Archive for April, 2011

Cycling can be fun…

April 22, 2011

I love cycling. This blog has perhaps on occasions been a little acerbic, but that’s only because there’s not much point writing about how wonderful everything is. (Well, OK, I know not all cycle bloggers agree.)

In any case, the reason for this metamorphosis is that I am looking forward to riding a bike somewhere far away from the reach of TfL (long have I dreamt of escaping the iron grip of “network assurance”). I heard rumours there was a wedding in London next weekend, which seemed the perfect opportunity to elope to pastures less saturated with imperial imagery.

Yes, fetch me une baguette, le fromage et un guillotine, I will be going here:

I plan to be doing lots of casual cycling from A to B (i.e. Armagnac to bière). Our correspondent already on the front says,

 The city is so small that the longest journey you’re ever likely to do is about 15 minutes at a comfy pace. That, the cycle-hire scheme and the fact that the old town is closed to motor vehicles mean that loads of people are riding about. Although there’s a tram network, the bike is so obviously faster and cheaper that most young people seem only really to use the tram after 8pm, when the ticket enforcement guys don’t work.

Parfait.

So, mes petites fromage frais, I am afraid this it from me until at least May 4th. With a bit of luck, I will take some photos to post when I return. But no promises – I’m on holiday!

Until then, au revoir.

TfL’s pathetic denial of HGV blame

April 20, 2011

In March, a woman in her 70s who was trying to cross the road in Hackney was killed by a 22-wheeled HGV. I became interested in what TfL were doing to try to protect pedestrians from these motorised beasts, and ended up sending an FOI request about TfL’s Memorandum of Understanding (pdf) with the Freight Transport Association.

In the time it has taken TfL to respond, three people have been killed by HGVs in London (that I am aware of). In a similar incident, 73 year old Maria da Assuncao Grijo is now dead after trying to cross the road, this time in Streatham. The other two to be killed by lorries are David Poblet and Paula Jurek, who were both riding bicycles.

Girder Lorry

Amazing how they fit these vehicles on streets which are not wide enough for bike lanes

I asked TfL whether they thought a Memorandum of Understanding was an effective tool for reducing road danger, and how they were measuring the effectiveness of the memo.

Their response included the sickening sentence that,

The MOU has been effective in strengthening partnership working between the Freight Transport Association, TfL and other stakeholder groups to reduce collisions between cyclists and lorries.

The blithe, blameless language that TfL have adopted here is a stark refusal to address the issue at hand. The problem is not “collisions between cyclists and lorries”, it is that lorries drive around our streets mowing people down.

Language that tries to apportion equal responsibility is quite transparently hollow when we try to use it about people who are killed walking. The idea of “collisions between pedestrians and lorries” conjures up bright images of pedestrians gladly chest-bumping lorries hello and getting more than they bargained for, rather than the reality of 20 tonne death machines cruising around London’s streets ploughing over whoever ends up in their way.

For those readers for whom anecdote is not enough, I understand. Deaths are an emotive issue and maybe an argument which consists of [someone has been killed] so [let’s take action to prevent whatever killed them], is not necessarily persuasive if the type of death which occurs does not happen with a significant enough frequency. For example [storm causes tree to collapse on house] does not necessarily lead to the conclusion [ban trees].

I think the response to that objection is two-fold:

  1. Logically, it is clear that these are not freak accidents. If you have huge vehicles with significant blind spots driving around busy, urban environments, they will kill people.
  2. Statistically, is it is clear that these are not freak accidents. Research of cyclists deaths in London between 1992 and 2006 notes that, “There is little evidence fatality rates have fallen. Freight vehicles over 3.5 tonnes continue to present a disproportionate threat; they should be removed from urban roads and more appropriate means of delivery of essential goods found.” (Hat tip to Freewheeler).

My question to TfL was about the final point of the Memo, where they promise to identify, develop and report on suitable metrics to measure the effectiveness of the agreement. 

I will leave you here with the full text of TfL’s woeful response, and my translation of their answers interspersed in red.

Dear Sir,

Please see below our responses to the questions you have raised:

1. The staff time devoted to creating the “metrics” mentioned.

It is not possible to accurately estimate the staff time that has been dedicated to creating the metrics, as this work has been taken forward as part of the wider development and implementation of the MOU.  Staff from TfL, the FTA and representatives from groups such as the London Cycling Campaign and Sustrans, have been involved in this work over the last year.

We haven’t done anything.

2. The current progress of the metrics.

The overall metric for judging the success of the MOU will be the reduction in the number of cyclists Killed and Seriously Injured (KSI) as a result of a collision with an HGV.

We didn’t think it would be a good idea to think of new ways to show we’re not doing anything.

3. When the metrics are intended for future publication. If they are not, why not.

In June 2011, the FTA plan to publish their Cycling Strategy.  This will set out their goal for reducing cyclist KSIs and will detail the measures they will be implementing to achieve this.

We can’t publish what we don’t have. The FTA are going to publish something, though. Maybe you’ll find that sufficiently distracting?

4. The timescales of when and how frequently the effectiveness of the agreement will be measured, and whether it has been yet.

TfL publishes KSI data on an annual basis.   Three years of KSI data will be required for statistically robust conclusions to be made about the effectiveness of the agreement.  The FTA plan to report progress on implementing their Cycling Strategy on an annual basis.

We hope you’ll have forgotten about this by 2014.

5. If the effectiveness of the agreement has been measured, how effective it is considered to be.

Together with the Mayor’s Cycle Safety Action Plan, www.tfl.gov.uk/corporate/projectsandschemes/15480.aspx, the MOU has been effective in strengthening partnership working between the Freight Transport Association, TfL and other stakeholder groups to reduce collisions between cyclists and lorries.  Good progress has been made in implementing the actions set out in the MOU.

We’re either mendacious or simply oblivious to what is happening on London’s streets. Take your pick.

If this is not the information you are looking for, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Piss off until you irritating, sanctimonious, cycling-obsessed trouble-maker. Don’t you have organic gluten-free tofu burgers to sell to the chief hemp-weaver in your free love commune or something?

I joke because TfL’s response is a joke. What’s not is that people will continue to die on London’s streets and TfL need to respond with more than victim blaming, equivocating and self-congratulatory memos.

The Summons arrives

April 14, 2011

Note: This post refers to the incident that took place in February where I was fined for walking my bike over a junction while the traffic light was red. 

I’ve finally received my Summons from the Court. There are several things I’m learning about the justice system in even this most insignificant of cases:

  1.       Being not guilty can be expensive

Had I, in the first instance acquiesced to the police officer and paid the fine, it would have cost me £30. The letter I have just received says,

If you plead guilty the prosecution will apply to the court for an order that you pay a contribution of £80 towards their costs. If you plead not guilty or do not enter a plea, and you are convicted of the offence, the sum applied for may be higher.

This open-ended figure is slightly worrying, as the case does come down to my word against the police officer’s. I wonder if I can claim the cost of the time I will have to take off work if I win.

The amusing thing is that it is to an extent understandable to provide financial incentives at every stage for potential defendants to opt out of a hearing to save the court time. But the letter specifically says, Nothing stated here is intended to persuade you to plead guilty. Riiiight

2.       The police lie

I will quote exactly what the police have said once the case is over. At the moment, though, I suspect I am already on shaky legal ground just talking about this while it is happening. All I will say is that the police officer’s version of events differs significantly from my own.

3.       The system is incredibly difficult to navigate

Initially, I sent a letter to the police, raising a number of points. In response I simply received a letter saying I would be given a court date, which did not acknowledge any of the points that I had made (nor has any subsequent letter).

In the letter that I received today, there is a section where the “witness statements” are presented to me. This only consists of the police officer’s statement, and there is no mention of my written response. I have no idea if the court have seen my letter to the police (though I suspect not). I also have no idea how I am expected to present evidence to the court. Do I reply to their letter with my statement about what occurred? Do I just turn up on the day? Is there another process? Who knows?! There are plenty of instructions about how and why to plead guilty, where I can enter mitigating circumstances and so on, but on how to plead not guilty the letter is mysteriously silent.

4.      I need to work on my first impressions.

I am described by the officer as, of slim to proportionate build and 1.8m tall. The man [i.e. me] had long dark hair, was wearing a long, dark overcoat and was white with a sallow complexion.

After a description like that in the City, I’d be surprised if the judge doesn’t feel he can finally close the file on Jack the Ripper.

In any case, I will be pleading not guilty, forwarding the court my initial letter to the police as well as my objections to the police officer’s witness statement. If anyone has any advice on anything else I should do, or thinks I’m doing something wrong, please let me know!

Reminder: Blackfriars Bridge engagement closes tomorrow (Friday)

April 14, 2011

Just a quick one. If you’ve been dilly-dallying, now is the time to respond to TfL. The engagement page is here and the addressed to email with your response is STEngagement@tfl.gov.uk.

Blackfriars Bridge, northbound, 7-10am 1988-2010.

In case, like me, you sometimes get lost in the morass of detail, here are three reasons you might want to object:

1. TfL is proposing to reduce the width of the cycle lane when their own screenline data shows there are more cyclists on the bridge than any other form of transport.

2. They’re proposing to get rid of a pedestrian crossing – people walk for reasons other than just going to/from stations.

3. TfL are trying to create a new lane for motor vehicles at the north end of the bridge – when the number of bikes is going up and the number of motor vehicles down.

For more detail, check out here or here or here. Remember: STEngagement@tfl.gov.uk

Trying to park a bike in the Maudsley

April 13, 2011

Inspired by Freewheeler’s posts about cycle parking in his local public services, I thought I’d try to record my own examples. On Sunday I popped into the Maudsley hospital in Denmark Hill:

Plenty of car parking spaces...

 

No signs for those of us on two wheels...

Aha! A trusty map!

Conveniently by the main entrance - I'm impressed.

Hang on a minute...

 

Something seems to be missing...

I didn’t want to lock up to the railings for fear that the handlebars could block wheelchairs, so I continued the hunt. Finally, I found four Sheffield stands, three of which as you can see are in use (on a Sunday). I was impressed, however, by the way that the hospital had managed to efficiently use the very limited amount of space there is available for more than one purpose:


Well at least there’s one group that the NHS has taken the time to put up signs for.

TfL admits their Road Safety Audits do not account for cyclists

April 6, 2011

In February, I complained about a dangerous advisory cycle lane on the A202 in Peckham.

That doesn't look wide enough...

More 'best practice' from TfL

After escalating the complaint, to London Travel Watch because TfL had not responded within the period set out in their procedure, I have finally received a reply.

TfL have informed me that,

Having discussed this with internal colleagues and cycling experts we believe a modification to the markings would be desirable. TfL will remove a section of the advisory cycle lane on the approach to the traffic island.

A victory! OK, so perhaps I didn’t start this blog to strip London of its cycle lanes, but I really am glad that this potentially lethal piece of infrastructure is going to be modified.

In what I can only imagine is a misguided attempt to mollify me, the letter goes on to say the following:

The advisory cycle lane on Queen’s Road was designed in accordance with the current London Cycling Design Standards. Stage 2 (end of detailed design) and Stage 3 (post construction) Road Safety Audits have been undertaken on the project and neither audit raised an issue with the cycle lane.

I simply cannot understand how TfL can in the same letter say that:

1. The junction is so dangerous that they need to remove a lane, and
2. Their own safety audits were unable to flag this up at either the design or construction stage.

I have responded to TfL, thanking them for changing the junction and asking for a copy of these audits, either out of the kindness of their hearts, or if they’re not inclined to send them to me out of love then because they’re obliged to under the FOI Act. See the full text of their email and my response here.

Watch this space.

TfL’s Business Plan: Blackfriars Bridge is on the surface but TfL’s rotten, car-obsessed attitude goes right to its core

April 5, 2011

Last week, TfL’s Board approved its draft Business Plan and Budget (pdf).

Shared space: Plenty of room for a segregated lane but not even an ASL - this cyclist chooses to run the red (Business Plan p8)

The second page of the Surface Transport section, after some stats, is entitled “Maximising the efficient and reliable operation of the road network.” Sadly it’s hardly a surprise that this is TfL’s main priority, especially when we see what this entails.

Not enough room: Why we can't have segregated cycle facilities in London (Business Plan p56)

The aim is to “relieve congestion and improve traffic flow”. By their own figures on p55, bicycles make up 3% of traffic in London, while motor vehicles make up 97%.

Kulveer Ranger, the mayor’s transport policy advisor, is well aware that half of all car trips in outer London are less than two miles. Given that this is a man whose job description includes “overseeing the relationship between GLA and TfL”, you might have thought he would have been able to communicate to his colleagues that if some of these journeys were by bike, it would have a positive effect on the congestion that TfL are so concerned about.

However, TfL’s solutions to these trips are the following (p56):

  1. Smoothing traffic flow, which consists of “removing unnecessary traffic signals”. What this means in reality is, for example, “the extremely popular and very busy [pedestrian] crossing at Watergate to the Blackfriars Pub will disappear completely – all in the name of ‘smoothing traffic flow’.”
  2. A Driver’s Charter – “Under the charter, warning notices rather than penalty charges will be issued for new offences and challenges.”

That’s it. This is the entire section on “maximising the efficient and reliable operation of the road network.” Cycling isn’t mentioned anywhere in the London Streets section (pp56-61). Usually I’d put some sort of sarcastic remark here, or maybe have a go at a bit of insight or analysis, but I really think this speaks for itself.

The Blackfriars Bridge consultation has 11 days left. If you feel, like I do, that TfL need to wake up to the fact that the solution to congestion in London isn’t making life easier for drivers at the expense of everyone else on London’s streets, then why not take the time to tell them so?

Thames Water: Marcel Duchamp lives on

April 2, 2011

Thames Water have a comprehensive Environmental Policy, including a Transport Policy (pdf). As policies go, it’s certainly impressive. Admittedly, it has no actual measurable commitments, deadlines or named people who are responsible for its implementation. However, it is filled with reassuring promises about “taking account” of information and “looking for creative ways of working” which only the most cynical of onlookers would find unsatisfactory.

A policy promising creativity is one thing, but can they fulfil such ambitious targets? I have to admit, I’m impressed. Their latest work on Lupus Street, SW1 has to be one of the most striking art installations I’ve ever come across. These photos were taken yesterday:

Approaching an obstacle like this would leave most cyclists floundering...

Aha, instructions! Cyclists Dismount...

Regular readers of this blog are likely to be aware Cyclists Dismounts signs have long been resented, with some particularly ridiculous examples becoming quite well known.

The fact that a national company like Thames Water has opted to use graffiti as part of what is clearly a caustic take on the traditional usage of these signs is laudable. While current discourse ruminates on whether graffiti is an acceptable form of political statement, industry-leading Thames Water are willing to produce this pungent satire in what I can only describe as one of the most impressive examples of social responsibility seen by a national corporation.

We can be sure that this is Thames Water making a stand because their Transport Policy specifically outlines their commitment to:

Developing innovative and environmentally efficient approaches to network maintenance and installation to minimise vehicle and fuel use, and traffic disruption.

Which is a relief.

The genius of such a seminal piece by Thames Water is that they have literally hundreds of simultaneous works taking place in London. (In 2008 it was 580. If you search the London Register of Roadworks for Thames Water at the moment you are simply told, ‘Your search has returned too many results. Please refine your search criteria.’)

Is anything bolder, more impressive, than the willingness of such a stupendous force on London’s streets to, in one prodigious work, put their hands up and say with spray paint, “actually, it’s our inconsiderate presence in the urban environment which should really be considered vandalism”?


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