Insults, injuries and incompetence

Boris shouldn’t just apologise for blaming cyclists for getting injured. He should correct the policies that are based on this mistake.

It will come as news to nobody that making a journey by bicycle on Britain’s roads means exposing yourself to a considerable number of people who are operating potentially lethal machinery despite having neither the skills nor the temperament for the task. The fact that a significant proportion of the people society has allowed to drive on the public highway are simply not competent behind the wheel is far from a new phenomenon. Indeed, it was one of the inspirations for starting this blog two and half years ago.

Over those years the blog has strayed off into all sorts of other areas, like designing out the need to deal with incompetent drivers entirely, but the original issue has been back at the top of my mind — partly due to the other thing I’ve been working on. Mostly, though, I think it’s because of the forceful reminder of the fact that comes from moving to SW17, just off Cycle Superhighway 7. Perhaps I’m just imagining it, or perhaps it’s simply the psychological bias towards to the recent, but after a New Cross-Bloomsbury commute, the roads between Tooting and South Kensington seem to have more than their fair share of the sort of motor vehicle operators who demonstrate a screaming lack of the aptitude and/or attitude that the activity requires.

It’s particularly highlighted in south west London by the near zero speed limit compliance around CS7 between Kennington and Clapham outside of the rush hour congestion, and the folk using the bus and cycle lanes to pass already speeding traffic as they try to get their high-powered cars — which I’ve always presumed must be stolen from the West End — back to Stockwell and Streatham. Or the few folk who still insist on commuting to the City by car, desperately seeking a ratrun back to the Surrey suburbs and not allowing any of LB Wandsworth’s traffic calming to slow them down as they slalom in and out of cycle lanes on residential streets like Burntwood Lane…

Burntwood Lane, LB Wandsworth

Morons in South West London just see traffic calmed residential streets with schools on them as the next level up in the game. Few of the bollards shown remain in situ.

And yet there is one person to whom this blindingly obvious problem might have come as news, at least until recently: Boris Johnson. During his successful campaign for re-election in the spring, the famously carefree with facts Mayor made the absurd claim that two thirds of cyclists who had been injured and killed on the city’s roads were breaking the law when they were injured. After months of pretending that he was trying to remember what the evidence for the obviously fictional factoid was, he finally retracted it — once the election had long passed.

Last month, Jenny Jones MLA asked the mayor to apologise:

In your response to question 2450/2012, you admit that Transport for London’s statistics and research completely disprove your previous claim that two thirds of cyclists who have suffered serious injuries were breaching the rules of the road at the time. Will you now apologise for wrongly blaming cyclists who have been killed or injured on London’s roads through no fault of their own?

The mayor instead decided to send a great big “fuck you” to victims:

Please refer to my response to MQ 2450 /2012.

But it seems to me that Boris has much more to make amends for than merely insulting the victims of bad driving and the way we operate our streets, and he needs to take far more substantial action than making an apology.

Because Boris is responsible for the problem, and if he really has been labouring under the delusion that it is cyclists who are responsible for the carnage on the capital’s streets then his mistake would at least explain why his policies have so far failed to do anything to address the problem.

The office of Mayor of London has always incorporated the role that in the rest of England and Wales is now played by the recently introduced Police and Crime Commissioners. Policing priorities are therefore ultimately Boris’s responsibility. And there is no remotely realistic policy in place for tackling the problems of life-threatening incompetence, aggressive anti-social behaviour, and barefaced criminality amongst operators of motor vehicles that is on near constant display every evening along Cycle Superhighway 7 and the residential streets of south west London. Boris has allowed deadly dangerous driving to carry on as the norm, apparently because he was oblivious to it, preferring to pursue policies targeted at changing cycling behaviour.

He has added insult to injury and he needs to apologise for both.

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11 responses to “Insults, injuries and incompetence

  1. I don’t think we should waste our time seeking an apology from Boris. I think it is fairly obvious by now that politicians don’t do apologies – ever, except in the specific circumstances of apologising for something which we all know they cannot have been personally culpable for, like slavery in the 19th century.

    What would be far more useful is just that he changes his behaviour, even if he denies flatly that it is actually a change.

    Mind you, what behaviour changes can we actually expect him to make? For all Boris’ bluster about dangerous lorries and mirrors, etc, he has limited power to change this. The EU determines policy on lorry design, including safety features, so even if he fulfilled his ambition of becoming prime minister, he can’t influence that. All he can do is require TfL and the other agencies under his control to adopt policies for their own fleets, or for contract terms with subcontractors. He can’t force the boroughs, or private businesses (other than those contracting to provide services to TfL/GLA) to do the same.

    Similarly, there is little he can do about driver behaviour. He can’t (until/unless he becomes PM) change the law on driving offences or their sentencing, and he can’t instruct judges or magistrates on how to impose sentences. Least of all he can’t instruct juries on their verdicts. All he can do is instruct his Police commissioner to change policing priorities to take a firmer line on patrolling and prosecuting driving offences (although prosecution is in the hands of the CPS, also not in his control).

    In any case, stricter application of road traffic law won’t stop all bad driving. There is apparently a strong correlation between the more egregious driving offences and general criminality, and criminals will continue to be criminals despite the risks of conviction and sentence – look at the USA, the death penalty in about half its states has not secured a lower murder rate than we have here where the typical sentence would be 12-15 years

    What Boris CAN do however is change the street environment. He does have the power to determine how streets are designed and constructed and how much space is given to cars, cycles and pedestrians. He has to work within the framework of the Traffic Management Act, but he could certainly interpret that quite differently, for example by acknowledging that “traffic” in the TMA does actually include cyclists and pedestrians.

    I don’t know how far his revised budget will stretch, but at about £10 pp pa it is beginning to look like something you can do something useful with, if only it is sensibly spent. No more vanity projects, and an abandonment of the dogma of network assurance (smoother motor traffic flow), then a reallocation of road time and space away from motor vehicles are things he actually could do, to enable the new budget to be spent effectively.

  2. I’m not sure if you can draw much of a parallel between murder and traffic offences. With murder the penalty is so severe, whether it’s life in prison or the death penalty, that they simply assume that they will not be caught. Breaking traffic rules is a daily decision that involves weighing up the benefit against the chances of being caught and the penalty. I think that if we had the death penalty for speeding and speed cameras everywhere that we would have a roughly 100% observance of the limits. (I’m not advocating the death penalty for speeding. Well, on second thoughts…)

  3. “For all Boris’ bluster about dangerous lorries and mirrors, etc, he has limited power to change this”

    But he can restrict hours of access so that deliveries are not taking place during commuting hours (done in many places in Europe), and he can reduce construction traffic (disproportionately responsible for cyclist deaths) through requiring use of river or train transport

    “All he can do is instruct his Police commissioner to change policing priorities to take a firmer line on patrolling and prosecuting driving offences”

    Which would make a huge difference. At present in Lambeth the Police will not even deal with the drivers/cars that speed up my street at the same time every single day. He can roll out more traffic light cameras and speed cameras and actually have them set to trigger at the speed limit.

    “What Boris CAN do however is change the street environment. He does have the power to determine how streets are designed”

    Removing the rat runs through back streets would be a big start. Lowering the speed limit on TFL roads. Increasing the congestion charge and widening the zone. Further restrictions on parking (Why is it acceptable that bus lanes become undertaking lanes when traffic volumes are lower and cycle lanes become car parking at weekends and evenings?)

    Theres a LOT he could do if he had the will.

    • I guess my point, which I didn’t really articulate, was that Boris should not be seeking to reduce the danger faced by cyclists, rather he should be seeking to separate cyclists from that danger, through infrastructure.

      Like they do in the Netherlands or Denmark, and to a lesser extent some other European countries.

  4. Burntwood lane is a terrible design. I’ve had motorists trying to force me off the road for not riding in the death trap of a cycle lane.

    Though it’s not as bad as the abomination they’ve just recently made the adjacent Nightingale lane into. Very narrow pinch points and heavily used by HGVs that can barely fit through on their own but try to pass cyclists. This now feels like the most dangerous part of my commute. It’s incomprehensible how they could come up with such a terrible design. There’s ample space to put in segregated cycle facilities where the pinch points are.

    • +1 on both of those roads. I’ve had the same experience. When I’ve been in a car I’ve actually had people try to overtake on Burntwood Road as they considered I wasn’t driving fast enough.

      Nightingale Lane appears to be a testing ground where they experiment to find the most dangerous possible traffic calming for cyclists. The previous ‘speed pillows’ obviously were not dangerous enough as it was at least then POSSIBLE for a car to pass a cyclist safely even if the pillows encouraged them not to.

    • Another +1 for Burntwood lane hate. Down the hill you have the branch covered cycle lane, and I tend to roll down the middle and the speed is high enough to avoid beeping. But up hill its worse, lots of parked cars and furious drivers at cyclists not hugging the curb in the gaps between, esp in the mornings when you add in the tourist buses leaving from the depot, all to get to the queue at the top. Horrendous.

    • I totally agree about Nightingale Lane – the new lay-out forces cyclists into the middle of the road in front of faster moving traffic from behind. What were they thinking? I have written to the Council, and hope it won’t take a serious accident before they have a rethink…

  5. Safety cameras. From what I understand, because of the cuts to the road safety grant (RSG) by the government, new speed/ red light cameras will be rare in London. New sites will still need to meet the 4 KSI criteria (2 speed related) over 3 years for speed cameras and 2 injuries for red light (single arm, 3 years), but TfL is unlikely to install any more and boroughs will need to fund qualifying sites themselves plus pay an annual maintenance charge.

  6. +1 to restricting lorry access at key times of day. I have just returned to London from Aachen where lorries are blocked from the town centre between 7AM and noon.
    Long-term we need Dutch style segregation but banning HGV’s from the streets during the morning commute would be a quick win.
    The bike parking at my firm (EC1) is in the loading bay, every lorry I look into is near empty and I doubt that we are the last delivery destination for every courier firm in the City. Most strikingly I remember a lorry which carried a single HP multi-function printer on a pallet. That was a delivery which would comfortably fit into a transit van.

  7. This cracks me up. I ride that route every day. That part of Burntwood lane is the least dangerous part of my commute! Nightingale lane is far worse. They have just put build-outs all they way up the road. There is really no where to go and drivers freak out if a lorry is coming the other way and hit the brakes. We will see deaths here I’m sure. Some posh residents obviously have some sway with the council.

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