Tipping Out The Paint

Is the writing on the wall for the writing on the road?

An old nemesis

A couple of years ago, I had somewhat different attitudes to cycling infrastructure.

As someone who was willing and able to brave the road, I had taught myself how to stay safe amongst the traffic, and almost all the infrastructure I had ever seen diminished my ability to do that.

Of course, as a selfish idiot, this meant that I was resolutely opposed to all infrastructure. I hadn’t seen the sort of thing that exists in the Netherlands (and I still haven’t ridden on it, much as I’d like to); all I’d seen was the stupid, nonsensical, unusable, impassable, pointless, insulting junk that we get in the UK.

But worse than all of those examples – each of which is clearly laughable (it’s that or cry) – is this sort of thing:

cycle-lane

What’s wrong with that?

Maybe to you it looks fine. Maybe it looks like it could be better, but is broadly ok.

Well, there’s the problem. On the face of it, to many people, it seems fine. But it’s awful.

Why’s it awful? Because it coerces cyclists into a thin sliver of road, the “gutter ghetto”, with the paint suggesting to drivers that all is well provided they don’t cross the line when in reality there’s woefully insufficient space to pass safely here. The cycle lane on one side at least is right against the pavement so cyclists may need to move out to avoid pedestrians (as they might for drains, potholes or debris, all of which are mostly found towards the kerb) and the paint, which encourages people to just keep hammering on in their lane, makes moving away from the kerb much more difficult and risky. It continues this theme through a pinch point, adding to the risk. It might look like cyclists have a bit of refuge, but it’s just paint.

And because it looks fine to many people – in fact these lanes seem to encourage novice cyclists – it’s accepted. And because it’s accepted, more of them appear.

And so on.

And then, of course, we can add advanced stop lines (ASLs) into the mix.

asl

(Photo by Tejvan Pettinger, CC-licenced)

Again, on the face of it they seem fine and dandy, but again they’re highly problematic. They act as bait for cyclists to ride up the feeder lane (which often isn’t as wide as the one pictured), 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.

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

Particularly without an advance lighting phase for cyclists to move off before other traffic, these features put cyclists in harm’s way. It’s a trap. Just check rules 73 and 221 of the Highway Code.

Well, finally, this appears to have been recognised.

In the past couple of months, some interesting things have happened. And the interesting thing about them is that, as far as paint is concerned, we may finally be at a tipping point.

Bus says no

First, of course, there was our dear old friend the Nice Way Code. A true tour de force of woolly thinking, the Nice Way Code gave us the “Nope” message.

niceway-bus

It said “Nope” to passing up the inside of buses (and, by implication, other large vehicles), despite the fact that – as shown – that’s often precisely where the paint sends cyclists.

This is the Scottish government telling cyclists not to use the infrastructure it has painted for them, because to do so is unsafe.

Egg says no

Next, we had the City of London Corporation and their bizarre egg film, giving us not one but two clearly written and illustrated instructions.

blindspots

use-full-width

It’s crystal clear: the egg in the painted area is used as an example of dangerous positioning, whilst the egg ignoring it is used as an example of safer positioning.

This is the City of London telling cyclists not to use the infrastructure it has painted for them, because to do so is unsafe.

Croydon says no

Next up we have Croydon Council saying only yesterday – well, I’m sure you can guess:

The danger of riding between the pavement and large stationary vehicles is the focus of a new cycling safety initiative launched this week by Croydon Council.

The campaign seeks to keep riders safe by raising awareness of the risks of being hit by buses and lorries making left turns, particularly at traffic light-controlled junctions.

This area is often a ‘blind spot’ in mirrors, meaning that drivers who are turning may well not be able to see anyone who has ridden up alongside them while they have been waiting for the lights to change

Casualty statistics show that this is a relatively common cause of serious injury, and one which can easily be prevented.

This is Croydon Council telling cyclists not to use the infrastructure it has painted for them, because to do so is unsafe.

But the real damning blow to painted lanes is currently unfolding.

Coroner says no?

The inquest into the death of Brian Dorling is underway and the implications for painted “infrastructure” are becoming clear. From Ross Lydall‘s report on proceedings, also yesterday:

After viewing CCTV evidence and pictures of the scene, coroner Mary Hassell said: “It just seems to me that it’s an accident waiting to happen if cyclists are guided into the space where blue paint is on the left and they’re in the very place where the lorry is going to hit them. It seems like they’re being guided into the place where they’re most vulnerable.” … Accident investigator PC Alex Hewitt replied: “It’s almost an impossible situation.” … Asked by the coroner what status cycle superhighways had in relation to vehicles not being permitted to enter, PC Hewitt said: “Legally nothing. It’s just a piece of blue paint.”

The implications of this should be huge. Police officers, accident investigators and a coroner – someone specifically tasked with identifying things that cause fatalities - all appear to be stating what we knew: that paint offers no protection. Not physically – of course! – and not even legally. It’s little more than a trap.

So, it would appear that we may soon see a coroner telling cyclists not to use the infrastructure that has been painted for them, because to do so is unsafe.

Just say no

The current inquest may be focused on London’s cycle superhighways, but it really concerns all painted lanes.

Finally, it seems that everyone – not just cyclists but people tasked with spreading a road safety message, people who paint the lanes, and people tasked with determining cause of death (not to mention a fireman who stuck the boot in this week, although his comments have been slightly disowned by his service) – will all be saying the same thing: painted lanes put people where they absolutely should not be, and they put people in mortal danger.

This should be a tipping point.

This should be the point where everyone gets behind Space for Cycling.

This should be the point where we tip out the paint.

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15 thoughts on “Tipping Out The Paint”

  1. You don’t mention the cross-hatching in the first photo – often a sign of bad road design, since it gives a feeling to drivers of separation from the oncoming traffic, resulting in increased speeds (and in this case, is keeping them close to the cycle lane, so reduced separation from bicycles.

  2. I don’t think I’m any more naive about politics than the next man, but I’m absolutely horrified by some of what is being reported this morning from the inquest. The Met *warned* TFL that the lanes were dangerous, and they went ahead anyway. Why? Because it’s Boris’s big plan?

    We should be furious, and we should act. It will be a crime if no meaningful change comes from this inquest.

  3. > “Of course, as a selfish idiot, this meant that I was resolutely opposed to all infrastructure. I hadn’t seen the sort of thing that exists in the Netherlands (and I still haven’t ridden on it, much as I’d like to)”

    This rings true for me. Although I’m fit, brave, (and arguably stupid) enough to ride on UK roads, I appreciate that to get a greater number of people travelling by bike, we need to provide a way in for those who aren’t as fit or as brave (or as stupid). Or those who simply haven’t been through the learning curve. But still…

    Being exposed to the substandard UK infrastructure around me and to the merry cries of “Get on the cyclepath!” still made me wary of embracing the cycle infrastructure approach. I still felt that if I were limited to bike-specific paths, I’d be stopping and starting every few minutes, never able to build up any speed or momentum, forever stopping for kerbs, driveways, barriers and who-knows-what. There was still the nagging doubt that the freedom for the rest of the population to get around in a way that was quick, clean, cheap and healthy would be at the cost of my speed and convenience. *I* might be slowed down.

    Then, this summer just gone, the opportunity came up to spend a few days riding around on Dutch roads with an old friend, and I was able to take it. And guess what? None of my fears were justified. I could get around every bit as quickly as I could in the UK, I could find long, clear sections on which to build up speed if I chose and I didn’t have to give way at every side road or intersection. Without excessive effort, we rode just under 300 miles in three days and still had plenty of time to stop for a beer, see the sights and take photos.

    And, (and here’s the thing), we didn’t need to be fit, brave or foolhardy to do it. Most of the people we passed weren’t “cyclists”, they were just people on bikes. Young, old, fast, slow, rich, poor. Just ordinary people getting where they wanted to go, quickly, cheaply and cleanly and getting fittter as part of the deal. And none of them were in fear of their lives from moment to moment, twitching and craning all the time like you have to if you want to stay alive on UK roads.

    So yes, cyclocentric infrastructure can work, and work well, for fast riders and slow, as well as everyone in between. There was almost never a time when I felt I needed to get off the bikeway and onto the road, because mostly there would have been no speed advantage in doing so and a huge safety and peace-of-mind disadvantage if I did. We weren’t being forced off the road and onto cycle infrastructure, we were being tempted onto it.

    All the supposed reasons why proper bike facilities won’t work in the UK simply don’t hold water. “It’s flat, so people cycle”. Not everywhere it isn’t, and the Dutch have winds that could push you up a down escalator – doesn’t stop them. “They have better weather there”. I have never been so cold as I have in a Dutch winter on a previous visit – didn’t stop people cycling. “They have more room for bike paths there”. Not in the centre of cramped old Dutch towns, they don’t and they still find a way to make it work.

    In the UK, we (give or take a few petrolheads and loons) broadly know that that the infrastructure approach can work, and work well, we’re just not sure how to get there from where we are now. We’re like the zoo ape with a fistful of peanuts who can’t get his hand back through the bars of the cage, because to do so would mean unclenching the fist and losing a few nuts. But I think we’re going to have to do it, and we need to be clear about the destination if we’re going to get there and we may need to drop a few nuts.

  4. Following the Coroner comments, has anyone consider bringing a charge of corporate manslaughter against TfL?

    OK, this would be difficult to do, but it is needed to concentrate minds, here in Edinburgh there is a feeling that it is only a mater of time before there is a fatality involving the new tram route. It is not that trams and cyclists can’t be mixed safely, there are plenty of places in Europe that show that they can. The problem here is that there has been no real though put into how to integrate either the tram or cycling the city’s transport network, the focus is still very clearly about how to move motor vehicles through the city and everyone else should just keep out of the way.

    If a charge of corporate manslaughter were to be brought, it would make the powers that be start to take the safety of vulnerable road users far more seriously.

    1. Don’t know about corporate manslaughter but there’s a prima facie case here for an action in negligence.

      Would have to be brought by the estate or dependents of the Mr Dorling, though.

    2. I overheard someone talking about witnessing a cyclist ‘faceplanting’ after getting their wheel stuck in a tram track in front of a bus in Edinburgh. Another story for another day.

      What we have to be careful with is that when we admit that paint is pretty crap (it is), we don’t have ‘take the lane’/’vehicular cycling’ as the solution. We just be clear that segregation is (on busy roads) the answer (it is!).

  5. I rather not ever use the ‘cycle lanes’ on the road as you have clearly made clear of their danger. So how much money has been poured onto the tarmac for these painted lines that the Council’s now tell us not to use?

  6. On my commute I use the painted facilities as a guide only, and often resort to taking the lane (to the dismay of many a driver, whose very important trip clearly cannot be delayed by a few seconds). I hardly ever use the ASLs specifically because of that blindspot image, and even then only if I can get well ahead of motor vehicles. I wait in the lane instead. The ONLY cycle facility I ALWAYS use, and for which in fact I make a small detour, is the separated cycle path on Royal College St.
    Bring on corporate manslaughter charges, TfL were clearly advised, both in the case of that superhighway and at Kings Cross that their designs were dangerous. People died at both locations, both crushed by lorries.

  7. Damn you was going to write something similar, especially after seeing a couple of painted lanes parked all over this week.
    Painted lanes and ASLs have never really been anything more than exercises in box ticking and quota meeting from local authorities. Certainly a lot of them are actually unsafe to use, and even more of them don’t feel safe to use.

    Hopefully one good thing that may come out of the inquests into the two tragedies in London is a rapid move by TfL and other authorities away from these towards proper separated infrastructure which is the only long term solution.

  8. I read this article last night and have been cogitating on it since. I have also been following the Dorling inquest with interest. There is a very strong message to come out of this, but I think we need to be slightly careful about how we (as cyclists/drivers/pedestrians) react. There is though a much wider problem.

    I make my comments as a keen cyclist, a motorist, a pedestrian, a management surveyor whose work involves management of infrastructure, in town and country. I also make these comments as someone who as a teenager attended the funerals of two friends killed by motorists in two separate accidents while riding bicycles on the road.

    You and others are right. There are fundamental flaws in the design of and designation of these Cycle Superhighways. This not only makes them dangerous to use, but worse, makes the cyclist think that they are safe to use. A poisonous combination.

    I think that the main issue with these paths and other layouts, particularly in towns is that no-one (cyclist and driver alike) knows who has priority over them. The result is that two users find themselves in the same place at the same time, assuming that the other will stop and give way. Clearly there is one loser between a car driver and a cyclist as you have previously highlighted to good effect. The standard formula road layouts of 20th century seem to have gone out of the window. Town centres are part pedstrianised with raised crossings with no stop/give way lines for pedestrian or motorist. Roads and pavements are paved level and white lines removed allowing motorists due drive aimlessly on the assumption that they are actually on the road while more vulnerable road/town centre people cross wherever they feel fit as the old pelican crossing has been removed in favour of free-roam for all users. The random blue painted lanes are the latest incarnation.

    The issue is this: Someone threw out the book, which dictated the layout of roads and paths. This is the book under which we all learned to drive and way-back-when, we took our cycling proficiency test (there, angry motorists – we cyclists did take a test). Today’s roads, particularly in town, are a free for all with little or no order. And the loser is the most vulnerable user.

    Coming back to the point. I have seen so many posts about calling for manslaughter charges to be brought against TFL. Is this what the family of Mr Dorling want? If not, what will this achieve? My fear with these reactions is that we squash all plans from any authority to attempt to make the roads better for cyclists. They will become risk averse and they will retire to the default position, that everyone can share one road. So TFL got it wrong. Very wrong, and people have died. Shouldn’t something positive come out of this – that they take the slamming that they have and they work to make cycling infrastructure better, safer and that we can be proud of. If they were charged with corporate manslaughter, one thing will happen. All such plans will be scrapped. All sponsorship will be lost. Cyclists will have nothing, but a road on which we have to fight our own corner again. Where many cyclists will not feel safe and will not cycle. Where numbers of cyclists reduce and we become more of a minority and will get less support for infrastructure. I cannot see an upside.

    TFL has been slammed. They will need to do something. Their sponsors will demand that they do something. They cannot ignore it. Surely the push from ‘us’ as cyclists must be to improve what we have or even to start again, not to slam them for having tried. What they have done is to get more people on bikes and that is a good thing. Let’s urge those in powerful chairs to look back at the book that dictates how a road must be laid out and how everyone expects a road to be. Let’s restore some order.

    That’s just my opinion….

    1. Thanks, a great comment and I think I agree with everything you say (I even took the cycling test way back when, too).

      I fully agree that anything punitive for the sake of it, or anything that will adversely prejudice future engineering decisions, is not helpful.

      But I think there is one distinction to be made in this. On the one hand there is the failure of engineering, which – as you allude to – is in no small part due to a lack of good and consistent standards. On the other, is the fact that it seems TfL repeatedly ignored safety concerns from multiple advisers when implementing these road features.

      For the former, a way forward needs to be found. For the latter, there seems to be a clear need to take a retrospective look at processes and decisions and to change the processes to prevent safety concerns being so systematically dismissed.

      So, yes, the idea of corporate manslaughter on the simple grounds of a lack of peer-reviewed best practice seems totally inappropriate. But for persistently dismissing (or so it would seem) safety advice from numerous groups? To my mind, that’s less clear.

      1. Hi Bez + David,
        I am one of the people who have been calling for manslaughter charges (although IANAL, so take my opinion as you will), and the reason is simple. TfL have dismissed advice that their design was unsafe from their own consultants, the Met and the LCC. Now a coroner has slammed their design too (http://ibikelondon.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/has-coroner-put-brakes-on-boriss-blue.html). They were, IMO, negligent in their duty of providing a network safe for all users. When conflict is designed in, collisions and deaths will result.
        Just as a thought experiment, imagine if when designing an airport the consultants, Civil Aviation Authority and British Airline Pilots Association had warned BAA that their design is dangerous, but they went ahead anyway and people died as a result. Can you even begin to imagine the outcry? There would enquiries, sackings, best practices would be reviewed, etc.
        But somehow when it is pedestrians or cyclists ran over it is just the cost we have to pay to keep motorised traffic moving.

  9. Nico,

    I sort of agree with everything you say and I certainly don’t dispute your argument. My concern relates to the consequences of taking such an action. The point as I made earlier is that I suspect (I don’t know, but I suspect) that firstly bike lanes, while flawed, have probably saved more people than they have hurt and I also suspect have aided an increase in cycle use. There are positives.

    We must also not forget the principal cause of the problem. The blindspot of a lorry. That is what prevented (seemingly), the drivers in both instances from seeing the cyclists. It seems to me that if there is a negligence case to answer, it is the truck design industry or the companies operating them. How can you put a driver in a 20tonne (round figures) hulk of steel with exposed gaps that will absorb a cyclist into the wheel arches and ask them to drive 30-50mph through a town when they cannot see what is around them – where it is know that cyclists/pedestrians/motorcyclists will be. This seems to be the problem and tens of years of deaths have not resulted in any effective change in design.

    Dare I say it, the low-hanging-fruit or the easy target is a pseudo-political quango that made a monumental cock-up when trying to make life better for cyclists. They were trying. So far as I can see, the haulage industry has done f^&k all to significantly improve lorry design, despite having the resources, the market research and the accident stats from tens of years to make the correction. In short, I think you are going after the wrong people. It is also very easy to blame a politician.

    As my original comment said, I am a surveyor and I manage country and urban estates. We had an instance in 2004 where we had an area of woodland which was used by kids on bikes, who made dirt jumps – you know the thing. We didn’t have to allow them, but they had fun, it kept them off the streets, so everyone was a winner. This was until the day when a kid fell off his bike and broke his arm. The family tried to sue the estate on the basis that we had allowed kids to make jumps and we could have known that there could have been an accident. The insurers settled and the case was not ‘won’ by either party. What was the result? The insurers would no longer provide cover for such access and we had to flatten everything and close ALL the woods off. Who lost out? All of those kids that lost their place to ride.

    I appreciate that this is entirely different and yes, seemingly, TFL has been negligent, but I come back to where I started. What is the result of a manslaughter case? Will the families get anything out of it? Probably not. Chances are that Barclays and any other sponsor will pull out and any cycling infrastructure will be scrapped as too risky. Meanwhile, the road haulage industry takes a slap on the wrist and lorries continue to flatten people who get within a few metres of them as they have done for years.

    I just think that you are after the wrong guy – the guy that was trying to help. Go for the guy that for years has done sod all about the problem and has been responsible for countless deaths and serious injuries.

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