Friday, November 29, 2013

Operation Safeway - Waste of Money ?

In the wake of the recent cluster of cycling fatalities the Met Police - accountable to Mayor Boris Johnson - has launched Operation Safeway, which involves the deployment of up to 2500 officers at the capital's most dangerous junctions (not supermarkets, despite the name). It will be reviewed at Christmas.

When I see a bunch of public servants standing around not doing much, which is what I've witnessed so far during this "safety" operation, my first instinct is to wonder to what benefit my road tax is being put. Oh I forgot - I'm a cyclist, so I don't pay road tax. Except I do because I have a car. But it's a low emission car so I don't pay much more than it costs the Government to collect it. Oh, but the Met isn't paid for out of road tax, it's council tax and I do pay a lot of that. Well, anyway...paying highly-skilled crime-fighters to hang around on street corners like a bunch of high-visibility hookers doesn't strike me as a particularly good use of public funds.

Apparently, they've dished out 2000 fines in three days, which is a bit less than 700 a day. That is less than 1 ticket a day per officer. If the intent is to deter, this operation is clearly failing. But maybe finding lawbreaking road users is harder than we expect. To test this theory yesterday, I went for my usual lunchtime stroll around the West End, and in 15 minutes I saw 2 drivers entering an advance stop box illegally, 3 drivers using handheld mobile phones, and one cyclist on the pavement. So maybe my comparison with hookers was a bit unfair - there's clearly plenty of business out there to be done, but the police are unaccountably shy. According to some reports, they've been acting a bit like Gok Wan, advising people on what not to wear.

The Met budget is £4bn/year, and employs around 32000 sworn police officers. So the cost of 2500 officers half-time for 4 weeks works out at around £13M. They don't seem to be doing this full-time, but even for 2 hours in the morning, another 2 hours in the evening, plus the logistics of getting them to and from the relevant locations still adds up to a good chunk of a working day. The Met claim the operation isn't costing extra money, but that's false economics - if they weren't doing this, they would be doing other things, which presumably do have value. The question is, whether this operation has significant value. In my opinion it doesn't, because it is starting from the position that the main cause of cyclist casualties is lawbreaking, which is a false premise. There is nothing uniquely lawless about British drivers or cyclists. People have an equal tendancy to break road laws in other European countries, but the Continental approach has been to build quality cycling infrastructure - infrastructure that removes incentives for cyclists to break the law, and keeps them away from lawbreaking drivers. If all drivers and cyclists respected the law all the time and never made mistakes, the roads would be safer, but I cannot see how a short, localized operation with little deterrent effect is going to reverse the effects of decades of complacent tolerance of motoring offences. With the exception of drink-driving, we simply don't regard traffic violations as "real crime". According to the RAC, 21% of drivers admit to using mobile phones at the wheel, 65% break the motorway speed limit, 36% break 20MPH limits, yet 92% of us consider ourselves to be law abiding drivers!

So I doubt very much if this operation will have any lasting effect. There is clearly no real appetite at any level of government to permanently ensure better compliance with traffic laws. Whereas, if you were to spend that £13M cost on decent segregated infrastructure or quality would permanently protect cyclists from the consequences of bad driving and cycling.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Vauxhall St Lane Blocked - Lambeth Fail Yet Again

Yes, another story in my Lambeth Fail series. Sorry to other London boroughs for favouring Lambeth again, you'll just have to try less hard.

Now, you really couldn't make this one up. Up until recently, the contraflow lane on Vauxhall St (which is one of the few examples in London of that critically endangered species, the segregated cycle facility) was blocked along with the pavement, and there was a "pedestrians please use other footpath" sign.

At that time, my fearless and redoubtable fellow-blogger Charlie (Kennington People on Bikes) sent a pic of the blocked lane to Lambeth's cycling officer. who responded thusly:

I have been sent the attached photos of Vauxhall Street. They show that the contraflow cycle lane is completely  fenced off, forcing people on bikes into the narrow lane of oncoming traffic. Not only is it dangerous, especially to children using the route,  it is also inconvenient and increases journey times for people cycling.
Given our road user hierarchy, our approach in this situation should be to maintain the pedestrian and cycle routes and close the road to motor vehicles except for access to the supermarket and estate. 
We've been criticised in the past for our lack of consideration of cyclists at roadworks (Akerman Road; Baylis Road; Greyhound Lane) but I thought we had begun to remedy that. There are lots of examples of good practise regarding cycling at roadworks  across London which we could learn from, for example recently on Union Street outside Palestra.
Will you look into this urgently? It is important that we sort it out quickly as the current situation is unacceptable and I expect we will receive many more complaints.

A week later, the lane's still blocked, and - get this - a "cyclists dismount" sign has been added. So, Lambeth's idea of remedying danger and inconvenience to people cycling stop them cycling. Perfect. No doubt soon they'll have a police officer ticketing cyclists having the temerity to ignore the dismount sign and ride around the obstruction.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Roads Crackdown - If Only...

The head of traffic enforcement for London's police defended an operation in which officers have been stopping dozens of highway engineers and politicians to advise them on safety, in the wake of a recent cluster of cyclist casualties.

"If I'm truly honest, what we're trying to do here is our best to save lives and keep people safe, both from serious and more minor injuries. Quite honestly, some of these traffic engineers haven't got a clue. They have no idea how to design safely. It's high time they were registered and made to take a test. "

"Some of the cases that we've seen in the last few days really make your heart bleed because you can see that politicians have taken decisions that really did put road users' lives in danger. While deaths are not always the designer's fault, if they don't follow the rules there's no amount of good behaviour by cyclists that is going to save people's lives".

In the operation, 2,500 officers are being deployed to enforce good road and junction design in the capital's most notorious accident blackspots.

There is evidence of a high level of offending by highways engineers in terms of design defects. In one previous operation, 99% of designs were found to have at least one serious defect, including the failure to separate HGVs from cyclists.

Politicians are also being warned not to wear headphones. "This kind of behaviour can only isolate you from the reality of the road environment in a dangerous way...Call me illiberal, but it makes me absolutely terrified to see them bowling along completely unaware of Continental good practice and disconnected from reality."

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Oval Barriers - Lambeth Succeed - Sort Of

Well, yesterday evening, the controversial new anti-cycling barriers at the Oval, lambasted in my previous post, were gone.

So thanks are due to whoever acted swiftly to get rid of them.

I dare say Lambeth taxpayers won't be so grateful when they realize they've paid for barriers to be erected and then taken down again, but it's one way of stimulating the economy.

Unfortunately this minor victory is massively overshadowed by the fact that 4 cyclists have been killed in the last 8 days in London. If only those in charge would act to prevent the carnage from continuing with a similar degree of alacrity to Lambeth's action on these barriers...

Friday, November 8, 2013

Cycle Hire - Is it Safe, Really?

Sir Peter Hendy, recently-knighted Transport for London big cheese, has suggested that Boris Bikes are super-safe because they are big, slow, and have flashing lights.

Firstly, are they actually that safe? Well, the first year produced 6M journeys and 100 collisions. That works out at a rate of slightly less than 17 collisions per million journeys, compared with a rate of a bit more than 20 collisions per million journeys for general cycling in London in the same year. So the safety of the Boris Bikes appears a bit better than the background numbers, but not spectacularly so, and the difference could be explained by many factors, such as user demographics, journey time of day, routes, the hire journeys being shorter and concentrated in the central London area. Another possible explanation is that drivers assume you are clueless if you're on one and make allowances.

It is certainly a stretch to say that a big slow bike is safe. While riding slower may help you avoid some types of collision, it will make you more vulnerable to others. When pulling out into a stream of traffic, you are best advised to accelerate to the speed of the other road users, which is difficult on an under-geared bike weighing 23kg. Riding slowly makes you more vulnerable to left-hooks and badly-timed overtakes by impatient motorists.

The other factor Hendy won't be telling you about is the brakes on the blue barges are crap. Dangerously so in some cases, in my experience.

As for flashing lights, most riders in London use such lights after dark. The lights on the Boris Bikes are quite low-powered and mounted low down at the back. They are better than nothing for sure, but of very limited benefit in daylight, and a lot worse than a well-positioned modern high-powered set-up at night.

The one fatality involving a cycle-hire bike was on TfL's CSH#2, recently branded "an accident waiting to happen". And that fact pretty much sums up cycling safety in London. It really matters very little what kind of bike you ride, when the roads are as woefully dangerous as they are. London cyclist KSIs rose by 18% last year, a number that clearly indicates TfL is not doing its job properly. To suggest that it's the fault of cyclists not using lights is a bit of an insult really. Ironically, the one solitary factor that likely has benefitted cycle safety over the past 15 years is the invention of the high-intensity LED light, but the failure of TfL and London boroughs to implement safe cycle routes, the cynical prioritization of traffic flow over safety, and the failure to police the roads properly has more than offset any benefit and meant that KSIs have resumed an upward trajectory.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Oval - Lambeth Fail Again

I promise you this blog doesn't have a vendetta against Lambeth. It just seems at the moment Lambeth, in contrast to the claims in their Cycling Strategy, has a vendetta against cyclists.

The latest piece of nonsense is the installation of a chicane barrier at the junction of Meadow Road LCN3 route and Kennington Oval.

The last thing that is needed on this bit of cycle route is a barrier. There is considerable cycle and pedestrian traffic at peak times here and a significant problem is the already-inadequate amount of space. So you'd have to be completely nuts to want to compress all that traffic between two metal barriers thus:

Another unfortunate consequence of this is cyclists will emerge on the right-hand side of the crossing, which is the wrong side given that most will be turning left. So they will be turning across the path of pedestrians - resulting in conflict. Altogether more sinister still is the 'return journey' turning right off the Oval towards the camera in the above picture. This is a very dangerous turn where sight-lines for drivers are impaired, and it is not safe to wait in the carriageway to turn right. With the barrier in place, the right-turning cyclist's options in terms of speed and direction are reduced, making a dangerous situation even worse.

I have no idea why Lambeth have spent what must be a considerable amount of taxpayers' money on this crap. Maybe there was some minor, or possibly major incident, the response to which is, via some unfathomable logic, to increase the amount of unnecessary street clutter, reduce the amount of usable space, increase potential conflict, and make cycling just a little less safe and pleasant. This small area of Harleyford Road around the Oval is dangerous, inadequate for both cyclists and pedestrians, and Lambeth have now made it just a little bit worse.

Nice job.

(It is worth noting that Kennington Oval will be on the route of CSH#5, which hopefully will sort out some of the problems at this junction, but it's not going to be helped by the complete lack of joined-up thinking that is manifest here. More evidence then, as if any were needed, that London's processes for providing cycling infrastructure are broken by design.)