Campaign season for the safety of cyclists – but will they do any good? Part Two – The Times


The devotion of a whole front page by The Times to cyclist safety is quite extraordinary. RDRF has, along with other organisations and 17,000 individuals as of the first  draft of this post on 5th February signed up to it. But will this campaign fizzle out like the ones waged by The Independent and the London Evening Standard – let alone safety campaigns launched throughout the last century? At the risk of seeming overly negative, we have to question features of this campaign and ask what will be required to effectively pursue the good intentions that exist.

After all, “safety on the road” can mean all kinds of things: from misguided and counterproductive fantasies through to getting the most vulnerable out of the way of the most dangerous. Public figures have signed up to The Times campaign – as they would to motherhood and apple pie. Below we analyse the campaign in detail: its potential for reducing danger on the road to cyclists and other road users, what will be required to pursue these objectives – and the problems that have already surfaced.

Let’s take a detailed look at The Manifesto,  “Cycling should be both safe and pleasurable. Ministers, mayors and local authorities must build cities that are fit for cycling.”

The Times has launched a public campaign and 8-point manifesto calling for cities to be made fit for cyclists:

Point by point:

  1. Trucks entering a city centre should be required by law to fit sensors, audible truck-turning alarms, extra mirrors and safety bars to stop cyclists being thrown under the wheels.

Lorries are implicated in about half the deaths of cyclists in London, despite being a much smaller proportion of the traffic mix. It’s also worth mentioning that a roughly similar number of pedestrians are killed in incidents involving lorries every year in London.  As the superb blogger of points out,  why not have “Tame our Trucks” rather than “Save our Cyclists“? It depends where you want to focus your attention.

Still, before getting too negative, it is obviously unacceptable that lorries should be driven with their drivers being unable to see pedestrians, cyclists or motorcyclists in close proximity to them. Such vehicles should be regarded as “unfit for purpose” for use on our roads. Of course, installing devices enabling lorry drivers to be aware of other road users around them is only the first step to reducing danger from such vehicles. Other technologies which can prevent human beings from going under the wheels of such vehicles need to be developed and installed on all such vehicles.

In addition, while highway engineering and the training of cyclists which makes them aware of good positioning near lorries are useful measures, we need to ensure that danger from lorries is reduced at source. Whatever technologies are employed on lorries, as long the use of these vehicles has the potential to inflict such horrific injuries and death, their drivers and operators must be held properly responsible.
At this point we have to note that nowhere in the Manifesto is law enforcement – even of existing laws, let alone a more civilised framework of traffic laws – mentioned.

2. The 500 most dangerous road junctions must be identified, redesigned or fitted with priority traffic lights for cyclists and Trixi mirrors that allow lorry drivers to see cyclists on their near-side.

This still seems to be locked in to the lorries question alone, when the vast majority of cyclist casualties do not involve them. But let’s look further at what is meant by the most dangerous junctions – this is where discussion gets interesting. the most conventional way of doing this is to look at the aggregate number of those reported and recorded as “Killed and Seriously Injured ” (KSI).

However,  this does not tell you what the  have been of cyclists being reported as hurt in these categories – we would need a KSI rate (e.g. KSIs per journey or mile travelled, or at least the numbers of cyclists passing through a junction). After all, many junctions are so scary for even experienced cyclists that they do not travel through them – the KSI number may be low precisely because cycling through that junction is seen correctly as hazardous. In fact we would need to add on objective measures, such as the numbers of lanes needing to be crossed, the flows and speeds of motor traffic etc. Furthermore, we can prioritise according to likely demand from cyclists.

Hopefully these factors will be taken into account, as with TfL’s junctions review.

Of course – negativity alert – this is a focus on major junctions. The vast majority of junctions won’t be considered. Also, junctions attract attention because there are far more vehicular movements at them, which allow for more types of conflict. And a city like London is heavily junctioned. Yet the TfL Cycle Safety Action Plan points out that the main category of collisons involving cyclists is “close proximity” collisions not necessarily associated with junctions.

So there really is a lot more to think about in terms of the sites of cyclist involved collisions.

3. A national audit of cycling to find out how many people cycle in Britain and how cyclists are killed or injured should be held to underpin effective cycle safety.

That’s fine. A criticism is that , as with all statistical reports on cyclist casualties is just that – it is centred on the victim. And a victim-centred approach can often turn into victim-blaming. The simple fact of the matter is that those legally responsible for a good half of the incidents where cyclists get hurt or killed are implicated in hurting or killing  all other kinds of road users. And they are generally motorists.

4. Two per cent of the Highways Agency budget should be earmarked for next generation cycle routes, providing £100 million a year towards world-class cycling infrastructure. Each year cities should be graded on the quality of cycling provision.

Nice to see money being mentioned. If it were the Netherlands , the figure would be more like £1,200 million – that’s right £1.2 billion a year, twelve times as much at some £20 per head per year. £100 million would be about right for London alone, and is the sort of figure that has often been suggested by campaigners as it is (a) about 1% of the Transport for London annual budget and (b) it is the kind of money cyclists would get if each daily cyclist – at the moment, without the projected doubling of cycling by 2026 that both Mayor’s have argued for – would get if they got the kind of subsidy bus (and even more, tube or train) passengers get.

But what exactly are “next generation” cycle routes? Are we getting another fantasy of “getting cyclists out of the way”?

5. The training of cyclists and drivers must improve and cycle safety should become a core part of the driving test.

Let’s consider what “training” actually means. Often thought of as a means of regulating and controlling, actually it is – for motorists – a form of enabling and empowering. By contrast, cycle training, which can be enabling and empowering under the National Standards which have been promoted by RDRF members from the late 1990s onwards, is often something which is not. The point is to organise training so that it supports the more benign mode with a sense of rights in addition to responsibility: with motorist training the balance need sto be shifted the other way. We need a lot more of impressing motorists with the problems they pose to others. After all, as the motorist lobby constantly reminds us, motorists have had to “take a test” – e.g. drive properly once for 25 minutes – for over 70 years. Has that properly regulated motorist danger?

And would impressing the need to drive carefully on new motorists actually work? Apart from taking about 30 years before even most motorists had had the experience of once being advised to obey the law and Highway Code, it is hardly likely to have a significant effect. Of course, if motorists were to have to retake a driving test every few years – a slightly more difficult one every 4 years would be in tune with what might be expected with the kind of Health and Safety regualtions we see elsewhere  in modern life.

Let’s see the motoring organisations, backed up by The Times, go for that.

6. 20mph should become the default speed limit in residential areas where there are no cycle lanes.

20 mph on urban roads was argued for by the architect of motorised post-war urban Britain, Colin Buchanan. from the 1960s onwards. It is typical throughout northern Europe. It is not radical, but something with danger reducing benefits , mainly for pedestrians. But what (negativity alert) are “residential areas”? For people who speak English, as opposed to transport plannerese – as a transport planner I know how we speak – just about all of London would count as residential. But I doubt that this is what is on offer.

And when the AA offers its support, note that this is only in some residential areas. Which means that we are likely to have to deal with continued breaking of the 30 mph speed limit, and continued forgetting of people who have to walk and cycle in non-residential areas. Don’t they count?

7. Businesses should be invited to sponsor cycleways and cycling super-highways, mirroring the Barclays-backed bicycle hire scheme in London.

The “cycle super highways” have been an object of criticism since their inception. At present they cover some 0.3% of London’s roads. If sponsorship for CSHs – while not forgetting that cyclists will be on all London’s roads apart from motorways – helps making them reasonable, that’s fine.

8. Every city, even those without an elected mayor, should appoint a cycling commissioner to push home reforms.”

Would another layer of bureaucracy to get what should already be in place help?But that’s too much negativity: a Cycling Czar may help.

We hope The Times campaign does some overall good. We felt the need to give our support. But genuine support means honesty, and we will be pointing out to the Times where  – and why – things are going wrong with it. Our posts will try and do this.