Tuesday, November 19, 2013

My thoughts on cycling in London etc

The recent weeks in London have been a very hard time for cyclists, and other road users for that matter. With a death toll that is rising at an alarming rate, cyclists are falling victim to larger vehicles on an almost daily basis. Six in a couple of weeks within London is certainly something to raise an eyebrow to, but lets not just run away here and start pointing and waving fingers like some are.

The immediate reaction from cycle campaign groups, as you would expect, was one of anger and protest, with demands for 'something' to be done about the situation. So lets start at the beginning and work towards what that 'something' should be.

In any collision there are usually 2 or more objects, in the case of the recent cycling accidents, both were vehicles of sorts being used on the public roads, and it seems in all cases, both were in use at the time of the collisions. By use I mean not parked or unattended. Lorries and buses are the two classes of vehicles which post the greatest risk to the cyclists, by their very nature, large, cumbersome and plenty of blind spots for something as small as a cyclist to disappear into.
One of the most common accidents with cycle vs large vehicle is a side swipe or being turned in on. Turning left of right with a cyclist down the side of the vehicle nearest to the turn is very common, and is caused by either the driver giving no signal or consideration to the cyclist (or not seeing them) OR the cyclist ignoring or not seeing the signal or road markings, and proceeding up the side of the vehicle as it starts its turn.

One example of the latter would be the accident yesterday in Camberwell. Lorry vs cycle, with the lorry seeming to make a left turn across the path of the cyclist. Many conclusions can be drawn from this, but I shall not speculate who is to blame, I shall merely hypothesise the various ways this could have happened.

The left turn the lorry was making is in a dedicated left turn lane leaving Camberwell Road, and where the lorry came to rest would suggest the lorry was indeed in, or at least partially in the left turn lane. Being a lorry it would be normal to assume he may have taken a slightly wider line into the turn, as it is quite a tight and awkward corner.
How the cycle came to be on the inside of the lorry is the next point. Was the cyclist intending to go straight on in the left turn lane. Was he intending to turn left and the lorry swung in and surprised him? All a mystery, and with the cyclist sadly deceased, we will never know his version of events.

Pushbikes, mopeds, motorcycles, are all vulnerable, and almost cannon fodder to the large vehicles on the roads. This is not to say that this is the actual attitude of the drivers of these vehicles, far from it in fact. I am sure most motorists involved in an accident with a smaller vehicle are affected very badly by their experience, and by any injuries caused to the other party. Lets not pretend that drivers of large vehicles in some way don't care about other peoples lives.
That would be as stupid as saying that cyclists who find their way up the inside of a large vehicle and end up in collision with said vehicle, are in some way suicidal and don't care about their own lives.

There is a simple fact at play here, that sometimes is forgotten, and that is the human body is a fragile object. When in collision with anything hard, or at speed, the exposed human body, especially the head is vulnerable to horrific injuries, even at a seemingly slow speed. Just as pedestrians are at risk of even the slightest collision with a vehicle, even a motorcycle, cyclists fall into the same category.
There is a lot of focus on cyclist fatalities right now, purely because of the crazy and sudden rise we have seen in the capital over the last few weeks, but lets not lose focus here, or suddenly feel that cyclists are the only ones.
Doing some research on the matter for example, lets take a look at the figures for 2011. So FOUR times the number of

Official statistics showed 77 pedestrians were killed last year, 19 more than in 2010, while 16 cyclists lost their lives — nine the victims of turning lorries.

So FOUR times the number of pedestrians died in 2011, than cyclists. Also note the number of cyclists, 19, statistically HIGHER than this year to date. My point in all this is people are killed day in day out on London's roads, its not nice, but its a fact. Of the number of journeys taken on foot or by some sort of vehicle on a daily basis, the chances of an accident are slim, of fatality minuet,. but ever present.

Have a look at the stats for accidents over the past few years as released by TfL, and you will see some quite shocking numbers. Just the sheer number of accidents recorded is a true eye opener. And lets not forget the less serious coming togethers that just get brushed off by both parties as a learning experience.
So here are the stats, trust me, you will be a little shocked im sure.

2010 http://www.tfl.gov.uk/assets/downloads/Cycling/casualties-in-greater-london-2010.pdf
2011 http://www.tfl.gov.uk/assets/downloads/casualties-in-greater-london-2011.pdf
2012 http://www.tfl.gov.uk/assets/downloads/corporate/casualties-in-greater-london-2012.pdf

Contrary to belief, the numbers are FALLING, not rising on a year on year basis. But as cycle journeys increase in the capital, and the roads get more and more congested, the likelihood of the coming together of two travellers of any sort, seems to be increasing. With more impatience, more blinkered behaviour, and more arrogance of WHO's right it is to be where and when, we are surely heading towards a flashpoint.

One of the bad things coming from the recent spate of deaths is the number of stupid and uneducated statements coming from each lobbying group. Cyclists demanding 'more space' on the roads, like it can just magically be invented and put in place over night. Even if the money was there to invest the required BILLIONS on the roads to meet the current demands of the cycling rights lobby groups, the space simply just does not exist, and never will.
The attitude of 'just ban lorries', also again, a lovely idea, but at some point all those banned lorries need to make their journeys, which would cause mayhem on the roads if lorries were only permitted a 6 hour window daily to use London's streets. But for a second, lets humour the campaigners, and say right thats it, lorries are banned.... There is one small issue... the 7,500 buses which frequent the roads on a daily basis.. What shall we do about those? There are a lot of accidents involving these too, so simply taking lorries off the road is just being biased towards businesses trying to make a living with logistics in London, and somehow saying accidents with buses are acceptable.
Hmmm, thats not going to work either is it now!

There is a simple truth here, and its the reality of all realities... People need to pay more attention, be more considerate, drop the attitude and arrogance, and learn to share the limited space there is.
Drivers need to check, then check again, cyclists need to follow some simple rules, and pedestrians need to pay attention, and cross at a safe and suitable time and location.

Lets start with drivers. MSM PSL...
As a trainee driving instructor, these 6 letters have been drilled into my head, and are really quite simple. Most older drivers will be familiar with MSM... Mirror Signal Manoeuvre , the newer ones will also know PSL Position Speed LOOK !
The most common accidents which result in serious injury are motor vehicles turning left or right and coming into collision with a cycle riding down the turning side of the vehicle. So first up, drivers of vehicles of all sizes need to make sure they take that last look before committing to the turn.
Now THIS is where the issue comes in.... If there is a cyclist riding stupidly, putting themselves in danger, NO they should not be there, NO its not their right of way, NO its no clever to be there, but at the end of the day, they are, so deal with it!
Same with cyclists, if you find yourself being squeezed, a driver in cutting over into the cycle lane, don't try and be a hero and prove a point, you vs a car, you will most likely lose.

The biggest issues out there right now are all about YOU. Drivers hate to accept responsibility for an accident, its drilled into you from when you start driver, DON'T admit blame. But it seems society has taken things one or two steps further. While we no longer admit blame, we also shun responsibility and accountability for our actions too. As well as taking a holier than thou attitude to most situation. Highlighted by a recent spate of near misses posted on YouTube, it seems the sociably acceptable approach to using the roads is 'you might kill me, but I am in the right'. Shouting and screaming at motorists of all different types, confrontations and even physical assaults on people and their vehicles... just to make the point ' I WAS RIGHT'.

Its not about right or wrong, its not about right of way, its about living. As much as it frustrates me to say it, there are some idiots out there, legally allowed to be on the road, because their either scraped through a driving test, or ride a pushbike which requires little more than actually owning the bike. Maybe this is where things are going wrong. Not enough time spending warning learner motorists about hazard and how we perceive them. As well as having tens of thousands of pushbikes swarming all over London's road with seemingly no accountability or regulation.

With drivers there is only so much you can try and teach them, and most of the lessons concentrate on controlling the car, and not enough time is spent on learning all the peculiarities of the road. Its almost as if you need a degree in sociology to understand what other users of the road are going to do next.

For cyclists, back in the day you would do a cycling proficiency test at school, learning how to ride straight and sensible close to the kerb. Now days, you get your first bike, learn how to pedal without falling off, and you are away. No legal obligations or licencing / insurance requirements, just go on your way.
The one set of rules that DO exist for cyclists however, seem to be flaunted by many at any opportunity. Weaving, jumping lights, pulling straight across junctions etc
If you are unsure of these rules, please take a look here https://www.gov.uk/rules-for-cyclists-59-to-82
There aren't many, but even with so few, it seems some cyclists are hell bent on putting their lives on the line on a daily basis, just to get there 2 mins sooner, or because they are a bike and should not have to wait.

Im not going to turn this is to a cyclist bashing blog entry, although having paid close attention to them over recent days I can see something really needs doing about some of their behaviour. But I will say this much to summarise.

The most vulnerable in any walk of life need to take the most care to survive. Self preservation goes a long way, from the animal kingdom up to us high and mighty humans. A female walking home in the dark from the station would be more aware of their surroundings than a group of males for example. Should a lone female have to fear and be more alert, no of course not. But human behaviour tells us that they are the at risk group, and therefore they respond to this by changing their habits.

The same needs to happen on the roads too. And while all road users have some degree of right to be there, there are rights of way on paper, but in reality, right or wrong, a dangerous situation needs consideration and sometimes to be avoided, rather than barrelling into it, then screaming at someone for being in the wrong..... while trying to free your leg from under the wheel.

While motorists need to check their mirrors, next time you are riding a bike, look at the behaviour of all the other cyclists, and decide for yourself if the motorist can really be expected to see every cycle at every angle.
An example from my journey to work this morning, sitting 5-6 cars back at a set of lights in the turn right lane, I watched a group of 5 cyclists all stop at the light, 2 to the left of the car, 3 to the right. As the lights changed the car and bikes moved away, and all 6 (1 car 5 bikes) turned right. As the driver started to turn he had bikes on both sides of him, all turning in the same direction. Overwhelmed by the view in his mirrors I assume, he stopped midway around the corner to let all the cyclist clear him.
The knock on effect of this is that the cars behind would see no obstruction, so would not expect the car to stop in the middle of a turn.

No accident occured, but this is just one example of where a motorist, while possibly checking every mirror available, and taking as much care as possible, is simply over run and overwhelmed by cyclists behaving badly. In my opinion anyway.

Long and the short of it... We all need to pay more attention, we all need to be considerate to other roads users, and most of all we all need to use a little common sense with a hint of patience.
Riders need to light up, slow down a bit, and ride in a slightly more understandable manner (i.e not swerving about or jumping lights)
Motorists need to give riders space, check their mirrors, and then check their blind spots.

I could go on, but its all common sense really, and if you take the time to look at any accident its clear to see how it may have been avoided.

Whatever the case, shouting outside TfL's offices will NOT save lives.
Blaming Boris will not bring the dead back.
Waving fingers and shouting loudly will change nothing.

Money is not the answer.... common sense it.

Drive / ride safely London.


  1. I am a cyclist (weekdays), motorcyclist (mostly on motox tracks now), and driver (weekends), and I am 100% onboard with your thoughts. It all boils down to being responsible for your own well-being and exercising consideration for your fellow road users. The blame culture will not get us anywhere. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Joe, thanks for taking the time to read the blog, and for getting where I was coming from with it. Im glad im not the only one who feels its time people took a little responsibility for their own actions, and stop blaming others and waving fingers furiously.
      Good for you for braving it and being a weekday cyclist. Stay safe out there :)