Month: April 2015

No lessons learned from a preventable death

Henry Lang was killed by a refuse lorry as he was cycling on a cycle track in Richmond. This was a totally avoidable death and yet:

  • the Police has not charged the killer
  • the Coroner has refused to issue a Prevention of Future Death report
  • the local paper has done its bit of victim blaming
  • Transport for London are likely not to change anything.

Let’s see the conditions of 350 metres of cycle facilities, before and after the site of the killing:

Picture 2 – Share with pedestrians and then, who has priority at exit of rugby pitch?
Picture 3 – Where Henry was killed

Picture 4 – 50 metres after Henry was killed, another yield

Picture 5 – Why should cyclists yield to waiting pedestrians? Pedestrians should wait either side of the track; cyclists should need to stop only when green man is on.

Picture 6 – Typically awful treatment for crossing road, with two unsynched traffic lights

Picture 7 – Why do they bother?

Picture 8 – The ultimate insult: Dismount!

According to the engineers who laid out this deathtrap, to TfL, to the Coroner and to the ignorant journalist, it is Henry’s fault to be killed, because every few metres he should have looked behind him and guessed whether any of the criminals driving over the speed limit was going to cut across him. At the inquest, it was not recorded whether the lorry was indicating. We have all seen the very poor standards of driving of sub-sub-contracted drivers of refuse lorries. [I have been physically assaulted by one such driver in Islington. The team lied to the Police, so no-one was charged, the Council refused to pay my claim for injuries and Councillor Webbe refuses to mandate that refuse lorries be equipped with dashcams]

These 350 metres are a typical example of the idiocy and nastiness of British authorities. I leave it to Rosie Downs, campaigns manager at the London Cycling Campaign to explain in detail:

Henry’s death highlights massive confusion in the design of safe road infrastructure and in the enforcement of laws requiring careful driving. Despite the confusion over priorities at this junction many cyclists will be disappointed in the failure of the police to consider there was a duty of care on the driver to look out for cyclists on the well used track  which is plainly visible to drivers turning off the main road.
Highway Code rule 183 says “When turning, give way to any vehicles using a bus lane, cycle lane or tramway from either direction”. However at this junction and at thousands like it formal priority has been removed from the cycle track with give way lines painted across the track.
Unfortunately that layout was seen as a safe design without realizing that it requires cyclists to give way to faster traffic overtaking them from behind. The latest advice from the London Cycle Design Standards (section 5.3.4) says the priority at this sort of junction should be reversed to reduce danger and “to offer the highest level of service for cyclists”.
Such a change would make cyclists journeys safer and make them feel safer. The current design gives a false sense of safety which actually increases the risk of collision.

The most dangerous cycle lane in Richmond

London Cycling Campaign’s local group has described the cycle track alongside the A316 as “the most dangerous cycle lane in Richmond” for the repeated use of this junction design.
In the UK, cyclists crossing the give way line at a cycle path have no legal protection. The advisory Highway Code rule 170, regarded as the rule most often disregarded in the Highway Code, says “You should watch out for pedestrians crossing a road into which you are turning. If they have started to cross they have priority, so give way.” This advisory wording means that motorists do not give way to pedestrians, and as cyclists are not referenced they are forgotten altogether.
The normal rule in continental countries is that vehicles making any turning movement should give way to pedestrians or cyclists going straight ahead across their path, unless there are signs or signals saying otherwise.
LCC and others have pushed for cycle and pedestrian priority over turning traffic, but to date national government has refused to legally reinforce this. A legal change would make it much easier to introduce segregated cycle tracks, and it would make walking and cycling feel much safer, like it does in the Netherlands. Transport Minister Robert Goodwill says that the government doesn’t encourage cycle priority because of the low levels of cycling, and they will only reconsider this position if we see an increase in cycling. Yet there are barriers that need to be overcome before cycling becomes a realistic option for most: and road danger is the most significant barrier.

There is a 100% probability that someone is going to get killed on a cycle track like this. It is like having a live electric cable in the middle of a Regent Street pavement and then blame pedestrians for getting electrocuted, because they did not read the sign.

Just another example that Transport for London kills by design.

Promotion and disrespect

The Labour Party Manifesto famously promises: “We will support long-term investment in strategic roads, address the neglect of local roads, and promote cycling”

This is the typical stance of someone who doesn’t want to do anything to solve an issue. UK’s pitiful cycling modal share is not due to lack of promotion and yet despite

  • proven favourable ROI on money spent on cycling infrastructure
  • strong links between cycling infrastructure and other issues that the next Government has to tackle, such as air quality, health crisis and climate change

the Labour party is happy just to “promote” cycling and spend nothing on infrastructure.

We all know who the beneficiaries of promotions  are: consultants, printers, video makers.

Vision Zero was invited to speak this week at a workshop for organisations involved in European Mobility Week. Twenty years ago European cities started having Car Free Days on 22nd September; that evolved into Mobility Week, which seems designed as a gift for UKIP to show how your tax money is wasted on promoting activities that people are not keen in doing, because much more money is spent to convince them to do the very opposite.

The Conservative Party has pledged to spend £200,000,000 on cycling and £15,000,000,000 on motoring and £0 on walking. In other words, every year they plan to spend £0.62 per person on walking and cycling (and they have not specified if it is on infrastructure or on promotion) and £47 per person on motoring. This when the City of Copenhagen has shown that every km cycled benefits society, and every km driven places a cost on society.

Let’s assume that one attends an EMW event, visits a promotion merchant, and is convinced that next time she goes to the cinema, 2 km away, she will walk there with her boyfriend. They arrive at this junction, at the corner on the right and need to cross to the white building:

It will take them five minutes, twice corralled in the middle of the road, where pollution is highest, because the timing of the lights is programmed for the benefit of motorists, not pedestrians. A woman died here a few months ago, probably punished by a motorist for not waiting, i.e. for not knowing her place in society.

Here is another example, again site of a killing of a pedestrian:

The crossing in the foreground has no green man; motorists from the left (behind the trees) will turn right at speeds of 50kph. Sustrans, the quintessential promotion merchant, will tell you “Walk to school!” Well, the choice for your child are risking being killed, or going all the way around, which will take her more than four minutes. You think: “This is not right”, so you write to TfL, and they respond saying, “Sorry, nothing can be done, otherwise we inconvenience motorists [who as you know, are higher class than you – Know your station and wait]
Or take this crossing in front of Euston Station, where TfL expects you to wait one minute and twenty seconds to cross and is happy for bus drivers to kill you if you are impatient [66% of bus drivers break the speed limit here, one of them has killed a young man last year, but TfL has no intention to change things]

Every journey one takes on foot or by bicycle, one is reminded that the Government is treating you as a second class citizen. They may be promoting walking and cycling, but the way they use your money is sending you a clear message: if you drive, we will spend billions of pounds, if you walk, go to the back of the bus:

Black people in America had only one choice: rebel. People in the UK have a much easier choice: conform, get a car and join the rat race.

People in Venice need no promotion to walk. There is just one way to increase the number of walking and cycling trips: make them safe, convenient and pleasant; that means designing cities where Active Travel is prioritised; and then we will discover that there is plenty of space at the front for everyone.

Unanswered questions about the killing of Alan Neve

Left: The killer, Barry Meyer. Right: The victim: Alan Neve. Picture credit: Daily Mirror

Alan Neve was killed at 9:25 on 15.7.13. A tragedy that should never have happened for two reasons:

1. No-one should be forced to ride a bicycle on what is effectively a death trap. At the time, Camden Council was banning the use of a relatively much safer route, egged on by Transport for London, which was concerned that it would delay bus schedules.Camden Council was warned repeatedly of the inevitable consequences but they waited until someone was killed before opening the Vernon Place bus lane to bicycles.

2. The killer, Barry Meyer, should have never been in charge of a construction lorry, indeed of any motor vehicle, that morning. Not only Meyer did not hold a HGV licence, and therefore was uninsured, but he had shown in the past to have a total disregard of the law and of the safety of other road users; here is a brief summary of his previous convictions (omitting convictions for assault, criminal damage and drugs):

Source: Ross Lydall

How can someone with such a record be allowed to be in charge of a tipper lorry and drive in busy London streets, mingling with people on bicycles? This is a system failure of such enormity that goes well beyond the behaviour of a rogue driver.

Here are some key question

  • Who gave the keys of the lorry to Meyer?
  • What steps are in place to prevent someone without a licence to operate a commercial vehicle?
  • Why is someone with Meyer’s record not banned from the haulage industry? Can you imagine a GP with a similar record allowed to practice?
  • What investigation has HSE undertaken? HSE infamously refuses to investigate corporate misbehaviour on public roads, but Meyer must have operated on corporate sites as well, endangering the lives of other workers.
  • Why is TfL’s CLOCS scheme voluntary in an industry notoriously plagued by rogue traders?
  • Why is Camden Council not addressing the Holborn gyratory with urgency, in spite of five people being killed while riding their bicycles here?

The Judge will be sentencing Meyer next month, and has warned him that he faces a jail term; we all know how inadequate the maximum terms for Causing Death by Careless Driving are and how ludicrous the rules are that stipulate that he can expend his driving ban while sitting in jail. However this is a case of catastrophic regulatory failure, well beyond the inadequacies of the Justice System.

We will probing the authorities with our questions, until we see a wholesale change of attitudes on how to deal with traffic violence.

UPDATE 15.05.15. Meyer has been sentenced to 42 months and banned for ten years. Incredibly, the Police will not be prosecuting AJ Drummond, the company who allowed Meyer to drive the lorry. The judge said: “Heaven knows why the lorry owners let you drive that vehicle without checking and seeing whether you had a proper HGV licence,”

UPDATE: The London Cycling Campaign has written to Nick Denton, Traffic Commissioner, asking him  to revoke AJ Drummond’s licence.

How to persuade the police

Police forces are the ultimate subject for studying organisational pathology.
One approach is to do a survey across countries through experience, such as the one undertaken by Paul Salopek on a slow journey across the world. He recognises however that as a white traveller he seldom falls in what the local police perceive as a member of a dangerous out-group.
Let’s look at the average police recruit. Police forces never recruit outside managers, so everyone at the top has started as a recruit and has risen up. If one looks at the bell curve of IQ scores of high school graduates, it is likely that most of the police recruits will be coming from the left hand side. Police work of course it’s not just about being a Sherlock Holmes, it should be primarily about preventing crime, a job for which emotional intelligence is a necessary skill. But even in this case, graduates on the right hand side of the bell curve are likely to be attracted to other jobs, where they will assume their skills will be better appreciated, such as in social services, NGOs, the medical sector, etc. Similarly, with so many opportunities in other industries it is unlikely that young people with creative skills are attracted by a career in the police force.
So what attracts many of the police recruits? Important factors are a job for life, being part of an organisation that demands respect, fighting the “bad guys”. Once a recruit is inside the organisation, s/he soon realises that the organisation is mired with corruption and inefficiency, but as long as s/he plays the game, s/he will be all right. Remember that the police doesn’t recruit outside managers, so everyone at the top has thrived throughout their career in a climate of corruption and inefficiency.
Recruits also soon find out that the police not only have legal monopoly of violence but also are blessed with impunity; essentially they can get away with anything, even murder. This impunity is bestowed to them by the ruling class, to which the police is fully subservient.
To summarise, the police is a powerful organisation, holding monopoly of violence, serving the ruling class, staffed by dim, dull people, and mired with corruption and inefficiency. If you are a member of one of society’s outgroups, e.g. a young black male, a European, or someone who doesn’t use cars, the police is no friend of yours; either you accept your lower status or if you dare protest you will get clobbered.
If you represent an outgroup, there is little point appealing to common sense. The police understands two things: power and money. I suspect most campaigners will not be willing to bribe the local cops to enforce a 30 kph speed limit. So how do road safety campaigners change police attitudes so that they start to take traffic violence, the number one reason of violent killing in the country, seriously? By gaining power. Traffic violence is indiscriminate. The victims are not just members of an out group. Sooner or later everyone is touched by the daily massacre. That is why we highlight the stories behind the figures; the human lives suddenly cut short by killers.
We expect that soon a national wave of revulsion and shame will force the police to deal appropriately with criminals who kill and leave the scene of the crime; who kill cyclists from behind and claim that they were invisible, or who, like Martin Low, Westminster’s Transport supremo, refuse to lower the speed limit in the centre of town.
P.S. When one generalises, inevitably the honest are tarred by the sins of the majority. I want to mention Simon Wickenden, in the Traffic Management Unit, who has impressed us with his integrity and thoroughness in investigating the circumstances surrounding traffic collisions.