Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Inconsistency, money and dogma–the enemies of cycling and cycle campaigning

Friday, 8th August 2014: There was only time for a quick spin as we are off to Scotland tomorrow. Fortunately we are flying which means way less driving, but also means I can’t take my Brompton up.  I could rent a bicycle when I am there, but I am not sure how much free time we will have.

Still as there are only two pictures I will try to focus on two issues that have vexed me over the last few weeks. (They will also help to unclog my Browser which has around 80 open tabs.)

Crime and Punishment and cycling

Now I am not a lawyer and won’t pretend to understand quite what is intended when wrong-doers are convicted.  My main experience of such things is from watching Reality Police shows on TV. There seems to be little rhyme or reason behind the punishments, although there must be because guidelines exist.

I must admit I naively reckon that what we want to do is reduce the amount of crime in the UK as it does nothing for the wellbeing of Society or the economy.  The trouble is there can be a whole spectrum of approaches.  You can punish perpetrators heavily, to the extent of locking the worst ones up so they can’t harm society. (e.g Marlon King jailed for 18 months for dangerous driving.) Many countries use a points system for driving offences, where a number of “minor” offences can lead to a significant punishment. Another approach is to educate perpetrators so they understand the consequences of their actions (Speed awareness courses). 

It doesn’t stop there though, you can place more responsibility on the “innocent” to prevent crime.  This can vary in degree from apportioning some blame on cyclists involved in accidents for not wearing helmets (even though the evidence is uncertain) to encouraging cyclists to lock their bicycles up securely.

Another step is to modify the infrastructure to reduce the possibility of such transgressions happening.  Again there a rang of examples from better lighting around cycle parks to well-designed segregated cycle routes.

A step further is to use technology either to monitor the law, for instance Bus Lane cameras (going live in Cambridge in November (2014)), or average speed cameras.  Of course you could also put the technology directly into the vehicle, either to monitor, alert the driver or control some aspect of the driving. From 1985 Tachographs have been used to monitor lorry drivers in the EU. Some insurance companies offer Telematics insurance where the driver is monitored in real-time and premiums adjusted according to the “quality” of the driving as well as what time of day the driving takes place.

So what – we know all of this you might say.  So what is the problem. Well the problem is inconsistency, money and dogma, not necessarily in that order.  They can combine in odd and unpredictable ways to resist change, any change.

Lets start with the sunrise and sunset, every year as the days get shorter we can find ourselves being dazzled by the sun as we drive. This shouldn’t be a surprise it happens every year. Also aren’t, we are taught to drive at a speed safe for the conditions. Apparently the “Autumn sun ‘kills 28 drivers a year’”. The article does point out that vulnerable road users are twice as likely to be killed if they are walking/jogging with their backs to oncoming traffic. The article suggests road users should be aware – why does no-one grasp the nettle(s).  Drivers are going too fast for the conditions, they should be driving more slowly and the infrastructure is failing vulnerable road users.

It seems that the law also treats the sun as a mitigating factor – rather than a bloody big sign in the sky saying slow down.  As in this tragic case.

But in the UK we seem to behave as if speeding in our cars is a human right. Apparently “One in five motorists thinks that driving 10mph over the speed limit is acceptable”.  You only have to look at some of the bizarre excuses given to Cambridge Police by drivers breaking the speed limits.  In this case of Britain’s oldest banned driver, who has been caught 5 times in four years the focus seems to be on the hardship rather than the danger she presented. The most recent offence was 48mph in a 30mph zone. It seems to me that she was either unaware (and therefore a danger on the roads) or arrogant (and therefore a danger on the roads).  Much of the latter part of the article focuses on the hardship a driving ban presents.

But hardship does sometimes seem to work as a reason to avoid a ban. This van driver who charged through a level crossing. He was training to be a truck driver and had spent thousands on exams – which just goes to show being able to pass driving exams does not equate necessarily to being a better driver.

Mind you even the motoring world does understand that better infrastructure can save drivers from their own stupidity. The Shepreth level crossing is to have full barriers to replace the half barriers in 2017.

It makes me think that the application of motoring laws is just too inconsistent along with the subsequent treatment of offenders.  Already we have laws about the speeds you can drive at that have been bent a little by ACPO.  Most speeding goes uncaught, whilst it is easy to focus on the harm that accidents that result from speeding cause there are other harms – such as causing problems for old and young wanting to cross roads.

Apparently “Cars to be banned from roads near 11 Edinburgh primary schools in pilot scheme”. Why – well if you have ever had the misfortune to pass a school around the start or the end of the school day it can be chaotic. If we really want to encourage children to walk or cycle to school then it takes something more drastic than yet another call for compulsory cycle helmets for children, apparently by Cambridgeshire County Council’s Cycling Champion. (Noel Kavanagh).

I would venture that most parents worry about their kids getting knocked of their bikes by motor vehicles – accidents that cycle helmets weren’t really designed for. Such a call makes it clear to me that our Council is only paying lip-service when it comes to  genuinely encouraging more active travel to school.  Despite the fact that boosting cycling levels would save the NHS billions. If you can’t get them into active travel when they are young then what hope do you have when they are older? Apparently “One in six deaths is due to lack of exercise: Now Britain is worst in the West for inactivity” – shameful.

In Cambridgeshire – one parking ticket for parking illegally outside a school is considered a “crackdown”. In another “Primary School the lack of a lollipop lady is a ‘recipe for disaster’.” We need a joined-up approach from the County Council, the PCC and the Schools – not one man!  

Mind you Cambridgeshire Council is the same one that charges for Park and Ride and has seen a 10.6% drop in users driving more cars to park on the streets.

It is also the same County where despite protests from cyclists pinch-point traffic islands get built. Perhaps the plan is to make it more dangerous for cyclists and intimidate them off the roads.

Or maybe put them in the picture with a bit of cycle training – like Glasgow is doing. What is it with the powers that be, they seem to find it so difficult to build infrastructure, yet training is ok – ah maybe it is cheaper!

The trouble is even when we get infrastructure we seem to get style not substance. Well if a recent crash at the roundabout at the Radegund Road and  Perne road junction is anything to go by. It is “Dutch-style” or “Dutch-inspired” and in theory allows cyclists to take a different route from motorists. Now this road is not a route I take regularly and like many I still find it difficult to believe how much road works/improvements can cost – in this case £410,000. Apparently Noel Kavanagh (mentioned earlier in the post) has “full confidence” in the re-design. Although was that before he started advocating mandatory cycle helmets for children?

Here are some local bloggers’ views – RadWagon –Perne Road … and Cottenham Cyclist – Pernre Road ….  Both posts point out the flaws and indeed in the second post David Hembrow comments on his discussions with the designer of the roundabout. (“Cheese sandwich without the cheese”. Even worse as this Post indicates – Easy as Riding a Bike –” The Perne Road roundabout design” was funded using “£240,000 from the DfTs Cycle Safety Fund, £70,000 from the European Bike friendly Cities Project and, and the remainder from Cambridgeshire/Cambridge City Council’s cycling budget”.  It seems to me that these funds get treated more like slush funds that public money.

So was it Dogma or Inconsistency that seems to have won out and compromised the design of the roundabout?  You might say that in this case it was a hit-and-run driver, a special case. Except that that is flawed, one a cyclist has been injured the problem has occurred. Just because the driver does a runner afterwards doesn’t absolve poor infrastructure.

In fact just recently there have been a number of cycle accidents – “Cyclist ‘seriously’ injured in collision with car in Witchford Road, Ely” and “Cyclist ended up injured in bush after hit and run as Cambridgeshire police launch hunt for driver” and “Cambridge police launch hunt after cyclist injured in hit-and-run in Sawston”. Now these cyclists were injured, however it appears that just having someone knock on you car window can be terrifying. “Cyclist hunted by police after terrifying road rage attack in Cambridge”.   Don’t get me wrong, I don’t condone losing you temper when cycling or driving or walking. However if the Police were to launch searches for every time I and other cyclists have had abuse shouted  whilst cycling then they wouldn’t have time for anything else.

Personally I reckon that we need to re-think the whole business or roads and transport and policing and health. 

For a start we need to focus on where the potential harm is done. there is a difference between assault by a balloon compared with assault by a bullet.  It is cringingly obvious, so why don’t people understand – mass and speed are major factors in potential for harm..

  1. The faster a vehicle travels the more dangerous it is. (Check out this graphic on Twitter – at 40mph 1/10 pedestrians survive and 20mph 9/10 pedestrians survive)
  2. The heavier a vehicle is the more dangerous it is. this BBC news item indicates that from 2001 – 2009 there were 18 pedestrians killed in cycle accidents and 3,495 pedestrians killed by cars.


There needs to be a more consistent approach to Policing the roads. Look how haphazard the approach is to catching speeding drivers, no hidden radar cameras, cameras without “film” speed patrols that have to be clearly visible. Don’t get me wrong I am not suggesting we demonize those drivers who inadvertently find themselves doing 31mph in a 30mph speed limit.  I reckon we ought to not to be dealing with the consequences of speeding/poor driving instead we ought to be minimising the problems before they happen. We have the technology – we can monitor speeding, we can monitor poor driving, we can limit motor vehicles top speed. Why don’t we, I know people whinge on about their civil liberties, but what about the wannabe cyclists who feel to scared to cycle, the old people unable to cross the road because cars move too fast and crossings don’t stay on for long.

Finally we  also need better infrastructure to support the segregation of pedestrians,  cyclists, and motor vehicles. It needs to be done properly, and if it is then we might stand a chance of reducing the burden on the NHS (Obesity and pollution to name but two). We might also improve our cities. We might also save lives. We might also save money.

A reminder that cars are not  good – “Diesel car drivers ‘betrayed’ as EU cracks down on Britain over air pollution”. Boris has announced plans for an extra £10 London Congestion charge for diesel cars (that don’t meet pollution standards). Well I drive a diesel, (although not as much as I ride my bike…)  I’d rather have cleaner air, in fact I wouldn’t live in London, it isn’t a nice place to be so the charge is fine by me and those living and working in London deserve better quality air (and less noise). When will other cities follow suit?

Interestingly Cambridge Police had a “Stay safe on the roads” message on their website. Perhaps they should also campaign for better segregated infrastructure and more effective ways of getting drivers to drive more appropriately – technology.

Sorry that was way too long. Some pictures, from the Fens.


I took both perspectives to see which I preferred when I got home. I prefer the first picture.


No comments:

Post a Comment