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 50: A Tale of a Cycling Excursion and a Police Officer

Bristol's Cycle Sunday  Cycle Sunday

On the morning of Sunday 19th April a section of Circular Road on the Bristol Downs was opened for people and bicycles. For a few hours hundreds and hundreds of people of all ages had a whale of a time on bikes – learning, practicing, coaching, watching, being serious, having fun and having more fun. It was a very sociable and good natured event with plenty of professional support. When I asked a medic for the casualty count as I left she said, with a big smile, that it stood at “none”.  I went home and put loads of photographs into a Flickr set. (click it to see it!)

This afternoon I was out and about again enjoying the good weather. This time I was in the City noticing lots of people out on their bikes. As I looked across College Green a familiar cycling figure turned up, bowling along one of Bristol’s more decorative cycle tracks. We both agreed what a fine event the first Cycle Sunday had been and hoped there would be plenty more to follow it up. However, he did tell me another story that didn’t have the same positive feel to it. He and some fellow cyclists had met on the Downs that morning to see how things were going before setting off on a longer journey of their own.

The story jolted me a bit. I asked if he would write it down so I could share it. Like the story of the damaged knee it is likely to raise all sorts of reactions. My purpose in this blog in general is to consider, to be considerate and to encourage consideration (in the very widest sense of that useful word). So please feel free to offer a response that considers the issues considerately. My own memory of the day is best summed up in this photograph – a small step to a whole future of adventures, self-confidence and good health, perhaps for thousands of people in Bristol.

First_Step A First Step

The Tale Itself

The “Cycling on the Downs” event was tremendous. The road was full of adults and children cycling, all over the place, in all directions. With so much more space than on a typical cycle path. Exhilarating. A large part of Circular Road was closed to motorists. From 8am to 11am. Ladies Mile was not closed to motorists. Nor was Stoke Road, the fast road across the Downs.

A group of a dozen of us cycled to Portishead from The Downs. We cycled down Ladies Mile, surprisingly not closed to motorists, two-abreast. Legally (there is room to overtake to the right of the centre line), safely (is in a 20mph zone) and considerately (we were cycling at 13mph in a 20 mph zone). After less than a minute (the road is only about half a mile or a couple of minutes long) a couple of motorists behind sounded their horns. A car overtook, shouting abuse through the open passenger window. Further down I saw him cut in aggressively on one of my companions.

Then a police car pulled alongside and asked me not to ride two-abreast. I declined, pointing out that it was the correct thing to do. Instead of following after the abusive motorist ahead, he dropped back, and then pulled past me too closely. It would be misleading to say that the police car was forcing me into the kerb. A companion later described it as “shepherding” – the police car appeared to try to shepherd me towards the gutter. I caught up the police car and asked the driver to pull over so that I could have a word. And he asked me to pull over so that he could have a word.

I complained that he had passed me unreasonably closely. He told me that I should not be riding two-abreast, and was causing an obstruction. I objected that the highway code endorses riding two-abreast, as do national cycling bodies such as British Cycling, and that I was riding at a reasonable speed in a 20mph zone with space to overtake. The police officer responded that “obviously” some motorists will want to go faster than 20mph. He said that the police receive complaints from motorists that cyclists cause obstructions and that they have to respond to complaints from the public.

Congratulations to the organisers, and thanks to the Downs Committee for permitting this event on part of one road on part of one Sunday morning.

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.

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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.