Below we recount the story of the introduction of these stickers and the problems they’ve caused for cyclists. As an episode of incorrect and abused messaging, the issue is important – but not one of the major problems most would cite about cycling policy and its implementation in London or elsewhere. Writing the day after yet another cyclist is killed under the wheels of a tipper truck in London, obviously we see dealing with this problem by reducing danger at source (as explained below) as the priority. Yet for us the issue is revealing of problems with the transport establishment’s treatment of cycling.
Firstly, the problems have not yet been resolved: inappropriate stickers and (more important) stickers on vehicles they were never intended for are still there – even on TfL vehicles!
Secondly, it’s taken nearly two years after complaints were first made to get even the limited progress we can now see. Bureaucracies like TFL will always have problems in rectifying mistakes (which is a good reason to not make them in the first place). But the length of time involved, the difficulties TfL had in realising that mistakes had been made, as well as the fact that stickers on the wrong vehicles are still out there even on TfL’s FORS members’ vehicles lead to us a question:-
Is this story an indication that Transport for London simply doesn’t understand cycling and/or take it seriously in the way it might consider other forms of transport?
People who cycle in London, and many who ride elsewhere in the UK, were annoyed by the stickers that started appearing on the back of commercial vehicles nearly 2 years ago, telling cyclists to STAY BACK. Intended for (large) lorries and buses, they were applied with a lack of discrimination to all sorts of other vehicles – cars, vans, taxis, short and lighter lorries with perfectly adequate ability (through use of mirrors and direct vision) for their drivers to see cyclists and pedestrians in their vicinity.
Irresponsible vehicle operators now had official stickers telling cyclists to know their place and stay out of the way of their betters.
I (CM) first complained to TfL about the stickers in Summer 2013. (The reasoning is described in a post here written on December 18th 2013.)
Road Danger Reduction Forum then co-ordinated a complaint – with CTC (the National Cyclists’ Charity), the London Cycling Campaign, RoadPeace (the national road crash victims’ charity) and the Association of Bikeability Schemes – to Transport for London, saying that the wording was inappropriate and that stickers should anyway not be on vans, taxis, small lorries and cars for which they had not been intended. Carefully reasoned and constructive suggestions as to how these failings should be resolved were explained here on February 19th 2014 .TfL responded in a rather inadequate fashion necessitating another co-ordinated response from the organisations on April 30th 2014. And then TfL chose to give yet another – let’s say “inadequate” again because we try to be polite – reply to press enquiries rather than replying to us directly. By now even seasoned campaigners were getting annoyed enough to say that we – road danger reduction and cycling groups – were being treated with contempt on 30th May 2014.
The anger expressed seemed to have an effect, and on June 25th 2014 RDRF and the other organisations involved, plus representatives of the London Boroughs Cycling Officers Group, attended a meeting at Transport for London chaired by Lilli Matson, Head of Strategy and Outcome Planning, with nine other TfL officers concerned with safety, freight and fleet operations, buses, taxis, and marketing and communications. We were glad to say that the outcome was very positive. TfL agreed to reword stickers for larger lorries and buses, and 8 months later the reworded stickers are starting to outnumber the originals. (Lorry_BlindSpot_TakeCare and Bus_Caution_BusPullsInFrequently).
We understand that new stickers will be on all buses by mid-May 2015, and that some 5,000 stickers for HGVs have been distributed by TfL’s Fleet Operators Recognition Scheme, out of some 48,000 ordered (about 30,000 HGVs are on the roads in London daily).
At the time we concluded:
“Of course, none of this deals with the core issue of properly engineering HGVs so that their drivers are aware of cyclists and pedestrians – why is there a “blind spot” in the first place? It does not deal with engineering out the amount of space between the vehicle and the road surface which is implicated in them being crushed; nor the issues of highway engineering which would minimise this kind of occurrence in the first place; nor issues of rule- and law-breaking which endanger other road users as well as cyclists and pedestrians.
Nevertheless, one part of this problem was the idea that while a “blind spot” exists it would be useful to advise cyclists how to correctly position themselves, and we were prepared to support this. Unfortunately the issue was mishandled for some time – now we hope the mistakes are being corrected.
Finally, we suggest that all this is happening because of a concerted and well-argued response by RDRF and our sister organisations. (A similarly positive outcome in June 2014 has come here). This suggests that watchfulness informing coordinated action by groups wanting road danger reduction is necessary. We look forward to the changes outlined at our meeting with TfL. Watch this space.(emphasis added)”
So where are we now?
Above I mention the changes to stickers for buses and HGVs and their imminent introduction – some two years after initial concerns were voiced. That’s the good part. But what about the real problems of stickers on vehicles for which they were never intended?
In Mayor’s Question Time answer 2014/4047 Mayor Johnson stated that “TfL has emailed 6,069 operators registered with the Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS), including all those working on TfL contracts, requesting that all safety stickers are removed from vehicles under 3.5 tonnes, including vans and cars, and that existing HGV stickers are replaced by the new ones.”
But this isn’t working. Either TfL hasn’t made the instructions clear enough, or operators are wilfully ignoring them – including parts of TfL itself! Here, are photos taken of London Underground and London Buses service vans with stickers taken in 2015:
And Clear Channel “operating for London Buses” in 2015:
And Initial “working in association with London Underground” last year (note the off-side mirror):
Or how about black cabs – nominally regulated by TfL? Here are a couple photographed recently:
11th December 2014, Southwark Street January 2015
And one also showing the use of a “Cycle Superhighway”:
If TfL can’t get it right, what chance is there of other operators doing so? Let’s take a look at some well-known members of FORS:
London Boroughs of:
Here are some recent pictures of other inappropriately used stickers by vehicles used by FORS members last year.They may have been taken off these vehicles since these photos were taken, in which case apologies, but stickers were recently seen on vehicles used by major contractors Murphy:
And other FORS members recently spotted (again, apologies if stickers have been removed from these vans since the photos were taken):
VJ technology 4 Rail Barhale
Cappagh Group 2015) & Rexel (note warnings to pedestrians not to walk near van)
Brammer & Abbey Gate (amended stickers, wrong position, wrong vehicle)
HaveBike (Yes, Bicycle recovery…) UK Power Networks
Remember, this is just a selection of vehicles belonging to FORS members .
The virus spreads
Once the signs were out, not only did they appear on vehicles they had not been intended for, but in other positions (captions below photos):
Such as the side of an HGV belonging D Smith (FORS member) above…
cut into pieces and put in three places…
…on the side of a van belonging to Active Plant (FORS member)
…and (my favourite) on the front of a van.
Oh yes, there is this one on scaffolding in the City (HT Cyclists in the City). Then other signs started appearing:
Sainsbury’s fitted new vehicles with a massive message trumpeting danger: as LCC pointed out, maybe this wouldn’t have been necessary with a better designed vehicle.
Or “We have done you and pedestrians a very big favour by being able to see around us, so that we can now see you if we feel like looking.” Errm, maybe “doing your bit” involves rather more than this?
And this one: perhaps just a more extreme expression of the basic message?
Naturally some of the worst cases of sticker wording, positioning, and use on the wrong vehicles, is not done by members of FORS. But if TfL in general, and FORS in particular, was clear about what was wrong in the first place, then it would be possible to :
- Notify such operators that FORS had changed its sticker wording.
- Become forceful in demanding that stickers are only on the correct vehicles
- Explain the reasons for doing so.
- Inform the operators that it would be desirable if they removed or changed offending stickers.
But there is no well-known website page which operators can be referred to.
In 2014 we asked TfL to publicise a web page which could (a) remind FORS members of what they are supposed to (not) do and (b) could be used by members of the public – or a TfL/FORS member of staff? – to inform non-FORS member operators about sticker (ab)use.
We have asked again, but as yet there has been no response.
Perhaps vehicles could be leafleted, for example:
OPERATOR TO REMOVE THIS STICKER
See Highway Code Rules 159, 161, 163, 169, 180, 182, 184, 202.
All of this has spawned pro-cyclist stickers, the most well-known of which is:
See it’s use here . But others have appeared on bicycles, such as these :
..with designs for posters to go on motor vehicles circulating:
And adaptations on existing stickers:
As well as a personal statement:
The HGV problem
We have been working on the safety issue for cyclists and pedestrians posed by HGVs, specifically in cities, since the early 1990s. There is a range of solutions which require implementing, namely:
Highway engineering which could eliminate potential collisions of all severities, and also do so with collisions involving all motor vehicles and create safer space. This is restricted to specific locations, and is less relevant for pedestrians, so attention is also needed to engineering HGVs so that drivers can be aware of who and what is around them. An absolutely critical factor is that HGVs should also be engineered so that it becomes far more difficult (or impossible) for pedestrians or cyclists to be crushed, by skirting HGVs or otherwise reducing the gap between road surface and the body of the vehicle. Safety standards on HGVs can also be enforced by the police. Swift and high quality post-crash investigation, and the threat of deterrent sentencing for unsafe HGV operation are required. Construction sites and operators can be subject to appropriate procurement procedures to push forward relevant measures. Additional technologies such as black box recorders and pedestrian/cyclist-activated vehicle braking systems should be introduced.
HGV driver training is necessary, although low down the list of priorities. We are believers in cycle training, but the essential issue is reducing danger at source – from HGVs (particularly construction industry HGVs) which are currently unfit for purpose in a city. Not all of the million people who sometimes cycle in London can be reached or – even if experienced and careful – expected to avoid HGVs that hit them from behind or overtake and turn left. Even where a cyclist or pedestrian is careless or ignorant (as we all are on occasion) they do not deserve a death or serious injury sentence. After all, motorists have their carelessness accommodated by highway and vehicle engineering – why shouldn’t cyclists or pedestrians?
Our analysis indicates that through the early 2000s a “Safety in Numbers” effect occurred as HGV drivers became more aware of the growing numbers of London cyclists – but this is by no means enough for us to rely on by itself. The measures above have to be implemented. This the real issue which need to be addressed, with the “Cyclists stay back” issue – in itself – of minor importance.
But sometimes these minor issues become important. The lack of understanding – or perhaps unwillingness to accept – what has been problematic about the messaging and (ab)use of the stickers by TfL is important to us. We think it indicates general problems in TfL‘s thinking and practice, which impede addressing the HGV and other issues for cycling and sustainable transport in London.
Sometimes minor issues are indicative of big problems.
This post written by Colin McKenzie as RDRF Committee member and Dr Robert Davis, RDRF Chair.
Hat tips to all who submitted photographs or whose photos I have used, including Bill Chidley, Cyclists in the City, The Ranty Highwayman, Jono Kenyon, Ken Peters and Alex Ingram, . Apologies to those we have missed out.
If any operators shown have since removed stickers, do feel free to notify us through submitting comments below.