Wednesday 15 November 2017

Greater Cambridge and the County - Local Government at their Worst.

The trouble with Greater Cambridge is that it is, in effect, a wing of Cambridgeshire County Council, a more than typically car-obsessed local council you'll encounter and also one of the most officiously obstructive organisation you'll ever encounter. Their entire customer service ethos is one of messing the public around to a point where it takes an Herculean act of sheer will to get anywhere rather than be sidetracked into complaining about how they're not handling your query. its a 'the customer isn't always wrong but if we bugger about enough they'll go away' that has been so taken to heart by Greater Cambridge that it could be their motto. 

So I've made my complaint regarding Arbury Road (see here, links therein, and then here, and here - or just search the blog for Arbury Road) formal with the County Council now. I asked (again) to talk to their Chief Exec on the 3rd, received no response, so I phoned them again last Thursday. They still hadn't responded so I phoned yesterday, and again today started getting a bit more direct. They've agreed to treat the complaint formally, but I've not the slightest confidence that they'll do the slightest thing about this - why would they, they've no need to. Oh, they're also telling me to maybe (but not definitely) expect a response within 10 working days - not from when I complained, not from when I hassled for the complaint to be treated formally, but from when I repeatedly badgered them to take it seriously. Its like they couldn't put off dealing with it any more so they're putting the start day back as far as they can in the hope I go away.

I talked to the chap who's in charge of the scheme again, and he's still, in my view, recalcitrant. In my opinion we should be past accepting second best - an improvement on Arbury Road or anywhere else in Cambridge that is not to a gold-standard facility is not good enough, and campaigners should not stop demanding better. As for the hedging, I still maintain that many of the plants are the wrong species, planted after a woefully in adequate ecological survey, at the wrong time of year, with no plan in place to restore the habitat. They still think they're going to hand weed the bindweed in winter. They aren't, because its just root by the middle of November, they won't find it and it will therefore be choking the whole site again by next Summer - they've missed their window of opportunity. So re-planting with plug plants of native species is (even if they can get them now, which at this stage of the year is unlikely) probably going to fail. They've put this off so long, I think, because they don't want to do anything restorative - I think they've intentionally delayed until they can present the cost of doing the work as higher than it would have been otherwise.

At this stage I'd be happy for the whole of City Deal to fail. We're getting a succession of poor cycle lanes (really, look at this thread here), ill considered road re-designs that offer neither a boost for cycling nor the wider environment. From their perspective cycling isn't a real form of transport so they don't even include us in their modelling while, perplexingly, claiming that they're delivering 'cross city cycling' (they aren't). While the facilities they make for cyclists are usually inherently flawed (even absurdly favouring parking over cyclist safety) they cave every time to the first bit of pressure from motorists. 

When it comes down to it, Greater Cambridge is a shady, secretive body with no effective public oversight, in a rush to spend a vast sum of money to secure more central government funding to continue with more of the same. They'll continue wrecking whatever they need to so they can spread cash thick on facilities that least upset motorists - their expenditure will not betray the car-sick nature of the County Council at any time. It isn't a sensible agency seeking to make improvements, its a self-serving gang of rogue council officers looking to make a career by spending as fast as they can on the wrong facilities, in whichever way causes the least fuss. And as it's car dependent ancient NIMBY's make most fuss, we can expect ample more sub-standard cycle facilities delivered in environmentally destructive ways wherever they think can get away with it.

I think perhaps the next thing to consider is steps towards active resistance. How can we scupper the whole thing, and if we can't, how do we tie them up so much on each poor scheme that they finally think providing better ones is easier?

Friday 3 November 2017

Arbury Road Cycle Lane (again)

So after badgering, and badgering, and FOI'ing, we've finally got the plans for part 2A (like, the bit they're already building) of the cycle lane scheme in Arbury Road. Here's a PDF file

A 1.9m cycle lane, not wide enough really, it should be 2m+ to conform to recommended standards. Rubbish.

We didn't get this plan at consultation time, nor when the project was approved, nor even prior to it being commenced. They're building it now - in fact here I am videoing them building it a couple of days ago before they released details about how wide it would be. 

Look, that can't be ok. My response to the initial consultation was 'yes if its wide enough' - this isn't wide enough, it should be 2m+. The one key thing you need to know about a cycle lane before deciding to support it is whether it'll be good enough to be worth the disruption and, crucially, worth abandoning all hope of getting a good facility any time in the next couple of decades - this one is close, but no cigar. And because there's still no reason to think we'll get a cycle lane on the Southern stretch of the road, the bit with the parked cars and close overtakes, I'd have sooner not bothered with this. What kind of mockery of openness is this? Detailed plans not released until after they started building it? You need to ask people about this during the consultation, not after the bulldozers turn up.

And as for all of the other concerns? Nope. Still nothing on re-planting native species under and around the hedges to fix the damage done when the wrong shrubs were put in, at the wrong time. This could have been such a boon for local ecology, but it is instead a complete failure.

I can only now state the obvious - Greater Cambridge as Cambridge City Deal are now known are an undemocratic, unaccountable body of County Council officers largely gone rogue in an effort to get enough money spent to secure the next slice. And they're willing to trample over anything necessary to achieve that - consultation processes, local ecology, wildlife, anything. They're building the Arbury Road scheme because its a relatively non-controversial place to spend money - they're not depriving people of on-street parking and they're mostly digging up hedges, but without continuous cycle lanes all down the length of Arbury Road the whole thing is conceptually flawed. 

We'd be better off if City Deal was stopped, but I really don't know how.

Wednesday 1 November 2017

How do you stop the Police breaking the law?

So this happened.

So when I walked past the cop car, with the parked cars protruding from the bays behind it, you couldn't walk down the pavement. That isn't ok - there's plenty of room to park on the road, even if there's an emergency to attend. In fact that'd be quicker - park on the road, dash off to whatever policing stuff they had to do.

This is the web-chat of trying to report it:

Operator : Hello, you are now chatting with a Police Control Room Operator, how may we help you today?
CAB_Davidson : Police car and Taxi are parked on the pavement in Roxburgh Road, Cambridge. Pavement is blocked, its impassable. Especially a problem for anyone in a wheelchair or pushing a pram.
CAB_Davidson : Image here.
CAB_Davidson : I'd like to report this, I'd like the officers responsible to be told that this isn't ok, and I'd like the taxi owner to be talked to. Its not picking up or dropping off, its parked.
CAB_Davidson : Hello? Are you there?
CAB_Davidson : HELLO?
Operator : Hello my apologies, this is a very busy time being the emergency services. Bare with me and I will look into this for you.
Operator : I am looking at this photo you can't tell how wide the road is.
Operator : police attend to incidents of crime and emergencies I am sorry but we will not ask them to move their vehicle.
CAB_Davidson : It doesn't matter how wide the road is - its a normally suburban back street. The pavement is -entirely- blocked, andthat is illegal.
CAB_Davidson : In an emergency it would be quicker to park on the road than on the pavement. I require an incident number for this illegal police parking.
Operator : we do not think about parking when attend emergencies.
Operator : what you are suggesting is unreasonable
CAB_Davidson : There is no flashing light, there is no evidence of an emergency, what I am suggesting is not unreasonable, it is compliant with the law.
CAB_Davidson : YOU are excusing police officers breaking the law. Can I have your badge number please?
CAB_Davidson : And I need that incident number.
Operator : no I will not be raising an incident number.
CAB_Davidson : I want your badge number and to speak to your superior now please.
Operator : I can look into why the officer is there but I can't advise you.
CAB_Davidson : Badge number now please.
Operator : its not dangerous its down a residential street they are attending an incident.
CAB_Davidson : You have refused to give me an incident number for a police car parked dangerously and illegally blocking the whole path. I want your badge number to complain about that.
CAB_Davidson : It is dangerous if you're a pedestrian and have to walk in the road, and there is no evidence that there is an 'incident'.
CAB_Davidson : Badge number please.
Operator : one moment please
CAB_Davidson : How long does it take to type a badge number? I'm raising a complaint that you're a police officer or staff member refusing to accept a report of someone breaking the law. I need your number.
Operator : I have consulted with my superior, given you the correct advice. Police officers are not going to think about where they are parking when their are life and death situations to attend which is none of your concern.
Operator : this chat is recorded so my details should be seen
CAB_Davidson : There are -two- illegally parked vehicles. You're refusing to accept a report about -either-.
Operator : ok **** i cannot see what I am displayed as.
CAB_Davidson : Your only visible detail is 'operator'. You are avoiding giving me your number because you don't want a complaint.
CAB_Davidson : It would be -faster- to park on the road, not blocking the pavement, if attending any incident. The police officer has -chosen- to break the law. For the last time of asking will you give me an incident number and follow up please?
Operator : I am happy to give out my details but I am ensuring that I give you the correct details first with regards police cars parking which is what I did talking to my superior then I got back to you
CAB_Davidson : I'll be filing a complaint. Good day.
Operator : Ok that is your opinion which is fine but there is nothing more to say on this matter. It is an emergency vehicle would you say the same about an Ambulance that parked to save someones life?
Operator : and it was a matter of urgency. They would not think about where they are parking
CAB_Davidson : It takes -more- time and effort to safely mount the pavement than park on the road. You're speaking nonsense. I am terminating this discussion and will initiate a complaint

Look, you don't get a free pass to act like a douche because you're the Police. It might indeed be an emergency - but even if it is you STILL need not to endanger people by making them walk in the road, unless you absolutely must. Here you didn't have to, you chose to. And then you chose to make getting you to take that seriously into a fight.

I put it to you, Cambridgeshire Constabulary, that you can't be trusted to police our roads because you're among our most prolific offenders. Every time I see a parked police car, its parked illegally. And on each occasion it would be safer and faster to park on the road - your officers choose to entirely block pavements rather than risk the slightest inconvenience to motorists. How do you expect to have any credibility as a police authority when you're abusers of the law yourselves?

Thursday 26 October 2017

We need longer sentences for killer drivers AND more disqualifications for dangerous drivers

There's a very good blog article here arguing we don't need longer sentences for killer drivers but we do need to disqualify more dangerous drivers. And I agree with most of the points Matthew has made there, but I don't entirely agree with his conclusions - and I think its worth explaining why.

Matthew goes through his though process in response to the Ministry of Justice conducting a review of punishments available for driving offences, but has started with the same baffling assumption that we so often see:
The consultation did not mention that we already have amongst the safest roads in the world.
This is something repeated so often we don't challenge it - and its flat out untrue. Yes, if you very crudely divide the number of kilometers traveled by the number of fatalities, we do very well. But we achieve that through exclusion of vulnerable road users - we don't attain low fatality rates through a safety culture, we do it by making our roads so hostile to walking or cycling that almost no one dares. Vulnerable road users die at a higher incidence in the UK than in most other EU countries, and as a result we have very low active transport rates. We know that fear of getting hurt is the main reason for our low cycling uptake, and that fear stems from the fact we've created a hostile environment for cycling. We scare pedestrians and cyclists out of public space and then congratulate ourselves that fewer of them are dying. That isn't ok.

So, I reject the premise we're starting form a safe road environment and that there aren't big gains to be made. Reducing casualties by excluding people from public space isn't in any meaningful sense a good safety record.

I accept that in theory there are harsh punishments available for dangerous drivers who kill. The trouble is, we're not using them. Now I'm not saying that we should have life sentences (I agree for the reasons Matthew gave, that would be inappropriate), but there's a problem when we're letting a quarter of those who killed a cyclist drive home from prison, and where less than half face any prison sentence at all. So I agree with Matthew that the 'life sentence' option is populist nonsense, and that our prison population is unsustainable. But I've seen too many killer motorists walk free. We are routinely not prosecuting motorists for manslaughter when they kill innocent people they should have seen - we need root and branch reform here. I would say increasing sentences is an option - but I'd argue that until we address why it is you can get away with killing a cyclist who was blatantly visible in front of you on a clear road on a sunny day sentencing is almost irrelevant.

I entirely agree that we need to prosecute (and ban) motorists who are endangering others before they kill. Over the years, in this blog, I've posted countless links to staggeringly dangerous, illegal driving that Cambridgeshire Constabulary have flat out refused to prosecute, even with incontrovertible video evidence

You can go your whole life as a bad driver and not kill someone on Britain's road. But you're still part of a culture that discourages uptake of walking or cycling - activities we need to increase to tackle both pollution and obesity crises. Addressing dangerous driving before a motorist kills seems like a no-brainer to me. But its not quite as headline grabbing, is it?

Tuesday 10 October 2017

Police Commissioner for Cambridge Doesn't Get It

There's been quite a response to our local police service rejecting Operation Close Pass because they prefer motorists to be able to overtake dangerously without facing any legal repercussion. And eventually, the elected Police Commissioner had to respond.

Firstly I'd like to thank Commissioner Ablewhite for his response. I'd like to go through that and give some thoughts...
As Police and Crime Commissioner, my job is to protect all road users, whether car users, cyclists or pedestrians. That is why I support a multitude of different safety initiatives. 
There are 6,000 roads and streets in Cambridgeshire and the police cannot be (and never have been) on every single road. With ever-reducing budgets impacting on police resourcing as well as on other bodies, it is more important than ever that we work together to find new solutions to keeping all of our road users safe.
I find it odd that the commissioner should choose to discuss how many roads we have in this region as if that somehow differentiates us from any other. There are, I gather, a lot of roads and streets everywhere, and none of the police services running an Operation Close Pass have conspicuously fewer streets than we do. No one is asking cor a copper on every corner, we do't want a 'police state' on our roads with omnipresent police officers waiting behind every tree. The purposes of Close Pass has been to police in specific locations and use the publicity associated with that to change the culture across all roads - it is a rational response to the scale of the policing job. By making getting caught and prosecuted a possibility, motorists across the region start to comply with the law. Its really not that complicated.
People need to take a sensible approach to overtaking cyclists and I’m pleased to see the majority do. The code is clear – don’t get too close to the cyclist you intend to overtake, use your mirrors and signal when it is safe to pass, allow plenty of room without putting other users at risk.
I agree that the code is clear, but lets be honest - some motorists do overtake with plenty of space but Commissioner, you know for a fact that this far too common a crime, and you know full well because I've brought you clear video evidence of precisely such crimes, which you know full well Cambridgeshire Constabulary have not sought to prosecute. You know this is a problem and you know its not being dealt with.
My first priority is to reduce road deaths in our county, fatalities which are primarily car drivers caused by other people driving dangerously or inappropriately.
Commissioner you've slipped a massive, massive assumption in there. And I must challenge it. 

The most recent data we have is from 2016. Yes, motorists do die in larger numbers than pedestrians or cyclists (not in proportion to how many there are or how far they travel, but in terms of number of deaths), and I accept that as every death is a tragedy we need to address all such incidents. But your assumption is that the primary cause is other people driving dangerously. I don't see any evidence that. In fact we know pretty well what causes deaths on our roads -  65% are caused by motorists error, 31% are caused by driving too fast. Here it is - here's the full report here.

Yes, policing motorist behaviour is worthwhile, but the claim that it is other motorists to blame is demonstrably facile. The point of Close Pass is that it is addressing precisely the kind of risk-taking behaviour that is endangering other road users. It conforms precisely to what it is you claim to want to do - protect people from others who would risk their lives. Focusing on motorist behaviour to protect other motorists from them is not a good use of police time. 
That is why earlier this year I invested in a Casualty Reduction Officer. Jon Morris has years of experience in dealing with these issues and continues to work on a daily basis with a wide range of statutory and non-statutory agencies to help educate all road users about keeping safe.
John Morris was wrong in his statement. He claimed our roads are narrow but, except for right in the tiny historic centre of Cambridge they are not. He intimated that motorists having to go on to the other side of the road to pass is a bad thing, when in fact that is precisely what the Highway Code shows is correct. Officer Morris presented 'potentially forcing motorists to drive at the speed of cyclists' because the alternative is to risk the welfare of a cyclist as a bad thing. He is wrong, his advice is contrary to the highway code and a poor interpretation of the law. Just as importantly, in rejecting Close Pass, officer Morris has directly contradicted your supposed wholehearted support. Or in other words, by asserting that actually obeying the law is just too hard and inconvenient, he has condoned dangerous overtakes and abdicated the responsibility for policing demonstrably illegal and dangerous driving. 
One such scheme is Speed Watch which I’m pleased to see now has over 2,000 volunteers. I would encourage anyone in any parish who wants to set up a scheme to contact Mike Brooks, the Force Watch Coordination Officer:
Very nice. I don't care, we're talking about Operation Close Pass. This scheme has got nothing to do with that.
Another initiative is the introduction of Drive iQ which I introduced in June this year. The web-based learning programme is helping educate young people how to keep both themselves and others safe while driving.

Again, I don't care. That has nothing to do with operation close pass. 
It is clear that enforcement alone will not reduce fatal and serious collisions and it is vital the police focus work on preventing them from happening in the first place.

That's the whole point of Operation Close Pass. Its about changing the culture of driving, to prevent close overtakes through educating the entire driving population through highly publicised targeted policing - through such a focus it has been shown to be a cost effective and highly effective way to reduce the number of injury causing incidents on the road, and in so doing to facilitate a greater uptake of a means of transport (cycling) that brings orders of magnitude less risk to others than driving. 

I'm sorry Commissioner, you're just wrong here. Your officers claims were wrong, and you are wrong to double down on that by supporting him. Reconsider.

Monday 9 October 2017

Dangerous Cycling Epidemic?

The problem with the English language, or, I suppose, most languages, is we don't always have the right antonym when someone hurls an accusation at us. And boy have we got a doozy of an example today.

There's an epidemic of dangerous cycling. Apparently. Look, LBC tell us that two people are being injured per week by dangerous cyclists. Really that shite-mongering flay-dio shock jock excuse for a station is merely channeling the Express - you'll excuse me for not linking to a hate-site but they're also telling us that two people a week are being maimed or killed by cyclists. Likewise the Telegraph has delved for dodgy stats so it can similarly misrepresent the problem, and sadly Matthew Briggs (who increasingly seems to be campaigning against cycling as an act of vengeance I can entirely understand) has fallen for that hook, line and sinker.

It shouldn't be necessary to second-guess supposed journalists and question their use of statistics. One would hope that among their number would at least be a few with the integrity to speak the truth. But no. we don't have that kind of journalism in the UK any more and its down to us as individuals to call them out on this nonsense.

So lets ask the question - are two people being 'maimed or killed' by cyclists a week? Well, no. There are two people per week, roughly, admitted for hospital treatment in such collisions. They aren't 'maimed'. 'Seriously injured' in British accident stats means admitted to hospital, i.e. taken to A&E. It doesn't mean 'maimed' - such a statement isn't so much an over-statement as an outright lie. 

Has the number of people killed or 'maimed' by cyclists in the UK doubled? Not demonstrably. Firstly, the data analyzed by the Telegraph doesn't apportion blame - we don't know who caused the incidents linked to. That wouldn't be a big deal if talking about thousands, but we're not. We're talking about small numbers who are killed and very few injured - when you're looking at 1, 2, or 3 per year attributing responsibility is crucial in understanding the data. No newspaper source has attempted to do so. But more crucially, doubling accident or injury rate from a low-point in the data (2006) to the present very much risks over-analyzing statistical noise. In 2016 we're only looking at 108 injuries - and tiny changes in awareness in reporting or accident report form wording are sufficient to skew these numbers enormously if we merely look at percentage changes.

To get this right we need to look at a wider context if we're going to understand what this means with over 60 million people. Nearly 60 times more people are hospitalised by tea. You are 100 times more likely to be hospitalised putting your socks on than by a cyclist. Motorised vehicles kill around 70,000 times more than cyclists

Look, no one discussing this topic is a proponent of dangerous cycling - but we're facing a backlash against cyclists based on injury events that kill fewer than half the number bee stings cause. This near obsessive focus on a group whose activity has a colossal net positive impact on the nation by saving money, reducing carbon emission, reducing pollution, easing congestion and taking colossally more hazardous vehicles off the road. By focusing on those whose actions reduce risk at the expense of dealing with those who hospitalise tens of thousands we can only increase the net harm caused on our roads. This is not a route to 'greater good', it is demonstrably the opposite. 

There isn't an antomym for 'epidemic' that we can fall back on when discussing this alleged 'epidemic' of people 'maimed' by cyclists. All we can say is that the claim is a shameless lie.

Friday 6 October 2017

Cambridge Police Condone Endangering Cyclists.

So Operation Close Pass is a great idea. West Midlands Police talked to cyclists about what scares them most on the roads. And, unsurprisingly, its close passes. You know the kind of thing, you just want to get where you're going with as little fuss as possible, and you hear a car behind you. You've got two choices - keep the lane, indicating that the driver should wait until its safe to pass (this is what's recommended in cycle training courses), or you can shuffle over to the kerb. Now it oughtn't matter, because either way the driver behind SHOULD obey the highway code and give us plenty of space. The reason why we're trained to say in lane is because the world doesn't work that way, and by 'claiming the lane' we reduce the frequency of close passes. If they've got to pull out to pass, the theory goes, then they'll actually pull out to pass.

Lets be clear, close passes are never accidental. Some drivers don't care that they risk harming us, some want to. None are judging distances, at speed, to within inches, accidentally. So for a police service to specifically target this makes sense. And it has been spectacularly successful - by addressing one of the key dangers a class of vulnerable road users faces, West Midlands Police have seen a huge reduction cyclist casualties. They're down by about a fifth. It has been so successful that police services across the UK have been paying attention, and rolling out similar schemes.

So, the question has been, what would Cambridgeshire Constabulary do? Here, in Cambridge, we're Britain's cycling capital, and we've lots of accident black-spots that we could do with addressing. Milton Road. Histon Road. Cherry Hinton Road. Hills Road. And what have our Police said?

Go fuck yourselves.

Actually... No. The said 'go and get fucked, we don't care'.

And I could cope with that if they were at least honest, but they're not. Their statement is full of frankly bizarre interpretations of the highway code and outright lies.

Here (with my responses interspersed in old-school Usenet style) is their statement:
"We have been liaising with officers in the West Midlands about Operation Close Pass and have explored the possibility of implementing something similar locally.
And so you should. Its been a long time coming. 
"The average road is approximately 3.5 metres from the kerb to the white lines. Cyclists are advised to cycle 0.75 metres away from the kerb to avoid drain covers and an average car is about two metres wide. Operation Close Pass recommends drivers leave about 1.5 metres when passing a cyclist. If we add all those figures together it would mean drivers are moving into the opposite lane to overtake.
Yes, that's right. That's what is shown in the highway code. Here you go, rule 163. When you overtake a cyclist you should be going over to the other side of the road, if its a normal road. A road where you can overtake a cyclist without doing so has to be exceptionally wide. Seriously, where did this copper get his driving license? Was it out of a Christmas cracker? He's actually saying that driving according to the Highway Code is a problem that the Police can't possibly be asked to address.

"For Cambridge city where roads are narrower and often very congested we would be potentially forcing motorists to drive at the speed of cyclists when there isn’t the recommended space to overtake.
Let me stop you right there. Yes, Cambridge does have a core with some narrow streets. Its beautiful, the Luftwaffe left our city mostly to its own devices, and then the developers who destroyed so many other cities in the '50s and '60s failed to over-power the old University colleges, leaving a network of narrow, medieval streets. But that part of Cambridge is tiny, mostly consisting of one-way streets, and some of it is restricted access to cars anyway. The vast majority of Cambridge is the same as the vast majority of every other city. Normal roads, of normal width. And I believe the Police Officer here knows that, and knows that he wouldn't be asked to do an Operation Close Pass in that part of Cambridge. To knowingly argue something untrue? I believe that's called lying. And overtaking on those narrow streets? Well there isn't room to do that at all, let alone safely.

Driving at the speed of the vehicle in front when you haven't got space to overtake safely? And? What of it? That's the law, and it's your job to enforce that law. It isn't your job to argue that it is reasonable to take risks with the safety of vulnerable road users because you want to prioritise your journey over their welfare. If there isn't room to overtake safely, there isn't room to overtake. A dangerous overtake doesn't become safe (and legal) because it would be inconvenient waiting a while to pass.
"Cyclists are vulnerable road users and it’s important that we are doing all we can to make the roads safer for everyone but at this time we don’t believe Operation Close Pass in its current format is practical in Cambridge."
Cop out. They know full well that on Histon Road, Arbury Road, Chesterton Road or any other suburban road in Cambridge they could run this operation, but they choose not to because, bluntly, they hate cyclists. Seriously. Cambridgeshire Constabulary have not only systematically dodged all responsibility in policing dangerous and obstructive drivers who knowingly risk harming cyclists, they're also among our key culprits.

This cynical, crass Police statement is indicative of the gross dereliction of duty towards cyclist safety that is endemic of Cambrideshire Constabulary, which is in effect a well armed, empowered branch of the car lobby. They have here declared themselves our enemies by openly stating its ok to endanger a cyclist if you'd otherwise be inconvenienced.

This is a declaration of war by Cambridgeshire Constabulary. Its frightening to think what might come next.

Thursday 21 September 2017

Review of Dangerous Cycling Law?

And in itself I really haven't got a problem with asking the question - do we need to review the law with regard to cycling and the risk posed to others? I mean, in principle, who could possibly object to that? Its just asking the question, right?

And in a purely rational world, none of us would object. But that isn't the world we're in, and the rather scathing response to this on sums up much of the cynicism you'll see from cyclists. Yeah, we're cynical that years into a supposed review on ridiculously lenient sentences for criminal motorists who have, in that time, killed thousands, we're instead shifting government focus onto cyclists who kill fewer than die in trouser donning accidents.

I don't wish to belittle the importance of any individual tragedy - which is why my instinct is to point out the many, many trivial sentences passed down to motorists who were indisuptably in the wrong. My issue is not that we don't have harsh enough punishments available to deter dangerous behaviour on the roads - the possibility of prosecution for death by 'wanton and furious' or death by 'dangerous', or even manslaughter, is very serious indeed. My problems are two-fold - that we're not prosecuting for death by 'dangerous driving' or 'manslaughter', and that when we do, we're giving absurdly lenient punishments that, in context, make the Alliston sentence look positively draconian.

The result of this is simple enough - go on, click through the links there. One driver there had 140 previous convictions. Another killed a child who was on the pavement - he didn't 'lose control', he drove onto a pavement with a child on it, and killed her. Both walked free from court. These are not isolated incidents or rare times courts were strangely lenient, this is the norm. 

Two fifths of killers on our roads aren't jailed. The average sentence is four years. 111 people convicted of death by dangerous driving between 2006 and 2015 walked free from court. The police and our courts are not acting as a deterrent - cases of dangerous driving were up 26% in 2016. The result of this is that motorists are killing, frequently, and brutally. Transport Secretary Chris Grayling announced a review of sentences back in 2014 but this has seemingly become vapourware - it hasn't happened, it isn't happening, and despite thousands of deaths resulting from bad driving we're caving in to ill-conceived demands to target cyclists. Even on the pavement you are 150 times more likely to be killed by a driver than a cyclist

No one wants dangerous cyclists. They can kill (but, because they're lighter and slower than motorists, that is thankfully extremely rare). But our police and courts actively condone dangerous motoring by refusing to prosecute even when evidence is clear. This guy wasn't prosecuted. None of these folk were. By not dealing with hazardous and illegal acts we allow that to become entrenched behaviour - and the result is that people die. I don't fear this review because I want dangerous cyclists protected. Far from it - I fear this review because its not coming from a rational appraisal of what causes most harm on the roads. This doesn't smell of seeking justice - it smells like collective blame.

Tuesday 19 September 2017

Charlie Alliston Verdict and Sentencing.

It has been reported widely already, of course. To the point where its almost hard to want to read about it again. So here's the tl;dr version.

Guy on a fixie has only got fixed gear as brake, so his bike is illegal on the road. His stopping power will be limited - but not necessarily that limited, that will depend on gear ratio. But he's legally in the wrong.

A lady steps off the pavement looking at her phone*, approx. 6m in front of him. He's doing 18mph. His thinking distance at that speed is 5m - so before he can brake, before he can react, he'll be within 1m or not far from. He won't be able to stop, no matter what brakes he's got. At 18mph he's moving a shade over 8 meters per second - the whole time for the incident is therefore in the region of three quarters of a second. The time he's got to do something after around the 5m it takes for him to be able to react is the time it takes to travel 1m - at 18mph thats an eighth of a second.

He tries to swerve, he moves away from the traffic to try to go behind her. Obviously at the last minute when she sees him she jumps back too. The result is a tragic collision, and her wounds kill her.

He's prosecuted for manslaughter and killing by wanton and furious driving. He's found not guilty of manslaughter, guilty of wanton and furious, and is sentenced to 18 months. Being a fan of alleycat cycling vids, being tattooed, and going online and being unrepentant played badly for him.

 The details of the event as I've put them are not, I think, contentious - indeed that's pretty much as accepted by both sides in court. So the questions arising are (1) could he have avoided the crash, (2) has justice been served and (3) within the context of other sentences, how does this fit?

So in order...

Could Alliston Have Avoided the Crash?

Well, maybe. Its very easy to sit here and say he didn't have any chance of missing her, she stepped out in front of him going way below the speed limit, so close that even with the best brakes in the world he'd have hit her. So he tried to swerve - she'll always go one way or the other when she sees him so its a fifty-fifty chance. And yeah, that might be true. But its not that simple.

If she's visible on the pavement he should, perhaps, see her. And in a complex city environment with multiple hazards to track on and off the pavement its fair to argue that no one should be going at a pace beyond which they can't track all of those hazards. Which, of course, means that people should be cycling and driving much more slowly than that. But we never see prosecutions for motorists hinging on 18mph in an urban area being too fast, so I don't think that can be used here. Was she, therefore, visible and about to step off the pavement? On Old Street? Probably not. 

I can't sit and claim its impossible he could have ridden differently to avoid the crash. I can say with certainty no one riding or driving at that speed, in that environment, would be considered in violation of the law. So in that context, its very hard to see how he could have avoided the collision.

We can say with certainty that better brakes wouldn't have helped a great deal, if at all. He's got 1m to brake after 5m thinking time - he can only go on instinct so he's got to try to swerve. If he's got a front brake and brakes hard at that speed AND swerves he'll go straight over the top and probably hit her anyway. 

So, tragically, we can't claim that he could have avoided this collision. His brakes (or lack of a front brake) are not the issue - and I suspect thats why he was not found guilty of manslaughter.

But I should add that I don't get how his version of events is meant to have happened. Apparently he shouted a warning. In 6m? In under a second? Or in 1m, in around an eighth of a second? Well you might get a grunt out. Yes, people are entitled to remember things differently (and thats just how things are, we know this happens) and they will put their own slant on what happened. But if she stepped out, without notice, 6m in front of him (and that seems to be accepted) then the chain of events we're told about seems implausible. And I'd call his account, where he claims to have shouted to warn her twice, completely implausible.

Has Justice Been Served?

He was quite unrepentant, and that won't have helped. Comes across as a nob if I'm honest, but that's no crime. Our prisons would be awfully full if it were. Should that lack of repentance impact on the sentence? Yes, I think that's probably fair. Is the prosecution just in context of whether he could have done anything to avert the collision? No, I don't believe it is. If you kill someone with your car which later proves to have an unrelated fault, you're not prosecuted for that death on the basis of said fault. If you run someone over but it turns out your brake light wasn't working, you may be prosecuted for killing someone but the brake light won't be an issue in that prosecution. So in context of what happened, and whether he could have avoided it? I don't see it. I don't get how this is just.

Is the Sentence Proportionate?

Yes, and no. A death on the road is a serious matter and if someone is found guilty of killing another person I'm of the view that the sentence should reflect the magnitude of what has happened. 18 months sounds light in comparison.

This guy killed two pensioners with his lorry. He was going above the speed limit and had at time in which to see the pensioners and react, but didn't. He wasn't concentrating and as a result smashed the skulls of two blameless old people, and they died. OK, he wasn't allowed to drive home, but he wasn't jailed. The family of the two pensioners said that he basically got away with it.

In the context of how motorists are regularly sentenced for killing? Nope. Its not proportionate. In almost all instances where motorists kill cyclists, they walk free.

I am uncomfortable with this prosecution considering the simple physics of the case. I'm uncomfortable with the sentence given out - not within the context of how serious road deaths are, but in the context of how lax punishments for other killers often are. Yes, to me, this Alliston chap seems like a smeg head - his reaction to the accident was awful. But if he'd done the same thing in a car? Its doubtful he'd even have been prosecuted and, if he had been, found guilty.

We need consistency in law - and this verdict is not consistent with other similar cases, where the prime difference is the vehicle used. It does look like his treatment was more harsh because he's killed with a bicycle. I find this worrying - and I fear the backlash being aimed at all of us now.

I'm not able to say that the courts decision is wrong, of course, I wasn't there. But I find the lack of explanation of the chain of events, the fact that we must believe an implausible sequence of events to have faith in this verdict, deeply troubling.

*Alliston changed his mind about this - some accounts say the phone was found next to her. Its hard to know whether this is true. But in itself this doesn't change the physics. Regardless of whether she's on her phone, he's got the same distance and time to stop.

Friday 25 August 2017

Richard Madeley, Cyclist Hater? AHA!

Alarmed to discover that one of the key proponents of Alan Partridgism, Richard Madeley, is still a thing. I seem to recall he was on some telly thing when I was a student, but whatever it was seemed so banal that even then I couldn't watch it. I used to occasionally catch it in one of the telly rooms on campus between lectures, and hope that Madeley would shut up and let his wife (Judy Finnegan was it?) talk, but that rarely ever seemed to happen. You know the show I mean, with the weather map with the disgusting child molester strutting around on it.

But anyway, this Madeley. He ought to understand that sometimes there's a delay on a line when you're interviewing, but he apparently doesn't. As you can see from this.

So, yeah. Madely, you just cannot be that much of an idiot. I don't accept that someone with as much experience in broadcasting as you can't understand how thats a guaranteed way to mess up an interview. You know how delays work and you know that if you keep yapping on and on rather than sticking to a question then anyone who hasn't got decades of experience on camera will struggle to answer you clearly. Because you're not being clear. You know that, and you knew it when you conducted this interview. You jumped about from one question to another - he was asked about accountability and he was answering about accountability. Your insistence that he's avoiding answering a question he's not been asked (about insurance) is facile and rude. What point were you trying to make other than throwing your weight around to denigrate cyclists?

But lets answer you anyway. Why is it cyclists aren't required to have insurance, (presumably from your stance that motorists are)? Because we're many, many orders of magnitude less harmful. We can analyze this in any way you like - we can look purely at kinetic energy if you want, where we can easily demonstrate you're comparing bullets (cars) with tennis balls (bikes). We license guns,we don't license tennis rackets. Because the former is orders of magnitude more hazardous than the latter.

Or we can look at fatalities due to road traffic if you prefer - drivers directly kill over three orders of magnitude more people than cyclists, and indirectly kill four to five orders of magnitude more. Not three times more, not four or five times more, but many thousands of times more. And, of course, proportionally the number of injuries caused is likewise huge in comparison.

Cycling harms so few people, in fact, that if you join a cycling club or campaign group you'll probably get insurance as a freebie. If you've got personal liability as part of your home insurance then that may well cover you too (all such policies I've inquired about have done so). Insurance for cyclists is so ridiculously low risk that it is effectively free. The case for compulsion for insuring low-risk groups is very weak indeed - tragedies happen but they're absurdly rare. And against any (marginal) benefit from that we've got to answer what the cost is. And the cost is to those who benefit from cheap, healthy, fast, easy, quiet, clean transport. Which is, incidentally, everyone. If you don't cycle but instead drive, you benefit from everyone else who does cycle (freeing up space, not polluting, and not endangering you). There is no compelling argument to dissuade cycling by demanding compulsory insurance. And never has been - rather like there isn't an argument for licensing.

What you've got to do Richard is step back from your identity as a motorist and ask whats best all round. The constraints put upon you due to your own choice to utilise a hazardous and polluting class of vehicle only reflect upon you, and not upon those of us who choose a less harmful, non-polluting transport option. That you resent having to do something to mitigate the (actually severe) hazard your decision imposes upon others does not mean that someone doing something colossally less hazardous should pay the same cost. 

Nobody defends dangerous cycling. But you are more likely to be hospitalised in a trouser donning accident than by a cyclist. Get a sense of perspective.

It. Is. Not. All. About. You. Richard.

So the cops response to yesterdays van driver...

Chatlog from their online reporting thing when telling Cambridgeshire Constabulary about this before it (mysteriously) went dead.

tl;dr version - the cops don't give a crap unless there's blood on the ground.

2017-08-24 11:21:16 Operator: Hello, you are now chatting with a Police Control Room Operator, how may we help you today?
2017-08-24 11:21:27 CAB_Daidson: Hello. This incident was at about half past nine this morning. Are you guys interested?
2017-08-24 11:22:04 CAB_Daidson: Wider context is here:
2017-08-24 11:23:19 CAB_Daidson: Scenario is - the red tarmac there is a cycle route. Van pulled out from a driveway and turned towards me - could have gone all the way on to the road but didn't, turned to drive at me.
2017-08-24 11:23:39 CAB_Daidson: I had nowhere really to go - on a heavy step through frame so had to dismount (can't 'straddle' such a bike and keep it upright).
2017-08-24 11:24:14 CAB_Daidson: When he moved aside sufficiently for me to go through, I went. I would contend his driving wa s unacceptable. What do you want to do?
2017-08-24 11:25:48 CAB_Daidson: Hello? Anyone actually there?
2017-08-24 11:26:24 Operator: Please excuse me for a few minutes I will come back to you shortly
2017-08-24 11:26:32 CAB_Daidson: OK.
2017-08-24 11:26:40 Operator: I need to look at the footage
2017-08-24 11:26:48 Operator: and I will be back with you
2017-08-24 11:26:54 CAB_Daidson: OK
2017-08-24 11:33:03 Operator: So I have seen the footage it doesn't appear that the van is driving at you 
2017-08-24 11:33:49 CAB_Daidson: Please look at the wider context -the link under the youtube one.
2017-08-24 11:34:19 CAB_Daidson: He's turned out of the driveway, reversed out and the van is pointing at me in that photo - I dismounted, took that image, then took the video.
2017-08-24 11:34:33 Operator: Yes I have also seen that 
2017-08-24 11:34:40 CAB_Daidson: He's clearly reversed o n to the bike route, he's started driving down it, he's stopped because I'm there.
2017-08-24 11:35:10 Operator: Unfortunately the evidence isn't strong enough to suggest he is doing anything wrong, I have also got my supervisor to look at this
2017-08-24 11:35:45 CAB_Daidson: Its wrong to drive on the segregated bike route. Thats illegal. He's reversed out and on to it, not over it (there's a drop kerb opposite the driveway to allow that)
2017-08-24 11:35:50 Operator: but if he is trying to get to a driveway that might be his only option?
2017-08-24 11:35:54 CAB_Daidson: Reversing round on to it is illegal.
2017-08-24 11:36:28 CAB_Daidson: There's a drop kerb that takes him through the cycle route and on to the road. He's chosen not to use it and to drive down the cycle lane.
2017-08-24 11:36:57 Operator: the van doesn't look like he is driving at you though 
2017-08-24 11:37:02 CAB_Daidson: I'm faced here with a van driving at me, on a route he's no business being on, with a clear and safe option allowing him to remain within the law and he's chosen not to.
2017-08-24 11:37:25 CAB_Daidson: Look at the picture of his van in the post. He's pointing his van straight at me on a cycle route he's got no legal basis to be in.
2017-08-24 11:39:13 CAB_Daidson: Road Traffic Act 1984 makes driving in a mandatory cycle lane illegal. Highway Code rule 140 makes it very clear too. He's pointing his van down a cycle lane he's driven into, on photo, and on video. What do you need?
2017-08-24 11:40:19 CAB_Daidson: It really, genuinely seems like you're looking for excuses for this driving.
2017-08-24 11:42:42 Operator: I have spoken to my supervisor about this it only looks like he is trying to get onto the driveway 
2017-08-24 11:42:55 Operator: maybe you should discuss this with the council?

Thursday 24 August 2017

How do you use a cycle lane with vans in it?

Water Lane in Cambridge should be a good little cycling route. Its well off the road and protected by kerbs, you can validly criticise the design for being way too short of course, but in itself it should be great. Decent width and fully segregated.

But it is always full of cars and vans. Every time I'm there.

Once in a while I've taken a photo of this, such as these ones this morning...

Now I was going to use those photos to highlight that I believe efforts by campaigners and local councillors to get parking enforcement there have backfired spectacularly - rather than block the cycle lane the van driver there is blocking the pavement almost entirely. Look at the top picture - you MIGHT get a wheelchair down the side of that but you probably wouldn't. You certainly shouldn't have to fear not being able to get where you're going because of parking like that.

Anyway, after I took the second picture I mounted back up and started to ride... for no distance at all before this happened: 

Yes, thats right, a van reversed out of a driveway in front of me and rather than going in to the road he the driver decided to drive at me. I stopped, dismounted to one side (old posties bike today so its a step through frame - you can't straddle it and support it you have to get off and hold) and got the phone back out. Thats when the driver temporarily stopped shouting obscenities at me. 

I video'd the next bit. 

So he wants to get off this guys driveway - by driving down the bike route. He doesn't want to go out on to the road he wants to exit by driving at me. I can't fit down the side of him, I'm on my monster old Posties bike and I can't hop up on the pavement on the left to get out of his way very easily (and that would be illegal). So what the hell does he want me to do? 

I stopped filming to go on, he pulled a little back on to the driveway and continued shouting obscenities at me. 

I'd report this to the Police but they routinely refuse to deal with far, far worse. Parking enforcement isn't working - clearly the mototists who park there don't give a damn. And if we try to use the bike lane we risk being driven at by motorists breaking the law. 

What the hell is the point?