Saturday 29 October 2011


Following on from the death of another cyclist involved in a collision with a tipper lorry, Private Eye, of all places, ran a story concerning the death of Nora Gutmann in June.

It would appear that the driver of a tipper lorryJoao Lopes, who was involved in the collision which killed a cyclist, Eilidh Cairns, in 2009 was also involved in the collision that killed Nora.

I normally have the utmost regard for the police. But the investigation of the death of Eilidh Cairns, and the prosecution of Lopes appears to take bungling to an art form. The police officers first at the scene failed to collect witness details, instead asking them to get back in their cars and leave the area in order to get traffic flowing again. Then they failed to check Lopes' eyesight, even though he said he hadn't seen the cyclist. When a few months later his eyesight was checked it so defective that he legally couldn't drive a lorry. However, by this time, this fact couldn't be used in his prosecution for killing Eilidh Cairns.

He was found guilty of driving with uncorrected vision and got 3 points and £200 fine.

Now it would appear that he has been involved in the death of an elderly pedestrian, also in London.

One worries about the release of this information before prosecution for this latest offence - but now the information is out in the public domain, I can only hope that a Jury direction to disregard previous events is considered adequate to continue with any prosecution.

London wasn't designed for large vehicles. They add risk to the road. They also are, in most cases, essential. But there is much that can be done to mitigate this risk, from better driver training, to technology such as sensors and cameras. Even shutting down companies that employ drivers who are drunk and using a mobile phone might be a good start.

Most of the technology and safety equipment isn't particularly expensive. We are talking about adding side-bars or mirrors in most cases. Even fitting out cameras and sensors isn't exactly prohibitive.

I would like to see all government building contracts - including huge construction projects like the Olympics - mandate that transport used by contractors are fitted with the latest safety equipment, and that the drivers are trained to the highest standard. This would send a clear message.

I would also like to see that those driving to a standard significantly lower than expected - for instance by driving drunk or using a phone or whilst they have uncorrected vision are subjected to lengthy jail terms and the firms for which they work are given very heavy fines and stringent checks before they can operate again. 

Friday 28 October 2011

CS2 death in Bow

It is with sadness that I read of the first death on a cycle-superhighway this week.

Details are somewhat scant aside from the following from the BBC link above.

A 58-year-old man has died after a collision with a tipper lorry on a cycle superhighway in east London.
The cyclist was involved in the collision on the roundabout at Bow Road, Bow, at 08:45 BST on Monday.
I normally use this blog to vent my frustration with dollops of sarcasm. For such a serious incident as above this is entirely inappropriate. The fact that this is the superhighway, and junction, I cycle through on a fairly regular basis, has brought this particular incident home.
I don't usually cycle the roundabout as it is circuitous, and in my opinion, more fraught with difficulties than the flyover going over the top of it. And the flyover isn't exactly easy to cycle.
The Bow roundabout is also where the Newham boundary lies and, for reasons I have blogged about previously, this is where the CS2 ends.
There should be no illusions about the Bow interchange. This is a junction designed for the movement of motorised vehicles and, in my opinion, was never designed with cyclists or pedestrians in mind. This can be ably illustrated by the fact that the lights have no pedestrian phase - pedestrians simply have no other way to cross these roads than running inbetween the flow of traffic. I think the fact that there aren't more deaths and injuries to cyclists or pedestrians at this junction is simply because so few actually use it -  I see few pedestrians and most cyclists do the same as me and get onto the flyover instead of using the roundabout.
According to questions to Boris, the Bow flyover has no pedestrian phase since TfL consider they cannot implement this without serious implications to traffic flow. 
This is simply unacceptable, and has to change. Stratford high street at this point was once industrial units, but now has blocks of flats springing up. And many local transport connections at this end are across the Bow junction. So more people will be wanting to walk and cycle across it. This is only going to increase with the regeneration of old industrial areas such as Sugar House Lane.

So what to do about junctions such as these? Look at the video I took several months ago when I used the roundabout Stratford bound

Firstly, it might be easy, and a bit glib, to say the whole thing needs to be re-designed. It does, but this is so unlikely that I would say we have more chance of James Martin  doing the tour-de-France. But the whole junction could be made more amenable for cyclists without having to radically change the entire junction.

For a start, this is a 30mph stretch of road. Does it look and feel like 30mph? No. The slip roads are very wide, the entrances and exits on the roundabout are designed for high speed. Surely traffic flow could be slowed and regulated, and cyclists helped by reducing the slip road entrances, by making the roundabout exits tighter. 

Secondly, the new CS2 paint segregates cyclists to the left as they travel around the roundabout, but then can put them in conflict with fast moving traffic as they merge on the A11 slip-road, or even worse, directly put them in the path of crossing traffic if the cyclist wishes to continue around the roundabout. This is simply poor design, which would normally be mitigated in Northern European countries by having the cycling lane take priority, or introducing cycle lights to aid cyclists.

Thirdly, the cycle-lane on the A11 slip road back up to the A11 is laughably narrow. Although I wasn't laughing at all when I had to use it with traffic squeezing past. The presence of the lane makes drivers think they should be able to squeeze past without crossing the double lines, but this, in reality is way too close. The cycle lane should be made wider to indicate the true space required by a cycle, and the double lines should be made dashed. 

Fourth, look at the parked vehicles. This was a Sunday, but after hours vehicles do park here during the week. The coach on the slip road is blocking CS2 and forcing cyclists out into the path of traffic travelling at speed down the motorway style slip-road. Parking here should be banned 24 hours a day.

Can you imagine anyone unable to walk quickly being able to negotiate this junction on foot? Or indeed would anyone cycle on this other than the battle-hardened?

The fundamental problem is that TfL et al. want us to cycle and walk more - but are not prepared to compromise traffic flow in order to help us do this. When such lack of compromise affects cycle infrastructure such as the superhighways to such a degree as seen at Bow, one hopes that talk about negligence on the part of those responsible for our streets gains momentum and forces a rethink.

My thoughts are with the family of the cyclist who died at this junction; the 14th cyclist to die on London's roads in 2011. TfL need to worry less about traffic flow and more about making our great city somewhere amenable for people. We owe it to all those killed to continue to lobby for more humane roads that will allow the pro-cycling and walking rhetoric of TfL, and local and national government to become reality.

Saturday 22 October 2011

Tour de TfL

Whilst TfL is organising the Straford to Stratford cycle ride, Cyclists in the City blog is organising a cycling tour of the most dangerous junctions in London.

A roll-call of the junctions on the route sends a shiver down me.

1. St. George's Road/London Road/ Elephant & Castle Junction Southwark
2. Clapham Road/ Kennington Park Road/ Camberwell Road Junction
3. Strand/Northumberland Avenue/Whitehall Junction
4. Waterloo Road/ Stamford St/ York Road Junction
5. Mansion House St/Princes St/ Threadneedle St
6. Elephant & Castle/Newington Butts Roundabout
7. Hyde Park Corner Westminster
8. Millbank/Lambeth Bridge Junction
9. Clerkenwell Road/Farringdon Road Junction (via Kings Cross)
10. Albert Embankment/Kennington Lane/ Wandsworth Road Junction

Although my cycling is mostly confined to North of the River and the City, I have visited these junctions on foot or in the car, or on cycle enough times to know that they are simply terrible.

The initiative is really in honour of the fact that TfL is "improving" Elephant and Castle, with the same thought processes that are currently "improving" Blackfriars bridge. That is that cramming as many lanes as possible into an urban space can be adequately mitigated for cyclists by scattering some ASLs around the area and some fluffy promotional video initiative. Just look at the plans for the Elephant and Castle below (courtesy of cyclists in the city)

It is somewhat of a struggle to see how this is any improvement on the current layout. In fact, I struggle a bit to see much difference at all. 

And this isn't simply happening in some isolated cases in London, it appears to be happening everywhere TfL is involved in redeveloping the roads. We have the celebrated Blackfriars bridge, but also Kings Cross, Tottenham Hale, Stratford Gyratory to name simply a few that spring to mind. TfL have no right to claim any positive influence on cycle rates in greater London whilst they pursue such misguided redevelopment plans.

So, if you are feeling brave, join cyclists in the city; the event is happening

10.30am Saturday 12 November
Meet by the stairs at the front of St. Mark's Church, The Oval, Kennington, SE11 4PW 

I will be endeavouring to join this event if I can. 40-50 like minded cyclists attempting some of the most horrible junctions in London will be an education if nothing else. If I do join I will make sure the panniers are loaded with several changes of underpants so I can complete the route in comfort...

Clampdown on uninsured cars

This week the MET has run a one-day campaign targeting uninsured drivers. This is, apparently, the start of the new commissioner's "total policing" policy. Several hundred cars were impounded and the MET believe "that up to 80% of uninsured drivers are involved in other crimes". Makes one wonder why the uninsured haven't really been targeted before if it leads to other crimes in 80% of cases.

This all sounds good. Uninsured drivers cost the legal motorist dear. Not only in hikes in insurance premiums to cover the damage, but that uninsured drivers are 5 times more likely to be involved in an accident in the first place, and are much more likely to engage in unsafe and anti-social driving in the first place.

But, according to another report from the BBC in 2009, the scale of the issue of uninsured drivers is huge. From research covered in the report, it is estimated that 13% of drivers in Greater London are uninsured and at least 1.7M people drove without insurance in the UK. This isn't just a small minority of drivers, it is a significant section of private motorists on the road today.

The report has the CEO of the Motor Insurers' Bureau saying

"Indeed, the number of drivers across the UK who were caught without insurance last year would fill Wembley Stadium more than twice. The message to motorists is clear: driving uninsured is simply not worth the risk."

But let's consider the risk vs reward for a bit. From the article and a bit of google research, it appears that around 300,000 people get caught without insurance per year. The penalty for driving without insurance is 6 pts on the license and £200 fine, with the car impounded (presumably released upon payment of fine). The average cost of insurance in London is over £500 per year. When I enquired (I drive a company car so don't have private car insurance), my premium would be £700-£800 per year; I have a clean license with no accidents in 5 years and am approaching middle age. So, it looks like the vast majority of uninsured drivers don't get caught, and even if they are caught the penalty is significantly less than the yearly premium.

I don't subscribe to the view that all those without insurance are hardened criminals - we are talking about over 1 in 10 motorists. So many are making a calculated decision to drive illegally. And based on the information above, I can see why.

To deter illegal driving, one has to make the deterrent much more harsh, or make detection much easier, or both. And we have the means to do both. ANPR cameras can instantly detect illegal cars and drivers, and, as can be seen from the MET clampdown, can lead to more detection of crime than illegal motoring. So why doesn't it happen more? One could affix ANPR cameras in key locations (Stratford Gyratory would be one, A406 I believe already has some) and then station police to pull over cars on occasion to issue hefty fines and confiscate cars. If the illegal motorist knew that ANPR cameras were in operation at all times, police regularly used them, and the fines were hefty including confiscation of vehicles, I think attitudes may change. In urban areas such as Greater London, the sheer lawlessness of the roads, along with myopic transport policies, is allowing illegal activity to flourish whilst discouraging other transport alternatives.

The MET actions is a start. But a few hundred vehicles impounded, to be returned after a few points and a measly fine isn't going to have much impact at all. Maybe the "total policing" policy will spread and make our roads safer for other motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. I hope it isn't simply a gimmick to raise the profile of an incoming commissioner.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

TfL - caring about cyclists

Whilst away on holiday last week, I note a few developments in the world of cycling in London.

In amongst the schemes that have been announced by TfL, a couple drew my attention

The first is the Stratford cycle challenge. Initially I thought this might be some kind of contest where cyclists went round and round the multi-lane gyratory with the winner being the last to be knocked off by speeding cars - some kind of cycling version of Tron. But no, it is actually a 100 mile event cycling from Stratford E London to Stratford-Upon-Avon. It does say the number of riders will be limited, and I assume this is because there are only a certain number of people stupid brave enough to cycle around Stratford (E. London) Gyratory. 

The second was a story on the BBC about TfL offering a reward scheme for people cycling and walking instead of driving. Apparently it uses the GPS facility in a smart-phone to log journeys and this will rack up points for discounts and promotions.

Both jolly promotions showing how much TfL cares for the cyclist.

Except are we satisfied? It would appear not! Surely what else do we want?

There is the LCC now demanding all sorts of impractical things, like a Blackfriars bridge that is actually cycling and people friendly. There are even blogs such as cyclists in the city promoting demonstrations against the current TfL schemes which prioritise important motorists, and leave cyclists to fend for themselves and pedestrians to cross using multiple islands.

Then there are pesky sites such KingsCrossEnvironment which are digging up all sorts of information under FoI which TfL would prefer didn't see the light of day. Documents which show TfL had audits predicting casualties on certain roads as "inevitable" due to the layout encouraging aggressive driving and speeding. And then the blog has the temerity to think that maybe TfL should be held account when the "inevitable" happens and vulnerable road users die on said roads. Surely we need to realise that squeezing as much private traffic as quickly as possible through dense urban areas is of upmost importance?!

Us cyclists are really a grumpy lot. We are not content with some discounts for using our bicycles, but actually want roads fit for cycling as well?! What next, moon on a stick?

I for one will be very grateful for my discount points earned whilst dodging speeding traffic on the A11 bow flyover, or being close passed on the A10 at Stamford Hill, or harassed by taxis whilst in "their" bus lane. I think we should simply be happy with this and not questioning why TfL believes a points-means-prizes gimmick will encourage cycling whilst they continue to pursue a policy of marginalising cycling on the roads.