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Mixed messages for cycle safety in London

Roger Geffen's picture
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Transport for London's announcement of plans to complete 50 cycle-friendly junction improvements by the end of 2013 (including ten by the end of 2012) is very welcome. However, the Mayor's draft road safety strategy, launched the same day, is itself very much in need of a "cycle-friendly redesign".
Cyclists have clear priority at this junction in Copenhagen
Cyclists have clear priority at this junction in Copenhagen

75% of cyclists' injuries are at or near a junction, rising to 79% in London (see p14 of TfL's Cycle Safety Action Plan, PDF, 2.2MB).  There is also good evidence that reducing traffic speeds at junctions - whether by introducing traffic lights, or by making drivers turn more sharply as they enter and leave a junction - are highly effective ways to improve cycle safety. Tackling major junctions surely has to be THE major cycle safety investment priority for the immediate years ahead, not just in London but in other parts of the UK too.

It may have taken the media furore following the deaths of Min Joo Lee at Kings Cross, and of Brian Dorling and Svitlana Tereshchenko at the Bow roundabout, before Transport for London finally started taking cycle safety at junctions seriously.  But it is clear they are now doing so.

Once TfL got going, the rate at which they started reviewing junctions was initially more than the London Cycling Campaign's volunteers could keep up with! There is an obvious dilemma here for the cycle campaigner.  You know that cycle safety requires urgent attention if we are to enable and encourage more people to cycle, and to feel safe and confident when doing so. However, it is also important that the new junction designs are done well, and not rushed through with inadequate planning and dialogue with local cyclists. It remains to be seen how good the solutions themselves will be. However, the planned rate of junction improvements - 10 to be done by 2012, another 40 by 2013, and a further 100 to be under consideration by then - now seems reasonable. The London Cycling Campaign are rightly pleased too - credit to them for some fantastic campaigning on the issue, particularly over the past year or so.

However, just 3 days after the announcement on planned junction improvements, the Mayor launched a draft road safety strategy for consultation. Unfortunately, it doesn't remotely reflect the very positive relationship which CTC, LCC and others have with TfL staff through their Cycle Safety Working Group. Here are a couple of quotes:

"We need to target risk by focusing on and tackling the specific road users and behaviours that are over-represented in the casualty data".

"A programme ... will target vulnerable road users with road safety campaigns and information to increase awareness of the main causes of collisions and to provide advice on travelling safety."

The draft strategy’s 1960s approach to road safety - making the victim responsible, rather than the aggressor - is a bit like telling women not to wear clothing that might tempt men to rape them. The focus really needs to shift from tackling the symptoms of road danger to the underlying causes.

So, here's our "starter for 10" as a list of key points that the Mayor's Road Safety Strategy needs to take on board.  The key underlying point is that it must adopt “road danger reduction” (i.e. tackling the sources rather than the symptoms of road danger) as an overarching principle. This in turn means:

  • There must be a willingness to prioritise the safety of pedestrians and cyclists over "smoothing the traffic" - a Mayoral priority widely blamed for TfL's original reluctance to provide safe cycling conditions at the Bow Roundabout, at the Elephant & Castle and elsewhere.
  • The junction safety improvement programme must include early analysis of how innovative solutions (e.g. advance cycle signals, as implemented at Bow Roundabout) are performing , in order to inform future programme development.
  • TfL's plans for road safety research and analysis should focus on understanding the causes (not the symptoms) of cyclists' injuries, and how best to address these.
  • Whilst it is undoubtedly useful to advise vulnerable road users of ways they can protect themselves from road danger, the primary focus of road safety awareness campaigns should be on the driver behaviours which endanger cyclists in the first place.
  • There must be a much greater willingness to make 20mph speed limits the norm for most London streets (given that higher limits are only appropriate on a minority of the road network, and in locations signing is generally less intrusive than the streets where 20mph is appropriate).
  • There must be a much greater willingness to explore solutions to the lethal risks posed by lorries, not just through better driver training / cameras and sensors / vehicle design etc (much as we welcome the progress made on these solutions), but also by reducing the volume of goods vehicles on London’s roads at busy times, drawing on continental best practice (e.g. on traffic management solutions and trans-shipment).
  • The joint TfL / Met Police study of how the criminal justice system deals with cyclist fatalities is a useful start, and a model for police forces and other CPS divisions around the country to follow.  However, this and other recent developments have highlighted the need improvements performance in crash investigation, the management of cases (including liaison with police and other witnesses, and with the victims), charging decisions, and the accountability of the process overall.
  • In order to gather data on perceptions of safety, we should urge TfL to ensure that all 33 boroughs are covered by the National Highways and Transport Survey (NHTS).  This survey, run by MORI, collects data on public perceptions of various aspects of transport safety, and asks some very useful questions.  Most, but not all, boroughs are taking part in it, yet the data remains under-exploited because it is only collected so that councils can benchmark their performance against one another, i.e. it is not published in a form which enables “the big society” to assess how their councils are performing.

CTC will be liaising with the London Cycling Campaign, Sustrans, British Cycling RoadPeace and others to ensure we deliver a strong joined-up message. The way London tackles cycle safety looks set to be a model that is now likely to be followed by other cities (notably Manchester) in the coming years. It is therefore really important to get the strategy right.

 

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