Friday, 1 June 2018

Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy safety review: evidence

This is a personal response, from one who used to be

  • People who cycle regularly, whether for leisure, work or commuting

but is now
  • People who would like to cycle or walk more

I used to be a keen cyclist, with a rural commute of 100 miles per week, and occasional hundred-mile days just for fun.

About 10 years ago, I felt that occasional drivers were actually trying to kill me, so I stopped cycling regularly: I walk around town, and rarely travel at all. I miss cycling, and feel I no longer have a life. If I had not lost almost all motivation, I would seriously consider seeking asylum in the Netherlands, Denmark, or other countries where cycling is actually appreciated as a normal part of life, not vilified as an obscure, weird, legally-dubious anti-social deviancy.

There are many who are better-qualified to answer your actual questions, and I cannot provide much evidence, apart from my own experience, observations and feelings. I would like to point to one fundamental aspect.

At the deepest level, one of the greatest differences in 'attitude' is caused by where people are, on a psychological/philosophical axis between 'altruism and egoism' : how important you feel yourself to be, relative to other people.

When I cycled, I would explain why I chose it instead of driving, by saying "Cycling is safer". Most people disagree and disbelieve, since our culture says "Cycling is dangerous!" The difference is that our culture only considers the 'self' - "Am I safe?". They ignore the consequences for 'others' - "I am dangerous!" This egoistic approach to safety needs to be tempered with altruism: consideration of others. Often police will say to injured cyclists "You must take responsibility for your own safety. You could have avoided the collision ..." (by giving up your priority!) No - the responsibility should be on those who are dangerous to take more care. The rules of the road are not based on 'might is right'.
Cycling isn't dangerous, driving is!
For more egoism, ask drivers whether self-driving cars should choose to keep occupants safe, or pedestrians ...
For more altruism, talk to Dr Robert Davis,

How many parents drive their children to school, because the school-traffic is 'too dangerous' for them to walk or cycle? They have themselves caused the very risk that they are afraid of!

The 'rules' were originally written in a 'belt and braces way', so that road space deliberately included an empty space, as a 'buffer zone' for safety. (You can think of a hatched area with solid peripheral line as a concrete example, but also the amber phase of traffic lights as a temporal rather than spatial example. Also known as 'no-mans-land' or 'de-militarized zone'!) Now if one road user respects that empty space, another will abuse the space to gain unfair (unsafe) advantage. Again it is the 'Me first!' culture eroding safety margins. The space is meant to make the roads safe, so that mistakes don't cause collisions, but careless drivers have found that habitually 'making mistakes' gets them around faster. Perverse incentive ...

How many drivers actually 'Drive at a speed that will allow you to stop well within the distance you can see to be clear.' ? (Highway Code 126)

Our traditional Zebra Crossing rules mean that drivers should stop for pedestrians, and pedestrians should stop for drivers! Instead, it has become a race to see who can 'set foot' on the crossing first! Of course, it is unlikely that the driver will suffer, so 'might is right' becomes the rule. Shared spaces don't work if the driver experiences no personal risk. Even law won't help - we are lacking in basic human decency!

I think Bikeability training for cyclists is a great idea in theory, but no-one seems to have addressed the huge flaw: it should have included driver training! You teach cyclists to use 'primary position', using their vulnerability to try to discourage drivers from overtaking where/when it is unsafe. But there has been no complementary education of drivers, to explain why: "You were riding in the middle of the road: you should ride close to the kerb!"

Even police will often criticise a cyclist for riding exactly as they were taught.

I think this is the biggest single danger cyclists face: drivers that try to 'teach them a lesson'.
Christopher Robertson knocked Leslie Smith off his bike in 2009 because he thought the pensioner was taking up too much of the road.
Similarly, Michael Gledhill hit John Radford in July 2013 'unhappy about the cyclist’s position in the road'.
Only the killing cases cause minor headlines, no general public outcry, but I think the motivation is common to very many nasty incidents!
I often see comments on news sites and in social media:
"If a cyclist is an idiot. I will ignore them. If I happen to pass by them very close - so be it. They want to use the road dangerously? I'll make it more dangerous."
This is often accompanied by talk of 'respect' and 'share the road'!
Drivers need to understand Bikeability, too!
West Midlands Police 'Op ClosePass' is great: should be made to happen everywhere!

A series of 'Think!' TV ads showing a lorry overtaking a cyclist (26 Sep 2016) was followed by lorries being driven into cyclists, with the driver shouting 'Get out of my way: haven't you seen the ads on TV?'

I think more driving offences should be counted as 'Reportable/Notifiable' crime by the Home Office: 'possession of a knife' is counted, but dangerous driving isn't, unless you actually kill or seriously injure!
Many police still take the view "It's not a crime, just a road traffic offence."

Harassment by dangerous driving could be charged as a 'hate crime', or even 'terrorism'.
I wonder how many more cases of deliberate killing using a vehicle as a weapon are needed, before it is taken more seriously?

My answer to all of your questions is the same: encourage altruism and discourage egoism!

Can we put an end to the 'Road Tax = Entitlement' nonsense?