The Rock and The Hard Place

As more information emerges from the recent inquests into the deaths of Brian Dorling and Philippine de Gerin-Ricard, a disturbing pattern is forming.

Today, Mark Ames published an article covering the proceedings and their background, which attracted at least one remark on Twitter as to how measured it was. Anger is “difficult to sustain“, he remarked, which is absolutely true.

So let’s have a go at helping to sustain it.

Ignore the evidence

I’m going to cherry-pick a few bits of Mark’s article here:

  • At Bow roundabout Transport for London ignored their own consultant’s report which said the site was so dangerous that traffic signals and separated lanes for cyclists should be installed.
  • The London Cycling Campaign were so worried about the design proposals for Bow that they wrote in the strongest possible terms … Their concerns were also ignored.
  • This week’s inquest exposed that Transport for London also ignored warnings from the Met Police that CS2’s design could potentially put cyclists in danger … a list of 21 concerns about cyclists’ safety at Aldgate gyratory issued by the Met in 2008 had also been brushed aside by TfL
  • This comes after previous revelations that Transport for London told consultants to “ignore cyclists” at a dangerous junction in Kings Cross where a report stated vulnerable road user deaths were “inevitable”. Student Min Joo Lee would later be killed at this spot.

Now, that’s just me lazily scraping a single article about this. Plenty of people far more diligent than me, and far more familiar with London’s particular issues than me, have already begun – and will no doubt continue – to pick through the wreckage and shine a light on vital details.

But how is it not possible to be angry at that?

It would appear that TfL ignored their own highway engineers, ignored the police, and ignored the main local representation of the road users who would be placed at risk – all of whom had serious and myriad concerns about the designs.

They ignored them all. They’ve instructed their contractors to ignore them. And they’ve ignored them repeatedly.

Sustain the anger? Hell – this is institutionalised steamrollering of safety concerns, no?

Ignore the elephant

From Mark’s article, “TfL’s Ben Plowden admitted designs drawn up for separated lanes and toucan crossings for cyclists at Bow were discounted by TfL because they would cause delays to motorised traffic deemed to be unacceptable.

Sure. Life’s full of compromises, eh?

There’s a massive elephant in the room here, and it’s this:

You’re not going to improve much for anyone unless you start restricting, or at least disincentivising, the use of motor vehicles.

It’s that simple.

As to how to deal with the elephant, you’ve got three options.

One: you can accept it, and roll with it, like the city of Malmö did (if you haven’t seen that before, watch it – it’s eight minutes of your life well spent).

Two: you can deny it, and just keep on filling towns and cities with more cars, more lorries, more pollution and more tarmac.

Or three: you can deny it, but publicly claim to recognise that option two is clearly madness, and throw token gestures at the transport system.

Somewhere along the line in London, option three was chosen. And option three gives us the worst of all worlds. To be blunt, option three kills people.

Ignore everything

In the UK – all of it, not just London – we choose option three almost every time. No-one has the balls to take on the might of the motor vehicle. No-one will stand in the way of the cars, or the trucks, or their lobbyists.

Yet that is what people in the streets are forced to do, whether on foot or on a bicycle. We’re all forced to do it, in the most literal and physical way.

People must stand aside, cycle in the gutter, be mown down with no protection at all, explicitly in order to ease the flow of those who choose to inflict the highest cost on cities in terms of infrastructure, pollution, noise, injury and physical divisiveness. Transport authorities will tempt people onto the roads with blue paint, but it’s a trap. It’s just paint. Paint won’t stand up for you. Paint didn’t stand up for Brian or Philippine.

And the people in the street should be sick of doing the standing up, when they are so let down by those elected and promoted to positions where they should do just that.

People in the street should be angry. Angry as hell.

Try to ignore us

This blog oscillates between two main subjects: the rock of public policy and infrastructure on the one hand, and the hard place of the law on the other.

Public institutions such as TfL actively disregard people’s safety, whilst the law tolerates their injury and death. It tolerates the negligence of individual road users and – thus far at least – it tolerates the negligence of the institutions who ignore safety advice. (Might we see a change in that? In the case of TfL the issue isn’t just poor engineering, it’s explicit dismissal of people’s safety to a degree of repeatedly incurring predictable fatalities.)

Enough of the rock, and enough of the hard place. They are both fatal factors, and they are not wholly unconnected. Both need to be dealt with.

I’ll leave just one parting thought – although you need to read this first.

12 thoughts on “The Rock and The Hard Place

  1. Andrew White 18 October 2013 / 14:44

    It’s not so much about restricting or disincentivising cars it’s about a change of priorities within the various public & private bodies responsible for our transport infrastructure. There will have been someone within TfL who would’ve done a cost benefit analysis based on the cost of any lives lost or injuries sustained against the minutes of time saved by allowing a motor vehicle to get to it’s destination quicker. Not only is that wrong on moral grounds it’s unlikely to be correct on economic grounds – just because someone was 5 minutes late for work does not equate to an actual productive loss.

    The only way to change the mindset is through damages, fines & prison sentences against the bodies and people responsible. Obviously we’d be waiting forever for the CPS to bring charges against anyone so the various cycling groups should get together and bring a private prosecution against TfL for the recent deaths linked to Boris’s blue paint. Only then would might we see some real action from politicians.

    • Paul M 20 October 2013 / 16:34

      Likely to be incorrect on economic grounds, is what you mean.

      TfL’s modelling makes assumptions about the economic value, per hour, or different transport users which are totally arse about face. Basically they assume that the time of people in motor vehicles is worth more than the time of people on foot or bicycle when this manifestly arrant nonsense. In the City of London, a pedestrian is more than likely to be a highly paid banker, solicitor, accountant, underwriter, actuary, IT manager, journalist, etc. There are about 350,000 of them, all arriving in the City by public transport and walking the final few hundred yards to their offices.

      Those in vehicles are more likely to be taxi drivers, dustmen, ambulancemen, plumbers, potted plant maintenance crews etc. I don’t wish to disrespect them or their social contribution, but in purely financial terms, they are minnows.

      Cyclists are a small minority, but they account for about half of all City personnel who do not travel by train, tube or bus – they are as numerous as, if not more so than, users of private cars or taxis. They are also quite possibly the highest pounds-per-hour group of all City travellers – arguably, the cycling population contains a higher proportion of Slickers and “Suits” even than the pedestrian population. My bosses, heads of major financial institutions, are well represented among the cycle commuting community. You should see some of the bikes they ride – some cost almost as much as the cars Addison Lee uses for its minicab service.

      In referring to the City of London, I think you can make substantially the same observations about all the central boroughs, to a significant extent.

      Perhaps this sounds arrogant, but the fact is that if you must measure traffic efficiency in these terms, please, Mr Johnson, at least get it right?

  2. Jitensha Oni 18 October 2013 / 18:00

    I am of course very sad that anyone has been injured or killed, and I hope for more proportionate responses by the justice system in future, but I find it hard to be angry at TfL. This is because nothing has changed there. The message I got from watching the series on TfL on the BBC is that even for motorised vehicles they’ve constructed an EPIC FAIL for themselves on the roads where the slightest perturbation results in gridlock of monstrous proportions. And bicycles can just filter through it. Duh TfL. My son, who isn’t bothered about bicycles or cars very much (he sensibly uses the train/tube system to get around The Pollution (fka the Smoke)), laughed his arse off at the incompetence and whining excuses he was observing.

    Instead I’m taking great pleasure in the viilification that they’re being subjected to, and hopefully will be subjected to in the coming months and years until the current lot pass into history as the biggest joke ever to be given responsibility for transit for an entire city.

    In a Mark Wagenbuur post of about 18 months back

    in addtion to his typically straightforward analysis, the BTL comments are illuminating. One (an American) writes:

    “And Severin, having visited the UK, I agree with you — the obstructionism of US engineers is still better than the incompetence of UK engineers.”

    So no I’m not angry… But I’ve got them on my list…

    (see full lyrics in uploader comment)

  3. Fred 19 October 2013 / 15:14

    Why not picket TfL in Southwark one morning? Make flyers and hand them out to everyone, cyclists etc? I also think going round putting flyers on all the Boris bikes would be a good idea.

    • Michael J 21 October 2013 / 10:45

      Definitely simple flyers are needed, both for bicycle users and to give to drivers held up by any protests to explain why they should support Space4Cycling in simple terms. The Southwark Palestra building has plenty of space outside the front door (admittedly private land) for a quick protest, maybe a “die-in” ?

      • Fred 23 October 2013 / 22:39

        Yeah, I think it’s important that TfL employees realise the impact they’re having in this – unlike with political institutions they won’t give a fig if they’re unpopular, they’re unelected and sitting in very safe jobs doing whatever they want.

  4. jamesgreig 20 October 2013 / 16:56

    Great article.

    I am a fan of the #space4cycling campaign but find it to be too “polite” — we need to make more imaginative, inspiring protests — take over roundabouts, organise mass sit down protests with our bikes, do things that make people actually think about why they default to travelling by car….

  5. Sam 22 October 2013 / 21:30

    I agree. If we want genuine change, then civil disobedience is the only way to get people to listen, think and change.

  6. Dan Crocker 23 October 2013 / 17:52

    Updates – the coroner has given TfL and Boris 56 days (50 at time of writing) to advise exactly what changes are to be made to make cycle cough superhighways safer. Watch this space for more inaction…

  7. Dave H (@BCCletts) 27 October 2013 / 03:14

    One fact that was not turned about on TfL at Brian Dorling’s inquest, was that Jacobs or TfL, in collecting data had a figure of 60% of CS2 route users cycling over the flyover at Bow (my own assessment from enjoying a hearty breakfast outside the Three Mills Cafe and traffic watching is that the figure is actually 70% or higher for the morning surge – passing Bow between 08.00 and 08.30 to reach the city and their desks by 09.00). So first question to TfL what conclusions were drawn about the behaviour of cyclists in the absence of the CS2 interventions in their choice of safe and convenient routes to & from Central London.

    Sit at the cafe with our camera and you may well be able to take a photograph of the flyover, populated solely by a line of cyclists whilst almost all the motorised traffic is queuing to turn left or right at the roundabout and join the A102/A102(M), a core route connecting through Blackwall Tunnel to cut across between the M25/M23 and M25/M11 and avoid having to go out to the Dartford Crossing. Very little of the motorised traffic goes over the flyover. So little in fact that one of the Westbound lanes has been closed off, and one Eastbound lane was closed off during the London Olympics. Given that one key way to minimise the risk of motor vehicles hitting cyclists and pedestrians is to minimise the number of motor vehicles using the route what figures does TfL have for the motor traffic vehicle counts going over the flyover vs going round the roundabout, and how were these used in assessing the design options for CS2?

    And finally perhaps the question to put the seal on the idiocy of putting the CS2 route with at grade crossing movements (dangerous conflicting ones) relying entirely on the observance of drivers and cyclists of passive signs and traffic signals to prevent them simultaneously occupying the same road space. For a cyclist or pedestrian passing between Stratford and Bow over the flyover, and having the options of joining the flyover by normal riding in the outer lanes on the approaches or using a protected crossing (as already in place with traffic signals for one arm, and in essence provided for another one) or via a ramp and bridging span, what is the possibility of a vehicle turning across their path. The answer should be starkly obvious and one which that 60+% of cyclists using CS2 clearly recognise. Short of a driver with a Darwinian desire to improve the gene pool by removing themselves from it, there is no danger of any of the cyclists crossing the flyover being hit by a turning motor vehicle.

  8. Fred 17 November 2013 / 11:53

    A colleague of mine was cut up by a left turning lorry, she managed to fall off on to the pavements but the bike was totally crushed. The damage to property was a few hundred pounds, injury none/minor, emotional distress… well she will never cycle again.

    I’m very concerned that in these type of near misses, which really could have been fatal, no effective action is taken, nobody gets discipled and it probably doesn’t even make it on to the statistics. In order to understand the KSIs we need this information to be picked up by the police so they can see that the KSIs are the tip of an iceberg where the cyclist was unlucky.

    So I was wondering if anyone had an answer for this: the near miss accidents, how do we ensure these are properly recorded and considered, rather than just forgotten about. My friend can write a letter to the lorry driver’s insurance company, but it would be small claims court which she probably wouldn’t want to do (although I could try to encourage her).

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