"encourage [HGV operators] to sign up to TfL's Freight Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS) "

FORS is rather limited in what it can achieve. To be a FORS member, your drivers don't have to have any more training than the legal minimum, and can have as many endorsements as you like as long as they still have a licence. From the specification, killing a cyclist won't get you kicked out, (although there will be a benchmark to get to the Silver level of membership). To give you an idea, Thames Materials is a Bronze member.

As for enforcement against dangerous or intimidating driving by professional drivers, forget about it, unless you've been seriously injured. Report it to the police and you'll likely get a polite letter saying they don't prosecute unless there's a realistic chance of a conviction (and the bar is pretty high, believe me). According to the FORS specification, there is no mechanism to complain about a FORS member's drivers, and the Public Carriage Office, which regulates black cabs and private hire, will also ignore complaints about cab drivers. In short, Boris's exhortations to 'share the road' and 'look out for cyclists' are backed up by nothing but his winning smile, and have as much chance of being taken seriously as Silvio Berlusconi at a feminist's convention.
Now don't get me wrong. FORS is a good thing and we should encourage it, but  it will mainly help good operators get better. Without legal sanctions, it will still be too easy for irresponsible companies to take advantage of the lower operating costs that come from dangerous practices and taking chances with peoples' lives.

"help fleet operators identify and compare different HGV safety technologies...a new Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) training module specifically written for freight drivers in London...worked with the Freight Transport Association to develop a Cycling Code for its members"

In other words, it's all good, but it's voluntary. It will be ignored by the cowboys, who will be able to speed about their business unmolested by the diminishing number of traffic police.

The fundamental problem with TfL's approach is that they don't adequately tackle the problem of keeping drivers, especially bad ones, away from cyclists. In fact, at the most dangerous junctions, where cycling collisions are most likely,  they completely give up, reasoning that traffic flow is a higher priority than safety. Even good drivers have lapses of judgement and observation, especially on dark wet days, and if cyclists are mixed up in the general traffic flow those lapses can be fatal. In simple terms, TfL are putting up the curtains while there's still no roof on the house. The point is to generate more cycling, because it's good for the economy, good for the environment and good for public health. There is no way you can do that by training HGV drivers (worthwhile though that is). Even if 95% of drivers had a high standard of skill and a good attitude, the remaining 5% would be enough to put most ordinary people off cycling. What TfL are doing is making the roads marginally safer, but doing it in a way that is very costly and time-consuming. Which is nice for the few people who are actually happy to cycle on-carriageway, but hardly tempting to the large number of people who would like to cycle but don't feel it's safe.

1 comment:

  1. "it is encouraging that the proportion of cycling collisions on TfL roads that result in fatal or serious injuries has declined since 2008"

    Or in other words, it's encouraging that minor injury crashes are rising faster than serious injury crashes.