Response to Transport Committee asking for cyclists views on cycling in London.
Following the London Assembly Transport committee’s request for views of what it’s like to cycle in London (http://www.london.gov.uk/who-runs-london/the-london-assembly/assembly_investigation/cycling-london), here are my personal views.
As a regular cycle commuter for the last 8 years and weekend fun ride cyclists I have had enough experience to form my opinions on what it is like to cycle in London.
Before I start, I want to make it clear that what I have covered is the negative side of cycling in London. I love cycling to work and at weekends, it’s freeing, healthy, quicker, more reliable and generally cheaper (although once you are hooked the amount you actually spend on cycling accessories puts the cheaper element into some doubt!) and I wouldn’t stop doing it for anything.
So, here are my the top problems/dangers faced by cyclists on London’s roads.
1. The generally accepted (bad) attitude towards cyclists.
The current attitude of the majority of motorists towards cyclists leads to careless/dangerous driving around cyclists and lack of real commitment from Government to improve cycle facilities.
For me this is the main reason why our roads aren’t as safe as they could be.
A 2012 study carried out for the Department of Transport back in 2002 which concludes that cyclists are seen as an out-group: http://www.southamptontriclub.co.uk/storage/TRL549.pdf.
This is significant and you see it every day on the roads, on blogs, article comments, social media and even in Government (cc Boris Johnson unfounded claim that two thirds of cyclist deaths are due to them breaking the laws of the road. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/fatal-crashes-are-cyclists-fault-says-boris-7786179.html).
Not only does this stall any serious consideration for creation of decent cycle infrastructure but also leads to aggressive driving near cyclists as “they don’t belong on the road” or other road users feeling that they can completely ignore them and step off the pavement, pull out in front of them or over take them when there isn’t room. And this is often followed up by shouting abuse at the cyclists.
I see it everyday on my commute from drivers of all vehicles and even pedestrians. Other road users, in large numbers simply see us as third rate citizens. They don’t want us on the road and they don’t want us on the pavements. All too often you here the calls of, “you don’t belong on the roads”, “you don’t pay road tax”. It’s almost as if drivers are taught these standard cyclist put down’s. There is no respect on our roads.
We need campaigns to change this attitude; I don’t believe we can rely solely on critical mass for this, it will take too long and in the meantime cyclists will continue to suffer.
2. Drivers simply don’t know how to act around cyclists.
Drivers often put cyclists in danger without even realising they are doing it.
Do I have right of way over that cyclist?
Is there room to over take the cyclists?
Do I have time to overtake the cyclists before turning left?
Can I get past the cyclists before the pinch point?
Is the traffic slowing anyway so there’s no need to over take the cyclists?
How fast is that cyclist going?
Which direction is that cyclist going?
These are questions that I wish motorists would naturally ask themselves with out having to think. They should be instinctive, unfortunately they aren’t. Motorists seem to revert to a simple dictum of “Must get past the cyclists as soon as possible”.
Thanks to this I have been side swiped, pushed into kerbs, hedges and stationary cars, all because a driver couldn’t wait to get past or badly judged the space available.
Introduce cycle awareness as part of the driving test. Similar to the “Give cyclists space” campaign in Plymouth(http://plymouthcyclingcampaign.co.uk/current-campaigns/give-cyclists-space/)
3. SMIDSY – Sorry mate I didn’t see you.
The law allows motorists to get away with killing/seriously injuring cyclists by simply saying that they didn’t see the cyclists.
The number one excuse, that appears to be an acceptable defence when colliding or nearly colliding with a cyclist. Every time I’m on my bike I fear the SMIDSY. Make eye-contact we are told, in my experience this makes little difference; drivers just seem to see right through you and carry on regardless.
There is a particular roundabout that I traverse every day where I can guarantee twice a week a motorist, including bus drivers, will pull out in front off me, eye contact or not.
Take a look at the SMIDSY case studies: http://www.stop-smidsy.org.uk/case-studies.
In European countries they have strict liability laws that in civil cases assume the larger vehicle is at fault unless proven otherwise. It is believed that this leads to drivers taking more care around more vulnerable road users.
Strict liability is misunderstood in this country being seen as “cyclists never at fault”. This isn’t the case and the laws are hierarchical, i.e. in a collision with a pedestrian then the cyclists would be assumed to be at fault unless proven otherwise. And the law doesn’t affect criminal charges it’s only relevant in criminal cases.
If you didn’t see me – then you weren’t paying enough attention.
Strict liability laws similar to those in other European countries.
4. Cycle infrastructure
A serious lack of fit for purpose cycle infrastructure, what exists is more often than not unusable or even dangerous.
Let’s be clear about one thing straight away. The London Cycle Super highways are nothing of the sort. I challenge any one of you to ride down the length of CS8 from Wandsworth to Westminister and tell me that this is a good facility that is up to Dutch standards of cycle design.
I love the simplicity of the TFL maps for Cycle Super highways (http://www.tfl.gov.uk/assets/downloads/roadusers/bcs8-map.pdf), if only. The “Blue paint” appears and disappears along the full length of the route, motor vehicles have to cross over it, parked cars and bus stops block the way forcing cyclists into the middle of busy traffic creating literally hundreds of collision points along it’s route – the primary thing that the Dutch design out of their road infrastructure. None of this is shown on the map – why’s that?
They are a complete joke, unfortunately a dangerous one. And what is the point of having a cycle lane that is only in use during busy hours? After 7pm it isn’t evidently a cycle lane anymore, and any idiot in a van can legally drive in it. Cycle Super Highway? Really?
The other problem with cycle lanes, ASL’s and other cycle facilities is that they are constantly used by non-cyclists (not just out of hours). Once again it’s accepted that ASL’s aren’t really for the exclusive use of bikes – are they? Despite being backed by law (Laws RTA 1988 sect 36 & TSRGD regs 10, 36(1) & 43(2)).
Motorcyclists in particular see a cycle lane as a legitimate route to get passed queued traffic. Don’t believe me? Just sit and watch CS8 (again) during rush hour between Lombard Road and Plough Road.
Road planning must consider the needs of cyclists and pedestrians and implement Dutch style solutions. Enforcement of the use of these facilities.
5. Smoothing Traffic Flow
The Transport for London’s smoothing traffic flow policy is not compatible with safety.
The Transport for London’s policy of smoothing traffic flow is the single reason given for NOT implementing fit for purpose cycle infrastructure on London’s roads. We are constantly told that there isn’t room for facilities as it will reduce the capacity of the roads. So instead more space is allocated to squeeze as much motor traffic through each and every junction, making them even more dangerous, not just cyclists but pedestrians and motorists as well.
All this despite the policy being flawed as a) Cyclists and pedestrians ARE traffic but not being considered, b) TFL’s motor traffic predictions constantly prove to be over estimating, c) Safety is not part of the traffic modelling, d) Studies show that if you increase capacity it will simply be filled until you have the same levels of congestion as you started with. It isn’t a long term solution.
Drop the policy and adapt a modern 21st century solution for moving people around London.
6. All cyclists are law breakers.
Law breaking cyclists ruin it for everyone.
This again comes down to attitude towards cyclists and the fact we are seen as an “out group” and is often used as a reason for not improving cycle infrastructure “cyclists don’t deserve it”.
Yes some cyclists run red lights, ride on the pavements, do stupid things on their bikes BUT not all cyclists do, it DOESN’T happen as often as people make out and it DOESN’T cause that much damage to others – (this doesn’t make it ok if you are wondering about my views).
Let’s not forget that cyclists aren’t the only ones that break the law.
Pedestrians are the worst at obeying the rules of the road, not looking before crossing, crossing in dangerous restricted visibility locations, walking across crossings on red, running across roads to get to the bus, not looking when stepping off the kerb while plugged into their iPods.
Motorists often speed, also jump red lights, especially “just red”, encroach into ASL’s or across box junctions when their way isn’t clear, drive while distracted (using mobile phones, eating, smoking, changing radio stations), illegally park on pavements, in cycle lanes. Not to mentions the hundreds of drivers without licenses, insurance, MOT certificates.
But it’s cyclists that are meant to be white than white right? They are the biggest “pest” on our roads and if they want to be taken seriously then they need to stop all transgressions of the Highway Code.
Change attitudes, campaigns that show how ALL road users break the law not just cyclists. Campaigns that highlight the real statistics behind road collisions and not those made up on the spot by our colourful Mayor.
London could be a great city to live, work and play in. Right now it isn’t, it is dominated by the motor vehicle. Our streets are clogged up with polluting vehicles stuck in traffic increasingly causing drivers to become more angry and aggressive.
I urge the London Assembly Transport Committee to look to other European cities and move transport policy away from trying to increase road capacity for the sole use of motorised vehicles and improve public transport, pedestrian access, cycling infrastructure. At the same time as discouraging the use of motor vehicles.
The argument that our roads are not wide enough to accommodate cycling infrastructure falls flat when you consider that our roads were NEVER suited to the motor vehicle and never will be. Let’s claim them back for everyone.