Drive on the pavement

Keep Death Off the Road Drive on the Pavement

Cyclist always ride on pavements, hey? There are now so many cars parked on pavements there’s precious little room for us to ride on them.

Cars lord it over roads and want dominion over pavements, too.

It shouldn’t be this way. Minister for cycling, walking and local transport Stormin’ Norman recently gave local councils greater leeway to get motorists off pavements but there’s little evidence motormyopiac councils have any intention of using their powers.

A Department for Transport press release from February said:

Vehicles parked on pavements can cause particular problems for people in wheelchairs or with visual impairments and those with pushchairs. The Minister has today written to councils prompting them to use their powers to prevent parking on the pavement where it is a problem.

The Department for Transport has given all councils in England permission to use signs to indicate a local pavement parking ban. Until now councils have had to gain special signs authorisation from Government each time they want to put a pavement parking ban in place.

While in some circumstances pavement parking is unavoidable – for example in narrow residential roads with no off-street parking – the Government believes that in many cases it can be avoided. Pavement parking is completely banned in London.

Now, discounting the statements “where it is a problem” (it is a problem everywhere) and “in some circumstances pavement parking is unavoidable” (no, it’s not, shift the parking elsewhere, that’s what powers-that-be can do, they have, you know, power) it has to be said that Normie gets it spot on when he says:

“Parking on the pavement can be selfish and dangerous… If a vehicle is blocking the pavement then people often have no choice but to walk in the road where they are at much greater risk of being involved in an accident. [Norm – this is no accident].

“Most drivers are considerate and do not park on the pavement unless it is permitted or necessary. However, there is a selfish minority who do not use their common sense and dump their cars wherever it suits them without a second thought for others.

But selfish minority? Nope. Pavement parking is totally and utterly endemic, hardwired into a significant number of UK drivers, possibly even the majority. The justification? “I’m getting my static car out of the way of moving cars” and “I don’t want those moving cars to hit my static car.”

Well, just tough luck, go find a multi-storey car park or a road where you’re not causing an obstruction. Road too narrow so you have to park on the pavement? Again, find another road.

Unbelievably, even though cyclists are not allowed to ride on pavements, cars are not normally disobeying any laws when they park on them (footway parking bans are applied locally and have to be accompanied by signs, there’s no national ban on pavement parking). The offence is driving on the footway, but if the police don’t see the driver committing the offence the driver can’t be nabbed for leaving a car on the pedestrian’s part of the highway.

Clearly, this is a stupid law, mocked mercilessly on ‘Pedestrian Liberation’, a wonderful anti pavement parking blog. The section on pavement parking and the law is especially good.


Thing is, motorists want cyclists to get off “their roads” and on to pavements, which is never the best place for cyclists. Here’s a interesting concept from ‘KeepCalm’, submitted to a pre-election ideas farm created by the Torygraph:

Telegraph pavements


Pedestrians and cyclists can mix at slow speeds but at anything above 10mph cyclists can pose quite a hazard, even though we’re nimble, and think we can dip and dodge around. We very possibly can but only if pedestrians stick to the straight and narrow, which is not standard practice and nor should it be.

The headline at the top of my blog posting is an old joke, and probably dates to when the first road safety posters used the ‘Keep death off the roads’ message.

The ‘Keep death off the roads’ graphics inserted into the pix above and below date from the 1930s and 1940s.

In 1945, the UK Government worried at the carnage on the roads – but not so worried it ever truly chastised motorists – put out this animated short via the Ministry of Information, Keep Death off the Roads.

It’s typical of its time because it blamed the victim rather than tried to slow the motorist (see, nothing changes).


Mrs Smith walks out on to a road with a shopping bag and is nearly sliced in half by a speeding driver. There’s no admonishing of the driver, just the pedestrian.

“Look out there! That lovely meal she was dreaming of cooking for the family is gone, but she was very lucky not to have been injured. Do remember: crossing a road needs all your concentration and care.”


Later in the short, a child – Johnny – is mocked for playing in the road when he could have been playing on the pavement or a playground. A cyclist is mocked for riding no-handed and then running into the child.

“A bicycle isn’t at all under control when ridden freehand. What would you do in an emergency? You see – the unexpected does happen, and you are just as much to blame as Johnny.”

Quite right, but why isn’t the motorist ticked off too?


There’s a chance in the next frame. A guy getting off a bus, doesn’t look, and gets squished by a speeding car. Speeding motorist is ticked off this time? ‘Course not, it’s wholly the pedestrian’s fault:

“The bus was late and now you’re in a hurry. A look to the right and a look to the left takes only two seconds more. But now it will be some weeks before you can attend to the urgent business.”

So, it appears that pedestrians will survive if they look out for speeding motorists when crossing roads and, really, should stick to the pavements and not cross at all.

But, fast forward to today, amd pedestrians are not safe on pavements, either. 40 or so pedestrians are killed on footways or verges each year (up to 400 are killed on roads each year). By motorists.

Despite this clear and present danger, the Conservative MP Andrea Leadsom wants the law brought up to date to make sure cyclists who kill pedestrians can be charged with the offence of ‘death by dangerous cycling’. Cyclists killing pedestrians is an extremely rare event, in some years there are no fatalities at all and when pedestrians are killed by cyclists it tends to be after cyclists hit pedestrians on roads.

In two recent cases when cyclists hit and killed pedestrians, the cyclists were jailed (motorists often get off scot free). Leadsom’s ten minute rule bill is classic ‘why behold you the mote that is in your brother’s eye, but consider not the beam’. She would be better off trying to get her colleagues to change the law on pavement parking. That would make a real difference to road safety.

Or perhaps seek to beef up laws against motorists who kill? It sounds as though this MP doesn’t read what happens in court cases where dangerous motoring is in the dock. She told her local paper:

“Imagine if a motorist had mounted the pavement and killed a school girl as she chatted to her friends. The motorist would have felt the full force of the law and there would have been a national outcry if such a person had walked away with a £2,000 fine.”

keep death pavements 2

Video naughty drivers

Bike Cam Commute from on Vimeo.

There are a ton of ‘here’s my commute’ helmet-cam videos on YouTube. Some feature extreme examples of SMIDSY, sorry-mate-I-didn’t-see-you. If your commute is often spiced up with bad driving, consider fitting a small video camera. It’s what I did in the video above (also available on YouTube).

Of course, fitting a camera on your handlebars won’t capture the moment when some texting idjit hits you from behind but, for those with seeing-red problems, riding with a bike-cam may just calm you down. You can stay serene behind the lens, surreptitiously filming the rants and raves of the apoplectic motorist you’ve just dared to impugn.

SMIDSY from on Vimeo.

Even with this many LEDs, there will still be the driver that knocks you down and says: “Sorry, mate, I didn’t see you.”

Colchester’s Mr Angry: please don’t explode

No Cycling sign in London park; cyclist ignoring

Over on I answer a load of queries sent in to the site. Most are either too banal or too localised to be worth broadcasting. Everybody gets a personal reply but some of the questions are of general interest. These get posted to the FAQ section – with an answer – for all to see.

Generally, the questions are from new cyclists, worried parents or returnees to the fold. Sometimes the questions are from non-cyclists and these tend to be more strident. One came in earlier today. I answered it at length. J Clift of Colchester (who I assumed is a Mr.) really doesn’t like people cycling on pavements [US=sidewalks]. I don’t either. It bugs me when I see adults riding on what are clearly footpaths. But I know why those adults are not riding on the road.

See if you agree with what I wrote to Mr Clift.

Q: “I am somewhat angered these days by the amount of people who ride on pavements, young and old, and no-one in authority seems to care or be about to stop this. The public just seem to think they can do this because there are no effective actions to stop them. I just grow angrier and madder by the day. Sometimes I have suggested to the riders they are illegally riding but I fear for my safety! What can I do before I explode?!”

No Cycling

A: Cycling on the pavement is illegal and cyclists can be fined £30 on the spot (and often are).

But, just as motorists routinely break traffic laws (running red lights, driving in bus lanes, habitually speeding, driving while talking on mobile phones), sadly, some cyclists also break the law and cycle on pavements (i.e. footways).

Sometimes this is ignorance of the law. Other times it’s laziness. Often it’s due to confusing local authority cycle facilities: many pavements have been designated as cycle paths and yet, just a little further on, the very same stretch of ‘cycle path’ reverts to being pedestrian only.

Mostly, however, it’s out of fear of motorised traffic. Not that cycling on the pavement is necessarily safer than being on the road. Sometimes motorists mount footways and kill people. For instance, on Friday, a pregnant woman in Carlisle was killed by a dangerous driver who hit the woman while she was walking on a footway.

Rest assured, all the official advice from cycle organisations is for cyclists not to ride on footways. has a page all about ‘cycling and the law’, where cyclists’ rights and responsibilities are spelled out in no uncertain terms.

This article leads with the ‘cycling on pavements’ issue. A bike shop in York also has a Stop At Red campaign aimed at cyclists who run lights. I don’t know of any motoring organisation that has a similar single-issue campaign aimed at stopping motorists committing the same offence.

Many motorists also routinely park on footways, a dangerous practice for passing pedestrians, wheelchair users and pushchair pushers. It’s also very damaging to pavement slabs; costly for councils to repair.

In an ideal world, no cyclists, drivers or pedestrians would break the law: but we don’t live in an ideal world. By all means campaign against cyclists using footpaths but perhaps there are mitigating circumstances on some of the footpaths in your local area (speeding motorists, poor signage of where cycle paths start and finish etc)?

If the majority of those you see cycling on footways are youths in hoodies, ask your local police to take some action. Maybe they’ll send out some bike bobbies to nab the worst offenders? A few FPNs (fixed penalty notices of £30) might reduce the problem.

Looking on the positive side, it’s probably better to meet a hooded youth cycling on a pavement than meeting the same youth acting illegally in a car. Cyclists riding on footways are wrong and irritating; they’re very rarely life-threatening.

Don’t explode. Take up the footway cycling issue with your local council. Consider widening your campaign to include complaints against all forms of anti-social transport behaviour. In fact, if your local streets were made safer for cycling, there would likely be less need for cyclists to ride on footways.

Cars are heavy, fast and potentially lethal to flesh-and-blood cyclists and pedestrians. If your area saw dramatic reductions in car speeds, I’d warrant you’d see a dramatic reduction in traffic violations by cyclists.

Driving while distracted with cellphone

Mobile phone driver [UPDATED]

I did something wrong this morning. I got angry. With a motorist.

That motorists care little for my safety doesn’t normally bug me. It’s a given. Motorists rarely stop to think they’re piloting lethal weapons in a world of a soft and squishy things.

The thing that really got me was the fact he could have wiped out my daughter.

We were cycling to school together. My other two kids had left earlier and I was chaperoning Hanna. We turn left off the main road. Behind us, but only just, and also turning left, there’s a guy driving along, with a cellphone clamped to his ear. I usually challenge such illegality by asking drivers to put down their phones.

This guy didn’t.

While still pedalling along, I pointed out there was a 9-year old child in front of him and he might like to change his mind. He didn’t see the need.

I shouted at him. Shouldn’t have done that.

UPDATE: Shy bairns get nowt. I decided to put in a complaint to the company I read about while I was up close to the vehicle. I got an immediate emailed response, promising I’d get a call from a company area manager.

He reached me today (he had called yesterday but got Hanna, and he didn’t leave a message). He asked me about the incident and accepted my apology for the shouting I gave the driver, understanding the provocation. He said: “You read all sorts about people phoning and texting when they’re driving, it’s not on.”

He also said his company has a safe driving policy and this employee breached it. There were ten employees in my area yesterday and all denied driving while phoning. All were read the riot act.

The area sales manager also said he’d be resending the company’s safe driving policy to all local employees and will stress the fact that it’s illegal to use a mobile phone even when stopped. The engine must be turned off.

A small victory for road safety, I’d like to think.

This book could save your life


On Friday I was cycling along Gosforth High Street when I saw a canvas-coloured VW nudging out of a side road. This is normal rudeness and I wasn’t too fussed, even though I had to swing over a few inches to safely clear the nudger. As I passed I could see the woman driver was on a cellphone. She was inching out into the road. She might not have seen me. Instead of simply riding on, as I would do usually, I braked hard, hopped backwards and asked the driver to – please – get off the phone.

What happened next surprised me.

She said sorry. In fact, she was apology central.

“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry,” she said, and looked it. Her phone conversation hadn’t been suspended pending a rant to the idiot asking her to obey the law, she had immediately hung up the call. Amazing.

I explained how, next time, she might inch out and kill somebody. She agreed, and promised not to do it again.

This compliance threw me. This isn’t how it’s meant to work. We’re meant to shout at each other.

Surprised, albeit still a wee bit shaken by my brazenness, I started to ride off. A car pulled to the side of the first car. The woman inside said ‘What’s up? She was wasn’t on the phone was she?”

Upon my nod, she tutted and shook her head at the VW woman.

Apparently, this sort of real-person peer pressure has a big impact on drivers. In Bogata, Colombia, mime artists were once paid to mock bad drivers and jaywalkers. Behaviour improved.

Next time I see a motorist on a mobile phone I won’t be silent, I’ll ask, politely, for more concentration, less yakking. I don’t expect I’ll get the same sort of profuse apology as above but perhaps if lots of people shamed wrong-doers, such behaviour could be curtailed?

I was inspired to take direct action because of the book I’ve just read. Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) is published by Alfred A. Knopf in the US, and Penguin in the UK. It’s written by tech journalist Tom Vanderbilt.

Pleasingly, Traffic is racing up the best-seller lists. This is good because the readers of the book will be mostly mainstream motorists, not just road radicals, pedestrianisers, transport behaviourialists and bicycle advocates.

The message in Traffic is that motorists can kill and that a society designed to placate the car is not a healthy society. Controversially, Vanderbilt ends his book with the belief that cars will eventually have to be GPS and computer controlled, packing more of the motorists that want to drive on to the increasingly congested roads of the world.

Traffic is a detailed, funny and endlessly surprising book. Vanderbilt explains why traffic problems around the world are really people problems. Vanderbilt delves into the psychology of driving, walking, and cycling. He visits Dr Ian Walker, the cycling academic who strapped a camera on his bike and filmed motorists passing him. Walker found that drivers often drive further away from those cyclists without helmets because they appear less anonymous, and when Walker donned a long blonde wig motorists gave him/her even more room because women are perceived to be wobblers.

Some of the research won’t be new to many cyclists. For instance, it’s reasonably well known that Hans Monderman’s idea of removing street signs improves road safety. When 95 percent of the signs on Kensington High Street in London were removed, pedestrian KSIs (‘killed or seriously injured’) dropped by 60 percent.

However, the book is rich in data that doesn’t normally make it out of academia, and Vanderbilt turns even the dullest of studies into interesting examples of how driving can make sinners out of angels.

Though we all may think we are better than average drivers, Vanderbilt examines why we all behave differently when we get behind the steering wheel. He examines what causes road rage – he prefers the term ‘traffic tantrums’ – and why we think that being inside a metal box absolves us from any obligation to anyone else. He compares the driving of men and women, young and old, and has travelled around the world to study traffic jams near and far. Why is it that some countries drive on the left and others on the right? (It’s to do with horses and swords). Why do New Yorkers jaywalk more than people living in Copenhagen? (No, it’s not just cultural, design plays the biggest factor).


But don’t think bad driving and traffic congestion is a modern phenonomen. Traffic starts with a eye-popping section on the history of vehicular congestion, from the cart ruts in Pompeii which show use of detours and one-way streets, through to the terrible congestion in 19th century London and New York. At least our congestion isn’t accompanied by mountains of horse dung.

Vanderbilt comes at the controversial topic of risk compensation from many angles. “Most crashes,” he writes, “happen on dry roads, on clear, sunny days, to sober drivers.”

Wide, clear, smooth roads are statistically more ‘dangerous’ than narrow, singletrack roads with hairpins and steep drop-aways. Drivers are lulled into a false sense of security on the first, but fret for their skin on the second, taking more care.

He will make you think again about mundane street furniture. Traffic lights, for instance. They are bad. Roundabouts, which require care and attention, are good.

It’s Vanderbilt’s book which alerted me to this fantastic 1950 Goofy cartoon about pedestrian/driver split personalities:

There’s some related good news to report in the UK. From today there are some new, tougher penalties for motorists who kill because they were “avoidably distracted.”

The new offences will, for the first time, allow courts to imprison drivers who cause deaths by not paying due care to the road, or to other road users.

The new offences will carry custodial sentences of up to five years.

Justice Minister Maria Eagle said: “Drivers who kill through carelessness will no longer be able to walk away from court with just a fine. Driving requires full concentration at all times. A moment’s distraction can make the difference between life and death.”

What sort of distractions? Driving while talking on a phone or texting. Driving while drinking or eating, adjusting a GPS or car stereo, applying make-up or reading a map.



The road, more than simply a system of regulations and designs, is a place where many millions of us, with only loose parameters for how to behave, are thrown together daily in a kind of massive petri dish in which all kinds of uncharted, little-understood dynamics are at work. There is no other place where so many people from different walks of life — different ages, races, classes, religions, genders, political preferences, lifestyle choices, levels of psychological stability — mingle so freely.

The more you think about it — or, rather, the more time you spend in traffic with time to think about it — the more…puzzling questions swim to the surface. Why can one sit in traffic jams that seem to have no source? Why does a ten-minute “incident” create one hundred minutes of gridlock? Do people really take longer to vacate a parking spot when someone else is waiting, or does it just seem so? Do the carpool lanes on highways help fight congestion or cause more of it? Just how dangerous are large trucks? How does what we drive, where we drive, and with whom we drive affect the way we drive? Why do so many New Yorkers jaywalk, while hardly anyone in Copenhagen does? Is New Delhi’s traffic as chaotic as it seems, or does a beautiful order lurk beneath the frenzied surface?


Just when it seemed as if things could not get more complicated on the road, along came a novel and controversial machine, the first new form of personal transportation since the days of Caesar’s Rome, a new-fangled contrivance that upset the fragile balance of traffic. I am talking, of course, about the bicycle.

When I walk, I view cars as loud polluting annoyances…When I drive, I find that pedestrians are suddenly the menance, whacked-out iPod drones blithely meandering across the street without looking. When I ride a bike, I get the worst of both worlds, buffeted by speeding cars whose drivers resent my superior health and fuel economy, and hounded by oblivious pedestrians who seem to think it’s safe to cross against the light of ‘only a bike’ is coming but are then startled and indignant as I whisk past at twenty-five miles per hour.


When bicyclists violate a traffic law, research has showed it is because, in the eyes of drivers, they are reckless anarchists; drivers, meanwhile, are more likely to view the violation of a traffic law by another driver as somehow being required by the circumstances.


Max Hall, a physics teacher in Massachusetts: “The poetic and beautiful result is that four-wheelers behave like fixed objects, by moving very little relative to each other, even at significant speeds, while two-wheeler traffic moves ‘through’ the relatively static field of larger vehicles.”


Perhaps….we will turn the highways into blissfully cooperative, ultraefficient streams of movement with no merging or tailgating or finger flipping. Long before that happens, however, a sooner future seems likely: cars driving themselves, at smoothly synchronized speeds to ensure maximum traffic flow and safe following distances, equipped with merging algorithms set for highest throughput, all overseen by network routers that guide cars down the most efficient paths on these information superhighways.


It’s this last point that fascinates me. It makes total sense. Congestion is set to increase, a huge cost to the economy. The only way to get vehicular traffic moving is to allow computers to take over.
What’s the most dangerous component on a car? The nut behind the wheel. Take away the nut and the streets will be safer.

Motorists face a future of restricted movement (think of the current Beijing experience, with half of the city’s cars forced off the road, every other day). Cyclists, on the other hand, will be able to reclaim city streets, free to go as they please, when they please, protected from cars and trucks because vehicles will be forced to carry on-board speed restrictors, acceleration monitors, and vulnerable road user avoidance devices.

Such freedom to move will create even more cyclists, something that’s already happening. Catering for cyclists – like catering for pedestrians – is the quickest, cheapest and most effective way to civilise a city. And now that message – thanks to Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic – is going mainstream. Thanks, Tom.

Buy the book and bookmark his How We Drive blog.

Watch out, watch out, it’s the helmet debate

Yesterday there was a ‘dispelling the myth’ helmet piece on Dave Moulton’s popular blog. Today, in The Telegraph, London Mayor Boris Johnson gives lots of erudite reasons for ditching his “bonce protector” (none of which refer to his blond locks).

Where do I stand on the Great Helmet Debate? I’m a staunch pro-helmet anti-compulsionist. Basically, if you want to wear a helmet, feel free to do so. I wear one, too. But I don’t want to force others to do so. It’s got to be a personal choice.

I don’t want governments to legislate on what one should wear on such a freedom machine as a bicycle. Ah, yes, but the same argument could be used about seat-belts and helmets for motorcyclists.

I wear a seat-belt, and not just because the government tells me to. If you wear one, too, try this. (On a private road, of course). Don’t wear it the Continue reading “Watch out, watch out, it’s the helmet debate”

Mirror uses CamCam to nail Tory leader for bike crimes

Cycling makes it on to the front page of a British tabloid today. It’s all about Tory leader David Cameron’s bike commute to work.

He was filmed breaching road traffic regs. In the video he’s shown cycling the wrong way up a one way street, using a pelican crossing when it’s on red (but there’s zero traffic coming) and taking a right turn in front of a keep left bollard. The turn is on a wide avenue with no traffic on it.

The Daily Mirror implies it caught the would-be PM going through a red light. In fact, he went ahead of the white stop line to get away from cars but did not cycle through the light. He’s clearly shown waiting until the green light before cycling in to Parliament.

Many sets of UK traffic lights have ‘advanced stop lines’ so cyclists can get in front of the motorised traffic. This set had no ASL but it’s perfectly sensible to keep out of the way of impatient motorists.

You know, like famous TV presenters talking on their cellphones while driving, another Daily Mirror exclusive.

In related news, the Stop at Red website campaign from York bike shop owner Andy Shrimpton has had just 2405 signatures since it was created in 2006.

Injured roadie fails in chaingang compo bid

A jury has rejected John Telfer’s claims that a fellow pack rider was to blame for a crash which injured Mr Telfer. The 2003 crash was the subject of a £370,000 compensation claim by Mr Telfer.

The Edinburgh Evening News reports that Mr Telfer is “shattered” to have lost the case and now has legal bills of £40,000.

Spotter: Chris Hill

Roadie sues fellow roadie in £370,000 crash claim

Spilling when riding fast in a tight-knit group is an accepted risk of road cycling, for both amateurs and professionals. Few would think to litigate following a bunch pile-up.

But, following a bunch crash in West Lothian, a 47-year old roadie is suing a 50-year old roadie for causing the crash. According to the litigator, the crash was caused by one of the riders not holding on sufficiently tightly to handlebars when hitting a manhole cover.

“The accident was preventable if the proper riding position and proper hand position was being adopted,” college lecturer John Telfer told a jury at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

Andrew Hajducki QC, for the 50-year old rider, posited that chain gang riders voluntarily took on a risk of accidents and injuries by choosing to ride without sufficient stopping distance between them.

Telfer agreed: “There is an element of risk, yes. That is something you put down to being a minimum risk given the nature of the group you choose to ride with and the experience of everybody concerned.

“If I thought I was in any way to blame for the accident, I would not be standing here today. I think I am a victim or casualty of someone’s neglect.”

Rest of the story here.

Spotter: Chris Hill