Considerate Cycling 53: a short shared-use path in Bristol

The End

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This blog was provoked by a request in the Bristol Cycling Campaign web forum for views on a shared-use path that crossed the large IKEA site in the Easton area of the city. Because two family members live near to it I have used it a few times as part of a route between their homes. So I thought I ought to chip in.

Rather than post my own confusion about the route I decided to go and make a more detailed assessment. This account of what I found starts on the north east end of the route and works its way south west. As we stop for photographs I mull over some of the continuing difficulties that such routes present for cyclists and walkers.

Picture 1 (see above) was taken on Easton Road, a dual carriageway that feeds and disgorges motor vehicle traffic to and from the large retail sites (mostly Tesco and IKEA) close to the M32. Easton Road  does have bus stops but there is only one bus stop (IKEA)  that gives access within the retail areas that is in any way comparable to the convenience enjoyed by car users.

Let’s move along to the roundabout visible in picture 1. I was on a bike. This is a shared journey, so just allow a bit longer to get to picture 2 if you are on foot.

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In picture 2 we can just about see evidence of TESCO and a Pizza King (or is it a Burger Hut?). At this range my eyesight is more absorbed in watching for motor vehicles than direction signs but our target is somewhere off that second exit where the white van might be going. When did use of indicators become a widely recognised sign of weakness?

Let’s move on.

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Having taken that second exit, we see that spending opportunities present themselves immediately. Walkers and cyclists might feel a bit overwhelmed by the scale. But at least there is a shady foot-way with a dropped kerb on the approach.

Cast your eyes on the shrubbery in the centre of the picture. Our next picture steps closer to it.

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This is the first clue about that shared-use path. I think it’s odd that the signed announcement of a path is not accompanied by a direction sign to tell us where it goes. Glancing back at picture 3 you can also see that getting across to that opening is going to present problems. It is a very wide road.

I find myself wondering if all shared-use signs suggest a  riderless bike crowding a parent and child to the edge of the path? Is this negative subliminal advertising or just the unconscious assumptions of a graphic designer made real?

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Crossing the road was awkward and would have been much worse in heavier traffic. Nevertheless, things look better now. The  path is only single file for each type of user but the indication of which side to use is clear enough. The surface is unbroken and (probably) slip resistant in wet weather if leaves are swept.

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Setting off in the journey I’m still disconcerted about the lack of a direction sign. There is nothing in this aspect that tells me where I might be going. No landmarks at all. The word “legible” is sometimes used in this kind of situation. I should be able to read the path in some way and feel confident that I won’t be coming back again after fifteen minutes of following a misguided hunch. At a little after nine in the morning it is very quiet here so there is no one to ask.

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The path travels for 2 or 3 hundred metres along the side of IKEA and at this point (see photograph 7) there is a slight incline with maybe some potential for those wet slippery leaves at some times of year. If I did slip the unyielding sides don’t look as comfortable as the hedge might have been. If I were walking up the slope with a baby buggy, I wonder how much escape room there would be if an over-enthusiastic cyclist came bowling along in the other direction?

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A bit further along I notice this yellow intrusion. Our shared use path crosses a  long set of steps that connect IKEA with the car park for Eastgate Retail Centre (Halfords and Laura Ashley etc). The strong impression I get is that when these places were designed the assumption was that cars had to be hard-wired into the retail process. Anything on public transport, foot or cycle could sort itself out at the fringes and needed no special attention. If this specific path has any purpose the physical cues suggest, inaccurately as it turns out (see detailed layouts here: http://tinyurl.com/hmpo66f ) that it was made to keep walkers, bus passengers  and cyclists out of the way, not to help them do business with the retailers.

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The visual clue  in photograph 9 is that there is no clue beyond the steps either. Another couple of hundred metres reach ahead, but we still can’t confirm where it goes. The sun is over  our left shoulder and it’s morning, so we are probably travelling westward.

One day everyone will have a device that guides them everywhere to anywhere they chose. I will choose to leave mine at home and enjoy the rich geography of travelling, unaided, on a bike. For the time being most people who would like to walk, get the bus or cycle are given a bit of  a rough time because so many concrete (sic) decisions have already been made that they should be in a car for most of every journey that matters.

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If this is starting to get a bit dull – point made I suppose. Here (picture 10) is the next section of the well made shared path. We have the IKEA car park to our left, having got to the end of the very large IKEA building. It’s worth reflecting on the fact that the IKEA floor layout is specially designed to prevent customers getting straight to what they have come to buy. Browsing and getting a bit lost is as good as compulsory. There are no signs to discrete departments or items. This reminds us that designers and architects are not oblivious to the significance of physical layouts and route design. It also tells us that those who, so far, have laid out our cycle and pedestrian paths did not attend the same courses as the retail planners even though, in this case, they have come up with surprisingly similar outcomes. Eagle-eyed readers might be able to discern a blue blur in the far distance of picture 10. It’s a direction sign that tells you where to go from there.

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My bridge camera’s absurdly generous zoom feature (see above) can see that …ton Road lies ahead. All is good then.

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Zooming back to real life, a real cyclist appears. So far this has been the first I have seen on the path. Back on Eastgate Road and Muller Road I had seen a few more, some on the pavement, all looking a bit uncomfortable and reluctant.

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Moving on, I got to the end of this section and wondered why, at this particular point, a direction sign to a road which, until now, had never been mentioned, let alone have its own signpost, had been erected.

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At this time of day the car park is empty. The route in this section has useful indications that this is a route and that people will be moving along it and that vehicles should probably give way. Trees and advertising boards help to reinforce awareness of the presence of the path. The paving gives another big hint. This is my favourite part of the whole route. I can see it’s a path, everyone else can see it’s a path (and which side they should be on) and I have been encouraged with the well-signed knowledge that I am going somewhere specific.

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As I am crossing, a pedestrian and a cyclist show up at the same time. This path, like so many other local features, is known to a few but (I’m guessing here) used by only a fraction of those who might use it more frequently if they knew more about it.

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As we feared, the end of this section has no signs. A choice of ramp or steps is obvious but it’s not clear at this level whether they go to different places.

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A quick hop to the end of the ramp confirms that each option leads to the same place – New Exhibition Road.

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From the ramp end another direction sign is visible – Stapleton Road is mentioned once again. I wonder if these hints were to appease Stapleton Road traders who saw a nearby threat being planned uncomfortably close to them?

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The sign is a sign, but when viewed from the steps out of the IKEA car park, it looks like this.

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This concrete obsolescence is the M32. Pollution levels are high. We are leaving New Stadium Road and joining Napier Road. A row of houses  in the sunshine beyond the M32 mark our arrival at Stapleton Road. A huge sign on the motorway  above reminds us that people driving cars get lots of help with remembering where they are going and when they need to turn off. The cycle crossing is for the Frome Valley Greenway which follows the line of the Frome River right into the city centre. It’s a successful shared-use path that could do with a bit of refurbishment and improvement (especially where it uses narrow underpasses beyond Junction 3). My journey takes me south, so I shall be turning right at the crossing. I shall be turning right because I know the way. There is no obvious signpost to help the uncertain despite this being a pretty major junction.

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Photograph 21 gives a better view of the raised table and road markings that enable users of the Frome Valley Greenway to take their right of way against motor vehicle traffic. It works well.

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As we follow the gap between Stapleton Road and the Frome Valley Greenway we finally see a useful signpost just before the railway line that marks the edge of Fox Park. Unsurprisingly the shops are signed but the nearby railway station isn’t. “Commerce trumps sustainable transport”seems to be a major theme of this exploration.

In conclusion, we have travelled no more than a kilometre and seen a lot of failings in what is still one of the best off-road short-cuts in the city. My personal hobbyhorse in such things is the failure to make such routes as visible and legible as possible. Here’s a picture of a good sign. The same sign featured in photograph 22.

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There need to be a lot more like it, they need to be regularly maintained and more destinations (schools for example) should be mentioned. Cyclists are not racing past, they have time to read what the signs say. Every journey can be an encouragement to use the bike for new destinations and to explore more of the city. Signage costs a lot less than rocket science and is far more worthwhile.

Cycling in Bristol24

The Beginning

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Considerate Cycling 52: A letter to my MP about Space for Cycling

Cycling in Bristol

I have just sent off an email to my MP, the Labour Member for Clifton West in Bristol. I used the template from a CTC mailout to make my own case:

To: Ms Thangam Debbonaire, MP Bristol West
Subject: Please back Funding for Cycling

Dear Thangam,

I am a member of Bristol Cycling Campaign and of the CTC, whose members are being asked to send you an email about funds for cycling that will fall to local authorities to provide out of steadily diminishing resources.

I have used the CTC’s campaign letter as a basis for what I would like to say, but I have tried to add some things that reflect the situation I am in and leave out lots of things that I’m sure you will already  be seeing in other emails.

Firstly,  I would urge you to back a call from the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group (APPCG) for annual funding of at least £10 per person for cycling, rising as quickly as possible to £20 or more. Adrian Davis, who has done a lot of work for public health in Bristol has published summaries of the work that has been done to show how the cost benefits of spending on shifts towards more cycling have disproportionate benefits in other spending areas – reducing the costs of ill-health and casualties (for example) by more than the amounts spent on cycling. (http://travelwest.info/project/ee-30-cost-benefit-analysis-of-walking-and-cycle-track-network)

Prime Minister David Cameron and cycling minister Robert Goodwill MP both backed spending of at least £10 per person during this year’s general election campaign.  Yet the media reports that even this minimal investment may still not be forthcoming. This really should be challenged.

As a retired person, living in a block of retirement flats in Clifton I have the advantage of a bicycle and plenty of places within easy reach so I don’t need a car. I can visit family in Easton and Lockleaze, 3 miles away, without difficulty.

But I am an experienced cyclist who is still in good health.

I would like my granddaughter to be able to cycle over to see me and her Granny as soon as she is old enough (at about 10)  – perhaps bringing her Mum, Dad or Uncle with her. As I will be into my 70s by then I would still like to cycle the journey myself sometimes. The hills are no problem (I will go more slowly or possibly add electric assistance) but the way the roads are laid out and managed at present give so much privilege to the rapid movement of motor vehicles and so little support to cycling that I can see a time not far off when the conflict will seem too much of a hazard.

Children and older people really should be able to cycle across our compact city without competing so much with motor vehicles. Even on quiet 20mph streets motor traffic can still  be very hostile (as Bristol’s casualty data make clear) .The cost of rearranging things will not be anywhere near as high as past expenditures on road building so I would see it as not a “luxury we can’t afford” but a “necessity that can help us survive better in the future”

As your constituent I would therefore urge you to support the APPCG’s letter and call for a proper degree of funding for cycling (and, indeed for walking).

Your support will help ensure we have safer streets, cleaner air, a healthier population and more funds in the public coffers. I hope I can count on your support for cycling, a means of transport which is one of the biggest and most worthwhile projects of all.

Yours sincerely,

Sam Saunders

Considerate Cycling 51: Bristol Cyclists, Pedestrians, Police Data and Emergency Admissions to Hospital

 Cycles-To-A&E

This blog was co-authored by Rob Harding (who did all the real work)

 In Bristol, as in the UK as a whole, there are two main sources of information on road traffic incidents causing injury and involving cyclists. Each has its strengths and weaknesses.

Police incident records, known as STATS19 reports, give a specific location for the incident, a series of context details and a brief account of what happened. The reporting Officer also ticks one or more “contributory factors” from a long list to give some sense of “why” things had gone wrong. In some cases, from reading these reports, it’s possible to form a view on who was most at fault. We know, however, that there is a degree of under- or even mis-reporting and that police themselves have some concerns as to the accuracy and consistency of the reports. Some are completed at the scene, others might be done some time later and it is not hard to imagine that on busy days some might not be reported at all.

Bristol Council’s Highway and Transport Management Department use the STATS19 data to analyse trends and to rank contributory factors within the city (“failed to look properly” is far and away the most commonly cited factor). They also add the location and summary details of each incident to the map displayed on the Bristol – Pinpoint Local Information page. National data can be explored here on the UK Government data website or here on the excellent CycleStreets collision map, one incident at a time, with lots of detail.

Augmenting the Police data, Bristol City Council’s Directorate of Public Health produce figures for Bristol emergency admissions to hospital due to transport related accidents. These are records of Bristolian residents who arrive at hospital A&E Departments following transport related “accidents” (their choice of word). These figures comprise allBristol residents’ admissions whereever in the country the traffic-related injuries were incurred. They are thought to be more comprehensive than the Police reports but incidents are not identifiable by street location and, while they identify the types of road user, they don’t identify the more detailed factors that might lie behind the road traffic injuries.

So what does the Bristol Emergency Admissions data tell us about cyclists and road traffic incidents in Bristol?

In 2014 44 Bristol cyclists were admitted to hospital as a result of collisions with motorised vehicles. Separate studies, by BCyC members of incidents in Gloucester Road and Cabot Ward, suggest that a majority of these are associated with motor vehicle drivers “failing to look properly” or some other factor that relates to motor vehicle driver behaviour. As well as these casualties, 113 more cyclists were admitted to hospital as a result of non-collision transport incidents. Given the lack of narrative or the identity of specific locations, it is difficult to pin down causes and propose remedial actions for these non collision accidents but road surfaces (that could be remedied with prompt action) are associated with a significant proportion.

Plotting them against time of year shows peaks in December and June. A 2010 survey, biased towards commuters, suggested that 25% of incidents were the result of ice but that still leaves a large number unaccounted for.

As far as trends are concerned, in the last five years an average of just under 40 Bristol cyclists were hospitalised each year as a result of collisions with motorised vehicles. This compares with an average of just over 27 per year between 2003 and 2007 (the earliest years for which we have figures). While it is difficult to accurately adjust these figures to allow for the increased level (perhaps a doubling) of cycling in the city, they would not seem to suggest that cycling has got more dangerous. On the other hand it cannot be said that they demonstrate a clear “safety in numbers” effect either.

With regard to pedestrians, in 2014 73 Bristol people were injured as a result of collisions with motorised vehicles compared with 5 injured in collisions with cyclists. Put another way, 93.5% of pedestrians admitted to hospital were injured in collisions with motorists compared to 6.5% injured in collisions with cyclists. The latter figure includes those injured when stepping off the pavement and into the path of cyclists as well as those injured by pavement cyclists (it is not possible to break the figures down any further). The figures do show that the overwhelming number of pedestrian casualties are caused by collisions with motorised vehicles and, because lower collision speeds cause lesser injuries, provide clear evidence of the need for 20 mph enforcement, even if there was no reduction in the number of collisions. Injury increases with mass and with velocity and every day in Bristol there are, on average, 5 Police reports of road traffic casualty incidents of one sort or another.

Considerate Cycling 49: Some Casualty Data

This month another batch of road casualty data was published by the Department for Transport. Grouped by Police Force Area, it comprises the most recent twelve months figures for each area up to January 2015. I have extracted the following graph, comparing the area surrounding Bristol (the Avon and Somerset Police Force Area) with Gloucestershire (because we are neighbours) and with eight other (mostly urban) areas where the largest cities can be found. Have a look first and see what sense you can make of it and what questions it raises.

Selected-Casualities-to-Jan

The per capita columns, in red, warn us that London had the worst odds for anyone wanting to avoid injury in 2014 while the green columns suggest they also have the best odds for avoiding death.

Gloucestershire stands out as having by far the worst record for road deaths per one thousand people and being one of only three areas (along with Avon and Somerset and Nottinghamshire) where fatalities are disproportionately high when set against figures for all casualties. The contrast between Gloucestershire and London (The Metropolitan and The City of London Police Force Areas together) is striking. In Gloucestershire fatalities make up a much bigger share of the road carnage than is the case in London.

Beyond these simple generalisations there are only questions and guesses. I think I would be going to Gloucester and to Bristol (and Nottingham) and asking to see data on every fatality for that 12 months and asking what design suggestions emerge from the forensic evidence.  Are any related to road layouts? To speed?  To surfaces, signage or  sight-lines?  If carelessness is involved could the road or its immediate environment have reduced the danger of someone being careless another occasion?

I have one other thought arising form this graph and that is that however unreliable the data for injuries are, we can probably treat data on fatalities as highly reliable. We know that a lot of casualties go unrecorded, even when injuries are sustained but deaths are different. Areas that have what appear to be relatively (rather than absolutely) high on fatality rates might simply be under-reporting slight (and even serious) casualties.

Mostly, I wonder if anyone knows of research that analyses the lessons learned from road fatalities or the effectiveness of actions that have been taken as a result?

Considerate Cycling 48: Primrose Paint and Good Intentions

My email box this week included a message about tonight’s Neighbourhood Forum meeting for Cabot, Clifton and Clifton East in Bristol. The text of the email read: “a late statement- lots of cross residents”. Attached was a one page document with text and three pictures, as follows:

Yellow Lines in Clifton Village

At the last Partnership meeting, I mad a statement asking that care should be made when marking out RPZ and had a meeting with John Toy (but no further replies when I asked questions again that had not been answered

Last week I tackled the men when I saw them painting broad yellow lines and told them they should be putting down primrose yellow narrow lines since it is a conservation area. They said they that if there were broad lines before they would be replaced by broad lines since they would have to burn off the lines and start again.

This is simply not true, there are many places where you can see narrow lines on older yellow lines (eg Princes Buildings). You also get the stupidity of Royal York Crescent and the Paragon where you have narrow lines on one side and broad lines down the other.

You get joins of broad lines to narrow lines eg top of Princess Victoria St, and Royal York Crescent.

Do not spoil our conservation area for the sake of a ha’porth of tar. You must be consistent with narrow lines”

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CCCENP-2

CCCENP-3

   There are also all sorts of stupidities down Princess Victoria Street. They have put yellow lines outside a shop (about number 69) which has no off street parking and outside other houses further down the street (89).

I can see that a lack of primrose coloured paint on narrowed double yellow lines might make some people slightly agitated and I can visualise a perfect world in which it would really matter (Staithes in North Yorkshire comes to mind). However, this is a note about Clifton in Bristol. Clifton has its attractions, but the elegance and aesthetic appeal of its roads, streets and paths are not among them. Even if they were beautiful it would be hard to see them on some days for the numbers of cars, buses, vans and lorries parked on or moving slowly along them. Here are a couple of my own snaps.

a bit messy in Clifton

bigger problems

choked with cars

So what’s my point? I’m not sure really. Firstly, I think that motor vehicles are becoming the ruin of our pleasant city and secondly I think that some individuals are starting to use the policy vacuum of artificial “neighbourhood” structures as a ventilation for trivia that drive out consideration of things that have wider and greater importance.

I have attended a few meetings of the Cabot, Clifton and Clifton East Neighbourhood Forums but I don’t think I shall be there tonight.

Considerate Cycling 45: Normal People

Inconsiderate behaviour in public (however we construe inconsiderate behaviour) is a normal background noise in all our lives. We exhibit some and we experience some. Sometimes it feels worse, sometimes better. My point in this blog is that righteous indignation at bad behaviour on the roads has no practical value and might be a barrier to the improvement of public happiness. I am suggesting that we need a better common sense understanding of “normal” and we need to think about better ways to reduce road conflict and the anxiety and the damage that arise from it.

Let’s suppose, for the sake of analysis, that an unwanted level of inconsiderate behaviour is a normally distributed feature of human nature. 68% of our population, let’s guess, will shelter in the normal zone of doing their imperfect best. Some will show us a way of being better than expected and some will disappoint us. Let’s guess at 13.5% in each of those categories. Beyond them perhaps, a tiny fraction of the population are saints or criminals who will contribute exceptional altruism or unacceptable danger. A wide range of naturally occurring attributes (like height and weight for example) seem to be distributed in this predictably symmetrical sort of way. We call it the “normal distribution”.

Here is a picture of the normal distribution of the propensity towards considerate road behaviour in the adult population. The labels might be unexpected, but the shape of the normal distribution is a familiar sight:

The coloured space under the curve represents a whole set of people (let’s say the adult population of Bristol). The horizontal axis represents the extent to which people deviate, in one direction or the other, from the considerate mean.

For the purposes of this blog I am assuming that you (the reader) and I (the writer) are normal people. The odds are with me on that assumption. More than two thirds of the population are close to the norm, so you and I probably are too.

Let’s focus on the other people. More specifically let’s think about the 27 or 28 in every 200 (the 13.65%) who are the “bad people” and the “criminals”. Let’s focus on their road behaviour. Let’s be more precise and think about them on their way to work in the morning.

Here are some of them:

That looks a bit jumbled and inconclusive but we do have a more precise image of one Spring day in 2011 because every householder in the city was asked, as part of the decennial census, how each person in the house got to work on that day. 192,154
adults made such a journey, with 99,695 driving, 38,832 walking and 15,768 cycling. Others traveled by bus, train, motorbike, bus or other means. I shall assume all of those groups are normal in their shares of considerate and inconsiderate people. It’s a reasonable assumption. Here is a picture of the bad people and the criminals who were driving, walking or cycling around Bristol last Tuesday. They are same people (mostly) who were doing the same sorts of things on the day of the 2011 Census.

Normal Bad Behviour on Census Day 2011 In Bristol By selceted Modes Of Travel To Workdata taken from Table CT0015: 2011 Census: Method of travel to work (alternative), local authorities in England and Wales

The criminally inconsiderate people who were driving, walking or cycling are hard to see. In the flow of 67,793 cars and vans there will only be 249 with extreme tendencies, and the chances are that things go smoothly enough an any given day and none of them do any harm. But let’s not be complacent. There were 97 criminally inconsiderate people walking to work and 39 dangerously inclined people on bikes. There were also quite large numbers of people whose tendencies we had already agreed are likely to be “bad”. Over 20,000.

Let’s remember that Bristol is a small place and that in the light of the numbers of inconsiderate people we think might be travelling through the city it’s not surprising that there were 2,075 reports of road traffic accidents in the the 12 months between August 2011 and September 2012. On average, there were 5 reports per day over those 12 months, with a peak of 6.5 each Thursday and a calmer 2.9 on Sundays.

What this all means is that nervous people are right to be nervous. On any given working day there are likely to be 5 incidents actually recorded by the Police on Bristol roads where someone gets hurt. Occasionally it’s even worse.

So what do we do? Shout at the bad people? Make them take tests? Tell them to use air bags in their vehicles? Close the crossings, traffic lights and pavements?

No, these are silly rhetorical questions. What we do is consider the situation intelligently and then spend a lot of money on reducing the number and the severity of conflicts between dangerous vehicles and vulnerable people. We ask law makers and law enforcement officers to intervene wherever and in whatever circumstances the conflicts are known to lead to casualties. We ask them to stop treating collisions as normal and therefore acceptable. We ask them to start seeing collisions as common but unacceptable and legislating then prosecuting wherever is necessary. We reduce speed limits, we reduce access to some streets, we take cases to court. We set up instruction and refresher training courses for road users who ask for it or who show by their convictions that they need it.

More importantly we build roads and pathways and reorganise streets so that the total volume of conflicts is dramatically reduced. If there are a lot of motor vehicles that might reasonably expect to move quickly, we make sure that walking, cycling and other vulnerable modes of travel can complete journeys without coming into direct contact with them.

If we did such bold things systematically, and with a measured plan (as a lot of similar countries already have) the five a day rule could be a thing of the past. Even the bad and criminal people would a) have less to be angry or anxious about as they travel and b) only be likely to have collisions with their equals in momentum. (some further reading)

In every other modern endeavour we notice where things go wrong, we work out ways of reducing the risks, the hazards and the severity of the outcomes and we spend some resources on dealing with them. We also recognise that this process has to be sustained – renewed and refreshed at each level as time brings improvement.

So why not take one of the last bold steps for a post-industrial city and catch up with fellow cities in Europe and accept the normal distribution of human failings. Let’s remake our roads, pathways and streets to reduce the conflicts. Let’s enforce the rules we have set for sensible behaviour and not let the agents of the law accept that collisions are inevitable simply because they are so common. Let’s arrange for children to be able to cycle to school and to have cycling and road craft as part of their curriculum. Let’s make some new rules (a universal 20mph in towns and cities for example). Let’s also make it compulsory or easy for people who need to learn better ways to do so, whatever mode they chose.

To put all that another way, we can’t stop people being normally inclined, but if we act wisely in relation to urban travel we can reduce the harm done by the normally occurring lack of consideration and the violence that follows from it.

Considerate Cycling 43: Them and Us

The following story was written by someone I know and trust. I asked him to write it down after he had told it to me over the telephone. I reproduce it here as he wrote it. He is not a “cycle campaigner” and does not follow the kinds of on-line debates and discussions that are familiar to cycle campaigners. I mention this because the report seems to me to contain both corroboration and further insight for those who do write and speak about the changes our road culture is going through at the present time. The irrelevant photograph is one of my own and so is the significant footnote.


Them and Us

Whilst cycling home the other day I was hit by a car. I was in a cycle lane with a solid white line in between the cycle/bus lane and the other traffic. I was traveling at 20mph, which was a lot faster than the traffic in the lane to my right, as it was “rush” hour. Suddenly, and without any indication, a car turned left, driving straight into my path. I had absolutely no chance to avoid the car, or even apply brakes. As I slammed into the tail light of the BMW I just had time to hope that my injuries wouldn’t be too bad. Once I landed, I dragged myself (whilst voicing my discomfort) to the pavement, trying not to look at the gaping hole in my knee.

The driver and his passenger got out immediately and phoned for an ambulance. I am very grateful that they didn’t just drive off, and that they stayed to ensure that I was OK. This was refreshing as the last time I got hit by a car, the drivers first reaction was to shout at me and ask me if I had my lights on! One thing they said, that was a little off, was along the lines of “the council should do something about that cycle lane, move it onto the pavement”. It seemed off to me because they where already trying to shift the blame onto something other than the driver just not looking for, or not seeing me.

When the police arrived, as first on the scene, they immediately took on the role of paramedics, asking the important questions to verify the extent of my injuries – where did it hurt, had I passed out, did I bang my head, was my neck injured, could I move my toes… Clearly they are well trained and had plenty of experience being first on the scene of Road traffic accidents. Once they had dealt with my main injury, they then asked me whether I was wearing a helmet. At first I thought this was to double check that I had no head injury, but as he made a note in his book, I realised the purpose was not to help me, but must be for some other purpose. The next question sealed it – Were you wearing headphones?…. What would that tell them? How would that help them understand my injuries? I realised then that they are trying to collect data about accidents involving cyclists to see if wearing a helmet or headphones contributes to accidents in some way. At first you might think this would be useful and may help inform good policy or code changes. But there are two issues I have with this. The first is that wearing headphones had absolutely nothing to do with the accident. The headphones I have are designed for cyclists and do not block the ear canal, so even though I could hear the traffic around me it still did not help predict the sudden change of direction that the car took. The second issue I have is about balance. Why should a cyclist have to hear what’s going on around them anyway? A car driver with windows closed and radio on cannot hear anything outside the car.

So, I was now a bit more sensitive to imbalance in the views of those that where there to help me, some more subtle and others being openly anti-cyclist. Both the paramedic and ambulance driver declared that they disliked cyclists. “Why?” I asked, “do you peel many cyclists off the road”, “yes” was the answer. So why, I thought, do they hate cyclists and not the unobservant drivers that crashed into them? The ambulance driver asked me, more than once, about how much I’d spent on my glasses and whether I’d spent more on my glasses than on my bike. When I admitted that indeed my bike was more expensive she seemed to think that this explained why I got hit by a car, and advised me to get new, more expensive ones. When we arrived at the hospital she even passed on this piece of wisdom to the person that helped remove the trolley I was on from the back of the ambulance.

When I was delivered to A&E one of the first doctors to see me was another cyclist. He was much more understanding and asked to see my helmet. Rather than checking the outside of the helmet for breaks and cracks as the police had done, he checked the inside and found a large crack in the lining. Not only did this tell me that my helmet had probably helped prevent a head injury it also brought some balance to the proceedings and provided good advice. Here was someone who understood my plight, made no comments about who was to blame, was informed about what to check for and advised me to replace my helmet. Sadly he was not my doctor, but just a concerned fellow cyclist.

The next comment, from a doctor that passed the trolley I was on, really annoyed me. He announced that I must be “another bloody cyclist who had run a red light!” He knew nothing about what had happened, yet here he was presuming to pass judgement for a crime that I did not commit (and one that I myself get annoyed by whenever I see a cyclist do it).

Finally, after a very long wait in A&E, the doctor that patched me up (and did a fantastic job of the stitching), told me about all the times that she saw cyclists running red lights. As I myself get annoyed by this I understood her and agreed, but I got the impression that she felt that this was something all cyclists do rather than just a few idiots who take stupid risks. What about all the indiscretions of drivers, I thought: turning without indicating, driving whilst talking on mobile phones, trying to stop children fighting on the back seat, accelerating to beat the lights as they change to red, weaving through heavy traffic, having their lunch… the list goes on. None of these things seem to create a dislike of car drivers generally, they just annoy us about that particular driver, at that time. The key difference here is that every time one cyclist does something stupid it taints people’s opinions about every cyclist.

So, what’s the point of this spleen venting? What conclusions might be derived from this experience? The main conclusion that I myself draw is that people seem to want to blame cyclists for getting hit by drivers. At no point was I blamed directly, no one said that I was in the wrong specifically, but I got the distinct impression that people generally believe that cyclists are dangerous and do not observe the Highway Code. If this impression of people’s views towards cyclists is correct then I am concerned about the way transport policy and planning might develop if informed by the data and views collected and given by emergency services staff “on the ground”. It is likely to end up in tighter controls for cyclists rather than also considering development of better guidance and training for drivers and better design of our transport infrastructure.

Another conclusion I draw from this, as well as observation over time, is that some cyclists do not follow the Highway Code and in so doing not only put themselves at risk of injury or worse, but their behaviour also reflects on all other cyclists. In contrast, when drivers flout the Highway Code this not only endangers themselves, it also endangers other road users, some of whom are less well protected than themselves. The other key difference between cyclists and drivers is that the indiscretions of those few bad drivers (or those that are simply momentarily distracted) does not reflect on all of us. This is because, for the majority, cyclists are Them and drivers are Us. What I hope is for a change in philosophy, to one where each road user is aware of how their actions may affect others, not just how other users affect them, that better design of our transport infrastructure can reduce the risk for more vulnerable road users. Finally I hope that considerate road users can become Us and that unobservant road users who drive or cycle without due care and attention become an increasingly rare Them.

Footnote: In a subsequent email conversation I have learned that the driver has already admitted fault to his insurers and they have contacted the cyclist to find out what the damage is.