On yesterday’s BBC story about Leadsom’s Law, one commenter said anybody who dared to ride a bicycle in a British city was a ’suicyclist’.
This term of abuse has been around a while. According to the Urban Dictionary, the word means:
One who, while dressed in brightly coloured silly clothes and an inadequate helmet, rides a (racing) bicycle (often in heavy urban or rush-hour traffic) at high speed and without signals, as if they have no interest in their own safety or that of others, and genuinely wish to die as soon as possible in a multi-vehicle collision of their own making. They invariably look offended if forced to give way to cars, whatever the circumstances.
Not terribly nice, or accurate. Then, this morning, driving my wife to the train station along a busy road I always avoid when on my bike (even the shared use footpath/bikepath isn’t very attractive) I saw the sign above. I cycled to the sign this afternoon (I wore my helmet to protect me should a car hit me at 45mph) and took the pic.
After riding on some British roads you really do feel like you need some counselling.
In 2006 the Highways Agency - worried about the killing of five road workers by motorists in 2005 - created the Aiming for Zero campaign: “One workforce, zero harm’. The campaign has spawned a variety of other campaigns from private contractors including posters personalising the workforce at roadworks.
Working on the ‘Strategic Road Network’ must be hellish and the zero deaths policy is a laudable one. It would be good if the UK’s Department for Transport - which operates the Highways Agency - created a similar campaign for pedestrians and cyclists using Britain’s roads.
The Swedish equivalent to the DfT has had a ‘Vision Zero’ campaign since 1997 but for all road users, not just road workers. Sweden wants no roads deaths whatsover by 2020. The UK’s DfT is very aware of the Vision Zero campaign but has done nothing to emulate it.
The principle is that “Life and health can never be exchanged for other benefits within society” which is rather different to the usual UK approach where a monetary value is placed on life and health which is then used with a benefit-cost ratio evaluation before investing money in the road network to decrease risk.
In a background paper to the Swedish parliament written by the then government, the following sentence is a stand-out:
“…the speed limits within the road transport system should be determined by the technical standard of vehicles and roads so as not to exceed the level of violence that the human body can tolerate. The safer the roads and vehicles, the higher the speed that can be accepted.”
As the main design factor in Vision Zero is the biomechanical tolerance of the human in the case that a potentially harmful event occurs, the main investments into the infrastructure should aim to control speed where there is a potential for conflict with other vehicles and to provide a better interface between the passive safety of the car and the infrastructure when a car leaves the intended direction. More specifically, investments should mainly be directed to interventions creating speeds below the threshold or grade-separated intersections.
Other investments should be directed towards more forgiving roadsides and large separation where speeds exceed, say, 60-70 km/h. For pedestrian safety, vehicle speeds must be restricted to 30 km/h where there are vehicle-pedestrian conflicts, or alternatively cars and pedestrians should be physically separated.
To increase the inherent safety of the road transport system based on Vision Zero is not in conflict with general investment in the road system. A more system-oriented approach must be developed in co-ordination with the automotive industry. In order to improve the interface between vehicles and the infrastructure, the interface must be defined and developed. The vehicle must be able to guarantee seat belt use, a sober driver and limitation of speed. The infrastructure must be developed to cope with a variety of vehicle types.
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.
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:
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.”
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