Tale of three junctions – Part 2: Deptford Broadway

This is a classic Vision Zero case:

  • a design, safe on paper, actually had a fatal flaw
  • when someone actually was killed as a consequence of the flaw, no proper investigation took place
  • Vision Zero London went to investigate and detected the fatal flaw
  • we are now waiting for the flaw to be corrected, but how long will it take? The last words we heard: “This will not be immediate”

In the afternoon of Sunday 16th September 2018 Julia Luxmoore Peto had gone shopping in Deptford. Just before 17:00 she was at the large junction between New Cross Road and Deptford Church Street.

Until a few years ago, this enormous, extremely busy junction had no protected pedestrian crossing; Transport for London eventually placed signaled crossings on three arms of the junction. However the design had a fatal flaw, not immediately apparent from the drawings, but indisputable to anyone who spends fifteen minutes at the junction.

deptford_1

Julia’s intended path had three stages:

  1. An unprotected crossing of the slip road for traffic turning left
  2. A signaled crossing of three lanes of traffic coming from West: two going straight and one turning right
  3. A third crossing (signaled) of the westbound traffic.

The phasing of the motor traffic of the second crossing is a. straight only, b. straight and right turn, c. right turn only. Naturally the pedestrian light shows red during the three phases. However 90% of the traffic goes straight, and after the second phase, when it stops, it gives the misleading impression that it is now safe to cross.

For someone crossing North to South, this false signal is augmented by the fact that often the traffic stopped at red consists of lorries, which obscure the third lane.

P1090552

It seems safe to cross. But beware of the third lane!

In the picture above, the lady may forget that the third lane is still on green. Adding to this confusion is the geometry of the staggered crossing, a dog left, which leads people to look away from the potential danger coming from the right.

Julia crossed the third lane as a bus approached; she was hit and died in hospital the following day.

At the inquest, the Coroner issued a Prevention of Future Deaths report to Chris Grayling concerning the issue that the signal of the second stage of a staggered pedestrian crossing may confuse people crossing the first stage. This is obviously an important point, but it is unlikely to be the contributory factor of the fatal crash here.

The PFD notes that, following the crash, TfL had installed louvres on the pedestrian lights to obviate the problem cited by the Coroner. We alerted TfL’s Vision Zero team that that measure was insufficient because the real problem was elsewhere, namely in the confusion created by the hidden third lane. That was the fatal fault in the design that killed Julia. We arranged for TfL’s Vision Zero team to view the site and they agreed with our analysis.

At the site visit, a number of solutions were discussed. For instance the staggered crossing can be redesigned so that it is dog right, so that the attention of pedestrians is drawn towards and not away from danger. We wait to know what TfL will implement.

We also pointed out that the crossing of the slip road should have a zebra:

P1090549.JPG

Is it appropriate for an 8 year old or an 80 year old to risk their lives here?

Finally, we suspect that there are many junctions with a similar flaw. We strongly urge Transport for London to review all their junctions if it is the case.

julia-luxmore-peto

Julia was only 27 when she was killed; she was training to become a speech therapist. This is how her father remembers her:

“She loved her friends, the children she worked with, and her family. She had lots of friends and they were very important to her.She wanted to work with people and help people. She had travelled to lots of different parts of the world, including working at an orphanage in Mongolia during her gap year. She believed in social justice and she was a feminist, and she believed in supporting people who were less fortunate than herself. She would have made a cracking speech and language therapist.”

She was killed as a consequence of a faulty design.

Let the image of this wonderful young woman be a constant reminder to everyone at TfL that the way they design roads may have tragic consequences; it requires constant supervision whether people use the facilities the way they were drawn on paper. Humans are not robots: they are fallible and don’t like to waste their time. Good design takes the humanity of users into consideration and creates systems where attention is directed towards what matters.

 

The banality of the killing fields

With credit to Hannah Arendt

On Saturday 31 August, Pat went to his favourite pub, the Molly Bloom on Kingsland Road in Dalston, for his regular lunchtime pint. At 13:00, he left the pub heading back home; Pat, 69 was the victim of a stroke a few years ago and one side of his body had limited mobility. As a consequence he used a crutch to walk. He was also in the habit of pushing a wheel chair, in case he got tired and needed a rest.

He started crossing Kingsland Road but never made it to the other side. A lorry driver didn’t see him and killed him.

The crash is under investigation; we don’t know how the driver, on a Roman-like road without a bend for several kilometres, failed to see a disabled man pushing a wheel chair crossing the road right in front of him.

We talked to some of the publicans at the Molly and the quotes sounded familiar but were nevertheless shocking:

“He stepped out without looking; it was his habit; we kept on telling him not to do it, but he would not listen; he always used to come out of the pub with his wheelchair and just start crossing the road. Like he didn’t care.”

“But how did the driver not see him?”

“I don’t know; I was inside, I didn’t see it. The driver could have been looking right or left”

“But should he not be looking ahead of him?”

Shrug of shoulders. “It is very sad, but he always did that: just crossed the road looking ahead; he didn’t care”

Maybe Pat didn’t care, or maybe he did; maybe he cared to show that he did not want to be cowed into submission by a culture that made him second class, not because of his disabilities, but because he could not or did not want to drive.

I left the pub asking myself: how could these people, who have spent many hours together with Pat, blame him for being killed? The answer is well known: they have been brainwashed by a society that instills in all citizens the concept that roads are designed for people who drive; people walking and cycling are lower class and must defer to the powerful drivers. Pat challenged the powerful and he was rightly killed.

This fascist attitude has been inculcated in people’s mind for decades, most notably by the Government’s Think! campaign, a poster child for victim blaming.

Screenshot 2019-09-15 at 00.31.39.png

Outside the pub, a few metres south, half of the pavement and half the carriageway was cordoned off for repairs. The people working at the site had parked their van on a double red line in a way that obscured the view to anyone wishing to cross the road; and many people were doing just that.

dsc_0531dsc_0532dsc_0533

I approached the manager of the team and pointed out the danger of their van.

“We have to park it somewhere”

“I understand but the way you have parked it, it is creating a visual obstruction for people who want to cross.”

“They should not be crossing here. There is a signaled crossing 100m up the road.”

“But people do cross here because they want to get to the station. A pensioner was killed at this very spot”

“Yes, but he was disabled”

“So disabled people who cross the road deserve to die?”

“No, but he shouldn’t have crossed here, it is not legal”

“Excuse me, but where does it say that it is illegal to cross the road here?”

“Well, we have to park it somewhere” We were entering a loop.

Difficult to reason with people who have been zombified. We tweeted the image above, pointing out the danger, and thankfully the Mayor of Hackney promised to raise the issue with TfL. The next day, the van was parked elsewhere.

(1) Mayor of Hackney on Twitter_ _@V0LDN @BrendaPuech @willnorman @MBCyclingTM I've already been in

This fascist mindset is also prevalent among the Council Officers to whom Glanville should be providing guidance. Take our request to put two zebra crossings on Lee St, a rat run just one kilometre south of the fatal collision. One would be in front of Haggerston Overground Station, and the second at the entrance of a local park which every afternoon teems with children; the gate is at a dangerous T-junction with unpredictable vehicular movements.

One would think that officers would judge whether citizens safety would be improved by these zebra crossings.

Wrong! The priority for the Hackney Officers is to limit the inconvenience to people who choose to drive, i.e. the people who choose to poison and endanger the children playing in the park and the citizens who use public transport. Here is the response we have received from Andy Cunningham, Head of Streetscene at Hackney Council:

zebra_2019-09-13_1233zebra2019-09-13_1232

In other words the Council adopts some form of mathematical bullshit, and tells us that the zebras are not justified. Officers have spent considerable time and money to measure traffic data, and plugged it in a formula designed to say No.

If the officers had not been zombified, they would have spent thirty minutes at 16:00 at the gate of the park and they would have realised that the crossing is hazardous especially given the high number of young children using it, the volume of drivers using the road as a rat run and the difficulty in predicting turns at the junction.

If the officers had not been zombified, they would understand the fascist nature of their decision process: provision of safety to ordinary citizens has to surpass an impossible hurdle in order not to inconvenience the chosen race: motorists.

But this is the essence of the Banality of Evil: people just doing their job, their mind impregnated by an evil meme, namely that drivers are more important citizens.

We hope that the Mayor of Hackney understands the importance of his role and starts to cleanse the officers from this evil ideology, and understands that people like Pat don’t deserve to die just because they choose to cross the road where it is convenient to them and not where it is convenient to those who poison us.

 

Tale of three junctions – Part 1: King William Street

Three junctions, where people have lost their lives or severely injured, and the wrong lessons have been learned.

Part 1: King William Street

This is probably the most dangerous junction for pedestrians in the City of London. It is on TfL’s list of 73 killer junctions and apparently TfL is designing a new layout (we have not seen any plans yet). I have raised the lethality of the junction with the City of London Road Safety team more than two years ago, but they claim it is TfL’s responsibility.

It would have been kept in the back burner for years, if it had not suddenly sprung in the news, following a court decision adjudicating costs on a collision between Robert Hazeldean who crashed into Gemma Brushet while riding his bike.

However, as is usually the case in England, the wrong lessons were learned. Nobody has focused on the junction and people have tittle-tattled on the judge’s decision to ask Hazeldean to pay for Brushet’s cost even if blame was apportioned 50-50.

Even shabbier has been the behaviour of organisations such as British Cycling and London Cycling Campaign which used the opportunity to market their memberships with inclusive 3rd party insurance.

No one has spoken about the junction, the root of the problem.

kw_street

The key lethal feature of this crossing is that one arm has ALWAYS conflicting motor traffic. That is right: there is no phase when it is safe to cross.

kw_st_1

View from North

kw_st_2

View from South – Traffic stopped at red – but it is NOT safe to cross

To make things even worse, the Southbound motor traffic is most of the time stationary, thus giving a deceptive clue that it is safe to cross.

Add to this mix the English arrogance that who sits at a wheel (or rides a bike) has always priority over pedestrians and you have a death trap.

Now watch this two minute video, and you scratch your head: how can a civilised country design and refuse to alter something so dangerous and disrespectful to its citizens?

Notice from the beginning: motor traffic stopped at red, but West arm is not safe to cross.

00:35 Watch the speed of the bus – if a pedestrian had been confused and was crossing at that point, the driver would have had no chance to take evasive action -> death with 80% probability (and the pedestrian would have been blamed)

00:55 People crossing are given no clues that southbound traffic has now a green light and are taken aback.

01:05 Eight people squeezed between buses. Why do English people accept being treated with such contempt?

01:25 Pedestrians unsure about oncoming cyclists

The incident that had everyone fibrillating happened in 2015; in 2017 there was another incident where a pedestrian suffered serious injuries. We are now well in the second half of 2019 and TfL is still designing. They are in contempt of Section 39 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, which compels the relevant Transport Authority to take action when road design has contributed to serious incidents, to prevent similar incidents from happening again.

Our solution is simple: get rid of the traffic light and put a zebra crossing. It should not take two years to do that.

UPDATE 12.08.19 – As Robert points out in the comment below, motor traffic is forbidden from turning left from Cannon Street. So the green arrow from the West is not a legal traffic flow. However if one is crossing King William Street, one may not be aware of this prohibition and one’s attention may be split three ways.

 

Nightlife and cycling

Two o’clock on a Saturday morning in Copenhagen and you see hundreds of people leaving bars and heading home on their bikes.

Screenshot 2019-06-24 at 19.15.13

In London, we are not there yet. During a conversation with an officer  at the Mayor’s Office who works in the 24 Hour London department, the following areas for improvement were identified:

  • Anti-social driving – There is a perception among many drivers that the rules of the road are more malleable at night: speed limits are understood to be 15-20kph higher than what is stipulated for the day. The dominance of professional drivers who have an incentive to speed and of leisure drivers who want to show off their monster machines creates a cocktail of bad driving that is sanctioned by lack of enforcement by the police. Overall it creates a very hostile environment for anyone cycling.

Screenshot 2019-06-24 at 20.06.23.png

  • Indiscriminate parking on cycle lanes – During the day we have taxi drivers who claim they can invade mandatory cycle lanes. At night, the prevalent attitude is that cycle lanes are infrastructure for when the sun shines. This widespread lawbreaking is encouraged by the Police who in their ignorance of the Highway Code, do not enforce Rule 140. This creates a very dangerous environment, when people who ride away from the door zone, are harassed by impatient drivers, high on their self-importance boosted by German horsepower.

Screenshot 2019-06-24 at 19.12.33

  • Closure of parks – Go to Hackney Wick on a Friday night and you see the Overground station packed, but hardly anyway cycling home. The reason is simple: Victoria Park is closed and one is forced to ride on hostile roads. It is a mystery why certain authorities think that closing parks at night is a good idea. There are many parks which stay open and there seems no evidence that personal safety is at risk. What is needed is more lighting to make the parks feel safer.
  • Some QuietWays don’t feel safe at night – The cowardly strategy by the Khan administration to push cycle routes to back streets is a disservice to those citizens who do not feel safe riding in dark neighbourhoods with low footfall.Screenshot 2019-06-24 at 18.50.13
  • Fear of Theft – Many night venues have inadequate cycle parking facilities and often they are placed in thief-friendly positions, in dark corners or alleyways. Many people are reluctant to cycle at night for fear of not finding their bike when they need to return home.

The advantage of spending time and money on measures to solve the above problems is not only to improve safety but also to shift a certain image of English nightlife of heavy drinking and hooliganism towards a more gentle, more inclusive and more welcoming model.

Screenshot 2019-06-24 at 18.48.05

All images by Copenhagen Cycle Chic

Arriva and Metroline, the hooligans on our roads

Morgan Penn lives on Tollington Road, one of the few streets in Islington where the Borough’s 30kph limit does not apply because it is managed by Transport For London.

It is one way and it has four lanes. It has the feel of a motorway; almost all drivers put their foot down, including bus drivers.

One day earlier this year, Morgan, fed up with watching near misses every day, attached a sign and a bunch flowers.

Vision Zero - Morgan Penn, first sign

It didn’t make much difference, so Morgan prepared a bigger sign and decided to spend an hour a day flashing his sign to speeding drivers and recording the most egregious incidents.

His persistence has triggered a response from Transport for London, which is supposed to regulate the bus companies. Stuart Reid, the head of the Vision Zero, brought a couple of colleagues to examine the site; in a surreal exchange, as buses were hurtling down the road, just a few centimetres from him, he refused to take urgent measures to mitigate this clear and present danger. He had a different plan: do nothing for three-four years and wait for the Camden-Walthamstow route to go through its slow process of modelling, consultation, Sadiq Khan’s prevarications, and eventual installation.

TfL does have a programme to introduce 30kph on all his roads, but it is now focusing on Central London. When pressed as to why he wouldn’t bring Tollington Road to the speed limit of all the nearby streets (including Holloway Road an even wider road, which it intersects), Reid replied “Drivers would not respect it”. “Have you not considered speed cameras, in that case?” “We can’t do that”

dsc_0193

Morgan Penn with Stuart “Do Nothing” Reid, head of Vision Zero (or is it #ZeroVision?) at TfL

Morgan has written to all the bus companies involved in this “small children with big toys circus”. Only one company responded, GoAhead, the only company whose driving record is very good here. They have issued posters in their depots, and through their telematics, they are monitoring the speed on this stretch of road. The drivers know it and they drive responsibly.

The worst offenders are bus drivers working for Arriva and Metroline. The two companies  have a far higher injury rate in London than Go Ahead. The figures below, show the average number of injuries per bus for each company. Metroline and Arriva are considerably more dangerous than Go Ahead. So far they have refused to meet Morgan, to explain why their drivers behave in such an antisocial way.

2019-04-06_2028

At a subsequent site meeting Jon Pike, HSE Senior Manager at TfL has promised to put pressure on Arriva and Metroline to respond. He has also given an update on the Intelligent Speed Adaptation system, announced three years ago, but still being tested.

TfL is committed to rolling out Intelligent Speed Adaptation on buses and we are up to over 500 buses (Volvo specific) with this technology and hope to have at least 1,000 such buses with ISA by the year end. This retro-fit will mean that buses will have to drive up the speed limit and will not be able to speed. Such technology is being developed across other bus types; as you will see on your road there are many manufacturers. In other words, ISA is not an immediate solution.

Exactly. We need an immediate solution. There is one: TfL must instruct the operators which it is supposed to regulate, to run the buses at 30kph. This can be implemented in a few weeks and dramatically improve the safety of the street. This is Vision Zero thinking.

p1090225

I leave you with an incident witnessed by Morgan and Pike, which I hope will stick to the latter’s mind until the right action is carried out:

While discussing the near misses at the crossing, we all witnessed that poor old lady who couldn’t get across the road in time, and the two buses moved forward towards her when the lights turned green, and then instead of patiently waiting, just belligerently jostled around her in a pack. It was lucky nothing more serious happened as they loomed over her. These near misses happen every day here, and this incident just highlighted the danger.

Waiting for someone to be killed is NOT Vision Zero.

Artwork by Morgan Penn

Seven minutes to cross a junction on Quietway 22

The Greenway is a stretch of traffic free cycle track from Stratford to Beckton on top of Bezalgette’s sewer.  TfL has recently spent £4.5m on “upgrading” the track and now calls it Quietway 22.

6

Photo: Hackney Cyclist

As so much cycle infrastructure in London, it is very poorly executed as no money has been spent on the difficult bits. Hackney Cyclist has written an excellent report last month. Here I just concentrate on the TOTAL lack of intervention wherever the Quietway meets motor traffic. In other words, Will Norman is perfectly happy to treat active travel as a second class form of travel.

Western end

Wick Ln - Google Maps18.png

Notice the absurdly wide pavement

The link with Victoria Park is the very unattractive and unfriendly Wick Lane, which has no safe cycling infrastructure. NO MONEY SPENT HERE

Stratford High Street

After five hundred metres the Greenway meets three obstacles: a railway, a river, and a main road; in spite of the £billions spent on the Olympic project, these obstacles have been deemed too formidable for the English urban planners. The Greenway just dies and resumes where it is easy. One can follow a lengthy link provided by Marshgate Lane and CS2, but crossing  Stratford High Street has not been considered at this point and one has to improvise. No wonder that very few West Ham fans cycle to watch their team. NO MONEY SPENT HERE

UPDATE SEPTEMBER 2019 – A short stretch of old Greenway, West of Stratford High Street has been reopened. However the NEW crossing of SHS has been badly designed: first of all it is staggered, for no good reason; secondly and most important the new type of green man signals are extremely confusing and likely to confuse people and induce them to cross at the wrong time:

2019-09-23_1222

It is worth noting that during the Olympic Games, the crossing was direct and additionally a bridge was built on top of it:

(2) Vision Zero London (@V0LDN) _ Twitter28

 

English people are not happy if they don’t erect barriers

14

Photo: Hackney Cyclist

Along the 5km of the main stretch, the Greenway meets  five roads. In all occasions there are formidable barriers which are difficult to navigate with a cargobike. Money has been thankfully spent on lighting along the way; which means that the route is no longer closed at dusk as Newham used to do. But why not replace those horrible barriers with simple pillars?

The A117

The Greenway is interrupted by the A117 at its intersection with the A13. This junction exemplifies the English lack of respect, let’s call it disdain and utter contempt for ordinary citizens who don’t drive. To rejoin the Greenway, one has to negotiate SIX TRAFFIC LIGHTS. Naturally, this being England, no thought has been directed to synchronising these lights for the benefit of people walking or cycling. On the contrary they seem to be programmed to maximise the waiting time. On two arms, the conflicting motor traffic is stationary at red, and yet the pedestrian lights are also fixed at red. This may be an error, but this being England, nobody complains or the complaints are ignored. We tested the total time required to cross this junction:

Google Maps17 (1)

West-East:

Wait at 1: 1 minute 35 seconds; cross to island 5 seconds

Wait at 2: 55 seconds; ride to 3: 15 seconds

Wait at 3 20 seconds; cross 3 & 4: 15 seconds

Wait at 5: 1 minute and 15 seconds; cross 5 seconds

Wait at 6: 1 minute  and 35 seconds; cross 5 seconds.

Total SIX MINUTES AND TWENTY SECONDS

East-West:

Wait at 6: 1 minute and 5 seconds; cross 5 seconds

Wait at 5: 30 seconds; cross to 4: 10 seconds

Wait at 4 1 minute and 25 seconds; cross: 10 seconds

Wait at 3: 40 seconds; ride to 2: 15 seconds

Wait at 2: 45 seconds; cross 5 seconds

Wait at 1: 1 minute and 45 seconds; cross 5 seconds.

Total: SEVEN MINUTES

How can anyone think that this is acceptable?

 

 

According to TfL, Diana is not even a number

Transport for London is massaging figures in a deliberate attempt to deceive citizens. And it starts from the top:

  • LastNotLost has looked at at Khan’s claim that he has completed 100km of QuietWays. Besides the fact that most of the work involved painting Qs on existing London Cycle Network routes, LastNotLost has discovered that many claimed completed routes in South West London are not completed and some are not even started. He charitably writes: “Most of the quietway works are carried out by local boroughs, using money from TfL.  I suspect TfL has got its records muddled in the cycle of quietway works planned – designed – constructed – signposted – complete, possibly confusing the release of funds to do final works with works then being complete.
  • TfL’ press office gave the Evening Standard’s Ross Lydall wrong figures of pedestrian fatalities caused by TfL regulated buses (five instead of the actual seven), as Tom Kearney reported
  • In the H,S&E Quarterly Report for April-June 2018, TfL states that four cyclists were killed in the period. The actual figure is five, as listed on our public spreadsheet 
  • The fatalities figures released by TfL NINE Months after the calendar year are always below the actual number, because TfL excludes victims who died in hospital more than 30 days after the crash, and people who were killed on roads that for some arcane planning reasons are deemed private (but are not). For example, according to TfL, Diana Barimore is not a road traffic victim, because she died 33 days after being knocked down in Fulham.

    According to TfL, Diana is not even a number.

 

It seems that Sadiq Khan wants to reach #VisionZeroLDN by lying about the numbers.

 

Sadiq, just as Boris, keeps prioritising ” smoothing traffic flow”

Sadiq Khan, two months before being elected Mayor:

I know that many local people feel that King’s Cross traffic gyratory system desperately needs redesigning, with concerns around safety for all road users and pollution in the densely populated area.

Transport for London (TfL) has been consulting on a redesign since 2011 and that they intend to consult on a high level proposal shortly and on final details in 2017.  I understands there are frustrations around delays with the process and I will contact TfL to seek reassurances around the timetable and that local people are being properly consulted.

As Daniel Zylbersztajn reports, The Wait continues for Changes to the Kings Cross Gyratory:

“After a consultation in 2015 by TfL, the third in 20 years, TfL suggested dramatic changes in 2016. It involved changing streets adding cycle lanes, adding crossings.

Of 1.042 respondents,

  • 81 % supported additional pedestrian crossings at various junctions
  • improvement to pedestrian experience and cycling rated as highest priorities
  • 70 % supported overall proposals
  • 63% supported some two-way streets and changing single lane streets
  • 63% supported the reduction of traffic an improvement of the environment
  • 67% supported new cycling facilities including counterflow lanes for bicycles”

Yet as 2018 draws to a close, nothing is being done. Nigel Hardy, TfL’s Head of Programme Sponsorship admits that TfL is more concerned about traffic flows than safety and pollution; he states:

“The gyratory system runs through one of London’s busiest areas and construction work for our planned transformation needs careful coordination with a number of other significant schemes, including HS2. Work on the gyratory at Judd Street started this week and work at Midland Road is set to begin over the coming months, with further consultation and construction at other sections of the gyratory in 2019.”

Please note that Judd Street/Midland Road have nothing to do with the Gyratory.

Daniel cites another example of TfL prioritising the convenience of people poisoning us over our safety:

 I had found through day-to-day observation over three years now (it is on my daughter’s way to school, which I frequent five days a week) that 90 per cent of Southbound pedestrians, amongst them many school children, did not use the push bottom operated crossing near Weston Rise at all, in spite of it being there. In other words, the local public condemned the crossing as totally not fit for its needs.

20181201_1458403873985597054346437

Pentonville Road (looking East) – Weston Rise. Far left see bus stop. In front pedestrian traffic light, that must be operated individually to cross each side. Weston Rise on the right. In order to to reach the bus stop one must walk down 40 meters. wait for green to cross West Bound Lane, and then the same for East-bound lane, and then walk back 60-70 meter

However nearby there is a pedestrian crossing with much shorter red phases; why?

A crossing 250 meter up at Rodney Street – Pentonville Road – Penton Rise allows crossing in one go, and the traffic light is phased in a faster cycle after being triggered. The reason? It is cars that are waiting in Rodney Street, not pedestrians. Cars there trigger a movement sensitive traffic light and the wait is relatively short.

One cannot help thinking that all these delays are the consequence of Sadiq’s fear that traffic jams may imperil his reappointment as Mayor.
Problem is the list of broken promises is so long that most Londoners are fed up with the BS.

The trolley problem is a big con

In 2016 the Massachusetts Institute of Technology launched a global online survey to test whether there are cultural differences in response to the trolley problem, applied to robot cars.

Packaged as The Moral Machine, it asked players to instruct robot cars to “choose the lesser of two evils, such as killing two passengers or five pedestrians”.

This type of exercise is a pernicious con orchestrated for the benefit of the car manufacturers. Here is why.

The trolley problem hardly ever comes up in real life

If one looks at real life situations, where car drivers kill or injure pedestrians or cyclists, it is extremely rare that the driver was “choosing the lesser evil”, i.e. was trying to save another life. The trolley problem is non-problem, a masturbation for so-called theoretical ethics professors.

The trolley problem is an attempt to frame the ethical issues involved with robot cars for the benefit of the machines

By focusing on the trolley problem, i.e.a non-problem, the industry is perversely trying to shape public opinion towards its objectives.

It promotes the fallacy that robot cars will kill only to save lives

Robot cars are promoted as being much safer than human operators, capable of erasing the million+ yearly butchery on our roads. It is trying to sell the idea that robot cars will kill only when forced into an impossible dilemma. The truth is that robot cars have and will continue to kill for very different reasons, namely

  • the inadequacy of the software to deal with anything more sophisticated than the cultural desert of a North American suburb.
  • the vulnerability of robot cars to hacking attacks
  • the willing interference by operators of safety systems to improve performance, as when evil Uber switched off one of the braking systems in a car that killed a pedestrian.

It does not focus on the real issue: why would the robot car be in such a position to be faced with the trolley problem

The key moral Vision Zero question is “what measures do we need to take to ensure that robot cars do not kill innocent citizens?” In other words we need to treat robot cars as fallible machines, and we need to create environments where they are very unlikely to kill or seriously injure. this means adopting similar measures that Vision Zero mandates for human-driven machines:

  • minimise their presence in busy urban areas
  • limit their speed, to reduce the impact of crashes (much easier to enforce with robot cars)
  • devote road space to bicycle-only travel

You can understand how car manufacturers can be against the Vision Zero agenda, which necessarily limits the freedom to drive as and where one pleases.

It is a pre-emptive fight to disable citizens from being able to reduce the mobility of robot cars

Car manufacturers are terrified by the idea that if safety guidelines are too strict, and robot cars are regulated in such a way to prevent all avoidable crashes, the cars would not be able to move because anyone can step off the pavement and block the progress of a robot car. A Vision Zero robot car would not be able to move. The car manufacturers are always lobbying to prevent any interference with the privileged position of drivers and are already trying to make sure that such a scenario will not be contemplated by regulators.

It is a victim blaming exercise

By framing the issue as a trolley problem, they are shifting the blame from the cars to the pedestrians. Note how the MIT survey tries to show the cultural differences to whether a robot car should kill someone crossing the street not at a designated crossing site, (Global preferences for who to save in self-driving car crashes revealed). It perpetuates the immoral proposition, so dear to the British (un)Justice System, that drivers are allowed to act as vigilantes, absolved of blame if they kill a pedestrian who has broken the rules, rules of course that have been designed prioritising the convenience of drivers over the safety of ordinary citizens.

We are not against the idea of robot cars

A technology that has the potential of reducing the consequences of human error is to be welcomed. However, we have to be very careful that the car industry is hi-jacking what can be a life-saving technology, with the goal of entrenching the privileges of its customers. The safest car is a car off the road. The reduction of the number and the speed of vehicles on our roads is a much more effective way to eliminate avoidable road deaths. That should the primary goal of urban planners. Opposed to this vision of cities designed for the benefit of ordinary citizens, robot cars are being sold as the solution of future mobility: that is snake oil and the trolley problem is a pernicious way to frame the public discourse for the benefit of car manufacturers.

The proper response to people pushing the trolley problem is “Wank off”.

Finally, here is an anecdote that shows the total lack of ethics of many involved in pushing robot cars: