Tag Archives: London

Cyclist Casualties: The Police Response

This is an article where I definitely have a foot in both camps. Following the recent high number of fatal collisions involving cyclists in London, the Met has launched Operation Safeway – a massive deployment of uniformed officers across several high-risk junctions, aimed at kerbing both poor driving and poor cycling. Today, there are 650 of them out and about. If all 32 boroughs are taking part, that’s a significant amount of their deployable officers on any one shift. There will be supplements of traffic officers, I expect, but they’re a fairly small branch themselves.

The trouble with these operations is that they’re short term – a reaction to a headline. Unless the Met can keep 650 officers on this operation every day, forever, then it won’t do a great deal. It is, in itself, another headline to react to the headline. I agree that “something must be done”, but there is only so much that the police can actually do. With all the million-and-one other responsibilities that officers have, there is little time to devote to traffic matters. A penalty notice for a traffic offence can take as long to issue and deal with (especially if it’s contested) as a Burglary. Unfortunately, both are priorities – and there aren’t enough staff to go around dealing with it all as much as we’d like.

I hope some good comes from Op Safeway; maybe the advice given out will save a few lives, and maybe a few dangerous vehicles and drivers will be taken off the road. But in order to be successful in the long-term, the Mayor’s office are going to have to come up with a better solution – segregated lanes, dedicated cycle expressways, restrictions on HGVs – whatever it may be. Hoping that drivers and cyclists will all suddenly get “better” at driving or riding won’t do.

Paying for an extra 650 police officers to do this permanently would cost about £25m in wages alone each year, so I doubt MOPAC are up for that, either.

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Cyclist Deaths in London

Croydon Cyclist Death

In the last 10 days, 6 cyclists have been killed on London’s roads. This is, perhaps, the highest number ever seen in the city in such a short period of time.

Without knowing the facts behind each individual case, it is impossible for me to comment in any informative way about these deaths. I see the arguments from all sides, since I am a car driver, a cyclist and a police officer. I’ve been in car accidents where I’ve hit another vehicle, I’ve been hit by other vehicles in my car, and I’ve been knocked off my bicycle by a car. I’ve attended dozens more RTC’s in my career, some fatal, some not.

Any road death is an absolute tragedy. Nobody sets out on the roads intending to kill anyone else. All too often, loved ones set out on a routine journey and they don’t make it to the other end. This happened to the fiance of one of my workmates, who now works in road death investigation, but she still lives with the consequences of a coach driver’s momentary inattentiveness to this day. 5 years later and it still haunts her. All too often, people get a sense of road rage, whether borne of frustration, annoyance at being late or held up – whatever the cause, the consequence is the same.

I read the news over at Road.CC and despair at some of the comments made. In many cycling forums, whenever a cyclist is killed, it is usually assumed that the cyclist is wholly innocent and that the car/bus/lorry driver must be at fault. I do not believe that is the case. These forums, where people are so blinkered that they cannot possibly conceive that a cyclist can do anything wrong, are not helping the cause to make roads safer. I have seen bad car driving, but I have also seen a metric fucktonne of bad cycling. Almost every day, I get people cycle at me while I cross at a green light. Almost every day, I get someone take a shortcut on the pavement around me as I walk.

Until cyclists take some responsibility en masse, nobody will listen to our concerns seriously. The counter-argument to cyclists’ demands for improved road safety measures is, “You don’t use the ones that are there anyway”. That means you need to ride in cycle lanes, where provided, stop at red lights and walk your bike if you want to go on the pavement. Don’t charge at pedestrians when they’re crossing. Don’t undertake vehicles that are turning. Don’t ride in blind spots and make sudden swerving manouevres. Ride sensibly.

No ride is so urgent that you should play with your life. Sensible riding is the only way to improve safety and get the added measures we all so desperately want. At the moment, nobody’s listening, and the righteous thunder of the Road.CC forums aren’t helping.

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Boris Bike Thefts

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Unlike cycle schemes in other cities, the rate of Boris Bike theft is remarkably low. In May 2013, only 143 bikes had been reported stolen. Assuming that number is now up to about 160 (and not counting bikes that have been stolen), that means that a bike gets stolen only about once in every 200,000 hires undertaken. By comparison, the Velib scheme operating in Paris had 16,000 of its 20,000 bikes damaged or stolen in only its first couple of years’ operation.

Why, then, are TfL’s bikes so rarely stolen compared to those in Paris? Part of the answer lies in culture; high unemployment in Paris, particularly amongst the youth, has led to something of a rebellion against a form of transport perceived to be primarily used by those affluent enough to do so. London has its areas of poverty and unemployment, but generally these aren’t in the Barclays Bike Hire footprint, most of which is in the most central parts of London. You won’t find many bikes in Newham, Tower Hamlets or Hackney, for example. But the other part of that answer lies in the security measures built in by TfL.

Barclays Bikes all require the user to enter their credit or debit card details when taking out a bike. It is simply impossible to do so any other way. Cash is not accepted. The other clever security feature lies in the absence of any locking mechanism, save for returning the bike to its dock. Walking around London, you simply won’t see Boris Bikes chained up to railings or casually left in the open for people to steal. The loss charge of ¬£300 is enough to focus the minds of users and ensure that the overwhelming majority of bikes are returned at the end of their journeys.

Whether TfL will be able to retain this level of success if the scheme is rolled out more broadly across London remains to be seen, but credit should be given to the Mayor’s office for stopping the bikes going the way of shopping trolleys and Piaggio mopeds.

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RideLondon Freecycle

Back in August, I took part in the Prudential RideLondon Freecycle, taking in an eight-mile traffic free loop of Central London. Registration is now open for next year’s event, although if you fancy the 100-mile ride out into Surrey, then you’ll have to already have registered as interest has proved overwhelming, with 50,000 people signing up in the first 24 hours alone!

Outside Buckingham Palace

For a TWT like me, the London-Surrey 100 is about 50 miles too long, but I was still able to enjoy punting around the capital this summer on my faithful hybrid. The route was an 8-mile circuit which could be joined anywhere. Mine started at the Houses of Parliament, where I then made my way down towards Green Park, along the Mall, out onto Whitehall, along the Victoria Embankment, a short climb up to St Paul’s Cathedral, a twisty route into the City of London, out the other side onto Tower Hill and then back towards the Embankment to do the loop all over again. It was an opportunity to see some stunning scenery without having to ride through London’s notoriously dense traffic.

For me, the first lap I did was by far and away the most enjoyable. Officially, I shouldn’t have started on the course until 9am, but I sneaked on at 8.30 (along with several others who had already done likewise) and was able to enjoy one of the most blissful 40 minutes’ cycling I’ve ever had in London. It was just me, wide open roads, no traffic and a whole city to play in. The second lap was much the same, only more people had started to join the route so there were times when I had to ride slightly slower. I then bumped into my parents, who had decided to come up and have a look at what this whole “cycling” thing was about, and didn’t get away onto a third lap until about 11am. By this time, so many people had taken to the road that it was completely impossible to move at a decent rate, and I found myself practically crushed in a crowd pedalling along at a leisurely 6mph. Unfortunately, children rarely have any idea how to ride in a group, so there were lots of youngsters swerving in front of other cyclists, groups suddenly stopping in the middle of the road, and pedestrians sometimes stepping off the pavements in front of us; it became less about the riding and more about “hazard avoidance”. Sadly, it stopped being fun, and I made sure that my third lap was my last – even though I could have gone twice the distance. The sheer number of participants had just made it impossible to move at anything like a decent pace – and I am absolutely¬†not a fast cyclist!

The roads for the RideLondon event had been closed from 0500 so, in a feedback survey to the organisers, I asked a simple question: why not open the course up from 0700 so that those of us early birds who like to go around a bit quicker can do so – then leave the rest of the day to the families and children? I haven’t heard back and it’s far too early to get detailed plans on next year’s event, but I hope this is the case. I don’t want to see limits placed on numbers, which would seem to defeat the object of a “freecycle”, or any attempts at lane segregation (I can’t see how that could be enforced), or age restrictions, so I think an earlier start time is the fairest for all and balances the desires of “faster” cyclists like me (with the proviso that it isn’t a racing event!) with the needs of those with young children and more “leisurely” participants.

These last-lap hiccups weren’t enough to ruin my day, though, and overall it was one of the most enjoyable cycling events I’ve ever taken part in. The entertainment laid on at Green Park, St Paul’s and Tower Hill was magnificent and while I’ve heard a few complaints in the Evening Standard about road closures and the impact on businesses in London, the numbers taking part and out enjoying themselves spectating dwarfed the complainers. It felt like a one-day festival of cycling, and I was proud to have been part of it.

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Cycle Superhighways

While I am all in favour of the excellent cycle hire scheme in London, I am considerably less of a fan of the Barclays Cycle Superhighways, which are gradually emerging in the capital. I’m not against the principal of more cycle lanes – quite the contrary – but these rather grandiose-sounding things, in practice, are nothing of the sort, as this picture demonstrates:

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The London cycle “superhighways” are little more than a streak of blue paint on the road, occasionally decorated with Barclays advertising. They do not particularly run to the most popular commuter destinations and many inexplicably stop in the middle of nowhere, usually due to a dispute with borough councils. The lanes are not segregated and there seems to be no penalty for motor vehicles in either entering them or parking across them. They are barely safer than riding on the main road, and the routes that do exist run down some pretty busy main roads. Earlier this year, a young woman was killed riding on one after being forced wide by some roadworks into a busy junction. My experience was similar when riding along one near Greenwich last year, when a black cab swerved into the lane in front of me and stopped to let a passenger disembark.

I understand that there are now plans to add segregation into future CS lanes. My question is – why wasn’t this considered from the start? Was there a political or advertising-driven urgency to get this project off the ground before it was really ready?

London now hosts thousands of cyclists every day, saving millions in fuel, harmful emissions and traffic jams. They deserve better than blue paint on main roads.

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Traffic Free London

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One of several books published by Sustrans, Cycling Traffic Free London promises to offer a selection of rides in the capital, all of which are safe and, mercifully, car-free. When I saw this on my local library shelf, I was excited – the idea of pedalling around London on undiscovered routes appealed to me, and I’ve had good experiences with some of their other books in the same series before.

The book contains a selection of 20 routes, all marked out with proper street mapping. So far, so good. The selection of routes takes in the whole city, so where ever you visit, there will be a route somewhere nearby that you can take advantage of. However, you won’t be going past many of London’s more famous landmarks – and here lies such an ambitious book’s major shortcoming; much of London simply isn’t Traffic Free. Even the new Barclays Cycle Superhighways – while sounding very grandiose – amount to little more than a painted 1m wide blue lane at the edge of otherwise very busy roads. As such, many of the routes in Central London are very limited. One suggested “route” from Waterloo to London Bridge isn’t even 3 miles long – shorter than my daily commute.

The other shortcoming is that some of these “traffic free” routes aren’t that “traffic free” either and, inevitably, you will encounter some areas on most routes where you will be advised to proceed with extreme caution. This isn’t to knock to the book too much; London is one of Europe’s most unfriendly capitals for cycling and this book is playing its part in getting more cyclists onto the capital’s roads – surely a requirement for them to become more acceptable to motorists and other road users. If you already have my previously recommended book, also published by Sustrans, you’ll find a fair amount of duplication in here – some of these London routes appear in “Traffic Free Trails”, which I consider to be much better value overall. However, there are some good inspirational routes here, especially in the outer boroughs of London, and it’s great to see some effort being made to promote London as a cycling destination.

My advice, if you decide to pick a copy up, is to use it for ideas to generate your own routes and then, along with the free maps available from TFL, accept that you’re going to have to deal with some traffic if you want to see the best of London by bicycle.

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