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.

Advertisements

Considerate Cycling 34: “What’s Wrong With These People?”

There are some things that we can do, lots of things that we ought to do and even more things that we have to do. Among them there are also some things that we want to do. But in practice there are, eventually, only things that we actually do. I have cycling on mind, of course, and I am interested in a kind of sociology that would make sense of the following situation.

It’s a practical cycling problem in a specific place: a short section of College Green in Bristol has a two way segregated cycle track that runs for about 100 metres on the rise up towards City Hall, with Clifton beyond. At the end nearest to City Hall it stops abruptly. The picture shows the options. There is a left turn into shared space on the Green itself, there is an easy continuation on the pavement towards a bike rack and City Hall and there is a right turn onto the roadway.

1

It’s the right turn in picture 1 that interests me. Sometimes I am going towards Clifton and want to join the road here. Sometimes I am coming the other way and want to turn right from the road onto the segregated track. Look at picture 2 and notice that apart from the ordinary light controlled crossing there are also three sections of dropped kerb. I have marked them with big red and white arrows. If you ride a bike you might take a moment to visualise yourself coming up the track and then down the road, in each case intending to continue in the same direction. What do you want to do? What can you do? What should you do? Is there anything you absolutely must do? The cyclist has chosen the middle approach and is waiting against the post that has no button to press. The car is approaching the first of two sets of studs that mark out the pedestrian crossing.

2

Picture 2a shows the three options from a different angle.

2a

In picture 3 we have the normal mêlée on a quiet sunny day. There are bits of all sorts going on.

3

Picture 4 starts to clarify my problem. A cyclist is travelling towards Park Street, on the segregated track. Until this point he wanted to go somewhere, had the wherewithal to get there, and would be happy doing what he knew he ought to do.

4

In picture 5 he is a little closer to finding that one of those things is changing. He is going to find that there are three dropped kerbs. One for the pedestrian crossing and one each side – possibly for cyclists.

5

Picture 6 has him heading across to the offside of the cycle track and over the pedestrian crossing. Seeing there was no one around he has taken the easiest route for that manoeuvre, as most people seem to do when conditions allow.

6

A few minutes later, (see picture 7) the move has become less easy. Someone else coming the other way wants to use that dropped kerb so he can get into the left hand cycle lane where he will feel comfortable. He’s in a hurry to stay clear of traffic approaching a green light at the crossing.

7

In picture 8 the other cyclist has hung back but then he goes. He chooses the first of the three dropped kerbs, uncluttered as it is by posts or standing kerbs. Basically it’s a lot easier than tacking round the posts.

8

As long as no one is around none of this matters much. But look at what happens in pictures 9 and 10. Notice the hidden fellow far left with green lining to his hood in picture 9. He’s on a bike and he turns across someone heading up the track in picture 10. Meanwhile a pedestrian is using his green light to cross the road while another cyclist is waiting at the red.

9

10

Two seconds later the lights are changing and more is happening (see Picture 11). The car is revving to go, the downhill cyclist has set off, our small-wheeled cycle has chosen dropped kerb 2 and someone coming more quickly off the cycle path to our left is already in the roadway and heading into the road space being approached by a cyclist and a car. Fortunately the car is holding back because a pedestrian has made a late appearance on the crossing while the traffic light has changed from red to flashing amber.

11

The crossing is often much busier than this, with heavy traffic at peak periods. It’s safe to say that traffic movements are unpredictable and the “correct” way for cyclists to use the lights and the dropped kerbs are not straightforward. This is a bus route with a frequent service and the roadway is used fairly indiscriminately by delivery drives at all times of the day (note the white truck with its back doors open in picture 11).

This fairly innocuous situation interests me because it’s an example of a common phenomenon. That is, it is a sophisticated bit of cycling infrastructure that offers a positive experience for a short span and then inflicts a difficult decision on what to do next. My suspicion that too many experiences like this lead both cyclists and sceptical road users who interact with them to become less co-operative and less confident.

My Venn diagram offers some insight I think.

The diagram isolates four background features of an individual’s action in a given context. Given that an action can be purposeful, personally satisfying, socially approved and skilfully achieved, each to different degrees, it offers a map of the balancing act that comprises any action and the zones of congruence that might be associated with greater or lesser social comfort. The denser the overlaps the greater the unity of purpose, expectation and accomplishment. The closer to the periphery an action falls, the less coherent and the more disruptive it is likely to be.

The “should” part is what other people want or expect to happen. Formally, informally, explicitly or implicitly there is usually some sense of what should happen in any situation. The “has to” part encompasses those parts of the context that cannot be gainsaid. Force or vital need might be involved. “Wants to” is the individual’s own desire to complete the action successfully. “Can” is the result of the individual’s ability, knowledge, instruction and resources relative to the inherent demands of the action itself.

So if things are a bit chaotic, what can we conclude? Assuming that the degree of chaos matters at all, how can we fix it? The diagram suggests we look at four sets of questions – not just the one or two things that first come to mind. And then it asks how a responsible person or body can evaluate the efficacy and efficiently of trying to improve the situation having considered each of the background features.

In our “end of the cycle track” case let’s assume that the general level of unpredictability and discomfort is higher than we want it to be. Let’s imagine there have been bumps and bruises (or worse) and some complaints that are spilling over into wider conflicts between different kinds of road user. How can the background features of the troublesome actions be adjusted?

Let’s not try to influence “has to” or “wants to” for now. They might be significant but fo this exercise let’s take them as given, or, at least randomly distributed. “Can” is more promising. “Can” implies knowhow. Do our pedestrians and cyclists know how this arrangement works? Do they know which buttons to press or which route of dropped kerb to take? Are they able to monitor all the other crossing users and where they might be coming from? Can they manoeuvre the bicycle confidently enough to make the tight turns necessary for some of the options? Is it clear which phases of the light sequence applies to cyclists who want to shift from track to road in a diagonal or convergent manner? Have they been able to read anything about this in the Highway Code? This last question leads onto the “should” section. If you are expected to do one thing rather than another it will soon become obvious if you are doing the wrong thing. At some point someone will call you up on it, formally or informally. Maybe a police officer will have a word. Or there might be a mass media flurry of disapproval like the red light jumping panic or even a campaign. In the case I have described it was clearly possible, and easy, for cyclist to just keep cycling and complete the journey up Park Street on the pavement. It says something about the strength of “should” among cyclists that most people did not do this. So much for my “Bristolians are all anarchists” theory.

Changing minds (“wants to”) is hard. Changing the geometry of those turns, putting some paint down, separating pedestrians and cyclists – one or all of these might improve things on the “can” front. People can be given information via simple signs on the ground and the manoeuvres can be made easier with gentler, more visible curves. Difficulties associated with perceptual overload can be reduced by moving the end of the cycle track much further away from the pedestrian lights. Eventually habit itself makes things more predictable and invests them with a sense of “ought to”.

Other situations will be different. But each one might benefit from using some sort of thinking guide like the one I started with. At least we would be dissuaded from shouting “What’s Wrong With These People?”

Considerate Cycling 32: Roads And Circuses

At the centre of the top half of this Google capture a white car is passing the end of an advisory cycle lane at the top of Queens Road in Bristol. I went there yesterday to photograph and observe the lane as part of ongoing efforts to identify cycling infrastructure that seems to create as many problems as it solves. My impression was that the lane encouraged unwary cyclists to approach the imminent junction and the subsequent lane narrowing in a vulnerable road position. I noted that while I was there buses, delivery vehicles and cars often made left turns that included encroachment into the cycle lane and that an old-school vehicular cyclist would opt to approach that junction further away from the curb than the cycle lane allowed. My observations indicated that nearly all cyclists stayed in the lane and that none of them suffered as a consequence. However, they also made me more confident that moving out of that lane before its end would be a sensible thing to do for anyone not making a left turn and that using it to undertake slower moving traffic would be a bad idea, given the increased possibility of a collision with a left-turning vehicle on the junction itself.

As I watched and took photographs I noticed a number of non-standard improvisations by people on bicycles. Most of these were the ordinarily annoying pavement cyclists of Bristol. One, however, stood out as exceptional. I noticed him opposite the zebra crossing in the outside lane in the spot marked with the red cross nearer the top of that Google picture. He ended up at the red cross in the shadow of the building at the bottom of the picture. His progress is captured in this sequence of 6 photographs.

1

2

3

4

5

6

The six pictures cover the space of a minute, most of which were spent expertly balancing the bike on the narrow island between the lanes of briskly moving traffic. A gap in the north-bound traffic coincided with the arrival on the footpath of a baby buggy and a determined gentleman in a suit.

I wonder what the impact of the cyclist’s display of circus skills was on passing drivers, on the woman with the baby and the man on foot? My first guess is that they did not make any of them feel more calm, more safe or more well-disposed to cycling in general.

I would rather not have to say this, but this kind of thing is not hard to find in Bristol and it does harm the cause of sustainable and inclusive traffic rather than help it. Circus tricks might entertain the easily entertained, but (just as with Jeremy Clarkson) the improvement of public life is not advanced one bit.

The Highway As A Free Car Park

Sometimes we forget just how much our common sense and comfort can be usurped by the motor car. We love them and need them so much, we get confused. It’s all too easy to let our dotage blind us to otherwise obvious realities.

Let me give one example. We generally assume, without actually recognising it or saying so out loud, that the highway is a free car park. The highway is, of course and without question, a normal and perfectly acceptable place to leave a car all day, overnight, or even for weeks at a time. In the absence of strong reminders not to we assume an absolute right to park wherever and however we choose.

So, in this Bristol street, with no signs to say “NO, DON’T!”, a Renault driver (picture above) has been flustered, a bit late for work and not very good at accurate parking, perhaps.  Never mind, it happens to us all and no one was watching.  Twelve inches or so from the curb isn’t that much and no one will mind.

However, as well as being a quiet residential street, this particular free car park is also a public highway with plenty of people with good reason to want to travel along it. The width of the road was set in the middle of the nineteenth century and hasn’t changed since. Notice the vehicle at the top. It is about to collect rubbish from the street’s eight houses (some in multi-occupation) and then from the 32 appartments at the other end of the street that no one can see from the top.

The van driver has seen a problem and is turning round to get a better run at it. He is planning to reverse down.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the street a Royal Mail van has made deliveries to the 32 appartments (not visible in the picture) and is setting off to complete a good morning’s work (see above).

At this stage, the refuse vehicle has had to stop part way down and its driver has got out to scratch his head and suck his teeth. He’s a bit stuck. The gap between the parked cars is obviously too narrow and after some discussion the crew have run down the street to haul the wheelie bins from the eight houses all the way back up. I wonder if they will get a bonus? The Royal Mail van has to wait. There is no other way out.

But then, after a wait of only five minutes the Royal Mail van and another car are able to get on with their lives.  So all is well (see picture below).

Well, all would be well, but for the 32 appartments who have not had their rubbish collected at all. So the the whole process will have to start again tomorrow.

While I chatted to the driver of the refuse van, the subject of fire engines and ambulances cropped up. I happened to mention that the 32 appartments are part of an over-60s’ development and that paramedic vehicles make frequent calls. He told me that Bristol is generally terrible for access along the highways. He is too tactful to mention their other primary purpose as free car parks.

All this is known to Bristol City Council of course. But our innocent Renault driver will remain as oblivious as all the other people who are simply pleased to know about a handy free car park near to the offices and shops, conveniently placed right beside a public highway.

The Highway Code (bless it)  says: (para 243) “DO NOT stop or park … anywhere where you would prevent access for Emergency Services …” Roughly translated into English this means that you can prevent access for Emergency Services if you want, but if things go wrong you might get blamed.