Yesterday was a fantastic day for cycling in Britain. In the afternoon, after an astonishing performance in the time trial, Bradley Wiggins won the Gold medal while his Team GB mate Chris Froome got Bronze.
Update: On Twitter, the Lord of the Cyclists later said his views on helmet laws were misreported: “Just to confirm I haven’t called for helmets to be made the law as reports suggest. I suggested it may be the way to go to give cyclists more protection legally I involved In an accident.”)
This death makes me very sad and very angry at the same time. The fatality is related to the Olympics in several different ways. The most straightforward connection is that he was killed by an official games vehicle. (Here’s an appalling report by an eye-witness of the crash.)
Cycling campaigners and influential bloggers have rightly lambasted the organisers of the Olympic Games for not caring enough about the needs of people wanting to cycle to the venues. Especially the closure of the canal footpaths in the proximity of the Olympic Park is outrageous. Getting to the Olympic Park by bike really is a demanding endeavour, as Danny William at Cyclists in the City put it:
“If you want to cycle to the Olympics, you can expect to take a detour, dismount from your bike, cross the motorway, maybe you’ll be able to get back on your bike again after that.”
Despite all the justified criticism, I think cycling to the venues still is a good idea, as I found out yesterday. My wife and I had tickets for the first day of tennis at Wimbledon.
Initially, we planned to take the tube, but then found out that there was supposed to be secure, managed and free cycling parking right next to the venue. Hence, we changed our mind and took the Brommis from Highbury, north London, to Wimbledon, south-west London. Continue reading “Going to the Olympics? Get on your bike!”→
Since I used both schemes, I thought a subjective comparison might be interesting. (My detailed experiences as a casual user of the Boris bikes are available here.)
All in all, both systems are great but both have their strengths as well as their weaknesses. Overall, however, from the perspective of a casual user I like the Velib scheme more than the Boris bikes.
Let’s compare the different aspects of the schemes one after another.
I found the Velib terminals rather confusing at first sight. They have to different sides, one is apparently for subscribers while the other one is for casual users. It was 1 am when I used the Velib for the first time, and some vin rouge might have been a factor. Be it as it may, initially I was trying to use the side for subscribers and was desperately looking for a credit card slot. I was close to giving up, buy my wife, who had only drunk Perrier, finally managed to figure it out that we have to use the other side of the terminal.
The safety of cycling in the UK has become a hot topic recently. Even the parliament discussed the dangers for cyclists. This debate was triggered by an impressive campaign “The Times” has launched several weeks ago entitled “Cities fit for cycling”.
Should cyclists welcome this debate?
Traditionally, the cycling community is very wary about openly discussing the safety issue. A lot of cycling campaigners fear that too much focus on the (perceived) dangers of cycling do more harm than good because this might reinforce a misguided perception that cycling is a dangerous endeavour.
When I started to collect detailed statistics about killed and severely injured riders in London last year, I had similar qualms.
In the meantime, however, I’ve become sure that such worries are misguided. Most of the people who haven’t started to cycle yet do this because they consider it unsafe anyway. They look at the traffic and the road infrastructure of this country and just don’t have the guts get on their bike in such an environment. If you want to turn them into cyclists, you have to increase the actual and the perceived safety first.
Roger Geller, the cycling coordinator of Portland Oregon, has developed a very convincing taxonomy of cyclists that I think can be adopted to London. Roger divides the citizens into four groups: “The Strong and the Fearless”, “The Enthused and the Confident”, “The Interested but Concerned” and “No Way No How”.
“The Strong and the Fearless”
The first group consists of a few diehards : People who cycle not matter what. As Roger puts it:
“They are ‘bicyclists;’ riding is a strong part of their identity and they are generally undeterred by roadway conditions regardless of road conditions. (…) Messengers immediately came to mind. Those “type” of people— generally young, predominantly male, fit — are an important and perhaps dominant subset of those who will ride regardless of conditions.”
According to Rogers estimates, this group equals less than 1 percent of the population.
“The Enthused and the Confident”
These riders can be easily attracted by better cycling infrastructure. In Roger’s terms:
“They are comfortable sharing the roadway with automotive traffic, but they prefer to do so operating on their own facilities. (…) They appreciate bicycle lanes and bicycle boulevards.”
Roger estimates 7% of the population belong to this group.
“The Interested but Concerned”
This is the biggest group: About 60% of the residents who are curious about cycling but scared of at the moment. Hence, they use the bike only very rarely in their local area. Roger describes them like this:
“They like riding a bicycle, remembering back to their youths, or to the ride they took last summer. (…) But, they are afraid to ride. They don’t like the cars speeding down their streets.
They get nervous thinking about what would happen to them on a bicycle when a driver runs a red light, or guns their cars around them, or passes too closely and too fast. (…)
They would ride if they felt safer on the roadways—if cars were slower and less frequent, and if there were more quiet streets with few cars and paths without any cars at all.”
“No Way No How”
Well, the Jeremy Clarkson’s of this world, you know. About a third of the population who cannot fathom to use a bike: People that are “currently not interested in bicycling at all, for reasons of topography, inability, or simply a complete and utter lack of interest”
The four types of cyclist and London
My hypothesis is that in London, currently only the “strong and fearless” and a small part of the “Enthused and the Confident” cycle frequently. The large surge in cycling in the last ten years probably can be explained by the fact that more “enthuse and confident” riders decided to cycle. However, I would predict that given the current road layout and planning priorities in London, this effect will soon peter out.
According to the latest figures in the “Travel in London 4” report that was published in January, the typical cyclist in London is male.
Across all age groups, there is a striking sex gap: Males are much more prone to cycling as females are. According to the numbers, 64 per cent of cyclists are men. If you look at the numbers of journeys, the difference is even bigger: 72 per cent of cycle journeys are done by men.
Especially striking is the difference in the age group 25 and 44 years: Males outnumber females in a ratio of almost 1 to 3.
Psychological research shows that men are more prone to overconficence than women. I think it’s a sure bet to say that women are just scared off by the conditions on the road.
I’m convinced that without a major transformation of the transport policies in London, cycling is about to stagnate in the future because nobody will be able to convince the “Interested but Concerned” to hop on their bike in today’s London. Probably the stagnation of cycling in London has already begun.
According to the “Travel in London” report, the number of daily cycling journey in London in 2010 has risen by about 40000 to 54000. In relative terms, this is an impressive gain of 6.4 per cent. However, about 25 000 of the new journey were due to the new cycle hire scheme which was a major investment. Without the Boris Bikes, the number of journeys would only have increased by 15000. This would have been the weakest increase for a number of years.
The big spike in cycling in London happened between 2002 and 2005, as this chart confirms. Ever since, cycling seems to have reached a new plateau.
Since 2008, the increases were so tiny that they disappear in the statistics if you round to the first digit after the comma.
In the last three years, the numbers of daily bus journeys increased by 300.000 from 3.4 to 3.7 million journey while the number of daily journeys by bike only increased by less than a third.
Seen from this perspective, London is experiencing a bus revolution rather than a cycling revolution.
This is even more appalling given the fact that using the bus is much slower and more expensive than cycling. Busses in London on average travel at a speed of about 12.5 Kilometers an hour, at the same time bus fares increased massively.
So why don’t more people cycle?
Interestingly, this question isn’t asked by Transport for London (presumably because they would not like to hear the answer).
Let’s turn to Portland’s Roger Geller instead. He asserts:
“Despite all the considerable advances Portland and the region have made in facilitating bicycling, concerns about the safety of bicycling still loom large.
Riding a bicycle should not require bravery. Yet, all too often, that is the perception among cyclists and noncyclists alike. No person should have to be “brave” to ride a bicycle; unfortunately, this is a sentiment commonly expressed to those who regularly ride bicycles by those who do not.
There are many cities in modern, industrialized nations around the world with a high bicycle mode split. They have achieved these high levels of bicycle use through adherence to various cycling-promoting policies and practices.
But, one thing they share in common is they have substantially removed the element of fear associated with bicycling in an urban environment. They have created transportation systems in which bicycling is often the most logical, enjoyable and attainable choice for trips of a certain length for a wide swath—if not the majority—of their populace.
For residents of these cities, concern about personal safety associated with bicycling is rarely a consideration, and certainly not to the levels we experience here. In these “fearless” cities septuagenarians are able to ride alongside seven-year-olds safely, comfortably, and with confidence throughout the breadth of the cities.
Making bicycling a more widespread and mainstream means of transportation in Portland will require substantially addressing concerns about personal safety.”
Compare this assessment to the statements of Boris Johnson and Transport for London. They are constantly stating that cycling in London is safe and has become safer.
It’s a small wonder that most Londoners remain sceptical with regards to cycling.
Boris Johnson likes to label himself as the “cycling mayor” who wants to kick-start a cycling revolution in London. 2010 was supposed to be “the year of cycling”. However, a lot of cyclists have the impression that their needs aren’t really respected by traffic planners in London.
Interestingly, figures released by Transport for London in their latest “Travel in London” report compellingly show that they have a point. According to data published in Chapter 9 (“Transport and quality of life: Customer satisfaction and perception”), cyclists in London are by far the least satisfied users of roads in the capital.
The authors of the report put it this way:
“Satisfaction levels were similar for users of all road modes except cycling, where satisfaction was significantly below average at 67 out of 100.”
How severe the level of frustation is becomes clear if you compare the statisfaction of cyclists to the statisfaction of Tube users. There is a lot of moaning and complaining going on about the Tube: fares, punctuality, crowding. However, the average cyclist in London is significantly less happy with the road network than the average Tube passenger is with the Tube. According to the report, the overall satisfaction of Tube users is at 79 out of 100. Even with regard to train crowing, Tube users are more satisfied than cyclists are with London roads (72 out of 100).
This frustration of cyclists is confirmed by other results. For example, the conditions of cycle lanes get the worst marks at all. Amazingly, this aspect even fares below traffic congestion! The satisfaction with the availability of cycle lanes and advanced stop lines is also significantly below average.
Here’s another evidence that London is massively neglecting cyclists:
Taken together, from my perspective these results are pretty devastating.
The report states that
“the Mayor has made it a particular priority to improve the quality of Londoners’ overall daily travel experiences. The substantive outcomes of these policies should be visible, in due course, in the various formal and informal performance measures considered elsewhere in this report”
If this pledge, the fuss about the “cycling revolution” and the results in the report were taken seriously by London’s policy makers, improvements to the cycle infrastructure would be of utmost priority. Why do I have a hunch that this is not the case?
Thanks to the “Love London, Go Dutch” campaign we talk a lot about making London more like Amsterdam. However, judged by the low satisfaction of cyclists with the road network, it would be nice to make London (for cyclists) at least like London (for cars).
Interestingly, despite the awful road network and the lack of cycle paths, cyclists in London in general love what they do.
Asked about our general satisfaction with their most recent journey, we are happier than the users of public transport and cars. This proves the vast benefits of cycling: It is quicker and cheaper than most other means of transport.
Even the wretched road network and the biased priorities of London’s traffic planner cannot botch this!
However, being on the right side of the law gives small consolation if you’re “doored”. Additionally, even if you’re not severely injured, running into a car door is really painful, as I can report from first hand experience.
Henry is said to be the ninth courier who died on London’s roads while working.
There is a poignant video on Youtube about the work of cycling courier that features Henry Warwick. It’s an episode of a TV series called “Ed’s up”, where Ed Robertson, a member of the Canadian band “Barenaked Ladies”, tries out dangerous jobs.
In this episode, Ed works as a cycling courier in London and is incorporated by Henry.
Watching the film now is absolutely terrifying for a number of reasons.
The manager of Rico Logistics introduces Henry as “one of our most experienced riders”. Apparently, Henry was working as a courier in London for more about 20 years.
Ed muses about the risks for cyclists on London’s streets in a way that appears both prescient and repugnant at the same time.
For instance, Ed asserts that
“London is a city of eight million people. With that comes dangerous traffic which does not bode well with me at my new job. (…) I think I’m more afraid of this than I’ve been of any episode I’ve ever done.”
Horrifying is a scene in a video where Ed discusses the map of London and asks the manager of Rico: “Where will I die exactly?”. The answer he get is: “Oh, you could die anywhere”. The managers the tells Ed:
“Remain nervous. If you remain nervous, you remain alert and be scared. If you don’t watch out, you’ll die.”
I take issue with Ed’s suggestion that the dangers on the roads are an act of God which is clearly wrong. London’s roads are dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians because the mayor and Transport for London give priority to motorised traffic and stick to a road design that poses unnecessary risks to weaker road users.
The traffic planning decisions of Transport for London triggers situations where even very experienced cyclists like Henry, who was on road for almost 20 years, have no chance.
This is a point made by a number of people on the London Fixed Gear forum. For example, somebody calling himself “Badman ratio” writes:
“IT DOESNT MATTER HOW GOOD YOU ARE or how good you THINK you are, sudden death or being maimed for life can snatch you off your machine quicker than you say fixie. Henry was probably the most experienced/exemplary courier in London, if not Europe”
Lorries and other large vehicles are the single most important threat to cyclists in London. Since 2006, 89 riders died on the streets in the capital, at least 50 percent of them were killed by “heavy goods vehicles” (HGVs) or busses. The latest victim was a male rider who was killed last Friday at the junction of Bishopsgate and Wormwood Street by a left turning coach.
“We believe that more needs to be done to educate cyclists, drivers, road designers and those in government who are charged to lead and protect us to do more to prevent injuries amongst cyclists.”
London’s car-centric road layout and badly designed lorries are the main reasons for this tragedy. Due to a lot of construction work in the city, HGV traffic currently is on the rise in a lot of areas like King’s Cross, the City and the Southbank.
So how should cyclists cope with lorries?
An experienced London rider once gave me the single most important piece of advice:
“I avoid lorries like the plague.”
That’s basically it.
In a nutshell, the basic problem is that due to a misguided design of the vehicles, the drivers can’t see cyclists which are directly in front and alongside their vehicle. Lorry drivers have to deal with blind spots that are frighteningly large, especially on the left side of their vehicle.
This leads to three typical ways how lorries kill a cyclist.
Overtaking a lorry on the inside (“undertaking”)
One general advantage of the bicycle can turn lethal when it comes to lorries. As a cyclist, you can pass vehicles queuing in front of traffic lights. However, due to the massive blind spots of HGVs, the driver can’t see you when you’re alongside the vehicle.
When the traffic lights turn green and the lorry turns left, your life is at risk. As the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) describes:
“When turning left, a lorry will often pull out to the right first. This creates a wide gap on the left side between the vehicle and the kerb, which many cyclists think is safe to ride into. But in fact this is a very dangerous place to be.
As the lorry begins to turn, it will swing back to the left very close to the kerb. The gap between the kerb and the lorry will disappear in an instant.”
“[James] Moore had been riding in a cycle lane and drew level with the tanker’s front axle virtually as it began pulling away. He tried to cycle straight on but was hit by the lorry, which had stopped in the advance cyclist’s “box”, and had been indicating a left turn.”
“He suffered injuries including a broken left fibia and tibia, a broken pelvis, a collapsed lung and several broken ribs. He was in a medically-induced coma for three weeks and in hospital for three months.”
This is how James Moore himself recalls the crash:
“I do remember quite clearly cycling along past the junction. Suddenly, without any warning I could see, the lorry turned on me. I remember screaming ‘Stop, stop’, I think, and I think I’m going to die. Then I can remember being under the lorry and in considerable pain.”
Hence, one of the most important safety tips is: Never cycle on the nearside of a lorry.
“Don’t pass a long heavy goods vehicle or bus in a traffic jam unless there’s a full, open lane next to it. Keep your distance. If you ride close to the side of such a vehicle it may begin to merge toward you, leaving you no way to escape.”
Another important piece of advice, also by RoSPA, is this:
“If you have to stop or give way at a junction where there are no motor vehicles waiting, it may be best to wait at a point about 1 metre away from the kerb, to ensure that other vehicles arriving after you (especially lorries) pull up behind you, rather than alongside you (where they may forget that you are there and fail to see you when they pull off).”
I’m also very wary when I have to pass a lorry on the right. The blind spots are smaller, but they are still existing. Hence, I take care to have some extra space (1,5 Meter or more) between me and the lorry.
Waiting in front of a lorry at a junction
Unfortunately, there’s also a significant blind spot in front of the lorry. The driver can’t see you when you’re standing in an Advance Stop Box directly in front of the lorry. When the lights turn green and you’re not out off the way quickly enough, you’re at the risk of being run over by the HGV.
“I was recently stopped by police in the City and invited to sit in various HGV vehicles that increasingly chock our city. The idea was to make cyclists aware that they cannot be seen. This was shockingly the case. Drivers are completely blind even if you are in front of them in the ‘cycling box’.”
I try to avoid standing right in front of a lorry at a red light. If possible, I just wait behind the lorry and don’t try to get in front of it. However, there are situations when you’re already waiting in front of the lights when a HGV turns up behind you. In such an occasion, I try to move forward into the junction as much as possible and try to make eye contact with the lorry driver. When you can see him, he can see you, too. When you look him in the eye, there’s a higher probability that he has realised that you’re there. When the lights turn, I make sure so get going as quickly as possible.
If it’s safely possible you might also consider jumping the lights in such an occasion.
A similar danger arises when you want to cross a congested street right in front of a lorry. If the traffic clears while you are still in front of the HGV, the driver can’t see you. Lisa Pontecorvo died in such a situation while wheeling her bike across Holloway Road in 2008. This is how a shopkeeper, who caught the crash on CCTV, described her Lisa’s death:
“Traffic on this side of the road was stopped. She started to cross the road but stopped between the lorry and a car. She was waiting for traffic on the other side to stop. The lights changed and the lorry started to move.”
Even though I’m aware of the danger I foolishly got myself in a similar situation recently when I was trying to cross Kingsland Road at the junction of Tottenham Road. Fortunately, I escaped without any harm but cursed myself afterwards abundatly.
Being passed by a lorry that then turnes left / clips you
“I’d been on the cycle lane and [a royal mail HGV] cut in on me as he overtook me at speed. I had to stop and lean onto the pavement and he missed be by less than 10cm.”
A related situation occurs when a lorry overtakes you at a junction and then turns left. Dave H. puts it this way in a comment on this blog:
“Many of these deaths arise when a large vehicle overtakes and turns left. All that publicity about not going down the inside is a huge smokescreen about the real cause of left-hook crashes.”
This probably is the most awkward situation because there are fewer things you can do to avoid it. I try to cycle as little as possible on busy roads with lots of lorries but of course it is impossible to avoid them completely.
This is Dave H’s advise how to minimise the danger:
“You will protect yourself from this hazard by learning to competently look directly behind you and ideally clocking the driver of any truck square in the eyes – to make sure they have seen you (and they are not reading a map/using the phone etc) That means NO SHADES. As a back up you have a stereoscopic vehicle detector called EARS – TAKE OUT THOSE KILLER EARPIECES. Many coroners’ reports note that the dead cyclist was unlikely to have heard the truck/tram/train coming up behind and even sounding their horn because they had shut down their second most important piece of safety kit. Finally the eyes and ears are rendered useless if you have the brain disconnected – you are riding a bike on a busy road – it is illegal for bus drivers to multi-task and other drivers can also be prosecuted for similar behaviour, cyclists should be equally focussed.”
Another important aspect is road positioning. Don’t cycle in the gutter – this induces lorry drivers to pass you and gives you little room to maneuver. John S. Allen devotes an entire chapter on road positioning in his excellent e-book “Cycling Street Smarts”, that is freely available on the internet.
Here are some situations I encountered in London in the last year.
This is an example of a harmless looking situation that could easily have come dangerous. I was cycling southbound on Upper St. Martin’s Lane in Covent Garden and approached this lorry at the junction of Long Acre and wanted to cycle straight on. The lorry was waiting in the lane for straight on traffic and was not indicating. However, when the lights turned green, it made a left turn anyway. If I would have passed the lorry on the left side trying to get in front of the vehicle and the lights would have changed in that moment, I would have been in trouble. However, I just waited behind the lorry.
I took this picture in Islington on Cross Street at the junction of Essex Road and wanted to make a right turn onto Essex Road.
While I was waiting behind the lorry, another rider passed us and positioned herself in front of the vehicle. I guess that she can be seen by the driver (I’m not completely shure, however).
Nevertheless, I think she took unnecessary risks. First of all, she did not try to make eye contact with the lorry driver who – as I could see in his rear mirror – talking on the phone and hence not fully concentrating on the traffic. Secondly, the rider stands in front of her traffic lights and hence will find it hard to realise when the lights switch to green. However, in such a situation, it is important to get out of the way of the lorry as quickly as possible.
Maybe this is just wishful thinking. Maybe, however, the 2nd February 2012 might be seen as a historic day for cycling in London when people will look back in a few years.
Today might be remembered as the day when the real cycling revolution in London started.
Today, “The Times” , one of the oldest newspapers of the world, kicked off an amazing and impressive campaign to make British cities safer for cyclists. “Safe our cyclists”, the newspaper urged on its front page.
The University of the Arts London has launched a campaign called “Right to Ride” after Deep Lee, one of its students, was killed by a lorry at King’s Cross last year.
Local newspapers like the Evening Standard and the Camden New Journal report meticulously about cycling related issues and the London Cycling Campaign works on a large initiative called “Go Dutch”.
On top of all this comes the impressive and vocal campaign by “The Times”, triggered by the accident of Times reporter Mary Bowers who was crushed by a lorry in November in front of the newspapers offices in Wapping and has been in a coma until today.
This campaign might be the tipping point.
The fact that “The Times” embarks on the topic proves that cycling has become mainstream. It’s not just the pastime of tree huggers or overly active lads in lycra. It’s an everyday activity that ordinary people do. It’s the fastest, cheapest and most environmentally friendly way to get around in central London. And we have the right to cycle without constant fear.
In an election year, the safety of cyclists has become one of the big issues in London. Until today, Transport for London and Boris Johnson have not taken the issue seriously. They have chosen to ignore the fact that planning priorities and road design are to blame for many deaths and injuries of cyclists.
This approach has become much, much harder to hold up.