Infrastructure

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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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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”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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:

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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

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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:

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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?