Thursday, 3 May 2012

Inquest into the death of Svitlana Tereschenko

Ross Lydall reports in today's The Evening Standard the comments of the Deputy Coroner, Dr Shirley Radcliffe, that 'nobody is to blame' for the death of Ms Tereschenko on the Bow roundabout last November.

This has prompted me to update my criminal sentencing table with cases as they come to my attention where no charges have been pursued against the driver who has collided fatally with a cyclist.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Improving the Safety of Cyclists

A regular reader was puzzled by my preference for the evidence given by CTC's Vice-President Josie Dew over that of President Jon Snow at last week's Transport Select Committee and I promised a fuller explanation.

First, I like Jon Snow (a lot).  He introduced me to cycling 10 years ago, shepherding me round my first 100 mile ride and I hope it is not presumptuous of me to regard him as a friend.  He is a high profile figure and an ambassador for cycling.  I am sure he has been an inspiration to many more than just me and I was delighted when he accepted the Presidency of the CTC.  I have never met Josie and did not really know who she was until watching the select committee.

Second I am acutely conscious that what divides the opinions of cyclists is minute compared to that which unites them.  John Cleese's brilliant satire has the People's Front of Judea loathing the Judean People's Front more than they loathe the Romans.  Cyclists can hopefully avoid that.
Having said that, we are not compelled to agree with each other on everything and I have my reservations about Jon's oft repeated and sincerely held views that the roads in London are not safe for cyclists, that cyclists and vehicles do not mix and that they need to be separated.  Josie's willingness to ride her daughter to school on the roads but to lament the standards of some motorists and the weak way in which our laws are enforced against criminal motorists chimed much more with me.

I have no problem with people who seek more and better segregated facilities in the belief that it will encourage more cyclists.  However there is a very real threat that things could be made worse for cyclists than they already are by jeopardising our entitlement to use most roads.  We should not forget the case of Daniel Cadden.  The same police and CPS who do not have the time or inclination to pursue motorists who endanger cyclists, found the time and inclination to prosecute Daniel for inconsiderate cycling because he was riding his bike in the road instead of a nearby unsatisfactory cycle track.  The CTC assisted his successful appeal.  The CTC also made representations over the Highway Code to ensure it was clear that the use of cycling facilities is not mandatory.  I applaud the CTC for this and it is a major reason that I am a member.

My own personal experience is that there are plenty of motorists who resent our right to use the roads and would like to see us off them.  Only yesterday morning I was 'buzzed' and sworn at by a motorist who said (in effect and removing the colourful language) 'This is a road not a cycleway and if you get in my way I will run you down'.  I wish I could say this was an unusual experience.

Different cyclists may have different requirements.  My commute is only marginally practicable at 20 mph.  If I had to slow down for significant sections it would become completely impracticable.  A 20 mph speed limit would mean that all those motor vehicles would no longer 'need' to squeeze past me.  Even if I represent a minority of cyclists, we probably cover a disproportionate number of miles and I look to the CTC to continue to represent our interests as well as those of other cyclists.

Although Jon made clear, as he always does, that he was speaking as a private citizen and in a personal capacity, it is a reasonable assumption that he (and Josie) were invited to the Select Committee because of their CTC roles.

I was not keen to hear Jon and James Harding propose as policy a 20 mph limit in residential areas but to be lifted to 30mph (in residential areas, I should stress) where there was a separate cycle track.  James Harding was calling upon an unholy alliance between motorists wishing to go faster and cyclists seeking segregation.  The aim of both being to get cyclists off the roads.  Cyclists remaining on the roads after these facilities have been designed, built and adjudged adequate (very likely by non-cyclists) would not benefit from reduced speed limits.

Separate cycle lanes are not necessarily safer.  I mentioned I would like to see statistics on this.  This does not seem to me unreasonable if they are promoted as a safety measure.  Most of us will have seen diagrams like this one:
Even if you give the priority to the cyclists, I am a defensive cyclist (and so should you be) and you cannot rely upon motorists giving way.

I am all for 'Going Dutch' but my understanding of this is that it involves at least as much control over where motorists may go as of where cyclists may go.  I am all for putting up bollards in the middle of our streets that we can whizz by but which block the path of through motorists.  The trouble is that 'The Times' is not calling for infrastructure changes that may adversely impact motorists and almost all politicians have difficulty with this too.  I acknowledge with gratitude that The Times campaign is calling for 20 mph speed limits but their editor is solicitous of the interests of motorists who may be affected by this.   Of course in practice a 20 mph speed limit in London would not slow overall motoring journey times save in the dead of night.  We run a very real risk of heading for the worst of all possible worlds with inferior infrastructure used as an excuse not to lower speed limits in residential areas and with a growing expectation that cyclists are not entitled to the roads.

This is essentially a non-political blog and I am not the holder of a vote for this Thursday.  However Jenny Jones was surely right at yesterday's hustings to call for lower speed limits and better policing of motorists.  This strikes a chord with me.  As it happens I wrote to the Met Police Commissoner last weekend and sent a copy to Jenny.  You may read it here.

Fortunately I can afford to provoke a storm.  I am not a politician and do not sell newspapers.

A transcript is available here.  This is the bit that worried me about 20mph limits in residential areas:

Q423 Chair: What about the 20 mph speed limit suggested for local roads? Would that make a big difference?
Josie Dew: Yes, it definitely would. Past Molly’s school there is a 40 mph speed limit, which means I am often overtaken at 50 mph with children on the back. I went to the council last December and said, "Can we get a 20 mph speed limit past the school?" If you hit a cyclist at 40 mph, 90% of children would die. If you hit them at 20 mph, 5% would die. That is a huge difference. They said, "Oh well, we can’t really do that." There is all this umming and ahhing. They just make excuses. You have to get on and do it. They said it has to be petition-led, so I have to go traipsing round the whole village. Some people say, "I don’t want to slow my speed because I want to get to work." Portsmouth has put in 20 mph speed limits.
Q424 Chair: If there was a system of a default 20 mph speed limit on local roads, would that be something the other panellists would support?
James Harding: In areas where there are not segregated cycle ways. We would argue for a 20 mph speed limit in residential areas where there are not segregated cycle ways. One of the things about that, as Josie says, is that it is not only safer, but it would reinforce the sense that the interests of cyclists and drivers are aligned. Drivers want to go faster, in which case there need to be segregated cycle ways.
Jon Snow: I agree with James.
Q425 Mr Leech: I am interested to hear why you think that the residential streets where there are segregated cycle ways should not have the 20 mph limit. There is a danger, if you keep it at 30 mph on those streets, that drivers are less inclined to stick to the 20 mph speed limit on the other roads. Is there any reason why you have gone for that particular view?
James Harding: As Josie said, the reason is that 20 mph makes it safer. I think that you need to put in place many more segregated cycle ways and you need to incentivise drivers behind that idea too. Being able to free up drivers to drive a little more quickly where there are segregated cycle ways reinforces that point.