Sunday, 24 November 2013

A Cambridge Rider's Perspective on London Cycling.

I've just spent 24 hours of my weekend travelling around London by tube, bus, bicycle and on foot, but a few hours was by bicycle. Normally I ride commute in to, out of and around Cambridge, one of the UK's most cycled cities.  How does London stack up?

Every rider is different. Cards on the table ... I ride a lot and I can go fast, commuting on a touring bike, but I can also be found on a road bike, mountain bike, and motorcycle. I also spent a few years commuting in London in the 90's prior to the congestion charge. So this is the first time I've ridden London's roads in two decades.

We used Boris Bikes (TfL Barclays Cycle Hire). You can hire on the street without pre-registering and its cheap - can be as little as £2 for 24 hours if you complete each journey within 30 minutes. If you have an Oyster Card, the tube costs from £2.10 for a single journey capped from £7 per day;  buses costs are £1.40 a journey, capped at £4.40 per day.  It took us a while to get the bikes for the first time, just yank really hard after the green light.

Getting around

I've driven in London and know the roads are a dog-eat-dog kind of place so I tried to take us on quiet routes. If you visit the OpenCycleMap layer of OpenStreetMap you'll think you've hit the jackpot.

Central London has loads of quieter cycle routes. The local cycle routes are marked with a darker blue on OpenCycleMap.  But, just like Cambridge they are hard to follow and can be indirect meandering with many left and right turns.  I was armed with a Garmin GPS and a phone with OpenCycleMap and I was struggling. I'm not quite sure what the typical Boris bike user does.  

I also noticed some aspects of filtered permeability, i.e. no though routes for motor vehicles but bicycles and walkers can get through.  It works really well for short local journeys, keeping us well away from fast traffic. 

If I had one tip for London.  Get these local cycle networks really well signed. If you want to splash paint about, this could actually help.

Longer distance

Even following local cycle routes we found ourselves following major roads and crossing them.  I'm used to riding in Cambridge traffic but found the London drivers way more assertive. This is ok when driving, it seems to work, but on a bicycle I found myself unable to merge with traffic as easily as normal.  Part of the problem is that I was riding a slow upright bike. Merge into traffic with such as speed difference is like a leap of faith.  We quickly found ourselves making right turns not by crossing multiple lanes of traffic, but dismounting on the left and using pedestrian crossings. Safe but slow. It felt like a poor man's Dutch junction.  No wonder most commuters are males on fast bikes.

Thankfully I didn't have to cycle the CS2, but did see it from a bus on a Sunday.  I've seen it described as just paint and giving a false sense of security.  From the top-deck I could see there were so many parked cars in the bus and cycle lanes on a Sunday and that any rider would find themselves merging into traffic constantly causing conflict. 

We also passed a yellow Police sign asking for witnesses to a cyclist fatality I read about on the web, and realised we were not too far from Bow roundabout where there has been a three fatalities now. Pictures of CS2 can be viewed at Cyclists in the City.

The nearest you'll get to London's cycling environment in Cambridge are the dual carriageway sections of the ring road and Elizabeth Way, the bus lanes on Newmarket Road, and Queens Road for all its parked cars. Often in Cambridge there is a cycle path somewhere nearby. Traffic in Cambridge is far more easily controlled and rarely comes as close - when riding fast at least.

That day I found myself having to move out around parked cars to merge with fast approaching coaches on Grays Inn Road. I also watched a taxi drive very close behind my partner off the lights after we waited in an advanced stop box.

The worst mistake I made was at a traffic lit T junction near Limehouse (pictured below). The lights went amber as I crossed the line and I continued. Before I'd even made it to the first traffic lane I heard engines roar. There could have only been a precious second or two between light phases for vehicles to clear the junction - designed for vehicles at 30mph. Time limited for traffic flow over safety.


Would I cycle in London again?  On the local cycle routes, yes without a doubt.  Would I as a commuter?  I wouldn't want to on the more main routes, but faced with packed public transport, and as an experienced, committed and fast cyclist I would reluctantly learn how to survive. It's not for normal people.

Monday, 18 November 2013

London's Cycling Fatalities by Hour of Day

Fifth cyclist killed in nine days. HGVs and buses are disproportionately represented in cyclist fatality statistics and 2013 is particularly shocking with so many killed in a short space of time. The number of cyclists on London's roads is increasing, as are the resulting death and injuries.

One of the themes being discussed amongst cyclists ask if there is something immediate that can be done until better separated infrastructure can be built. Should HGV's (Tipper Trucks in particular) be banned from the rush hour when the most cyclists are commuting?

One site I read (memory fails me) suggested that London's night-time lorry ban caused HGV's to come onto the road just at the same time that cyclists are commuting. London does indeed have a Lorry Control that bans HGVs of 18 tonnes or more between 9pm-7am Monday to Friday, and from 1pm Saturday right through to 7am Monday. In 2011 Paris has had zero cyclist fatalities and people are now looking to emulate their HGV ban.

I have a copy of the government's STATS19 collision database and have the ability to query the data for myself. I decided to see if the data supports an immediate ban of lorries during rush hour.

A few things you should be aware of:

The graphs I show below are for fatalities only.

I initially pulled data for the Inner London boroughs where most of the cycling deaths that have hit the news have occurred. The numbers were too small for any reliable patterns to appear so I have expanded to greater London. The data below is for the 33 London boroughs shown on their map.

Again to get a acceptable amount of numbers I have used the years 2005-2012.

To see the raw numbers I have been working with. See my Google Docs spreadsheet.

Fatalities per hour of day

The first graph I have created summarises the fatalities by:

  • hour of day along the X axis. 8 means 8am-8:59am.
  • shows the quantity of each vehicle type stacked on top of each other (not all reaching up from a zero base) that were involved in fatal cyclist collisions.

At the bottom, dark blue shows the number of fatality collisions involving cars and taxis.

The orange colour shows HGV's greater than 7.5 tonnes. From 8-8:59am, there were twelve HGVs involved in cyclist fatalities.

Green are buses involved in fatal cyclist collisions.

We can see a pattern emerging - the morning particularly between 8 and 9am is bad.

Adjusted for number of vehicles

Ideally we would cross reference this data with the amount of cyclists and other vehicles on the road during each hour.  I haven't yet found a source for that data.  However, I have found:

TfL: Average daily traffic flows on major roads in London by vehicle type.
I used data from 2010, see table 2.

Vehicle Type1000sPercent
Pedal cycles0.461.54%
Car and Taxi23.779.24%
LGV <7.5t3.5511.87%
HGV >7.5t1.344.48%
Bus and Coach0.662.21%

The numbers tell us that 79.24% of the traffic on London's major roads are Cars & Taxis, with HGVs just 4.5%, and buses 2.2%.

To get a sense of how much danger each vehicle type is bringing to the roads, I have divided the number of fatalities by number of thousands of vehicles. For example, the 12 HGV's 8-8:59am divided by 1.34 equals 8.96 fatalities (over 8 years) per 1000 HGVs per day.

The effect of looking at fatality rate per vehicle type is that cars and taxis because there are so many almost disappear from the graphs.  

What immediately pops out is the amount of danger brought by HGVs 8-8:59am, and also a disproportionate amount of danger throughout the morning.

Bus danger also pops out, but not so consistently.  There may be some interaction with the number of cyclists on the roads at these times. It requires further investigation before any conclusions can be made.

Motorcycles are also bringing some danger during the morning and evening rush hours.

But overall, London does have a measurable problem with HGVs causing cyclist fatalities. Separating them by hour of the day could reduce fatalities and serious injury significantly.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Are unlit Oxford cyclists putting themselves at risk?

Oxford has just had a crackdown on unlit cyclists in the name of safety. It's good advice to use lights to maximise your chances of being seen but policy makers thinking unlit cyclists are putting themselves at much greater risk should think again.

The following numbers are the casualties in the years 2005-2012 from the government's STATS19 database.

For each casualty type, the table below shows a count of the number of casualties during daylight, and in darkness.

Car occupant9764561432

The numbers below show for each casualty type, the split of their accidents between light and dark. As a proportion, cyclists are safer than the other travellers in Oxford. Significantly safer than motor vehicle occupants at night. The same effect is seen in Cambridge.

casualty_type% light% dark
Car occupant68.2%31.8%

Why cyclists are proportionately safer at night is a mystery.  Could it be that Oxford cyclists travel less at night compared to other road users?  This doesn't appear to be the case in Cambridge. A theory I have for Cambridge is that unlit cyclist realise their increased vulnerability and move away from roads to cycling on pavements, away from motor vehicles. It's an effect known as risk-compensation, also seen when using safety gear.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Operation Pedalo 2

Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner Graham Bright made an appearance on the Andie Harper show on BBC Radio Cambridge on 1st November 2013.

The entire 3 hour show is available for the next few days (ends 8th Nov?), here:

The introduction (starts 37m00s) is from a window cleaner who has been hit for the second time by a cyclist. He describes the cyclist getting up and leaving the scene. He also explains that there was CCTV nearby, he reported it to the Police but they were not interested.

At 38m05s the introduction to Graham Bright begins.

Andie: How do you define anti-social cycling? What did you crack down on originally? 
GB: We cracked down on people being reckless, and in particular people riding in the dark without lights. [states Operation Pedalo 2 will start next week]
We are going to have mostly the Specials out, looking for people riding without lights, putting their own lives in risk, and obviously giving motorists a nightmare, but also those that ride on the pavement; those that jump red lights; those that ride through the pedestrian shopping area; those that just don't care, and that's what anti-social cycling's about.  
And of course, now we've got a new issue. Now that we've got a 20mph limit in the city, it's more than possible, infact I've seen it myself, by driving at 20 you get cyclists overtaking you. We've just got to get the cyclists to understand they have to obey the law like everyone else does. Cyclists texting on their phones when they're riding is not good news and its absolutely dangerous and if a car driver does that and I've asked my level best for the Police to start pulling that in and they are, pulling in drivers who are texting. It's all anti-social behaviour. 
[discussion of Police manpower. About to have a concentrated effort, a 'blitz']. 
It's not just cyclists, its cars aswell.
My first concern is that our PCC appears to be on a personal crusade by ignoring evidence of danger compared to use of lights. It is illegal to ride without lights, but he is misguided and playing politics to use the word reckless to describe unlit cyclists. It is simply not true, infact the opposite is true, Cambridge cyclists are safer at night, despite so many being unlit.

Secondly he mentions those who ride on the pavement. We've already had a Police Sargent report that the signage is a mess. It is very hard for Cambridge cyclists to stay 100% legal whilst following shared use paths in Cambridge.  If the priority is that woolly, too many innocent people will be caught and fined.

It is unbelievable that Graham Bright has started to think about targeting cyclists who cycle at more than 20mph when we have had so much inaction on 20mph for motor vehicles. For anyone who walks around the city it is very clear where priorities should be on 20mph. What we have here is a throw away comment to try to garner some support. Realistically it would be a waste of Police resources because: few Cambridge cyclists can cycle over 20mph for more than a few seconds; and there is no general speeding law that applies to cyclists. The Police would have to ticket for an alternative offence that would require some evidence.

Again, to ticket cyclists who are texting or using their phone, because it is not illegal, officers will have to gather supporting evidence.

Outside broadcast from Peterborough.

A later set of clips from Peterborough shine a light on the thoughts of the general public, how they view cyclists, and are likely to be how they get complained about to our PCC.

1h37m42s Outside broadcast from Peterborough begins, voiced by Jonny D.

JD: I'm at Bridge Street, Peterborough, a hotbed of anti-social cycling ... [describes sign indicating no cycling during the day]
See Google StreetView of Bridge Street
Gentleman: We've got those cyclists who are responsible and get off their cycle and we've got those I'll describe as Lycra Louts who really do cause the problem, so I think something needs to be done. 
First up, Lycra Louts is a term the public use to cast cyclists as an out-group.  I know many road cyclists who dress in lycra, it is rare for someone who enjoys racing their bike to attempt to do this in a shopping centre. More truthfully, the people observed on bicycles near shopping areas are everyday people in normal clothes. As proved by the next line:
JD: I've seen 4 in the last 5 minutes go past and I admit to you, not very fast. Look there's another one behind me now. He's on a mountain bike not going very fast, I'd say he's in control of his bike, he shouldn't be on it should he?.  
Gentleman: No, no, it does cause a danger to everybody in the pedestrian area and at this time of year when we're getting a high incidence of pedestrians both adult and during the school holidays they are a danger. 
Jonnie D has just described a cyclist going slowly and in control, yet he is still described as a danger. When Graham Bright talks of reckless cyclists, this is the sort of rider who will be caught by the Police. Technically they are breaking the law, but doing any harm? Well, it is not said how busy it is but nobody in the clip is alarmed by the cyclist's behaviour. Risk appears to be low. But on the ground, Police would have to ticket this cyclist and we have seen that happen. We should not forget that cyclists are used to sharing pavements with pedestrians on shared-use paths, often footways made into shared-use by a TRO and putting up signs even if not very appropriate.
JD: Does it mystify you that laws are made, regulations are made but there's nobody to police them? 
Gentleman: I think it's a matter of priorities. The Police have different priorities, but I think it's nuisance value to the general public. 
Spot on. If prioritising, this is low level in Peterborough.
JD: Do you know anyone who's been injured along Bridge Street?
Gentleman: To the best of my knowledge, no, but I would say its only a matter of time before it does happen.
Confirmation that there have been no injuries witnessed by the Gentleman. I'd question why we've gone from nuisance value to injuries being only a matter of time. It's a mixed message.

A second selection of clips from Peterborough includes:
1h51m10s [discussion of no-cycling sign] 
JD: Do you see a lot of cyclists along here? 
Female 1: Yes 
JD: So they are ignoring it, aren't they? 
Female 1: They are very annoying. And its dangerous when you've got young children. 
JD: Have you had any near misses, close shaves? 
Female 1: Not personally, no, not yet anyway. 
JD: Seen any? 
Female 1: I have actually. 
JD: You've seen anyone knocked over? 
Female 1: Not yet. 
JD: Only a matter of time. 
Female 1: Yeah.
Again, confirmation of no injuries witnessed. This time, the lady has witnessed a near miss. Unfortunately we learn nothing about the circumstances that lead up to this or the type of person or their age. Without that, the out-group of cyclists will be blamed.
Female 2: No bikes between 9 and 6. 
JD: What are we now, about 10 o'clock. 
Female 2: Everyone's cycling. 
JD: Everyone's cycling. 
Female 2: And they knock us down, and do everything. 
JD: Have you been knocked down. 
Female 2: Not really, but nearly. Because I can't hear properly and they don't have a bell on their bicycle. 
Male: They come flying out. 
JD: They come flying out, do they? 
Male: They come flying out of here. Then they come flying out of Rivergate.
There are some genuine concerns here from vulnerable and timid pavement users.  I doubt that the complaint applies just to the shopping area. These are a class of user who suffer when cyclists are shifted inappropriately from road to shared-use on many routes, typically where there is little room to pass each other.

Thankfully, they knock us down is interrogated further and we discover it is not true. Unchallenged anecdotal stories are very common in the press and spread prejudice.

Their description of flying [fast] cyclists, if true, does sound like anti-social cycling without due consideration to others. Worthy of a ticket.
JD: So I've got a gentleman who's actually riding a bicycle along Bridge Street. So I've stopped you here.  Did you realise what you were doing?  Because you're breaking the law technically. 
Male Cyclist: I rode the bike up to here. You can ride the bike up to the other bit there, to the Square I think, then I came here, and I just realised there was no cyclepath with all these people and I looked around and though yeah I'm doing wrong.
[short exchange about hearing BBC Radio Cambs were on location here]  
Male Cyclist: I was just daydreaming basically.
[discussion of £30 fine he would receive] 
JD: You've got an argument, you weren't going at a fair speed. 
Male Cyclist: No, I was going slow, in-fact when I was up there I saw somebody with children and they was running around, and I was barely staying on my bike because I was going that slow. I was going round them.  
JD: You could argue the case, it's a big wide area, 50ft across. 
Male Cyclist: As I said I was just daydreaming ...
This is a description of a normal person on a bike who is not doing anybody any harm, quite the opposite. He drifted from shared-use into a pedestrian area. This is very easy to do but doesn't change how carefully someone looks out for others.  If he received a ticket, he would not be able to challenge it.

I support ticketing anyone who endangers others, but when it comes to Policing cycling on pavements, it requires discretion. Ticketing pavement cycling by technicality is not a route to happy safe communities.

One of my concerns is how motoring offences are rolled into general every day policing, but cycling issues are dealt with by means of very public crackdowns. It's a political football that gives the impression of cycling being far more harmful than can actually be observed or proved. When you get on a bicycle and others see you as a scofflaw - even if you are not - it breeds contempt, a justification for treating you badly on the roads. We saw this with the slowly dying [mythical] Road Tax argument.

And for the window cleaner who was hit by a cyclist who then left the scene, it doesn't matter to me if it was on a pavement, shared-use or on the road, if you hit an easy to see stationary object you were careless, possibly dangerous. It's worth noting that the complaint about not being able to identify the cyclist is also true of pedestrians who injure, and also of vehicles - the plates are difficult to read at speed, try it.  I have sympathy with his attempts to get the Police to investigate, they do that with all but the most serious of cycling incidents too.