Friday, 29 November 2013

Doing it quicker

In a recent article published in The Guardian, Andrew Gilligan wrote: "What, I've asked many cycle activists, what is it you want us to do that we're not doing already? The usual answer is "do it quicker". But we can't simply slap in panic changes that might make cyclists safer at the expense of other people's safety."

When cycle activists say, "Do it quicker", what does the "it" refer to, I wonder?

Plan, study and then introduce a cycle network? Ho, ho, ho, yes, very funny. I can just imagine them saying that!

Advanced Stop Lines

An anonymous commentator made the following point on Martin Porter's blog: "We don't need 'cycle superhighways', we need 'cycle superjunctions'. Cycling on a straight road is usually perfectly safe; junctions are where incidents occur. Most cycling infrastructure is undertaken where it is perfectly safe, and it tends to disappear where it is 'difficult'."

I am not going to take issue with him on his final point, but whilst it is true that most cyclist KSIs occur at or near junctions, nation-wide, just over a third of these incidents do not (source).

Even so, according to research published in November 2010 (Deaths of cyclists in London: trends from 1992 to 2006), there is a particular long-standing problem in London with HGVs. Despite accounting for just 4% of the traffic, freight vehicles were involved in over 40% (103 of 242) of all fatal incidents in the study period.

"Oh, look. The ASL box is the exact same shape as an HGV’s blind spot."

A recent comment on Mark Ames' blog caused me to raise an eyebrow: "Bike boxes are one of the most misleading thing designed on the roads, because they make you feel safe when you are not."

Bez from Beyond the Kerb—whose blog featured the pictures above—thinks they "act as bait for cyclists to ride up the feeder lane [...] often causing them to be alongside vehicles that are moving off (never a safe place to be) and often dumping them in the blind spot of an HGV."

However, this comment from Charlie Lloyd puts things in a completely different perspective:
"The interpretation of the photo with the yellow banded area around the cab is totally wrong. That banded area is the area that the driver of any large lorry first registered from 2006 MUST be able to see. Many older lorries have been brought up to this standard. Keltbray, the company owning the lorry in the picture, have these areas marked out in their lorry park. If the driver cannot see all the area before starting out then he/she must adjust the mirrors to make it visible.  
"The discussion about ASLs and blind spots is incorrect. The dangerous blind spot that does remain is caused by high cabs with relatively small windows. This blind spot begins about 1.5 metres to the left of the cab and can continue for another 7-8 metres for the highest cabs. This area, well outside the marked area, is hazardous because large vehicles move to the right (left in Europe) before making a tight turn to near side.  
"The very high level of mis-information on this matter is not helping cyclists, or the transport industry. It has not been helped by the over dramatic posters produced by TfL, based on a misunderstanding of the research into blindspots."

Photos: source

There are many, many criticisms of ASLs (e.g. here, here and here). These boil down as follows:
  • There are often other vehicles in the ASL; 
  • The filter lanes can often be blocked; and
  • Most cyclists don’t understand where they should position themselves.
These criticisms are fair enough, and deserve to be taken extremely seriously. Indeed, Andreas from the London Cyclist blog emphatically talks about the importance of correct road positioning. However, these criticisms do not imply that ASLs are fundamentally flawed.

Sara Dorman, who writes the Dead Dog blog, speaks in praise of ASLs. She writes how riding through a junction without an ASL made her feel "uneasy". Conversely, at an almost identical intersection with an ASL, she found the riding experience "totally different".

"Not great," she says, but they do at least make things a "bit more comfortable". She continues: "So, while they may not turn all drivers into angels—and they certainly don't make cyclists invulnerable—I miss them when they're not there, which must mean they make a little difference at least."

"A simple idea that could save lives" (Worldchanging.com)

In a non-vehicular cycling world—a world, indeed, as it ought to be—ASLs are entirely unnecessary. However, if the last thirty-five years is any guide, this world would still seem a long way off. As cycling advocates, we need to be able to deal with this.

The cycling community is now as united as it has ever been. Thanks in large part to a significant number of cycling advocates—most of whom I could name—we now have a destination which we can be proud of, and which we can all aim for.

To these people I say (quoting one of my favourite accountants): "If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them."

Other short-term measures

In the short term, then, junctions could be adapted and made safer for cyclists by installing Advanced Stop Lines. Where necessary, cyclists can be given a separate green light, or else research from Denmark suggests that the 'bike box' should be at least five metres deep (so that lorry drivers have a direct view of any cyclists who may be waiting ahead of them).

Another measure—which is linked to a different aspect of good cycle provision—is to make alternative cycle routes more numerous, more comfortable, easier to follow, and more convenient (by removing annoyances for cyclists, for example).

Cycling: the way ahead says (p36): "According to his or her physical aptitudes, balance, agility, rapidity of reflexes and clarity of perception, the adult cyclist will instinctively choose his or her routes (major or secondary roads, cycle path or track, direct changes of direction or crossings on foot). Cyclists must therefore be enabled to circulate everywhere, on both secondary roads and major routes."

Network first

The map below shows a proposed network design. The bits in red, green and blue are currently non-functioning.

Please note that the main shopping streets—Oxford Street, Regent Street, even New Bond Street—have not been incorporated. I am very well aware, to quote Cycling: the way ahead, that "motorists are not better customers than cyclists." On the contrary. It's simply that, if you want to go shopping here, I feel that it would be generally better for everyone if you would park up your bicycle close by and take a stroll. This is not a hard-and-fast rule, incidentally.

Assuming this design was generally agreeable, how much money, and how much effort, would be needed to get the network up and running?

Full size map available here

You may recall that the National Cycling Strategy set a target for a 40% reduction in the overall cycling KSI by the year 2010 compared with the 1994-98 average.

There were 74 cycling deaths in London during the baseline period, at an average of 14.8. Since the beginning of 2011 to date—over the last three years in other words—there have been 44 cycling deaths, at an average of 14.67.

As the Mayor's Cycling Commissioner has said, this is not "carnage". I agree. He also points out: "We badly need better routes and safer roads." I agree with this, as well.


Note dated 2/12/13: Anyone interested in dancing on the head of a pin may first wish to consult this Full Fact report on cycling safety.

Note dated 7/12/13: Andrew Gilligan testified that 85% of incidents resulting in injury or death to cyclists in London happen at junctions. 

2 comments:

  1. If you're going to use acronyms, then please define them on first use. I had to google KSI

    Anyway, ASLs in the UK are far to small (as in depth) and hard to get into as the cycle lane feeding them is the usual 1.5 meters wide and loads of motorists love to straddle the feeder to stop cyclists filtering or else just ignore the ASL and stop in the cyclists box.

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  2. Thanks for commenting, Paul.

    Yes, point taken about using acronyms. I will remember that for next time.

    Also, I agree with you about the design of ASLs in this country. But my wider point is about network first, and then, once this network is functioning, develop it further "on the basis of priority interventions and a timetable." This way ahead is not possible unless people are prepared to accept interim measures. I am arguing that there is nothing particularly wrong with ASLs in theory (that is, for as long as a vehicular cycling environment persists). In other words, there shouldn't be an ideological opposition to ASLs, only a practical opposition.

    I checked out your Google+ page, and was very interested to see the Ride Wide video. It doesn't matter now, but I wish I had known about that yesterday.

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