Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Horseferry Road Collision

Very nasty looking aftermath of a collision on Horseferry Road at the junction of Dean Bradley Street. My thoughts are with the victim.

A likely reason a cyclist would be here in the first place is to avoid Parliament Square. People take the quiet roads round here to avoid the multi-lane gyratories, but the drawback is that you have to negotiate junctions like this one, on busy roads where the priority is against you. You will find a route on the official TfL London Cycling Guide (#14) along John Islip Street and crossing into Dean Bradley Street at this point. There is nothing whatever to moderate traffic speed or help cyclists cross here except a rather useless, very narrow strip in the centre of the road. It typical of the kind of junction that is dangerous - very dangerous in fact -  but not dangerous enough to get into the TfL junction review.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Locking my bike up in the car park the other day, I noticed a car arriving, which contained one of my colleagues. "I didn't know you drove in, " I said. "Yes," he replied. "It's quick and comfortable." His journey is only 5 miles or so, and he's in an area served by a direct tube journey.

I don't really understand this "comfort" idea, to  be honest. I don't really like being in boxes. We're not on this earth for long, and after that time is over, we spend plenty of time in a box. I don't actively seek discomfort, and I'm not above leaving the bike at home if it's absolutely pouring down with rain. There's not much better than a bike ride on a sunny day, but there is also something invigorating about a crisp frosty morning, and there's nothing to make you appreciate home comforts more than being out in the rain and the cold.

But each to his own, I suppose. My friend likes the inside of a car, and he is not breaking any laws by choosing to drive in, as long as he pays his congestion charge.

However, it did occur to me that TfL will place a much higher value on his journey than on mine. TfL prioritize the speed and safety of his journey over mine. But without good reason. We are both professional people, working in the same commercial organization. And it so happens that while I actually create products, his job is to minimize the tax the company pays. He doesn't create anything, and he doesn't make the company more efficient. He doesn't even reduce costs, if you consider the whole economy, because tax is a zero-sum game. The government need to raise a given amount in tax every year from all sources, so every £1 he saves us in tax will need to be paid by some other business or individual who can't afford to employ someone like him to avoid it.

Now I don't bear my colleague any resentment because of his job. He's like a traffic warden or an estate agent. People wish they didn't exist, but they perform a function that is necessitated by the way the world is. Our competitors employ tax people, so we have to, otherwise we'd go out of business. But it remains a fact that tax people make a net zero contribution to the economy. It also remains a fact that they are paid a lot of money - witness the fact that my friend can afford a fancy car and the £9/day congestion charge. And because - and only because - he drives a car, and I ride a bike, TfL values his journey above mine.

Compared to a motor journey, my cycle commute is far less damaging to the environment, far less dangerous to other people, far less wasteful of roadspace, and imposes far fewer costs on the taxpayer. The purpose of my journey is to get to a job - same as someone commuting in a car, or by taxi, or for that matter someone going to a job in a van. Now, it could be argued that a plumber a builder can't get to a job without a van, so their journey is truly necessary. But TfL lumps all motor journeys together - whether or not they are necessary, whether or not a viable public transport alternative exists, and regardless of value - and puts the safety, speed and convenience of every one of these journeys above anyone on a bike. That cannot be right.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Road Safety - A "Better Way"

Cast your mind back to when the Conservatives were telling us all that there were more effective road safety tools than speed cameras. How these devices were "cash cows" that trapped honest drivers and damaged the credibility of law enforcement. They told us that it would be a better idea to go after the really dangerous drivers, who tailgated, who took drugs, who used mobile phones and didn't look where they were going. There were, Theresa Villiers assured us, "other better ways to keep our roads safe: like education, like vehicle activated signs, like traffic police".

What they didn't tell us was that you need lots of  real, live police officers (or f***ing plebs if you prefer) if you want a surgical approach to traffic law enforcement, and that is both extremely expensive and completely impossible if you're cutting police numbers.

In Devon and Cormwall, road deaths have risen from 42 in 2011, to a total so far in 2012 of 50, with 2 winter months and the Christmas drink-driving season yet to come. How is this possible, with the Government's new "better ways to keep our roads safe"?

Well apparently, the Devon and Cornwall police traffic department no longer has its own set of officers. Instead, there is a single, integrated 'response' team, and guess what, their first priority is dealing with urgent 999 calls, rather than hanging around the roadside waiting to catch errant motorists.

Sergeant Nigel Rabbitts, chairman of the Police Federation in Devon and Cornwall, said "there is very little enforcement going on...roads policing is a secondary tasking and they just don't have the time to do it." As for a causal link between lack of traffic policing and increasing fatalities, Rabbitts said, "I do think there's a correlation between the two...It is too much of a coincidence and that is what our members are telling us".

And of course, now the Government aren't funding or promoting automated law enforcement (speed/red light cameras), people are dying.  Aside from the human tragedy, deaths are very, very expensive, what with the lost earning power of the deceased, lost taxes, benefits paid to dependents, the police and justice costs of clearing up the collision scene, investigating the incident, inquests and prosecutions. The economic cost of each death runs into millions. Which rather leads to the conclusion that saving money by cutting traffic law enforcement is costing us a fortune.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Doing the Lambeth Bridge - 70s Style

Are you old enough to remember the seventies? The golden era when flared trousers and prog-rock were in fashion, and highway engineers designed magnificent elevated motorways and multi-lane roundabouts? When racism, homophobia and sexism flourished, and celebrities could fiddle around with young girls and boys without fear? Ahh, it was a happier, more innocent era, before political correctness put a stop to all the fun.

While we’re reminiscing about the good old days, it strikes me that for cyclists the Millbank Roundabout (the junction of Millbank, Horseferry Road and Lambeth Bridge) is a little bit like Jimmy Savile’s dressing room (if recent allegations are to be believed). If you go there, there’s a good chance you’ll be touched inappropriately, or even taken from behind, by an intimidating person in a position of power. And if you are brave enough to complain, the authorities will turn a blind eye – despite the rumours, it's all perfectly fine - and the police won’t be interested in investigating. It’s your fault really – you shouldn’t really be there in the first place, you were asking for it by wearing the wrong clothing and not protecting yourself properly. You can’t expect red-blooded people in cars to control themselves. And we certainly can’t do anything about molesters who are well-respected, important, and fundamentally generous and good people – think of the money they willingly donate to the economy – all that could be taken away if you make a fuss. How's about that then?

We’re reliably informed that TfL people have a penchant for changing out of their skinny jeans and hoodies when they get to work, into spangly flares and polyester shirts with collars so wide you can go hang-gliding in them. They just love the Seventies. They can’t bear to part with their old clothes - or their old road designs. Take a look at their new design for the Millbank Roundabout. Looks exactly like the old one! I’m only surprised there isn’t a disco ball in the middle of it!

On a more serious note for a moment, let’s take a quick look at what’s wrong with this ‘Ashes to Ashes’ design. The main ‘changes’ are: they’ve raised the existing zebra crossings to pavement level in a bid to reduce approach speeds, and put in some ‘shared use’ pavements. Other than that, it's the same old multi-lane roundabout, such as you'll find at most of London's most dangerous junctions. Now, I use this roundabout every day on the way to work, so I know a bit about it. Approach speeds aren’t actually a particular problem most of the time, because the roundabout is very busy. The problems come from speeds of vehicles actually on the roundabout, and trying to time your entry so you avoid conflict with vehicles around you and vehicles already on the roundabout. The changes won’t fix any of that. The shared pavements won’t work, for the following reasons. There are too many pedestrians and bikes, and the two will come into conflict, as surely as if you put a minibus-load of 70’s showbiz personalities into a youth club. By law, you would have to dismount to cross on the zebra crossings. Of course, some cyclists will either be unaware of this or will consider it a trifle unnecessary - after all, why, for goodness sakes, have shared-use pavements if the crossings aren’t shared use? So this will cause a concoction of confusion, conflict and collisions, as motorists are often not keen to give way to people with bikes (legally walking or illegally riding – it’s difficult to tell at a distance) on zebra crossings, pedestrians don’t like mixing with bikes, and vice-versa. Of course, there will be some die-hard vehicular cyclists who selfishly spurn the shared spaces and cycle on the road, and some motorists will ask themselves, “What are they doing there, when there’s a perfectly good cycle track?” Hardly a recipe for mutual respect and tolerance. Which leads to the other problem with these shared pavements. Currently, there are hatched areas on the road junction corners that can act as handy de-facto cycle lanes if you’re turning left. Motors tend to keep out of them. The one leading onto Lambeth Bridge if you’re turning left from Millbank is particularly useful. But the pavements are going to be extended into these areas, so if you stay on the road, you’ll have less space and be even more vulnerable to a left-hook than you are today.

Unfortunately, TfL’s attitude to road design is looking rather like Jimmy Savile’s alleged sex life. It’s just not acceptable in the 21st century to treat vulnerable people this way.

You might care to let TfL know what you think about their ‘new’ roundabout. Just don’t mention the Sex Pistols.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


I reported recently on Richmond Borough's plan to eliminate cycle lanes in Twickenham town centre, while widening pavements. Freewheeler reports on similar schemes in other parts of London, and Cyclists in the City on plans to widen pavements, thereby shoehorning a lot of cyclists and motor vehicles into even narrower lanes in the City of London.

Now, let us be absolutely clear about what is going on here, in terms of what the Highway Code regards as safe and legal. According to the Highway Code, when passing a cyclist, you should give them "at least as much space as you would a car". There's even a helpful picture illustrating what that means. What it means in practice is, it is only safe to overtake a cyclist if you can allow 2M of space. Which in turn means that each lane on a road needs to be at least 4.0M wide to allow for safe overtaking by a car, and wider (4.5M) if we're talking about buses or larger goods vehicles. Obviously, it's possible to execute a safe overtake by moving into the oncoming lane, but only if there is no oncoming traffic, which is rarely possible in London traffic conditions. These are not numbers I have pulled out of a bodily orifice by the way; the come from the London Cycle Design Standards, (Figure 3.1).

So, if you narrow road lanes below 4.5M or 4.0M (if there are no larger vehicles), you are effectively saying that no overtaking of cyclists is safely possible. It then follows that, if you are creating conditions in which safe overtakes are not generally possible, you must ensure that drivers do not attempt them. Unless you ban cycling, of course. Because you cannot rely on drivers excercising restraint. Every regular cyclist knows there are a significant number of drivers who believe, in the words of Jane Austen, "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a bicycle must be in want of an overtake". They just can't stop themselves. They see a bike, they've just got to overtake it. Never mind if there's no room, or a traffic island coming up, or a red light in 20 yards, or they're going to immediately have to cut in to make a left turn, they just have to do it. They belong in front, the cyclist belongs behind, because the cyclist is slower - and a cyclist being in front of them is an perversion of the natural order of things. As a cyclist, you're expected to get out of the way, and God help you if you don't. Anyway, back to my main point: how is a local authority, having created a situation in which overtakes are not safe, going to prevent them? In practical terms, the answer is they aren't going to bother.

It is surely morally indefensible to wilfully create conditions in which cyclists and drivers are foreseeably forced into dangerous conflict, given what we know about driver overtaking behaviour. Especially set against a backdrop of escalating cyclist casualty rates. One of three things will happen:

1. Cyclists will 'take the lane' and we'll see incidents of 'road rage' and 'rear-end' collisions;
2. Cyclists will ride in the gutter, and we'll see collisions because that's the most dangerous place to be;
3. Cyclists will stop riding on these roads.

The government need to take note: This is the kind of reckless endangerment of cyclists that is happening at a local level. This is what you get if you push responsibility for cycling down to local authorities for whom cycling comes somewhere below CPZs, cutting the grass and dealing with dog mess in the list of things they are concerned about. They don't have the priorities, knowledge, processes, expertise or resources to come up with road schemes that don't kick cycling into the long grass.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Definition of Irony

(The hazard sign says "Low sun central islands")